Monday, November 26, 2012

Persistent Pathological Perfectionism

Today's blog is just a thought for pondering.

This is a phrase I have come up with to describe a state in which a person always waits for things to be "just right" before saying something to someone or taking an action.  For at least part of my life, I have suffered from this.  I have learned over the years that, in life, there is rarely a time that is just right for anything.  If a person waits for the perfect moment to ask another if they are interested--the opportunity is likely to pass.  If a couple waits for the time that is perfect to have kids--they may end up with none.  If a person waits for the perfect time to start a new project, the project not only will never be completed, it will not likely get started.  If a person waits for the perfect time for a new job, they may stay in an old one forever, even if it is no longer providing the fulfillment it once did.  And so on.

If you will excuse the double negative, that does not mean that there are not times that are definitely wrong.  There can be wrong times to ask of someone else's romantic interest. There can be wrong times to have kids.  There can be wrong times to start new projects.  There are wrong times to look for a new job.  These are just examples (the romantic interest and decisions about kids are both long done in my case) but hopefully they are clear.

Sometimes I have to realize that the time is right even if it is not perfect.  The conditions are right even if they are not ideal.  Perhaps that is a part of maturing as I am more adept at these now than I was years ago.

One other part of maturing, perhaps, is that I have to be vulnerable.  Vulnerable to failure.  Vulnerable to struggle.  Vulnerable to the fact that things may not work out.  (Which, in reality, if what I am looking at involves more than one person is always a possibility even if I think that the time is perfect.)

Initiating something means taking a chance.  Taking a chance will never happen if a person suffers from persistent pathological perfectionism.  Taking a chance can lead to wonderful, exciting, enriching, fulfilling outcomes when a person does.  

Sunday, November 25, 2012


Ambiguity can sometimes be a very hard thing to deal with.  It makes my life difficult.  It makes me struggle.  It leaves me with no easy answers.

And yet for many of the same reasons, ambiguity can be a great thing.  Things that are hard to deal with make me stronger when I get through them.  Things that are difficult are there to be struggled with.  Struggle helps to define our lives as many of the best things are things that are had to struggle through.  Having no easy answers makes me think and think hard--which I enjoy.  I don't always come up with insightful or incredible answers.  

Ambiguity has much variability.  Sometimes the thinking is not for a matter or moments or hours but weeks, months, or even years to sort through something.  Sometimes the ambiguity is only a small amount and at first glance after which something becomes perfectly clear.  In other cases, there really is an ambiguity that lasts nearly forever.

I thought of ambiguity yesterday after my run.  It was an example of short ambiguity, thankfully.  It is interesting to ponder why there was any ambiguity on  day when I ran what will be listed as my fastest half marathon to date and on a day on which I brought home a trophy for being the first co-ed relay team?  Both of those are very happy things.  And for both of those unambiguous things, I am grateful.

The first ambiguity I think about was with my running--despite the positive outcome.  Did I go out too fast?  Did I think about it too much and look at my watch too much rather than just running what felt like the right pace (particularly slower at the start) and see what happened?  It may have been my best race but it didn't feel like a great race?  What lessons were there to learn even on the day when I had the best time I'd ever had at that particular distance?  How did I reach the finish line at my best pace despite feeling an incredible struggle in the middle and toward the end of the race?  How had my minor GI issue in the middle of the week affected my race performance? Had it affected my race at all?  What did it mean that I needed so much fluid after the race to feel balanced?

I always have to remind myself that on any given day we have to take what comes when we get our opportunity to run.  And to paraphrase my friend after the race, "All I can do is give the best effort on a given day."  And, in that, there was no ambiguity.  I did what I could.  It may not have been the smartest, most strategic, most satisfying race, but it was my best effort.

The team name indicates ambiguity.  The team name was "Who's the Mentor?"  A play on the fact that my teammate has mentored me about working with men in residential rehabilitation programs and who has mentored me about running.  And the fact that I have mentored her about public health professional issues and at least served as an one example of someone who has managed 20+ years of marriage with three amazing children for she and her husband who just got married back in September.  Perhaps an even more apt name for the team would have been "Who's the Bigger Mentor?"  Because clearly each of us has made an impact on the life of the other in the way the friends and colleagues can.  The opportunity to see how any two people interact can be an incredible revelation into how people teach each other and how people learn from each other.  Student and advisor.  Child and parent.  Husband and wife.  The ambiguity of the roles is an exciting and an amazing part of life.

The interesting thing about yesterday's vulnerability is that it was short lasting.  I can turn it into analysis.  I can learn some lessons and move on.  I can write about it and let it go.  Writing is often good for setting my mind free of an issue.

It is not spiritual ambiguity or ethical ambiguity or any of the really difficult things to deal with.

Instead, yesterday's ambiguity is something that was just a reminder of the many times and ways in whichI can learn lessons.  The many ways in which there is ambiguity.

The many ways that I struggle with self-criticism.

The many ways that I have grown and continue to grow as I understand what I have to offer and what my limits are.  

Monday, November 19, 2012

Imagining Opportunity

I can't believe that it has been over three weeks since I have made an entry in this blog.  But I feel compelled to write.

The past month has been busy.  One reason has been a four week Coursera class that I managed.  That was one opportunity that has turned out to be a lot different than what I imagined, but it has been a great one nevertheless.  There is a lot to be taught and a lot to be learned from interacting with as many as 20,000 people in an online class in a four week time period.

The past month has also been busy with slightly longer FB entries as I have tried for the past three weeks to come up with something truly new to be thankful for.  Today, I wrote that I was thankful for my imagination.  I commented that imagining possibilites (or opportunities in the heading for this entry) is at least half of what is necessary to make them come true.

Certainly, without the ability to imagine new opportunities, I would need to rely on someone else to create them.  I have clearly benefitted over time from other people creating opportunities for me. And I am sure I will continue to do so.  But as my career matures, I have had to learn to imagine and create more opportunities for myself and to sometimes be the one who either creates opportunities for others or at least helps others to imagine opportunities they might bring to reality. .

There are also many times that I imagine things that will never come to pass.  Part of maturing is learning how to separate those that are likely to be a reality from those that are not more quickly and to pursue only those that are likely to become reality.

As a final thought this morning, I'll share a quick example of finding opportunity where none may have been apparent and creating what may be a new opportunity.  I have enjoyed the opportunity to mentor or at least share insights gained through years of personal and professional experience with many over time.  In addition to the standard mentoring of graduate advisees and sharing life lessons with younger runners, this has been largely facilitated by my undergraduate institution (Penn State) with numerous formal mentoring programs.  The last person I was formally linked with has now graduated from Penn State, although we stay in touch.  Of course, I remain open to other opportunities Penn State may create.

After a race last week, I reached out to someone I had watched and heard make a brief speech in the post-race ceremony.  The post-race ceremony was mostly about distracted driving issues. Why?  This was the Fourth Annual Heather Hurd 5K, organized in honor of a young woman with so much ahead of her who was taken from this world much too early in an accident caused by a distracted driver.  The topic of distracted driving had already led to one opportunity for mentorship of a master's student last year.

The race raises money for a book scholarship at Harford Community College.  The prior recipient was the one whose speech caught my attention as she mentioned what she is interested in studying and it is close enough to my own interests that afterwards I got in touch and offered to share insights on health promotion and public health as she plans the her early career around these topics.  Would I ever have thought when I left to race on a Saturday morning that I would come home with a new opportunity to give back professionally?  Probably not.  But part of imagining opportunities is being ready to imagine them at any time and in any place where they might present themselves.

Perhaps it will only be a single conversation with someone looking ahead to graduate school.  But I know from my own experience that even a single conversation can sometimes help to shape a person's outlook on professional life and the opportunities that life presents (in other words, the opportunities a person imagines).  Thus, regardless of whether there is just a single conversation or we stay in touch, sharing of professional insights and the issues of work/life balance has the potential to make a real difference in where a person turns next.

As I imagine possibilities ahead (in parenting, my profession, and my running) I'd like to close with some congratulations and a wish.  First, a public congratulations to the Hurd family for a great event.  Second, a public congratulations to the previous winner of the scholarship from money raised by the race.  I am sure that regardless of any insight I may provide you will have a great career ahead, although I hope that my insight may help.  And a public wish that my mentoring will help those who I am asked to mentor or have the serendipitous opportunity to mentor in the future.