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Decision making

Its been a while since the last post as I’ve been sick with a virus and I am just getting back into a normal routine. It wasn’t very serious, but I felt exhausted and my stress tolerance plummeted so that I couldn’t afford to do anything that was mentally of physically challenging. This heightened sensitivity highlighted a few of the causes of stress in my life. Even things like reading the Facebook feed, which throws up all kinds of ideas and issues from a diverse range of people, got me quite uptight. In order to recover I had to be very disciplined about saying No to things that were going drain my energy. This experience got me thinking about the difference between saying Yes and saying No. Why is saying No is just so difficult?

Saying Yes has a lot going for it, because its active. Things that we can say Yes to are tangible. Invitations, opportunities, offers. Say Yes and you have something to show for it. We also say Yes to things that we are already doing, simply by keeping on doing them. Yes has a strong momentum behind it based on our own and other peoples imaginings of what Yes has to offer.

Saying No is tough, because at face value what you get seems intangible. You get “nothing”. You get not to go somewhere, not to get something, not to do something. What saying No does is preserve time and space for other things and experiences, but you have to look a bit harder to define those benefits.

I have pretty good instincts, and I am learning to trust them more and more. Yet sometimes I still hesitate to back myself fully and just say No to things at the outset. This results in wasted energy getting into, and out of, things that didn’t feel right in the first place.

I think its this intangible quality of the outcome of No that leads me to say sometimes say Yes, even when a little voice is telling me not to. If I think something isn’t going to work out, saying Yes offers some tempting payoffs. Lets say I am invited out to dinner but my gut feeling is that I am not going to enjoy it. If I say Yes, I might be wrong and have a good time. But if I have a bad time, I can fall back on the satisfaction of telling myself I was right.

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I must admit that there is a strong temptation to say Yes to things that I don’t think will work out to avoid the responsibility of making a judgement call up front and dealing with the uncomfortable feelings of loss and uncertainty that brings up. No means letting go of the possibility being offered. It means giving up on the potential experience, fun, money, work, or relationship without ever knowing how it would have turned out if I had said Yes.

To just say No and move on feels brave and ruthless. But I wonder what my life would feel like if I was more vigilant about staying true to my own instincts and avoided uncomfortable meanders down sidetracks that lead nowhere. I suspect I would have more energy for the things that were important to me, and life would have a smoother flow.

From my experience so far, there is a subtle sense of relief that comes with making a good call. I can feel a part of myself is smiling and relaxing, as if to say “thank you for listening”. I can relax and trust myself, because I am no longer living out little experiments to test my intuitions, I am just getting on with my life.

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I am beginning to understand what happened to young Alice in Wonderland. She poked her nose in where it didn’t belong, and before she knew it she had left the known world and was falling, falling, falling into a whole other territory. Curiosity is a fine thing, but Alice needed some work on her balance and her boundaries. Perhaps you are thinking I am a kill joy. Afterall, if Alice had kept her balance there would have been no story for us to enjoy. Of course you are right. The fall into the unknown is the device to begin her journey. But I can’t help thinking that Alice may have had other things she wanted to do that day. Other adventures of her own choosing.

Recently I accepted an invitation to provide some training, on a casual basis, at the place where I used to work. “Where’s the harm?” I thought. I was missing being part of a team and the feeling of being an expert. Having allowed my creative self plenty of room for expression my analytical mind was ready for a wander around the magical land of databases. And of course I was glad of some casual work to provide income to support me while I build up my own business.

It was a good feeling to be welcomed and to have my knowledge appreciated. I had returned to familiar territory, which was also unfamiliar after 18 months absence. I began to remember what I used to know and sharing what I thought would be helpful. When I looked up from the training task I found myself at the edge of a large project in its early stages. Like Alice, I got curious and poked my nose in. “That looks interesting”, says I. Once I had stuck my head in a small distance, I could see a whole lot of potential directions. Questions to be Asked. Issues to be Investigated. Gaps to be Filled. So I started asking, and investigating and hurling my body into gaps. “What a good consultant I am,” thinks I.

And then, like Alice, I realised I had lost my balance and I was falling. Instead of being a visiting trainer sharing knowledge of the old system, I was plummeting headlong into the new and offering to do things that weren’t in the original brief. I saw the magnitude of the project in front of everyone, and toppled into it, until it surrounded me like an enveloping fog. Soon I was thinking about work 24/7 and feeling like I didn’t have time or energy for my own projects. My part time hours seemed too short in the face of everything that could be done. I had started to feel responsible and my whole being was organising itself to get to work sorting out this project that seemed to have no boundaries to it.  Wait a minute. Isn’t this why I left?

Learning Experiences. Gotta love ’em.

Fortunately for me, I have access to equipment that Alice lacked. I have insight into what’s happening, and a jet pack with an eject cord.  I can pull that cord and fly back to where I need to be – a visiting trainer sharing knowledge to help other people with their major project. I don’t have to fall to the end of the tunnel and spend a whole lot of time wandering around another universe.

This is my first time in this consultant role, where I am brought in for a specific task. Its a whole different mindset than being a permanent employee. Its about being focussed on the agreed project, and delivering well on that piece of work. Being a consultant means staying on the edge and maintaining perspective, even if it means missing out on some of the things that are going on around you. The training aspect of my role suffered because I got caught up in the bright lights of a big shiny project that others were working on. I need to reboot and regroup and get back onto the path that I originally agreed to, the adventure of my own choosing.

The next book on my reading list for people with multiple interests is Mash-Up!: How to Use Your Multiple Skills to Give You an Edge, Make Money and Be Happier by Ian Sanders & David Sloly. Ian and David focus on how to develop a multi-faceted work life that takes advantage of multiple talents and interests. They contend that rather than diluting one’s abilities, being able to mix up a variety of skills provides an advantage in the contemporary workplace. This interests me because I have been exploring a number of possible avenues for earning an income and the possibility of a varied worklife is very appealing.

For Ian and David the key to success as a masher is to define your ‘personal unifier’ which describes the common denominator that runs through all your varied skills and interests. It that allows people to ‘get’ what is at the core of what you do. I haven’t come up with mine yet, but its probably going to relate to topics addressed in this blog, such as simplicity, intuition and decision-making, growth and spirituality.

Even when you are clear about your personal unifier, it can sometimes be difficult to know how to present yourself to a potential employer or client. Ian and David advise telling your story in a way that grabs attention, clearly communicates what you are offering, and provides the person you are talking to with a way to take the next step to using your service.

The great benefit of a mashed up life is the satisfaction of utilising different aspects of your skillset. People attracted to this lifestyle relish flexibility and the freedom to take advantage of the opportunities which arise. In fact, Mashed-Up recommends adopting an “unplan”,  an attitude which allows you to follow your instinct and go “where the water flows.”

The book is written in the language of the digital age. People are identified by their Twitter handle.  It has a Gen X feel that made me question whether as a young Baby Boomer I was too old to pursue a mashed up existence.

Fortunately I didn’t need to think about it for too long. People have been mashing it up for centuries, and there is no age limit on who can get involved. The digital age just makes it easier to link up with like-minded people and convey what you are up to. They way I see it, retirees are the ultimate mashers.  They often enjoy a freedom to explore their own interests and determine their own schedules that can be harder to come by in mid-life.

Retirement takes on new meaning when you are living a mashed up life. If you already love what you do, and the roles that you take on are flexible, there is less reason to announce an abrupt and final end to your working life. People with artistic and creative careers already know about this. The urge to paint or write doesn’t suddenly die at 60 or 65. If you are lucky enough to be retired with access to an annuity or pension, you are free to explore a mashed up existence that can include paid or voluntary work that is both interesting and rewarding.

I am not sure if I have retired early, or I am never going to retire. If I can construct a Mashed Up life with multiple income streams, I may never have to decide.

I’m not interested in politics. I’m not really a big picture person. As long as things are ticking along smoothly I’m happy for other people to handle the details of how the country is run. Fortunately I live in a country where democracy works well and I enjoy a peaceful and stable society in which I can pursue my own thing.

One reason I don’t like politics is that it tends to be negative and conflictual. I am not someone who enjoys a good argument. I my mind, there is no such thing as a good argument. Thats the nature of my personality. I tend to think  “everyone is entitled to their opinion”, and I don’t like to create tension by highlighting differences. However because I tend to hold minority views, I sometimes forget to include myself in the “everyone” who is entitled to an opinion, and keep mine hidden.

Although I am in an introspective phase personally, I do occasionally take a peep outside my bubble and there are wider issues that concern me.  I am not interested in the mechanics of politics, but I am interested in values and how they determine our behaviour collectively and individually. I have solved this conundrum by joining a “greenish” political party which aligns with my values, and then keeping my membership a secret. I am also on the mailing list for a variety of social action groups and sign my name to petitions for various causes, although I never take the next step of passing them on to my Facebook Friends.

In two weeks Australia will be holding a Federal Election which will determine our national government. It seems like political pendulum is swinging towards a more conservative government, and thats a concern for me because issues that I care about like social justice and protecting the environment are likely to suffer.

If the election is close, then the smaller parties could have a strong influence in policy formulation, and I would prefer that influence to be held by a party that advocates for the environment and tolerance of diversity. I am going to feel bad if Australia ends up with an ultra-conservative government and I did nothing to speak up for my point of view.

I have been asked to hand out “How to Vote” cards at polling booths. I sat on the request email for a few days unsure about how to respond. I don’t want to say Yes; I don’t want to say No. I want to use my influence on strangers, but I don’t want to put pressure on my friends and family.

Rather than adopting my usual strategy which is “when in doubt do nothing” I have decided to do the smallest active thing I can possibly do and see how that goes. So I am planning to try handing out How to Votes at the pre-election polling booth and see what it feels like. Then I can decide if I want to do it on the main polling day.

I am still researching material on muliti-potentialites, scanners and renaissance souls ie those of us who have a variety of interests and like to move between them. People with this tendency often want to try things out and see how they feel before committing to a course of action. We tend to get very involved in things for a time, but then move on to other interests. What I am learning is that you don’t have to be the backbone of an organisation or the leader of a social movement to be able to make a significant contribution at a critical time. I am thinking that maybe I can engage in two weeks of my own style of political activity leading up to the election, then shift my attention back to other concerns.

My own style of politics is still forming, but I think it would be characterised by thinking out loud and allowing others to do the same. This gives me a little more scope for expressing my concerns, so that at least others know what I think and I am taking some responsibility for shaping the values that drive my community.

A while ago, I made a bad decision. When I say a while ago, I mean in 1980. OK, it was a long, long while ago. It was my the start of my second year of university after finishing high school. I had chosen a four year social work degree because I wanted to learn about how to help people. After the first year I had learned two things, I was great at psychology, and I hated social work.

Social work is a good first degree in many ways, because it draws an a wide range of disciplines such as psychology, sociology, and philosophy in addition to social work specific theory and practice. Its general education that takes a little bit from here and there. Psychology 1 was a compulsory first year subject taught by the Psychology Dept to a wide range of incoming students from a variety of streams. I liked humanist psychology, and I could do the “rats and stat” although I wasn’t convinced that scientific research on animals was a good way to understand the human heart and mind. Even so, I excelled at this subject, and that feedback was difficult to overlook.

The first year social work subject Australian Social Organisation, on the other hand, had me bored out of my mind. It was the first sign that an in depth study of the welfare system wasn’t going to be my thing. I was interested in how peoples minds worked, rather than in social and organisational support systems. Looking ahead at the course structure I could see that the psychology strand was going to dry up and be replaced by more welfare subjects. What to do?

OK. Its obvious what to do. Switch to psychology. Get myself out of there and try something else. I could have switched to Arts and done Psychology and English. I could have switched a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and become a Clinical Psychologist. This possibility was so obvious that it did occur to me to find out the last day to change courses and research options for continuing psychology.

So here’s what happened. Nothing. I watched “last day to change” move closer and closer. I racked my brains about whether I should change or not. On the  night before the last day to change I agonised intensely about whether to change. But I didn’t change.

I don’t  regret any courses or jobs that I started, but I do regret finishing a few things. I regret staying in courses that I wasn’t enjoying. I regret staying too long in jobs that were no longer challenging. I regret completing four years of a social work degree which I was not enjoying, and spending the rest of my life feeling like a “failed social worker” because I never went ahead and got a job in that field, even though I didn’t enjoy it.

Looking back to that agonising non-decision so many years ago, I wish I knew that it was OK to try something then change your mind if it didn’t fit. It’s OK to do a course for a little while, learn what you need to know, and move on. Its OK to try different jobs to see what you enjoy, learn new skills and experience variety. I wish could have cut myself some slack at 20 years of age, and tried a few different options.

Knowing when to move is still something I struggle with, because although I am someone who craves variety, I don’t love the process of change. I don’t enjoy applying for jobs, and I am not a big fan of applying for courses that take months to commence and years to complete. Having said that, its  uncomfortable to stay with something when the excitement has left the building.

I am still working on this question of how to decide what to do and when to move on. Right now I feel the need for a change, but I’m not sure how to quit “doing nothing” other than by “doing something.” Of course I am not doing nothing; I am writing and exploring options for having a small business. I have been loving the freedom to decide what to do with my days and I want to continue to have time to explore my own interests and try out new things. Having said that I am starting to get a tiny bit bored, and I am not enjoying seeing my finances dwindle. I am thinking it could be good to get back out into the world of structured work on a small scale to connect with people and make some money. I don’t want to make the mistake of ignoring the urge for change for too long.

Here I am writing again after a six week break from blogging, and also from reading blogs. I took some time out to do some deeper reading, quiet reflection and to work through a few things that needed my full attention. Its been a rewarding experience, and I am sure some of that journey inwards will inform future posts.

In the past few days I have been catching up with a few of my favourite blogs and stumbled across a fascinating interview with Emilie Wapnick on Joel Zaslofsky’s Smart and Simple Matters program. This has prompted me to start blogging again, so that I can share it with you.

Emilie has coined the word “multipotentialite” to describe people who have many interests and creative pursuits in life, and don’t want to choose between them. They are people with a high level of aptitude in a range of spheres, but prefer to be generalists, and pursue a number of interests at the same time, or in succession, rather than specialise in just one area.

This isn’t a new idea, people like Leonardo Da Vinci or Benjamin Franklin are the ultimate examples of people who have excelled across a wide range of spheres, rather than sticking to just one thing. Emilie Wapnick is bringing recognition to this phenomenon into a contemporary context. She is  allowing ordinary people to identify their wide ranging interests and reluctance to settle on one thing as a positive quality rather than a failing.

I have taken a quick look at Emilie’s website at Puttylike and was blown away by a wealth of posts describing me and the kinds of challenges I have faced. I had this strong sense of recognition and identification which is obviously shared by other people who have this generalist trait. Although I have made quite a bit of progress in being able to recognise and untangle many of the issues raised on the website, it was a relief to find out that I am not alone. I am in my 50’s and it would have been a big help if I could have known these things 20 or 30 years ago. I think there is a lot of potential that remains unrealised because multipotentialites have been unable to harness their wide-ranging interests and make sense of their lack of specific direction.

I loved the post called The Biggest Lie You’ve Ever Been Told which refers to The Question which is “what am I going to be when I grow up”. This May and September blog is about me pursuing this question, and given my age, it seems a little late to still be asking it. But what I am coming to understand, and what Emilie Wapnick is also saying, is that for some of us, this is the wrong question.

My experience of the past year is classic multi-potentialite behavior. Having left a full-time job I travelled, then returned home and explored a number of options and interests simultaneously. At one point I was maintaing three blogs and starting two businesses at the same time. Then quite suddenly, many of these interests faded and I stopped. This is typical of multi-potentialites, we develop a deep fascination for a topic, and pursue it in depth for a period of time, then quite suddenly reach a point of saturation, and feel the need to let it go. If we don’t let go, we become bored and restless, because our attention has moved away and what was once a pleasure with its own momentum becomes a hard slog. Oftentimes these interests than we have apparently gone cold on will resurface in a new way at a later date, or become the launching pad for a new direction.

Even the need to take a break from blogging is probably and expression of this multipotentialite quality. Its quite difficult for me to indicate in advance what I am going to do in terms of the structure and frequency of posts, and every so often I am going to need to take a break from writing altogether. I could discipline myself to be more consistent, but for the time being my priority is to explore what happens when I work with my natural tendencies, rather than trying to reign them in. Hopefully that keeps the writing fresh and relevant, even if it is sporadic.

Whats great about this new take on generalists like me is that it redefines these qualities as a strength, rather than as a lack of direction or consistency. The ability to take on a lot of information on a chosen field, integrate it quickly, and build links to other fields is a useful quality. The key is to understand this skill set, and find a way to make a living that accommodates it. This might mean finding a job that allows sufficient flexibility to encompass a wide range of interests and to move between them in a natural way; taking a part-time job that pays the bills but leaves enough time and energy to pursue one’s own interests outside of the job; or changing jobs with sufficient frequency to avoid boredom and inertia from setting in.

I’d love to hear whether this concept resonates with you. Do you recognise it in yourself or in others around you?


You aren’t supposed to be getting two Linking Back posts back to back.  I have been busy this week sorting myself out, so that I can give this blog and other writing projects more attention. The theme for the week has been shifting priorities and making time for what is most important. Some of my reading this week has been on a similar vein.

I enjoyed a guest post on Courtney Carver’s blog Be More With Less by artist Jeane George Weigel. Jeane talks about the courage it took to leave a corporate job to pursue life as an artist, and the personal growth that has resulted. I could relate to her comment about her former life. Indeed, I could have written it myself:

I didn’t make these major changes quickly or easily. I was aware for years that my life didn’t seem to fit me, or I didn’t fit it, but I wasn’t sure what else I was supposed to do. I felt unhappy on a level I wasn’t willing to acknowledge and I used to say that if I knew what I wanted to do I’d go do it.

I am also appreciating CJ and Tammy Renzi’s book The End of Wishing Our Days Away. CJ and Tammy blog about their lifestyle change at The Great Jollyhoombah. Their story is one example of how a health crisis can call into question demanding traditional work roles and unhealthy habits. For the Jolly’s this led to a simpler and more intentional lifestyle. And fun of course. Lots of fun. They bring to mind the (mis)quote “I’ll have what they’re having”.

I had a chance to hear a woman speak who has been working on healthcare and education projects in the islands to the east of New Guinea in Milne Bay Province. When talking about the motivation for her work she described about how the people cried when talking about the lack of healthcare in their remote communities. The expression for crying its “dropping water”. She said “How can you sit and listen to people dropping tears”. A living example of compassion in action.

I have been suffering from “Be careful what you ask for” syndrome, as one quickly made intuitive decision has started a snowball effect.  Having decided to give up trying to sell greeting cards as a money-making exercise, I quickly realised that I no longer needed to maintain a separate photography blog for the purpose of promoting them. I am therefore taking a break from ImageChest Photography. I will include photographic posts here when they fit in with the flow. My final post on the photography blog, for the time being at least, was more pictures of my outing at Luna Park and Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Hot on the heels of that decision came the admission that efforts to promote my Professional Organising business have not been successful and that whole project needs a serious rethink.

These decisions are possible because am starting to feel clearer about the general direction I want to take and developing criteria to by which to judge potential projects. I want to direct my efforts to projects which contribute to my happiness and wellbeing, and stand up to the test of simplicity and lightness. I want to have time for writing and photography. This feels like the right track to be on, although letting go of some activities that were consuming a lot of time has created a gap which is a little spooky. Nevertheless, having cleared away some distractions I think I will be better able to make decisions that take me towards the future I hope to create for myself.

DB27 Side of Path near St Agnes Beacon