It’s not you. It’s your systems.

Here’s the thing:

You are perfectly fine just the way you are.

How you think doesn’t need changing.

Your job is not to change who you are, but to understand yourself well enough to do things in ways that make it easy for you to be your best you and do your best work and have the most fun.

At most, the only thing that might need changing is the way you do some of your stuff.

Your job is simply to get to know yourself and what works for you.

There are no right and wrong answers.

If I gave a group of people a bunch of tiles to sort – circles, squares and triangles painted red, blue and yellow – they would come up with at least three solutions to that request.

Some people would sort them into piles by color.

Some would sort them into piles by shape.

And some of us would sort them into piles by color and shape.

It’s all cool.

Unless you want to sort them by shape, but try to sort them by color. Because you think you should. Because other people are doing it that way. Because that’s the way the software is programmed. Because the productivity guru said it was the best way to do it.

It’s all good until you start denying that it’s good. And then it’s bad.

It’s bad when you want to sort by shape, but your filing is color coded.

It’s bad when you want to sort by color, but your VA, bookkeeper, or web-designer keeps sending it to you sorted by shape (because that’s how they think – not wrong, just different).

I’ll say it again. Your big beautiful quirky brain works just fine the way it is.

You just need to get to know it better so you can give it what it wants, so you can ask for things the way you want them.

I hereby grant you permission to be yourself and do it however you want to do it. It only has to make sense to you.

Hone in on what is so obvious to you that it hardly bears mentioning.  There is a logic there even if not immediately apparent.

You’re probably not disorganized, it’s just that the way you group like with like is not exactly common or “standard” – you know, in the way that fits tidily into something you picked up from the office supply store (or the productivity book or the software program). Who knows why you think that way? Maybe you conked your head on the coffee table one too many times when you were learning to walk. It doesn’t matter.

What matters is you trying to make yourself fit into the stuff you picked up from the office supply store (or the productivity book or the software program) anyway. What matters is that you don’t end up using it because it feels completely foreign and illogical and never produces the results you want – and then blaming yourself.

What matters is that you conclude that you are a disorganized person who will always be that way. You conclude that the problem is you.

The problem is never you.
The problem is your systems.

As I said, your job is simply to get to know yourself and what works for you.

Except it’s not always so simple.

It takes observation, experimentation and practice.
And it take a heap of compassion and self-acceptance.

And sometimes a little guidance from others who can help you see yourself more clearly. Who can reassure you. Who can suggest what might work, when all you know is what doesn’t work.

It doesn’t have to feel so crazy. It really can be a whole lot easier and way more fun.

Here’s one way you can learn how to get in right relationship with this stuff.

I would love for you to join in. Nothing would make me happier than to see you working with instead of against yourself. Seriously. It’s why I get up in the morning and do what I do. It’s that important.

* * * * *

P.S. Some of you may know I’ve been working with Havi on her systems. We’ve been talking about writing a case study and we might do that in detail someday, but our work together really comes down to what’s in this post.

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18 Responses to “It’s not you. It’s your systems.”


  1. 1 Liz May 6, 2009 at 7:26 am

    “Hone in on what is so obvious to you that it hardly bears mentioning”… that’s so brilliant. I’m trying so hard to come up with the “thing” — what is my “thing”? — rather than looking at what’s right in front of me. Or already a part of me. That I do so well.

    Thank you with strawberries and sprinkles on top. I wrote it down on a post-it to stick in my car and think about further!

  2. 3 JoVE May 6, 2009 at 10:27 am

    Between your shapes and colours metaphor and Havi’s example about travel information, this is making lots of sense.

  3. 5 Justin May 6, 2009 at 2:26 pm

    What if I prefer to sort by colour, but my web designer likes to sort by shape?

    What’s best for them may not be best for me. And vice versa.

    I guess that you should do what works for you if it’s your stuff. If it’s for someone else, you should probably do what’s best for them, or you’ll just annoy them. But only if you care about how they feel. Customer, friend, spouse, whoever.

    Or agree on a compromise.

    • 6 Cairene May 6, 2009 at 3:10 pm

      @Justin – Yeah, it’s tricky. Because of course you don’t want to be a dictatorial shmuck to the people you work with…

      Here’s how I look at in terms of supporting people (which I’ve done a lot of). If I can present my questions (or whatever I need) in the way that is most easily understood by the person I’m asking, I’ll get a better answer more quickly and without irritating them. All of which makes my job much easier. In the meantime, I can organize my own stuff however I like. But when it comes to that exchange, that place where our work overlaps, it serves us both to think about how I do that.

      In terms of being the “boss” – I think it’s an okay thing to ask for. It may seem selfish, but it’s not really. You’re in charge of this whole big thing. Your confusion and overwhelm has a much greater impact on the business than that of anyone else associated with it. You need clarity more than anyone. Which is not to say a heap of communication and a bit of compromise won’t be needed too. But you can only accommodate so much before things get shaky. When you’re shaky, everyone is shaky. So again, having that clarity serves everyone, not just you.

      This is much more easily learned in long-term working relationships that one-time dealios. It may not be possible to get to know a someone well enough during a short term job to apply this stuff. But knowing how you like to work can help you to recognize clients or helpers that are a good fit for you.

      And how this applies to partnerships, spouses and friends? … well, that’s another thing maybe. That requires more give and take because the relationships have a different structure/hierarchy… but it’s still good to recognize that different styles can lead to the same kind of frustration and confusion in your interactions with those people and give it some attention.

  4. 7 Jessica May 6, 2009 at 3:05 pm

    I used to hate my body because pants that fit me in the waist don’t fit me in the hips or the length or whatever. And then I realized – it’s not my body that’s wrong, it’s the clothes! I just need to find clothes that fit MY body or get stuff tailored or whatever. But I finally stoppe beating myself up for having the “wrong” body.

    However, I have never stopped beating myself up for being disorganized. For trying just about every self-help, time management, organizational program out there and “failing” at all of them. Thank you so much for saying what I need to hear – it’s not me. I just need to create my own system that’s tailored just for my personal quirks. I love that.

    • 8 Cairene May 6, 2009 at 7:09 pm

      @Jessica – I love love love! the analogy of tailoring clothes to fit your beautiful-just-as-it-is body. It really is the same thing: tailoring systems to fit your beautiful-just-as-it-is mind. Yay! :)

  5. 9 Justin May 6, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    @Cariene – Yeah, the trick is to pay attention to the systems and how they’re working, or not. You need to fix the systems, not worry so much about the people per se.

    I struggle with blaming myself when things aren’t working well. “If only I were better at this.” But it’s not about me, it’s about the systems I use. If I change the way I do things to be more in keeping with what works better for me, everything is easier.

    The same with dealing with clients. If I do things in a way that feels more natural to them, there’s less resistance, and we all get more done with less stress. WIN!

    I love to remember this saying when things with clients are difficult: “It’s like mud-wrestling with a pig. Eventually you realise the pig likes it.”

  6. 10 marion barnett May 7, 2009 at 3:31 am

    Oh, spot on post! We get so hung up about ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, when really all there is is ‘what works’.

  7. 11 Kimberly May 7, 2009 at 5:34 am

    Thank you so much. I can’t tell you what a relief it was to hear (read?) this.

    Because of a health problem, I cannot work – or live – in a way that the people around me consider “normal”. I’ve spent years trying to fit into the “shoulds”, even when I knew that I would hurt myself in the process. Deep down, I knew that this was the exact opposite of what I should be doing, but the voices of the gurus drowned that out.

    With the cries of “Denial!” and “Resistance!” ringing in my ears, I learned to distrust myself. With the disapproving glances of those around me, I learned to be ashamed. I’m just starting to realize the extent of the damage this has done.

    So, thank you for reminding me to listen to myself. I needed that today.

  8. 12 Bridget August 26, 2009 at 8:52 am

    I love this. So many people are hung up on their inadequacies, when really, it’s the process that doesn’t fit them!

    Thank you for making this clear in a loving way.

    Bridget
    @petsaretalking

  9. 13 Susan Green August 27, 2009 at 12:50 pm

    It’s liberating to think about reorganising systems, rather than self… thank you Cairene.

    • 14 Cairene August 28, 2009 at 10:09 am

      @Susan –
      How beautifully succinct: Reorganize your systems instead of yourself. (May I borrow that pretty please?)
      Cheers to your liberation. :) C


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