On listening, perfection, timing, and growth
Putting down some reflections over the last few years in one place. Hopefully they are of some use to you.
01. On Deep Listening
I always thought that I was a good listener. But I was surprised to learn that I probably wasn’t as good as I thought I was. Here’s how I can best explain this.
Deep listening means allowing whoever is speaking, to own their conversation. Very often, when someone (professionally or personally) is sharing something with me, I have a tendency to demonstrate (what I believe to be) empathy by nodding along, or offering gentle encouragement with hmms, and yeahs, or even agreeing with me too to make the person feel less alone. My intentions are kind — I want to help. I want to offer a solution or share with them my story of how I might have dealt with something similar, so I jump in offering my perspective.
Here’s what I learned — when I do that, the minute I say, yes — me too or I know!, what I’ve done is taken the conversation away from the speaker. I’ve made it about myself without intending to.
Deep listening is about allowing the person who is speaking to own their story. As a listener, my role is less to offer solutions and help (unless asked) but to only ask thoughtful questions. When I put this into practice for the first time, it was awkward. We walked the length and breadth of Amsterdam because surprisingly walking makes you focus better on listening. When I wasn’t facing someone, looking them eye to eye — I could focus on listening and not feel the pressure to help/ solve/ or take away the person’s pain.
It is VERY hard to practice and I have been trying intently since my return to practice deep listening, more often failing than succeeding. But this is the kind of knowledge that pokes and pricks you once you have become aware of it. So in time, I hope to do better.
02. On chasing perfection
The other thing I learned was about perfection, which I always equated to having high standards (which I still believe to be a strong quality). But I learned perfection manifests itself in many ways and it holds us back in many ways. It manifests in imposter syndrome (that more women suffer from than more men), how we may not feel ready for the world, ready for a job, ready for a promotion, ready for something new (that in many cases our male peers are already far ahead with doing).
My friend said it beautifully — the thing about perfection is that only I know what my version of perfect is. People will never know what it is. The quest for perfection is what holds me back from momentum and moving further — like this email that I’ve been drafting for five days now.
In the pursuit of perfection, I often forget the good.
In the last two years I have learned that sometimes, most of the times, good enough is perfect. I can articulate this now.
03. On Perfect Timing
Perfection tends to seep its way in my life in numerous ways. I’ve uncovered another manifestation of it in my life recently that a friend helped me re-frame. I was sharing with a friend why I had put a few things on the back burner because of timing. I might have said something like, the timing isn’t perfect right now. She listened. And then, she asked me if I had ever said out loud to myself,
what is this time in my life perfect for?
She challenged me to reframe my point of view on timing. In waiting for the ideal set of circumstances or the perfect timing, I was either living in the future or perhaps in the past. Not quite, appreciating what my current circumstances or timing would be ideal for.
I had not considered this before. Perhaps, I’ve not paid as much attention to my present as much as I have to my future or my past. It was jarring and liberating at the same time.
The beauty of this approach is that it does not necessarily make the current timing right for some things I might want to do, but it does force me to look at my current situation as a gift that may allow me to do OTHER things.
04. On growth and expansion
I hold myself to impossibly high standards and have expectations of myself that I wouldn’t dare have of others. I’m worry that I’m not growing professionally as fast as I want to. I worry I’m not growing personally as someone my age should. I chase growth, and yet it remains elusive, unreachable. Have you found yourselves do the same?
Recently I was reminded to reframe what growth is. I have been conditioned to perceive growth as something that grows vertically, linearly, up. Our heights go up; we climb up the professional ladder; our bank balances go up. And, because I’m focused on measuring how far and how tall I’ve grown, I am blindsided and unaware to how deep or wide I’ve growth. Much like a tree. I see a tree growing up — what I don’t see are its roots expanding and growing underground.
Growth is not a zero-sum game. I have been growing, but in ways I have not been able to perceive. I want to hardwire myself to think of growth as expansion — in all directions: up, deep, and across.