Monday, January 9, 2012

Too Much of Tuomo

Lately I've started to question my general motus operandi or at least an element thereof. When people become resistant to change or seem ready to give up, I push. The greater the resistance or likelihood of quitting, the more I push. Normally I would characterize this as something that I do, not a state of being.

You know what I mean: I am not pushy. I am someone who pushes.

However, I think it's deeper and more pervasive than that. I am pushy. I am a pusher.

The funny thing is I tend not to push for the things that I want, but instead for the things that others want, or at least say that they want. For example, I never pushed my kids to be anything in particular letting them choose the activities they wanted to pursue, their careers, their partners, etc. It was completely up to them.

I was happy to help them think through decisions, but not to tell them what to do. My daughter Eila would often complain saying, "Why can't you just give me the answer?"

On the other hand, once they decided what they wanted, I could get pretty pushy.

In most cases my pushiness comes in the form of challenging beliefs and actions. When beliefs and actions don't align with stated intent, I get pushy 1) by challenging the beliefs and actions or 2) by challenging the stated intent.

A mathematical or scientific hypothesis is either true all the time, or it's not true. If not, you can't fix it by qualifying it. Instead, you have to change the hypothesis until it is true, all the time. I see a similar required alignment between stated intention and beliefs and action. If you say you want A, but then pursue activities that get you B, then you either want to change A to B, or change your activities.

My son Luke decides to become a great guitarist; I listen to him practice. If he doesn't use a metronome, I let him know that he's decreasing his practice effectiveness by 90%. If he sets the tempo so high that he's missing notes, I tell him that he's actually gone negative on practice effectiveness. If he leaves the guitar out where it might easily be knocked over and broken, I put it away and lock it up until we talk and get alignment.


I don't have a vested interest in whether or not Luke becomes a great guitar player. However, if that's what he says he wants, then I do my best to help him. In addition to making sure he has the right equipment and access to resources, my best includes pushing.

Time Management
As I write this morning, it occurs to me that my incessant desire for alignment between intent and action comes down to time management, (my time, not the other person's time.)

For a host of reasons I often end up with many people simultaneously relying on me for help and support. I tend to lend my time and energy to people based on the intensity of their desire to accomplish what they say they want to accomplish. I also tend to take people at face value. Tell me that you really, really want thus and such and I'll really, really help you.

I just noticed that I don't get concerned about whether or not your goals align with anything that I might want; I'm much more motivated by your passion than alignment between our goals. (Wow, I really have to think about that one.)

I push for alignment because, if you're not as passionate as you made out to be, I'm going to lower your standing in my priority queue. It might take a while as I have this other incessant characteristic of wanting to see things through to their conclusions. However, either the activity and beliefs move to align with intent, or I recalibrate my assessment of intent so I can better manage my time.

Weird, huh?

Too Much of Tuomo
Somewhere around fourth grade people took to calling me Tuomo (2-mo). It stuck all the way through high school where people who'd had more than enough of my pushiness came to commonly call the experience: too much of Tuomo.

Nearly forty years later I've started to wonder if maybe I am too pushy. (It takes a while for some things to get through to me.) Over the past couple months, I've been talking to Iris about this. To not be pushy (or as pushy) would be a quite fundamental change for me. I'm not sure who I'd be without it.

It's not that I don't like me when I'm pushy. It's just that others often don't like me when I'm pushy. It's not even that I'm concerned about others liking me. I'm just wondering if their dislike might be merited.

Buyer's Choice
About two weeks into my internal referendum on pushiness, I receive an email from a guy I worked with twenty-five years ago. We were both young technology hotshots who'd signed up for a new, secret project with an extremely low likelihood of success. We'd both been drawn to the impossible like bugs to a street lamp. I was drawn a bit more than he was. I became the pusher.

I've never seen anyone get as angry as he got when he'd experienced "too much of Tuomo". Although I never got scared, I probably should have.

So out of the blue I get this email. He describes times when I'd pushed so hard that he'd felt like killing me. I vividly recall the scenes. I wonder why he's writing me. Is he still pissed off?

Next paragraph, he thanks me. He recalls specific things I'd said in those moments, phrases that had hit home, statements so dead-on that his only recourse was to get even angrier. Yet afterwards he'd decided that maybe... Apparently his decisions led to big changes, changes for which he is immensely grateful.

"OK", I think, "That's weird."

Over the following weeks, every week-and-a-half or so, I get a similar email or Facebook message from someone else.

Really weird, right?

Béchamel Sauce
Saturday night, I'm making gumbo for Iris, Kat and me. As the sausage, shrimp, calamari simmer in the dutch oven, I slowly blend blend flour into a crackling pan of oil to make the roux (the rich brown liquid that makes gumbo, gumbo).

Making roux is similar to making Béchamel sauce. You have to be careful how you add the flour to the oil (or butter or bacon fat) so that you don't get lumps. You have to stir constantly. The only real difference between the two is that Béchamel is a pure white sauce and you have to avoid burning it whereas roux is a deep brown sauce that must be burned just a bit.

As I'm spinning my whisk through the flour and oil, I can hear my mom, pushing. I'm seven standing on a chair at the stove making cheese sauce (you make Béchamel and then add graded cheese). We've started over five times because I got impatient adding the flour and ended up making bricks rather than sauce.

Sixth time's the charm. No bricks. No lumps. I'm stirring and asking, "How much longer do I have to stir?"

"How much do you want cheese sauce?"

I stir and stir and stir.

Happy Monday,

1 comment:

  1. I have so many happy thoughts about your pushiness, though, like any good coach, it doesn't necessarily feel comfortable. It's like my running on the treadmill. I haven't run in... ever. So there is discomfort, the treadmill is being really pushy. But I'm on the treadmill. And I can get off. Perhaps its about the permission I give you and the treadmill to push me.


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