As a child in the northern plain states in the 1970’s, I was raised on conservative values, a moral code of ethics, and a rigid set of expectations about who and how one is supposed be. Let’s not belabor our upbringing. This was a different time and a different place, where stoicism, humiliation, and shame were normal, and feelings and open-heartedness were considered weak. Enough said.

The one area that I learned deeply and completely, was how to judge. This is a very useful tool to a point. I love to figure out how things work. I love seeing how things work well, and I love to figure out how to make things more efficient. I have a natural aptitude to identify, assess, problem solve, and (maybe) fix areas that aren’t working. And like many, I have a natural aptitude to see (maybe obsess about) what’s wrong. Well, this is a problem…or is it?

Is it a problem to label a problem as a problem?

It occurs to me that this particular subject is a circular, self-fulfilling problem. I have been working on my negative bias and judgment all of my adult life. I have raised my awareness around judgments of myself and others. I have learned (still learning) to discern without judgment. Here’s the thing, can I discern when I’m being judgmental? Is it even possible to notice that I’m being judgmental without judging myself? How many years can I catch myself being judgmental, and what is the correction? Judgment? Aren’t I just reinforcing the same negative habit?

What about the obvious, insanely popular, gratitude practice? Stop focusing on everything that’s wrong, and pay attention to what is working well. Refocusing my attention on what is working well is a really good antidote for the less attractive aspects of my INTJ’ness. Be grateful for the ways the system or relationship works. But, where’s the middle path. When does gratitude become lying to myself (or others)? When we make a ‘thing’ out of gratitude, might we be whitewashing something that is rotten? As you can probably see, ‘gratitude practice’ has been challenging for me at times, similar to affirmations. I have resistance to a practice that seems like bold-faced lying, or avoidance of a problem that’s staring me right in the face.

Are problems really problems?

So the story is, I have been really excited to contribute in my place of work, especially where I saw a need. My desire to contribute to a perceived need came off as judging the need or opportunity as a problem.  Rather than saying, “why yes, Paula, we have just been waiting for you to come in and fill this need,” it was instead received as complaining and discontent.

Sigh. 4 month break for self-reflection…

See, the things is, I don’t really think a problem is really a problem (until I ignore it so long that it becomes a problem). Problems are opportunities to develop greater efficiency and to help me/us reach our goals. Let’s acknowledge the problems in a system early on, ever changing and improving processes and utilizing resources to maximum effect. But often a problem becomes big simply because we acknowledged it. Just by speaking of an imbalance or problem, don’t we make it bigger than it is? We make it into a ‘thing’. I would like to just take the seriousness out of every ‘thing.’ Let’s take the problem out of problems!

I remember being a receptionist when I first moved to California, routing phone calls for a sales team. When I was labeling and stamping newsletters, I setup my workspace and used my hands and fingers in such as way as to keep every paper and label moving at maximum, comfortable speed with minimum effort.  I love sharing processes and collaborating with others to constantly improve and save us all energy and time. Do you see a way to make my process more efficient so I can sit on my butt sooner with that cup of tea? Great! Let’s just not make a ‘thing’ out of it.

Who’s problem is it?

Well, if I can’t admit when I have a problem, doesn’t it just become other peoples’ problems? When I don’t get my jobs done or I don’t achieve the best quality possible, wouldn’t I want to improve it? I can often get stuck into a process that was most obvious at the time rather than most efficient, until another problem or person prods me to find another way. Can I separate my self-worth from the job or problem? Receiving feedback can be hard, but it is necessary to really grow on every level. On the surface, it’s a means of improvement. But more deeply, when I respect myself and am able to forgive myself, my foibles and limitations, I can receive feedback with openness and humor. This propels my  growth and learning like crazy! It can even be fun to receive suggestions and feedback from people who really care for me and respect me. They seem to say, “I see you and respect you and the work you do, and I see a way to make it even better.”

For my friend or coworker who sees the opportunity for improvement, can you separate my worth from the job or problem? Communication and collaboration is exciting and inspiring in an environment of respect and trust, especially when my friend knows that I can take constructive feedback or a kick in the butt. Trust and respect build while competence and efficiencies continue to grow. Ultimately I’m responsible for all of my opportunities (i.e. problems), but I can’t fix the problem—intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, relationally—if I don’t see the problem. That you trust me and respect me enough to show me my problem…er, opportunity…and I trust you enough to stay open to the feedback…Wow! That’s a great friendship and exciting relationship!

If you’re reading this, then I expect that you’re one of those people who probably gives me feedback. I hope I take it as well as I just wrote about and aspire to. And all of that gratitude practice isn’t for nothing, because I’m really grateful for you.

Next post…Curiosity!