Monday, April 27, 2009

Observations: The Second Time Around

I've had a song running through my brain most of the day so far (it got lodged there because I have the CD in high rotation on my iPod play list). It is from the Indigo Girl's new CD "Poseidon and the Bitter Bug" and the song is called "Second Time Around." The particular lyric that I have trapped in my head is:

"Here's what I find about compromise, don't do it if it hurts inside, cause either way you're screwed, eventually you'll find, you may as well feel good, you may as well have some pride."

I find that it comes close to explaining my position on compromise. It's not a rock solid position, but, in general, in the course of my life, I have found that for the most part, when you compromise (with the rare exception of when it is a true compromise - a true meeting in the middle), you will end up regretting it. It may be a small regret. It may be a large regret. Most likely it will fall somewhere on the middle of that spectrum. But you will regret it.

I find the sentiment holds true in both my personal life and my professional life. You may gain when you compromise. You may even be able to measure the gain and the gain may be greater than what you would have received if you had not compromised. But that seed is going to lay in there until it finds fertile ground and grows into regret.

In the early nineties I went through a protracted period of soul-searching where I found the answers to some of my questions - if not the specific answers, then the form of the answers to come. I came out of that time with a triple resolution that altered my life. I vowed three things to myself.

First, I vowed that I would never again do something I did not want to do.

Second, I vowed that if I was working in a job and I got up one morning and did not want to go to work (not in the sense of a single day, but in the sense that the work was wrong for me), that I would go in and resign that day.

Third, I vowed that I would do what I thought was the right thing to do in each circumstance, regardless of what other people around me thought.

The middle vow (about work) came out of the work environment that I had just exited at the time. It had been a good enough job - I worked with good people - but the work content had been grinding and soul-sucking. Do you recall that game you play as a child? Where you imagine you are an animal? I had been driving into work one day and come to the sudden realization that I had become a worker ant! I got up. I went to work. I did stuff. I went home. Repeat until your soul dies.

Since that was a larger item, I have never broken that particular vow. Armed with that vow I have always (since then) paid careful attention to work content, to what the position or profession required that I do, and since then I have pretty much consistently enjoyed the various manifestations of my profession.
The first vow I have broken several times, always to my regret, and I think that is why that particular lyric echoes with me. I won't go into the details of what breaking that first vow involved (they are mostly irrelevant), but each had the same framework - I did something that I felt pressured into doing. I generally knew that I was making a mistake as I did it, but I often felt I was making the best of bad choices.

The third vow I have also broken several times but there is a key difference between being compelled to do something you don't want to do (you take an action) and not doing something you feel you should have done (you do not take an action). All thoughts aside, what impacts us in this life are mostly the things we do and fail to do. If you fail to do something, you can "make up" for it by either doing it at a later time, or perhaps by doing an equivalent action later in time. If you do something - you cannot undo it. It is done.

So, I think my advice there, based on thirty years as an adult would be this -

"Here's what I find about compromise, don't do it if it hurts inside, cause either way you're screwed, eventually you'll find, you may as well feel good, you may as well have some pride."

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