Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Daily Life: Are You In Over Your Head?

“If you aren't in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?”
T. S. Eliot

I shared the quote above today with several people, including those folks that work for me. I thought T.S. Eliot expressed something very important that people, including me, sometimes struggle with. There are definitely times when we want things to just go smoothly, we'd like the pace of change to slow down, we would like to just ride a constant current through life. Life and the universe often have another opinion on the whole subject.

However, I think the above quote hits right to the core of it all. If you are not stretching, if you are not pushing yourself to the edges of the envelope, if you are not trying to clamber over the walls of the box life has settled you into, how do you know what you are capable of? Good management, good mentoring, good leadership, good teaching and good parenting all have this in common. They seek to encourage people to reach beyond themselves and to be taller than we really are.

Years ago, when I was lost and trying to find myself, a large part of that journey was trying to figure who I really was. As anyone who has ventured on the journey of self-exploration rapidly discovers, it is a lot harder than it looks. Starting with the mores and norms of our general society we wander down through the specifics of our subclasses and subcultures, all the way down into the tiny little daily habits that infuse our life, we are often shaped very much by the environmental influences in our lives.

We often discover that there are many things in our lives that we do or fail to do because of external influences that we did not deliberately consent to. We may dress a certain way because we perceive that is the way we are supposed to dress. We may cling to a certain job because we have convinced ourselves it is the best job there is. We may not seek out a new position because…well you get the picture. We conspire to hide the internal self in the camouflage of the external self.

There are a lot of reasons we never reach out to the world to measure ourselves against it, to see how tall we are. Many of them are very good reasons and involve that intricate balancing act that is life. But, often enough, they are default decisions. We do not measure how tall we are simply because…we don't. So, that brings me to wonder today - how tall am I? How tall are you? Are we in over our heads? Why not? My answer is simple, on reflection - I am not as tall as I could be. I am not in over my head. Finally, I really like T.S. Eliot. Smart guy.

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