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- How often are you certain?
Today is January 25 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often are you certain?” Anyone who ever put in the daily grind to translate one dream after another into reality understands just how uncertain life is. Plans are made and then changed. Directions are outlined and then altered. Schedules are created and then altered. The uncertainty of life might be perhaps the most certain aspect of living there is. Learning to deal with uncertainty is a fundamental element involved with navigating the chaos and practicing the art of living well. When sharing his secret to happiness, the great philosopher Jidhu Krishnamurti said, “Do you want to know what my secret is? I don’t mind what happens.” Now that is a way to navigate the chaos and practice the art of living well! How many times have you said to yourself ‘I don’t mind what happens?’ Be honest. You may have said ‘I don’t’ mind what happens’ aloud to others or to yourself but is that how you feel? Reflecting upon your answer to that question helps you increase your self-awareness as it relates to a need to be certain. Truth be told, most people do mind what happens. As Allison Carmen wrote in an April 20, 2016 Psychology Today article “Most of us do care what happens next in our lives. We care about keeping our jobs, having enough money, our children being healthy, and a slew of other crucial aspects of our lives. We want to make sure that the things we want to happen do happen and that is exactly where our need for certainty begins. We want to know what will happen next so we can rest in the moment knowing everything will be okay.” Today’s reflection offers an opportunity for you to process how often you require certainty to move forward as well as your decision-making process. In today’s volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous global marketplace, any rush to be certain has consequences to consider. In his July 2011 "Why Being Certain Means Being Wrong" Harvard Business Review article Ted Cadsby acknowledged that “The need to be certain gets in the way of accuracy when it comes to problems that have multiple, interwoven causal factors that are difficult to unbundle. Complex problems require exploration, multiple perspectives, and a variety of possible explanations, before it is safe to draw any conclusions. Many complex problems can only be tackled with experimentation because they do not converge to definitive solutions.” When you are thinking about a problem, question, or issue, and looking to express any level of certainty it would behoove you to recall the conclusion Philip Tetlock reached in Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know? “The average expert was found to be only slightly more accurate than a dart-throwing chimpanzee. Many experts would have done better if they had made random guesses.” Tetlock made his conclusion after studying over 82,000 predictions from 284 people who made their living “commenting or offering advice on political and economic trends” over a 20-year period. In his November 28, 2005, New Yorker review of Tetlock’s book, Louis Menand wrote “people who appear as experts on television, get quoted in newspaper articles, advise governments and businesses, and participate in punditry roundtables—are no better than the rest of us. When they’re wrong, they’re rarely held accountable, and they rarely admit it, either. They insist that they were just off on timing, or blindsided by an improbable event, or almost right, or wrong for the right reasons.” For those who would like to improve their ability to process uncertainty, research recommends one to pause, take a breath, and assess the situation. When asked what makes a great hockey player, Wayne Gretzky is said to have answered, “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.” Of course, such an approach is easier said than done. Moving, deciding, and executing quickly in uncertain time, however, can be a tragic mistake. A 2014 research paper by Tobias Teichert and colleagues entitled "Humans Optimize Decision Making by Delaying Decision Onset" concluded that “the simple act of pausing, even for as little as 50 to 100 milliseconds, allows the brain to focus on the most relevant information.” Life is uncertain. The longer you can give yourself to respond while working through uncertainty, the better off you might be in the long run. American dancer and choreographer Agnes de Mille noted “Living is a form of not being sure, not knowing what next or how. The moment you know how, you begin to die a little. The artist never entirely knows. We guess. We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap in the dark.” Navigating the chaos and practicing the art of living well requires you to take one leap after another in the dark. Doing so, however, requires you to get comfortable with uncertainty. Can you live without knowing? Can you take leap after leap in the dark or must you be certain before you move? Why must you be certain? How do you think your attachment to certainty is related to your fear of not being in control? Has waiting to be certain caused you to miss opportunities in life?
- How often are you pursuing perfection?
Today is January 24 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often are you pursuing perfection?” Navigating the chaos and practicing the art of living well never involves being perfect. Do not confuse achieving one dream after another for perfection. Do not confuse the art of living well with perfection. Do not allow yourself to be seduced by the pursuit of perfection. Such seduction is a fool’s errand and will often result in a dead end instead of progress. As Spanish artist Salvador Dali observed “Have no fear of perfection. You’ll never reach it.” Why then, do so many parents insist that their children be perfect? As a parent, navigating the chaos of raising children and practicing the art of living well requires a deep understanding of the harm demanding perfection from our children is causing. As a parent, are you directly or indirectly teaching your child/ren the following equation?: You need to be perfect so you can get into the perfect school where you will earn perfect grades, be the perfect student and then get into the perfect college? You will then have the perfect major, perfect internship, and land the perfect job, all the while finding the perfect husband, or wife. Doing so will allow your life to be perfect! You are the perfect child! How is such an approach working out? Is this pressure to be perfect effecting the mental health of your children? Do you know? How would you know? As one researcher noted “Pressure on children to achieve is rampant, because parents now seek much of their status from the performance of their kids.” Seriously? You, the adult, failed to achieve the status you desired as a child and now, with your own children, you force them to accomplish what you were unable to do? Why? To what end? To feel better about yourself? If you are pressuring your children to accomplish something you were unable to, use today’s reflection to recognize that is not a characteristic of one who practices the art of living well. The art of living well allows your children to make mistakes, reflect upon them, and then learn to apply lessons learned moving forward. The art of living well allows you to make a mistake. The art of living well permits you to be imperfect. But this message is falling short as parents are simply pursuing perfection in their children at alarming rates. As you reflect upon how you raise your children, recall the observation by author Frank A. Clark who once wrote “The most important thing that parents can teach their children is how to get along without them.” The research is overwhelmingly clear, far too many parents have pursued this child rearing strategy of forcing their children to be perfect. “As many as two in five kids and adolescents are perfectionists,” says Katie Rasmussen, who researches child development and perfectionism at West Virginia University. “We’re starting to talk about how it’s heading toward an epidemic and public health issue.” As Amanda Ruggeri wrote “The rise in perfectionism doesn’t mean each generation is becoming more accomplished. It means we’re getting sicker, sadder and even undermining our own potential.” Paul Hewitt, a clinical psychologist, and professor at the University of British Columbia defined perfectionism as a broad personality style characterized by a hypercritical relationship with one’s self. Hewitt co-authored Perfectionism: A Relational Approach to Conceptualization, Assessment, and Treatment where he explains that setting high standards and aiming for excellence can be positive traits, but perfectionism is “dysfunctional because it is underscored by a person’s sense of themselves as permanently flawed or defective. One way they try to correct that is by being perfect.” As Christie Aschwanden wrote in a December 5, 2019, Vox article "Perfectionism is killing us" the advent of social media has, for the past decade, made it “possible to constantly compare your own life to others, and, as a result, perfectionism has only become amplified.” To better assess the trends associated with the rise of perfectionism pre- and post- social media, researchers Andrew Hill and Thomas Curran gathered data from more than 40,000 college students who had taken a psychological measure of perfectionism between 1989 and 2016. In 1989, about nine percent of respondents posted high scores in socially prescribed perfectionism, but by the end of the study, that had doubled to about 18 percent. Hill noted “On average, young people are more perfectionistic than they used to be and the belief that other people expect you to be perfect has increased the most.” In their December 2016 Journal of Clinical Psychology paper "The Relationship Between Perfectionism and Psychopathology: A Meta-Analysis,” Karina Limburg and colleagues concluded “high levels of perfectionism were correlated with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, deliberate self-harm and obsessive-compulsive disorder. The constant stress of striving to be perfect can also leave people fatigued, stressed and suffering from headaches and insomnia.” Remember the observation by author Brené Brown “Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving for excellence. Perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth. Perfectionism is a defensive move.” Reread that. Perfectionism is not the same as striving for excellence. If you think it is then you need to stop and rethink your obsession with perfectionism. How often are you pursuing perfection from yourself or your child? Why do you believe perfection is achievable? Will you feel superior over others if you convince yourself you are perfect? If you are pursuing perfection, is it because you are afraid of being imperfect? How is your pursuit of perfectionism hurting you or those you love?
- How often do you reassess what you are good at?
Today is January 23 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you reassess what you are good at?” Navigating the chaos and practicing the art of living requires a constant reassessment of what you are good at and what you want to do with your life. Of course, you have the freedom to never assess your interests. That certainly is an option. But doing so may result in little, if any, progress towards translating your dreams into reality. This is especially true when it comes to work. Many people reassess what they are good at and in so doing, change jobs. According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics August 22, 2019 press release “individuals born in the latter years of the baby boom (1957-1964) held an average of 12.3 jobs from age 18 to age 52; with nearly half of these jobs were held from ages 18 to 24. Among jobs started by 35-to-44-year olds, 36 percent ended in less than a year, and 75 percent ended in fewer than 5 years.” One-way people navigate the chaos and practice the art of living well is to leave one job for another. Either out of necessity, or design, millions of people leave one employment position for another. More money, a better work environment, and a better fit between skills and work are three common reasons people switch jobs. To understand the later, one needs to reflect upon today’s question and reassess what they are good at, or what they want to be good at. Actor and director George Clooney has asked himself that question periodically throughout his career. In a December 23, 2020 interview with Kyle Buchanan and published in The New York Times, actor and director George Clooney responded to a question about next steps in his career. According to Clooney “I am not bored with acting, I’m more concerned with the idea that I know for a fact how careers go, because I’ve seen it: My aunt Rosemary was a big singer and then she wasn’t. Things change, I know that. I have no interest in quitting, but you have to reassess what it is you’re going to be good at.” Reassessing what you are good at is an important tool available to anyone who would like to navigate the chaos and practice the art of living well. One does not need to do the same job their entire life. One can, if they wish, but if they ask themselves the question “what am I good at?” or perhaps “what do I want to be good at?” then a new job might be on the horizon. In another interview, this time with Zach Baron for GQ published on November 17, 2020, Clooney discussed his early days of acting when he struggled for 12 years before landing his breakthrough role on the television series ER. As Clooney recalled “When you struggled for 12 or so years as an actor, when you get in, all you want to do is prove you can act and all the stuff you can do and show off all your tricks. And then as you ease into it, you kind of go, ‘Well, I don't feel like I have to prove anything anymore.’ I'm much more comfortable in my own skin.” This level of comfort, self-awareness, and self-care has helped his reassess what he is good at and what he wants to do next. According to Clooney “As time goes on, you're starting to look around, going, ‘Well, how else am I going to be involved in this business that I really love?’ I love this business. And I also do not want to be 60 and worry about what some casting director or some young producer or studio executive thinks about me anymore. I wanted to be involved.” Baron asked Grant Heslov, Clooney’s long-time friend, about his friend's decision to step back from acting, to direct and otherwise live his life. Heslov told the story of an exercise Clooney propose they conduct during a recent conversation. The exercise was simple as the two were to “sit down and try to figure out how many summers they had left. As Heslov recalled “Clooney said ‘Let's say we were 55 at the time. So, let's say we have 25 more summers left—25 years, 25 summers. That doesn't seem like that many if you lose a whole summer, right?’” Clooney understands reassessed what he wanted to do early in his life. As he recalled in The New York Times interview “I didn’t have it (acting) for the early part of my life — I did jobs I hated and lived for the weekend.” If you are missing something from your life, work at a job just to pay the bills, understand that change is possible. It is going to be difficult to navigate the chaos of transitioning to a new career, job, or company, but use this Navigate the Chaos series to understand how people practiced the art of living well as there are hundreds of things to do on your journey. How often do you reassess what you are good at? What is preventing you from reassessing what you are good at? What role does fear have in your reassessment? Are you holding yourself back from moving forward if you have reassessed yourself and have identified something new you would like to do? How many summers do you think you have left?