Ever back to the beginning we must go…
It’s been a while since I’ve written a post. There are three excellent reasons for this:
- I was sick.
- Life’s been manic
- Nothing that terribly exciting’s been going on.
What if??? Why not?!! Right? That’s what it’s supposed to be about! This crazy-cool life experiment…
Two years ago, Chris and I left our jobs and got rid of most of our stuff and said, What if we could spend a whole year in a place we’ve never been, where we don’t speak the language? What if we could spend that year working full time for free, doing things we deeply believed in? What if we could learn how to look at life completely differently from there on out?
So we did…we did all those things. At the end of that fateful year, we decided that life the way we’d lived it leading up to our departure from London wasn’t unfulfilling as such, but that it wasn’t right for us…that there had to be another way. Since then, we’ve been working really hard to discover precisely what that other way looked like for Chris, what it looked like for me, and what it would look like if we laid our paths right on top of one another.
I am happy to inform you that we’re nowhere near figuring out the answer to that question, so this blog’s job ain’t done yet.
Some things I’ve personally discovered, though, in no particular order:
- Time is our most precious commodity. It’s the one thing – above all other things – we always wish there was more of.
- If you love your job – like, really, truly love your job – you’re luckier than pretty much 99% of the whole, wide world. And we want that.
- Taking care of ourselves – i.e., eating well, sleeping enough, and avoiding the bad stuff out there – is really important…feeling good means more gets done during the afore-mentioned limited time we have.
- Self-improvement is a journey without end…it’s excrutiating and emotional and humiliating, and I’ve bought a life membership to the club nevertheless.
Faced with life’s current circumstances (winter approaching…fast, starting to get a handle on French and plunging into finding regular work to replace those French classes, well-settled in Le Puy and no plans to move any time soon), I’m increasingly focused on that last bit.
What if I could truly acknowledge my weaknesses and faults? What if I could look squarely at those shortcomings and begin to break them down? What if I could forgive myself for things I’ve heretofore been too embarrassed to admit even existed? What if I could start to address those things – what if I could change?
What if I could teach this dog a new trick or two?
In that vein, there are a couple of things I’m ready to tackle, and they both deal with the way in which I communicate.
The good listener. Nothing in the world is more important to me in my communication than being perceived as a good listener. It’s the holy grail of good personhood in so many ways for me. To be a good listener means to value the person who speaks, to value what they have to say and therefore to value who they are. To be a good listener means to hear not just what someone says, but how it is said, and therefore what they really mean when they say it. To be a good listener means not to think about one’s response ever – responses come naturally, like inhaling after exhaling. It means to just listen, absorb, mull, consider.
There are two things I do that keep me from my goal of being a good listener. They are related, and they are both really super annoying.
Thing #1: When someone recounts an experience, or tells me about something they’re going through, I often tell them about my own similar experience.
I mean well. I do want to show I’m empathizing. I don’t want to seem like I’m one-upping, but I’m afraid that’s how it might often come across. Thing is, it’s rare that people (me very much included here) divulge difficult or even incidental anecdotes in the hopes that someone else is poised and ready to come back with, “I know exactly how you feel! This one time…”
Thing #2: When someone recounts an experience, or tells me about something they’re going through, I very often give…oh geez, this is hard to admit…completely unsolicited advice.
Again – it comes from a good place. I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff, and while I love my life and have very, very few regrets, I’ve been through and gotten out of some pretty rough patches. And for a very long time I worked in a field that necessitated giving advice pretty much all day, every day – even if my clients were sick to death of it, because if I wasn’t telling them what they should be doing, I wasn’t doing my job. But if I’m being 100% truthful…I’m pretty sure I’ve been offering unsolicited advice since WAY before I ever started offering solicited advice. And I know it’s freaking annoying.
Here’s the even trickier part: I know there’s a time and place for both of these things! People sometimes do want to hear that someone’s been through what they’re going through! People sometimes do want someone to offer some good advice, and just don’t know how to say, “What should I do?” The thing is, if we do it all the time, we lose those precious human sensors – the ones that really good listeners have completely honed – that are receiving not just what someone says, but how they’re saying it, and therefore what they really mean when they say it.
So here’s my goal for myself: I’m going to consciously endeavor to stop giving unsolicited advice. Completely. I’m going to try really, really hard to stop sharing my life experiences when somebody tells me theirs, and instead just be in the moment with them, hearing about what they’ve been through and how it makes them feel. I’m going to do this for as long as it takes, until I can feel with confidence (at least most of the time) when it would be appropriate to proffer said advice and anecdotal empathy.
And I’m going to all of this in another language.
This might take a while.