I was quite taken aback by the reaction to my last blog – The work-life-guilt balance. Partially flattered by your kind words of encouragement for my new venture – MBHRN – but primarily surprised how many people had such similar experiences and feelings as I in terms of their approach to work. I got me thinking about what else I see in myself in both work and play…
…if one is honest, self-reflection is quite a painful, enlightening and somehow cathartic process. I’ve realised of late that I have two fairly dominant characteristics in my psyche, characteristics one would probably not expect to find dominating the personality of someone with my CV; Pessimism and Procrastination …let me elaborate:
I have had emotional discussions with loved ones on this point, particularly my mother (I’d like to point out not all my musings are about immediate family members however I accept that I have a hundred percent record of late). When I mentioned during some family discussion or other – probably Christmas time – that I was very much a pessimist. and that it was a constant and permanent state of mind, she became very concerned, upset and was quite vocal in her lack of understanding as to how someone, who has the life she sees me leading, could possibly identify as a pessimist.
The fact is she confuses pessimism with sadness, in fact more than that, she drew the conclusion that I was actively making myself depressed and not enjoying the wonders of what is a very charmed life…
…nothing could be further from the truth. I am a happy pessimist, and in fact most people I know who identify with a pessimistic attitude are intrinsically happy, content and satisfied. We have managed to almost entirely eradicate disappointment from our day to day lives and are often happily surprised by a more positive outcome to whatever it is we’re doing than we expected.
Pessimists can take on pretty much any challenge you throw at us (parenthood, launching a business, taking on an Ironman triathlon) because we’ve managed our emotive response so that, whatever the outcome, it will be better than we expected and we’ll come away happy. When disaster strikes, so what? I thought that would happen, and I’m prepared. As that say, the pessimist is the one who takes the life-jackets on the boat.
It’s the optimists you need to worry about. The best emotion you can possibly expect if you go through every day as an optimist is satisfaction: Yup, that’s what I expected, a massive pay rise and double promotion / we won six-nil / she said ‘yes’ …that sort of thing…
…I’m that happy when I come out of the meeting and I’ve not been let go / when we only lost one player to injury in a crushing defeat / when she said she’d “think about it”…
To a pessimist, everything comes up smelling of roses.
There are problems of course with the approach, primarily around how it affects others, particularly how it affects the people the pessimist leads, it certainly has in my past. I, inadvertently, but actively, antagonise optimists. The frustration that an optimist feels when things go less well than expected is only exacerbated by the knowledge that the pessimist had been waiting for that outcome all along. When that pessimist is in a leadership role this effect is amplified. An optimist can, understandably, feel the wind being rudely taken out of their sails (or should that be sales?) by the pessimistic leader who is forever pulling on the reins. This brings the optimist down, causes them to rebel and destabilises that relationship, and woe betide the pessimist who deigns to suggest “I told you so”. A level of constant self-awareness is required on behalf of the pessimist in order to avoid such incendiary situations, I’ve learnt that the hard way.
While I’m absolutely convinced and happy with my pessimist moniker, the same isn’t true when I turn to procrastination. I am a pessimist and I express pessimistic characteristics; I procrastinate, but I’m not sure I’m as relaxed about being a procrastinator.
I should define what I mean by procrastination here, I don’t want to mislead. I am talking about the act of putting off doing what needs to be done because I’ve not convinced myself that I’ve explored all the potential outcomes of that action just yet. It’s not in the belief that this delay will mean whatever it is will resolve itself if I ignore it long enough, but that I am concerned there are as yet undiscovered issues that can be identified…so nothing will get done till that is addressed.
For me, this procrastination is a symptom of a phobia of being wrong; in fact, it’s not even that, it’s a fear of being shown that something I’ve done or said is wrong and – crucially – that I could have known this given the resources at my disposal at the time. There is a difference.
My procrastination is also symptomatic of an unhealthy obsession with fairness. I say unhealthy, because the world isn’t fair and therefore I’m regularly and forcibly put at odds with my own psyche by having to make choices which, by their very nature, leave someone better off than someone else…this starts with the TV remote on a Saturday morning and continues right through to the polling station.
So the fear of fundamentally being made to look a fool and upsetting people means that I am able to spend exceptional lengths of time making a decision that, someone without these neuroses, could have, and will have, made very much quicker.
There is an upside to this approach. A procrastinator, if indeed this is the right term, will seldom make a mistake…or rather, will seldom feel that the mistake that’s been made could have been foreseen. When time has been taken to explore all the options I find I value the things I eventually set out to do more highly than those who didn’t invest so much time in the process. My commitment, at the point I make the decision to proceed, is unwavering, single-minded and laser-focused, and that, I believe is more valuable than unregulated pace.
I’m not sure that speed is always a positive thing, 1st mover advantage is largely a myth, the world’s most successful businesses tend to pick up on an idea that someone else came up with and improve on it – Google learned from its predecessors, FaceBook owes much to the likes of Friends Reunited…they say the early bird catches the worm…but the second mouse gets the cheese. I guess I’m more mouse than bird
I feel that my procrastination over the years, particularly since stepping out of employed work to set up Eyzon in London and more recently MBHRN, has done me proud. I think it’s helped me avoid many pitfalls and while there are plenty more ahead of me I’m ready for them. I’ve made decisions along the way that I’ve felt comfortable with…I certainly don’t sit here thinking “what if?”. When the opportunities have presented themselves, with a careful and considered approach, and a healthy pessimistic attitude, I’ve taken them, and fundamentally, that’s the most important thing to me. The journey is one thing, but not looking back with any sense of regret, that makes it all worthwhile.