Authentic and Open

There have been a couple words popping up in my consciousness lately, either through books I have read, other people’s blog posts, or conversations with others.  Isn’t it funny how that happens?  But it got me thinking about myself.  I really like the words because they make me think.  Am I living them?

The first word is Authenticity – “real or genuine; not copied or false: true and accurate. The degree to which one is true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character, despite external pressures”. That last part – true to one’s own – really catches me.  Is it possible to be “true to own’s own” self deception?  How about one’s own “wish I was like this”? Or, one’s own “this is what I want people to think I am like?”  Not really.  So authenticity requires some real self examination.  To use a phrase, it is “being real”.

This summed it up for me:

I am working hard at trying to embrace who I am.  I find that for me, the best way to become authentic is to challenge my own conventional wisdom.  I’ve built up so many layers over the years to protect myself , to help myself get through the daily grind and to be diplomatic.  Some of those layers need to stay.  But like a piece of wood that has many layers of paint or shellac on it, stripping them away sometimes reveals the real beauty of the grain of the wood. I feel like there is some part of me that needs to be brought to the forefront.  How many things have I done, said or NOT said simply to gain approval?  Am I being true (authentic) to myself, as well as those I interact with?

The second word is Openness – “An accommodating attitude or opinion, as in receptivity to new ideas, behaviors, cultures, peoples, environments, experiences, etc., different from the familiar, conventional, traditional, or one’s own.”

I like the word “accommodating” in this case.  For the most part, this is a word with positive definitions.  One way it is positive is doing a favor for someone else.  Another positive way is through providing a place to live to another or a place for something to be stored.  Both definitions talk of being helpful to others.

This goes along with open mindedness – “receptiveness to new ideas; the way in which people approach the views and knowledge of others, and incorporate the beliefs that others should be free to express their views and that the value of others’ knowledge should be recognized”.  Once again, positive words like “value” and “free”.

I like the theory of trying to be more open-minded, being receptive to new ideas.  But the practice is not always easy to follow through on.  I find that it is relatively easy for me to me open-minded about things I am interested in, and things that are close to my current beliefs.  But trying to be open about things that are very different?  That is hard. For example,  I have to admit that I am not going to be so open as to want to go to (or talk about) the opera, for example, or to start reading romance novels!  But am I willing to be open to political viewpoints much different than mine?  How about parental styles?  Now it gets harder to be “open”.

Being open doesn’t mean I have to change my own convictions to someone else’s viewpoints.  But it does mean a willingness to try to understand the genesis of other’s viewpoints.

One more thought on openness.  A really hard part of being open is sharing certain things with others.  “What if they don’t like what I have to say? What if I embarrass myself? Why should I impose my viewpoints on them?  Won’t they think less of me?”

I have a lot of work to do on being authentic and open.  But simply remembering some of the positive words – real, genuine, accommodating, value others – provides enough incentive to try.

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Owning Our Part

I just finished reading a book by Jon Acuff called Do Over: Rescue Monday, Reinvent Your Work and Never Get Stuck.  It had a lot of good points.  The excerpt below is my favorite:

When we find ourselves in a job we don’t like, what do we say?

“I hate this job.  The people here are horrible.  My boss is a jerk.  The work is boring.  They don’t appreciate me.  The culture is bad.  I’m not doing the kind of work they promised me I’d be doing when they hired me.”

Over and over we find a way to place blame squarely on other people and other circumstances. It’s not our fault, it’s their’s.  What if instead, upon finding ourselves stuck we admitted, “The results I’m going to get if I stay here are not the results I wanted or expected.  I need to backtrack and see which of my assumptions were incorrect.  Did I expect this job to be something it would never be?”

Owning our part in the situation is often not fun, but maybe it’s because we have the narrative all wrong. Lifting your head, admitting you’re stuck and owning something doesn’t mean you’re a failure.  It might just mean you took the wrong path and need to find a new one.

“Owning our part”.  Powerful sentiment.  Interesting thought.  The more I learn about myself, the more I understand how easy it is to fall back on my core assumptions.  The problem I am facing must be someone else’s fault.  After all, I am sure I thought it out logically ahead of time.  It’s easy to see that I had it right, the other had it wrong.  They must have lied to me (I couldn’t have lied to myself).

Acuff also addresses the other side of the internal argument I might have, the one where it is solely my fault.  “If the situation is bad, it means I am a failure . . . at everything”.  Right?  How simplistic is it to totally exaggerate on the other side of things.  I am inferior, incapable, a loser.  I never get it right.

Nope, that doesn’t work either.  “Owning our part” doesn’t mean taking all the blame and somehow putting ourselves down.  Remember, the saying reflects on “our part”, not “everything”.  It is totally counterproductive to place all of the blame on yourself.  It is too easy of an excuse.  It’s trying to get yourself out of self examination.  If you are wrong all the time, every time, you don’t have to do any self examination.  “Owning our part” means examining the assumptions, logic and decisions you made.  It means taking some responsibility and learning from it.

The book and this post began with a discussion about a job that is not meeting expectations.  If you are in that situation, are you willing to “own your part”?  Or do you choose to keep your head down, slogging along?

If your job is going great, is there some other part of your life, such as your relationships or your current mindset that needs the original assumptions re-evaluated?  Are you willing to “Own Your Part” and take action?

Listening

I love this quote

Is anyone anywhere taught how to listen?  How utterly amazing is the general assumption that the ability to listen well is a natural gift for which no training is required.  How extraordinary is the fact that no effort is made anywhere in the whole educational process to help individuals learn how to listen well.   Mortimer Adler

I never really thought about listening in this manner.  Is it a “natural gift”?  Growing up, we all probably had to do a speech class.  But none of us ever had a “listening” class.  We probably got graded on a group presentation, but not listening to the presentation.  We are taught the fundamentals of speaking (eye contact, tell them what you are going to tell them, try not to read the words, etc.).  But we are not taught the fundamentals of listening.  Doesn’t that seem like a gap in our education?

Here is another spin on listening according to Dan Pink – “for many of us, the opposite of talking isn’t listening.  It’s waiting.  When others speak, we typically divide our attention between what they’re saying now and what we’re going to say next – and end up doing a mediocre job at both.   . . . Listening without some degree of intimacy isn’t really listening.”

Wow.  The opposite of talking is WAITING! How often do we find ourselves waiting to say something new while someone else is talking?  As Pink says, we do not do a great job of really listening – really hearing what the other person says and means.  We are getting ready to add our great comments.  Think about when you are first introduced to someone.  For me, I forget the other person’s name pretty quickly – because I am waiting for them to finish speaking so I can tell them my name!

It is easy to recognize this waiting idea when we are on the other side – “Weren’t you listening to me?  Didn’t you hear what I just said?” The unspoken answer is usually, “no I did not hear you because I was planning my response”.  Is it any wonder that communication among human beings is so hard?  It is as if we train one “muscle”, speaking, but not the other muscle, listening.  We unconsciously turn to the stronger muscle, speaking.

So what can we do about this imbalance?  Awareness is the first step.  If we allow ourselves to be aware that this phenomenon is occurring, we can at least recognize it.  Maybe the next step is to work on our “listening muscle”. Pick a time and place to be focused 100% on listening without even thinking about speaking.  Perhaps it at lunch or dinner.  You truly focus on concentrating on what the other person is saying and doing.  Maybe you pick an hour a day that is designated “listening time.”  You can even tell someone else what you are trying to accomplish.  Work on better listening in baby steps.  Maybe you listen to a podcast and focus on hearing what is said. Or maybe it is truly listening when someone introduces themselves.

Perhaps you need to change your frame of reference as described by Cathy Salit.  Her thought is: the ultimate idea is “to listen without listening FOR anything”. Think about all of the times we are listening for someone to say something that triggers a response from us.  We wait to hear a magic word or phrase that we can jump on and add our two cents worth.  How hard is it to listen and just hear?