Tinkering

(or A Path of My Own)

My son is a tinker-er.  He likes to figure things out for himself.  Just this week he taught himself to dive off the diving board – just by watching other kids do it.  He studied, mimicked, tweaked his form – and then splash! – he was diving in on his own.

I don’t know why this so surprised me. This is, after all, the same kid who potty-trained himself and and taught himself how to tie his shoes and probably taught himself a whole host of other things I’m not even aware of.

And he is my kid, the son of an engineer (by training at least).

Truth is I also need to tinker, but in my own way.  Sometimes it’s to figure out how to use a new technology or to repair a broken toy or solve a problem at work.  I even had to tinker with this blog, and some very early readers got to see that as I played with themes and structure and ideas as I attempted to make this place my own.

I think my therapist was a little hurt that I did all this without telling her about it.  She had been not-so-gently nudging me to start a blog, her opinions steadily increasing in volume and frequency – sometimes to the point that I could feel my rebellious teenager persona kicking in, refusing to do the very thing that would be the most helpful just to spite the person giving the good advice.

But I wasn’t ready to let her into my garden.  Not yet.  I had to get a few things ready first, clear away the brush, till the soil, get ready for planting season.

I didn’t know if this was something I really wanted to commit to.  I needed to set down a few ideas, see how it felt to let these ideas leave my head and find a resting place on the Internet.  I needed to see if I would get a response and what that would look like, me writing anonymously to an audience of unknowns.

I don’t think I’m unduly impressionable or overly-influenced by what other people think.  Of course I care about what some people think.  So oftentimes I need to have time and space to figure out what I think, or at least what I think I think, before I start letting other outside opinions in.

Otherwise, an offhand flippant comment from my mother can alter my future career-path or a critical comment from a friend will shut-down my own narrative or thoughtless feedback from a manager will violently shake my confidence.

I go into these encounters knowing that I’m a highly sensitive person, so I have to steel myself, or more specifically my authentic self, from input that can easily throw me off course if I’m not ready and able and prepared to defend that which I feel and believe at my core.

I was reminded of this recently at a Creative Problem Solving workshop.  On the Basadur Creative Problem Solving Profile (CPSP) Inventory, I am what’s referred to as an Optimizer.  This means that, for better or for worse – because there are no right or wrong or good or bad profiles, but merely “preferences” – I can shift through lots of data and quickly focus in on what I perceive to be the “right” solution, or at least a way forward.  The Optimizer “turns abstract ideas into practical solutions and plans” and “likes situations where there is a single correct answer or optimal solution to a problem.”  Yep that’s me alright.

According to the CPSP Inventory, teammates are advised to give Optimizers “time to weigh the various ideas and options thoroughly.”  Most likely in an Excel spreadsheet I suspect.

One consistent piece of feedback I’ve received in the workplace is that I am too quiet.  Co-workers will be amazed that I can sit silently in a meeting and then say just one thing that is suddenly clarifying or illuminating or transformative.  Apparently it unnerves some people to not be able to tell what I am thinking.  I don’t operate this way just to be protective of my own self and ideas and thoughts, although that certainly is part of it.  I’m just trying to figure things out for myself first.  I don’t want to waste other people’s time with unprocessed thoughts, I don’t speak up just to get the air-time or bolster my own ego.  I want my words to mean something.

I have always liked the idea of Hillary Clinton’s “Listening Tours.”  I adopt a similar strategy anytime I start working with a new group of people.  I spend most of my time just listening: amassing data, studying personalities and non-verbal communication, devising hypotheses, evaluating options.  You know, tinkering, in my own way, in my head.  It’s how I best figure things out, and make sense of it all.

My therapist once told me that she doesn’t ever worry about whether or not I tell her the truth.  She said that she knows I would rather say nothing at all, and just be silent, than to say something in direct conflict with my authentic self.  I’ve spent too many years having to hide my truth from the outside world.  I’m much more careful now with who I let in and the words I let out.

I’m not just being quiet.  I’m thinking and tinkering and searching the silences for a path of my own.

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