Polishing what is already smooth and shiny.

It’s Friday. Time for a round-up of the week’s Lessons Learned.

Except, in honor of Jen Louden’s week of Freedom from Self-Improvement, instead of compiling my usual list, I thought I’d clarify what this weekly post is about. And what it’s not about.

[ I’m a bit late to the party in sharing this event with you – today is the last day – but you can still get in on the fun. Jen is giving away fabulous stuff, plus today you could win a whole year at the Comfort Cafe – which, as I’ve said before, is what stands between me and crazy burnout. ]

I am not flogging myself with a wet noodle (as they say) here.

The phrase “Lessons Learned” has connotations that maybe aren’t so nice.

First, there is perhaps an association with the notion of “teaching someone a lesson” – defined as: to get even with someone for bad behavior; to punish someone so that they will not behave badly again; to show what should not be done.

As though my Lessons Learned are somehow punitive insights into my shortcomings that I beat myself up with. Which is so not the case.

No, my association with the phrase originates with where I learned it. I was introduced to the expression in a corporate setting. Fortunately, that was a long time ago and my Dilbert-esque connotations have faded and only the kernel of the idea – “stuff that didn’t go so well that we’d rather not repeat” – has stayed with me.

In that context, it wasn’t about “we screwed up” (the “we” was so huge and bureaucratic I don’t know that anyone really could grasp who the “we” was anyway). It was all about improving policies and procedures – systems – so things would go more smoothly and come closer to desired outcomes next time. They were engineers – a practical bunch – and weren’t much concerned with something as unnecessary to a well-functioning system as self-flagellation. And I’m not either.

This is about Doing. Not Being.

My coach once pointed out that we’re not trying to be better (“You can’t be better, you were born perfect.” she said) – this about doing better.

The distinction has made a huge difference for me. It allowed me to uncouple wanting change from my self-worth, from my understanding that what is happening right now is okay and enough and exactly as it should be.

And all the noticing I’m doing about what is happening, all the evaluations I’m making and conclusions I’m drawing from it, are about what I need to do to make it easier to be me.

Not change me. Be me.

The “lessons” are changes I want to make in the environment and circumstances I create for myself, so that being my true self is a cakewalk.

As often as not, it’s about removing what’s getting in the way. A simplification. A paring down. An elimination of unnecessary rules and shoulds.

It’s not so much fixing as a refinement of all that is already going well, of what is working (though I may not always list that stuff, trust me, it’s there).

It’s a polishing of what is already good and sufficient.

Polishing is optional. And yet it’s not.

I really like learning. And I’m not sure I could stop myself even if I wanted to.

It seems to me we are created to learn. It’s one of the basic things we are born to do. Why else are we walking around with these big brains on the top of our bodies?

And we seem to learn best from trial and error, from our so-called “mistakes.”  Our fallibility has been ideally designed.  Our imperfection is perfect.

To try to eliminate it from our being (or our doing) through “self-improvement” – even if it were possible – would rob us of the best way we have of genuinely improving our lives.

Not by being better, but coming to understand what we can do to make it easy to just be who we are.

And sometimes we don’t need to do anything at all.

Please join Jen and me in giving yourself a day off – and enjoy a little freedom from self-improvement today.

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7 Responses to “Polishing what is already smooth and shiny.”


  1. 1 Tara September 11, 2009 at 12:53 pm

    Whoa. This is awesome: “we’re not trying to be better – this is about doing better.”

    Sometimes, because my biz is just me, making the biz better FEELS like *I* should be better. But like you said, it’s all about making it easier to *be me*.

    Awesome.

    Thanks!

  2. 3 Jennifer Louden September 11, 2009 at 1:37 pm

    I adore how you write, and what I learn from you! Awesome sums it up!

  3. 5 Paulita September 12, 2009 at 7:26 am

    I love your idea about learning and growing as ways to make it easier to be myself. That whatever changing and tinkering I do with my habits is in service to making it easier to be myself. Reminds me of Havi’s post about sovereignty earlier this week. Thank you.

  4. 7 Shawna R. B. Atteberry September 16, 2009 at 10:38 am

    My coach once pointed out that we’re not trying to be better (”You can’t be better, you were born perfect.” she said) – this about doing better.

    Wow. I have never thought about this way before. It’s about doing better so I can be my true self. Wow. I will be thinking about this for the rest of the week. Thank you.


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