A Pivot . . . More than a Single Word?

Sometimes just changing a word can change your outlook on a situation.  I’ve seen a couple references lately to the word “pivot” as a way to change your outlook on a situation.  I like the fact that using a different word puts you in a more positive frame of mind.  It can focus you on the present, rather than trying to predict the future or ruminate on the past.  And it also opens up others to see your situation in a different light.  Consider . . .

“I quit my job.”  When someone says they quit their job, my thoughts immediately turn to financial considerations. How are they going to pay their bills?  What about their medical benefits?  After asking why,  I think the common follow up is to immediately think about the future.  What are they going to do next?  The word “quit” has a negative connotation.  It also has a feeling of failure or giving up.

On the other hand, if the person said something like “I am no longer working there, I am making a pivot in my career” might it take your thoughts elsewhere?  As an observer or friend, I am curious about the other person’s current state.  What does a pivot mean?  What are they thinking of pivoting to?  That engages in a conversation about the present moment.  Rather than speculating or worrying about the future, the change in words grounds me in the present.  Being present is more productive – and instructive.  I can speculate all I want about the future, but the odds are the future will turn out differently than I guessed.  But a greater understanding about the present is always instructive and constructive.

I’ve also seen that word pivot used as a substitute to the word failure.  Rather than, “the project was a failure” it becomes, “based on what I learned, I am going to pivot from this point”.  “Failure” is another generally negative word.  It makes us reflect backwards (why didn’t it work?).  Or it makes us lose confidence.  If either of those feelings linger for long, they are not conducive to progress.  In fact, failure can often freeze us in place.

On the other hand, a pivot from something that did not go as planned sounds like gain or growth.  In basketball, a player will often “pivot” to get away from danger, protect the basketball from a defender or create a new view of the court.  Each of those sounds pretty positive!  The person is using a pivot to advance their position.  A pivot is not an admission of losing, a pivot creates a new viewpoint.  Here is another definition of a pivot – “the person in a line, as of troops on parade, whom the others use as a point about which to wheel or maneuver”.  So a pivot is an integral part of progress.  We all know that life is never a straight line, so a pivot is a required.

How many times have we asked someone about some event or activity they worked on and heard the word “failure” or “disaster”?  What can we do when we hear those words?  Offer condolence?  Ask a couple innocent questions?  Change the subject as quickly as possible?  In our own mind when we think something is a failure or we quit, are we looking at that as a positive experience?  No.  Then why use those words?

You might say this is simply “wordsmith”, being politically correct or sugar-coating the situation.  A failure is a failure.  You are trying to hide from the truth.  You are not facing the facts.  I disagree.  Our outlook, our ability to move forward, is often driven by our attitude.  If the right words can help our attitude (and the negative words hurt our attitude), doesn’t it make sense to be a little selective?  Why not have a positive attitude?  Why not try to use words that get us – and the people we talk to – into a positive mindset?

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Intuition

Do you question your intuition? Are you willing to give it up if there’s good reason to do so?  These were two questions posed to me in an on line class I took recently.

What is intuition? It is our ability to understand something immediately, without the need for conscious reasoning. It is the “direct perception of truth, fact, etc., independent of any reasoning process”.  We use intuition all of the time to thrive.  We know not to cross a busy road.  We know how (and why) to get in line at a restaurant or grocery store.  We know a person of a different political party or different generation has a lot of views we might not agree with.  Certain situations are going to be comfortable or uncomfortable for us. The way someone dresses or the way they look, our intuitive mind places them in a category.

Some of us use this intuition dimension much more heavily and therefore are more likely to let their own thoughts dominate their experience. Rather than take a “bottom-up” approach to life, in which the data drive their decisions, they let their own thoughts and feelings take command—a more “top-down” approach.  When these people hear someone is a conservative or a liberal, they draw conclusions.  Similarly, looking for a job or evaluating a potential mate is based on their feel for the situation, not necessarily gathering and evaluating facts consciously.

Generally, the thinking processes of an intuitive thinker remain mostly unknown.  So that brings into question whether that intuitive thinking is rational or not.  If intuitive thinking is more emotion and experience based, rather than facts-based, is it rational thinking?  I believe we tend to think it is rational because it is coming from our own minds.  And it usually serves us well.  But if you find yourself “going with your gut” all of the time, how healthy is that for you?

 

Ever met a workaholic who ruined all other parts of their life?  How about the person who is always trying for that next promotion, that next grasp on the ring of success? Or conversely, the person who continues to take jobs that never quite work out for them?  I think their intuition may be working against them.

I am definitely a more data-driven person.  But I know that I must rely on my intuition a lot.  Which got me back to the questions at the start of this post.  I was trying to come up with a specific example where I was willing to change my intuition.  I’ve learned through injury that overwork is not a good fitness idea.  My intuition was “if I keep running faster and harder, the bad days will be overcome”.  “Working out harder will eventually pay dividends.”  Stopping and consciously challenging this intuition,  I came to realize that a day off from working out is the best solution to getting stronger.  So I am learning to consciously try to listen to my body.  Push myself hard when I can, but take a day off when I feel the need to do so.

I’ve talked with a lot of people in- and out- of jobs lately.  So much of our intuition is to “hunker down”, to keep our nose to the grindstone.  If we have a job, we need to keep doing it, being “loyal” to our job and the people we work with.  Good sentiment.  But if done unconsciously, at the expense of gathering information and checking our real feelings, it can be problematic.  Job seekers can intuitively take in advice from many different people without questioning it.  This can lead to tunnel vision in the search.

It takes really hard work to recognize that some important thought that leads to a course of action is the result of some unconscious process that needs to be challenged.  Then to actually change that unconscious thought process moving forward is double the work.  How about you?  Is there some part of your intuition that needs to be challenged?  Or better said, is there some path you are on that you should consider altering?  Putting the spotlight on your intuition might be the place to start.

Compromise

Daniel Webster, senator from Massachusetts in 1850 –

“In all such disputes, there will sometimes be found men with whom everything is absolute; absolutely right or absolutely wrong.  They deal with morals as with mathematics; they think what is right may be distinguished from with what is wrong with the precision of an algebraic equation.  They have, therefore, none too much charity towards others who differ from them.  They are apt, too, to think that nothing is good but what is perfect, and that there are no compromises or modifications to be made in consideration of differences of opinion or in deference to other men’s judgement.”

The “disputes” Webster was referring to included slavery, state’s rights, whether to admit certain states into the Union and state’s borders.  All very contentious issues.

Webster’s words resonated with me because I am a strong believer in compromise.  I love his articulate, yet stinging, rebuke “none too much charity towards others who differ from them”.  Compromise is the way to get things done in this world.  None of us have the exclusive power of perfect knowledge.  Any contentious issue will have differences of opinion.  If you are truly in “it” for the greater good, then compromise will be required.  The ability to listen to someone else, with an attitude of some openness is a virtue.  Someone who holds “all” above “self” (certainly a requirement for all leaders) has to be willing tho consider “modifications”.

In 1850, Webster, from strongly abolitionist Massachusetts, agreed to slave issues important to the South.  Henry Clay, a slave-holding senator from Kentucky, willingly accepted restrictions on slavery in California and other western states.  John Foote, an obnoxious and arrogant senator and slave holder from Mississippi, supported compromise to keep the United States united.  Sam Houston, a senator from Texas, defied the mandate from his constituents, agreeing to give up land to New Mexico in order to preserve the Union.  The Compromise of 1850 delayed Civil War for 10 years.

Later, Webster continues speaking about people who will not compromise:

“If their judgement enables them to detect a spot on the face of the sun, they think THAT is a good reason for the sun to be struck from the heaven.  They prefer the chance of running into utter darkness to heavenly light, if the heavenly light be not absolutely without any imperfections.”

That’s a metaphor that works for me.  People who don’t compromise prefer to be right in their own darkness, rather than have illumination from considering other’s viewpoints.

The point of all of this is not a history lesson (but I hope you enjoyed it).  It is to make a simple point.  In the face of seemingly insurmountable disagreements about fundamental beliefs, in 1850 leaders came forward to do the right thing.   They set aside their own wishes for the greater good of the country.  While opposed vehemently to the “other side’s” principles, they willingly sacrificed some of their own principles to reach agreement – FOR THE COMMON GOOD.

Why can’t that happen now?

And finally, if you find yourself so sure you are right and are unwilling to even consider the “other side”, what good does that do?  You can be a “person who stands for their convictions”.  You can “prefer the chance of running into utter darkness”.  That is great.  Congratulations.  But in today’s world, just like it was in 1850 and in 1776, a willingness to compromise is a much greater virtue in my opinion.  And if you are not making progress in something important in life – a relationship, work, figuring out what you want with your own life – might compromise have a little light for you?

Lessons for us all – from my mom

My Mom’s birthday was this past week. I realized that there are very few days where I don’t think about her, and some things I learned from her.

Mom loved sports and playing games. Card games, charades, kick the can, board games, the “cow” game while riding in the car.  She was in it for the interaction.  This was a way to get family and friends together, interacting and talking. Whether we were teasing someone for an error, reveling in catching someone (often my mom!) cheating, or simply celebrating someone else’s victory, the fun was in connecting with others.

As a corollary to that, winning was not everything. Learning to play the game by the rules (and sometimes stretching the rules) was a metaphor for life. If you don’t know how to participate, or don’t want to participate, how will you ever make it in life? Interacting, sharing and competing are all important skills to have in life. And guess what, you won’t win all the time! In fact, if you are in it simply to win, you’ve missed the point.

Mom loved kids. She had a soft spot in her heart for every child. Being around children made her day. Allowing herself to get down on the ground level with children and interact with them was the best for her. Whether they were learning how to do their multiplication tables, drawing, playing a game, or reading together, Mom was in her element. The more downtrodden the child, the more my mom wanted to be with them. Working with the underdog, the more disadvantaged, was her mission in life. She taught compassion. She demonstrated that one individual can make a difference in one little person’s life with the most simple of gestures – paying attention. She taught love for children.  And sometimes, getting down to another person’s level can lead to insight and connection.

As an aside to this, mom (like me grandma) was a little partial to boys. My two sisters would say that I am understating that a bit. It was so good (or bad, depending on your perspective) that my sisters called me The King” as we were growing up. From my perspective, it never hurt to be spoiled a little bit!

Mom knew extended family was important. There is no way her family would have made it in America without extended family after her father died. A sense of community, working together to help each other, was the key to success. There is never hopelessness when you have others to turn to.

Mom worried about everything. Big or small things. Plausible or implausible. Mundane or extraordinary things. So I learned to let her do the worrying. I saw how my father rarely overtly worried about things because he knew she had that covered! In this way they both became role models for me and my children.  No one wants to “worry like grandma always did”. Everyone learned you needed to respect the worrier even if you laughed about it later when we talked about the silly things grandma worried about.

Mom was the embodiment of the American Dream. First generation American born to parents who immigrated to the USA. Lost a father at a young age. Had a mother with very little formal education who somehow raised a family of three children on her own. Survived, thrived, married and raised three kids who went on to college.

Wow- that is a pretty good set of things to live by:

Get into the game for the interaction with others.  Competing, not always winning (because you won’t always win), has a real purpose. Love children. Being willing to go to someone else’s level is a great way to connect and make a difference. Family is everything.  Leave the worrying to the experts.  

I believe there is a lesson in here for all of us. We all grew up with someone as a parent or guardian. What did you learn – good or bad- from them? What lessons have you forgotten? What lessons are you using too much? How might that be holding you back today?