October 13, 2015

Breaking down

You’re probably thinking this blog post is going to be about me having a serious mental and emotional breakdown. I won’t deny having some small ones in this past month, but I’m referring more so to an important lesson I’ve learned.

I’m the kind of person who looks at the big picture, the big end goal, of a project. I want a perfect outcome. I’m also the kind of person who has multiple projects going on at once. Put those two together and you’ve got a stressed and frazzled individual (read: me).

I was recently sitting down for coffee with my mentor, Doan Winkel, trying to explain my frazzled state. I hate complaining about having a lot to do because who doesn’t? But on this particular Friday I was looking at all I had going on and had no clue how to take care of all the details. Overwhelmed is an understatement. I shared the jumping bean thoughts in my head.

Then Doan did something very simple. He flipped over a sheet of paper and started writing. I leaned forward in my wooden chair and peered over his coffee cup. Doan looked up at me and said, “You freak out too much about the bigger picture to the point where you don’t do anything about it. If you break things down into smaller tasks you’ll inevitably end up getting at the bigger picture.” He passed me my to-do list for the weekend.

It’s rather amazing how often I feel overwhelmed and never think to do something as simple as generate smaller proactive steps to take. I’m working on it every day. Prioritizing is another thing I’m working on. My friend gave me this tool to help me out:

This quadrant helps me prioritize by putting things that are both urgent and important into the top box, things that are not urgent but important in the second box, things that are urgent but not important in the third box, and things that are neither urgent nor important in the last box. I’ve been using this a lot lately. I don’t always check off everything in the first box before moving to the next one. I tend to jump around the boxes, but the practice of understanding what needs to be prioritized gives me more peace of mind.

As for my emotional and mental breakdowns, most of those have stemmed from a feeling of inadequacy. I worry that I’m not meeting expectations, letting others down, not putting my best effort forward, missing out on things. My Ei friends have echoed these feelings, but our mentors have reminded us that if we focus on learning instead of being what we think someone else needs us to be, we can satisfy our needs and also meet other people’s expectations. I doubt anyone has ever fully relieved themselves of these feelings. I doubt anyone ever will. I’m just hoping to have a better outlook when these feelings set in.

In this next month I will start reaching out to people and companies for my second term apprenticeship. At this point I’m interested in bringing psychological research out of the lab. I think it’s hard for scientists to do research and take their research beyond the lab, but it’s also hard for makers and business people to know about and then make sense of research. It’s hard to put science into practice. My goal in this coming term is to begin bridging this disparity between knowledge and action.

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