Saturday, September 17, 2011

My dad, my job, my love: Lessons in Imperfection

This one's a little bit long, but it's good. (That's what everyone said.)

FAMILY

My dad is a know-it-all, literally. The man knows everything. I remember watching Jeopardy! with him when I was young and marveling at how he knew every answer. Even when he'd get it wrong, I'd sit there thinking to myself shame on Jeopardy! for making another mistake! Idiots...

We learn how to perceive the world from our parents. We mirror their reactions and observations when we're young and we keep those basic patterns when we get older. Sometimes it works against us, like, when we fight with people or mistrust them (without cause); other times it works to our advantage, helping us process the world rationally and objectively... and humorously.

In many way, I process the world the same way my dad does. We both value intellect, learning, humor, and knowing. Knowing what something is or knowing what to do with something like a political situation or a life situation or a business situation. My mom the therapist was better at knowing what to do in life situations while my dad excelled in the business and political arena.

When I was young, I identified with my father a lot. I felt like we were on the same team. It wasn't until my adolescence when I started viewing us at odds, on opposing sides. That competition went on for years and years, well into my late 20s. But eventually something weird happened.

I started to realize that my dad wasn't the perfect genius I thought he was. I started winning debates with him, and started correcting him. I even started getting Jeopardy! answers that he missed. What was happening was a gradual shift in power and authority as I realized something important: that my dad was imperfect. 

That changed things for me. I felt less of a need to compete with  him. We started cooperating again, but this time it wasn't so clear who was leading. Any lingering resentment I had towards him changed into understanding, for he was like me. He was a kid once too, who suffered, cared, and dreamed.

CAREER

I got an advertisement in the mail today from Chase, the bank. The flyer said something like "Something for you...." I did one of those dramatic blinks as if my eyes decided to just start lying to me. Four periods? But surely an ellipsis has three periods, does it not? Anal retentiveness.... ENGAGE!

And I realized something important, again: even professionals are imperfect hacks. They don't have any more authority or perfection than you do. They experience the same hesitation and uncertainty that you do. You may never get to a point in your career where you feel like you're not bullshitting. We're all bullshitting. Politicians, marketing gurus, business people... we're all trying to make accurate guesses because we're imperfect. The amateurs look at the pros thinking "I wish I could do that" while the pros look at the amateurs and say the same thing. It's funny.

LOVE

The same thing happens with love. I can't even count the number of times I've fallen in love with someone after knowing them for 2 minutes or hearing them say something. When I'm hungry for love and companionship, I'm so eager to find someone that I idealize everyone I meet. I think most people do this. They take a little information and imagine that this person is perfect for them, and that this is the person they've been looking for.

And what happens every single time, without fail? Two week go by (or two minutes, in some cases) and you realize this person isn't who you thought. And if you make it past that point, two months later, you start to see even bigger problems. And then you're forced to decide whether to stick it out, or whether there's someone more perfect out there for you. And you're back to the trap.

The trap is believing in perfection, that people and careers and things can be perfect, and that when they're not perfect, something is wrong. But in reality, everything in flawed and everyone is just taking guesses. Sometimes they're confident, but it's not because they know--it's because they're strategically ignorant.

I don't think this is bad news. It's just something to keep in mind when you're measuring yourself or measuring others. Knowing that people are as imperfect as I am is something I take comfort in.

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