Mistakes, I’ve made a few…

I re-read Peter Drucker’s “Managing Oneself” this week. Although it’s merely a 10-page article from the Harvard Business Review, I always get something new out of it.

This time, it’s to realize that I learn by writing.

I suppose I always knew that. (Hence a decade of blogging and 20-odd years of writing in a journal.) But it makes sense to me that I had more trouble than usual at the Ghost of Employment Past, when the only things I was really writing were meeting notes, documentation for employees’ files, and status updates. When it came to what we really did — the important stuff — I regret to say I don’t know it as well as I could have.

Nine months in or not, I should be ready to teach college-level courses. And I am sure I could do a basic community-college-level introduction and perhaps an offshoot workshop. But I feel like I failed to show my intellectual prowess, and it’s because I failed to respect how I learn and process.

I often tried to sneak in reading and writing time. To read a snoozy book chapter and pull out a notebook and re-write it in Goddess terms.

Beethoven did that, according to the article. He took copious notes in a sketchbook but never actually read them again. By the mere exercise of writing, he memorized what he needed to retain.

While I’d never classify myself with him, by any means, I guess I always thought I learned by reading. However, in the great Internet age, I am so goddamn sick of straining my eyes that I have given away most of my books. I may donate even more to tonight’s beach bonfire. 🙂

The bigger lesson — how we learn, and therefore how we perform, changes. It all goes back to my cake-and-cookie-cutter analogy. The shape of the cookie cutter never changes. But the cake has its own consistency and edges that a traditional cookie will never develop.

And said cake has every right to rise however it deems fit. Frankly, it depends on the oven. My mom has used the same damn recipes in a dozen kitchens. And while the cook and the formulas haven’t changed, it’s always a coin toss as to whether the dish will cook all the way through or whether the bread will rise evenly or simply cave in during the baking process. (We have a lot of “ugly banana bread” around here. Damn electric stove. Although when I took some into work, everyone said they loved it!)

Where was I? Damn food tangents!

Today I was reading Penelope Trunk’s thoughts on how to “Match Jobs to Personality to Avoid Anxiety.”

Her take on finding a family dog fit for her new life on a farm resonated with me:

“The farmer points out that all dog breeds are meant for a job. Retrievers retrieve, Basset Hounds sniff, Pitbulls protect. The farmer says you have to let the dog do its job or it will not be happy. …

“The problem that people have, which dogs don’t, is that people judge certain jobs as ‘good’ and others as ‘bad,’ and often the result is a person refuses to see what is really right for them.”

All right, class. Go back through your copy of “Managing Oneself,” turn to the part about taking responsibility for communication. And what a disaster it can be if relationships aren’t managed properly.

Think about it — you go from working with someone who prefers communication in writing, to a place where people prefer to learn by listening, and you’re going to want to cut off your ponytail and hang yourself with it if you possess the learning-by-reading/writing gene.

It’s downright painful to learn to communicate in meetings — where you have to think and talk on the spot — when you are WAY more impressive on paper. I do NOT talk off the cuff. I ALWAYS say something I shouldn’t. Or the big idea or witty comeback doesn’t occur to me until after the hour or two of torture has drawn to a close and I can gulp down a cup of coffee to clear my addled brain.

The listeners/talkers of the crowd perceive you to be slow, to not being on their page, to perhaps withholding information that you need time to process.

I remember having a conversation with someone and then someone else following up with me instantly, firing off questions my brain simply wasn’t in gear to answer. What the asker failed to comprehend was that I needed to pull out my notebook, to jot down some statements and try to fit them into the bigger picture of both the person and the projects they were working on.

The next day, I felt it was important to share a factoid that I hadn’t deemed important the prior day. The value of the information changed, and I felt like I was doing everyone a disservice by leaving that sentence in a notebook that only I will read.

That was a real easy way to get called a “liar.” Which, I will always disagree with. As I said, the value of the information changed, and frankly, I was quite honest that I wasn’t done processing the information when I was first asked to share it.

In other words, I am happy to help anyone in their quest to bring the best out of me. But calling me a liar (or insinuating it) brings up the memory of when the female boss with the bushy mustache (that could hold a cigarette hands-free) told me I was a “disappointment.”

Anyway, so here I am now learning through writing. And drawing the parallels that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. Frankly, I’d forgotten about Mrs. Mustache (circa 2004) until now. But I remember that was the day I decided I was done with her. There’s the point where I will keep smiling and fighting, and then there’s the point where I will close my eyes, ears and heart and simply stop acknowledging someone.

I’m not saying I was planning to be so petulant the second time around. I still had hope that adults could be adults and we could all learn from each other. And I still do, frankly, especially now that I’ve seen that our learning styles aren’t set in stone just because that’s what once worked for us.

Now that we’ve removed the stimulants of college (I’m thinking Mountain Dew and Marlboros, but insert your drug of choice), speed-reading isn’t going to get us through the exam. I don’t remember shit about biology and medieval literature; nor do I plan to refresh my memory. But I do have my way of immersing myself in information so as to not only remember it, but to use it as effectively as possible.

This is why memory is selective. And how sad is it that I only remember the vice president to whom I reported as looking like Janet Reno with a mustache and having a propensity to ruin my day … and not for anything effective she might have done in her 40-year career.

Sadder still that I may only remember that last conversation or, worse, that the other party will be left with that memory as well. Especially when there was a common ground and neither one of us had a foot on it.

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