With most things, a little bit of perspective directed in the right place can shake up the entire body of knowledge. Like a drop in a pond sending out ripples across the surface, tiny twists in information can restructure the entire thing, at least temporarily. Rarely do we encounter an insight of such magnitude and usually, wisdom is gained over time, but like anyone claiming mastery in a given subject, their insight, intuition and intelligence are usually the product of years of open-ended discovery and experimentation.
Too often do we look for a set of instructions to follow, a guide to show us the way or an insight to give us the edge. The person who can seemingly make something out of nothing is rare, but common enough that we all know one or two who can. So what makes them different? Why are so many of us afraid to even try? How does persistence and how does perspective tie in to all of this?
In the mind of your average American, an unpolished critique might as well be a big red stamp of denial that reads YOUR FUTURE IN POTTERY DIED HERE. To us, it's a mark of failure to most of us, but to those in the know, failure isn't really a thing. In the end, it's just disappointment filling the gap left by an unmet expectation. Forget the expectation and fill the hole left behind with something less fixed, excitement or something, just never fixate on the end goal, that’s a long way off. Worry about what’s going on right now. Are you doing something or talking about doing something? Talk is cheap, small actions, over time, do the unthinkable. One is a rock and the other is a steady trickle of water. Eventually the rock will split in half, the acorn will become an oak and your uneasiness will be replaced by confidence.
We should have few expectations for ourselves or others. We should most definitely have standards, extremely high ones for that matter, but not expectations. Let things develop naturally, your taste in cooking, your ability to speak Cantonese, just don't expect to be amazing at them next week. Your standards will dictate how often you practice and your expectations will only remind you how much more practice you need. Patience is a virtue, not one of mine (which makes my life that much more difficult), but I'm tenacious so I've got that going for me. I keep at it and when I bite the dust I bounce back like a tiger after a nap.
When I do something I feel like I'm good at, like tying my shoes, I'm never worried about screwing things up, I've got that covered, but shoelaces aren't really a process I'm looking to improve. My goals are long term and I've got to go through a lot of wrongs before I distill from this batch of life experience the kinds of truths that I feel my existence owes back to all the people who helped get me where I am today.
We all can dig down deeper than we do, but I think we're afraid to do it. We want steps, plans and guides and we're taught to make them, draw them up and lay them out on a table for everybody else to inspect. It’s fine to make plans, but follow them before you get too comfortable in that phase. If something goes wrong, revise the plans and keep going forward. Never stay where you are. I write a little, cook a little, clean a little, play a little, everyday. Wash, rinse, repeat. I usually watch TV in the background, disconnected. My attention pops in and out but it never dominates my time.
We are repeatedly told to work hard to study a respectable career field and get a respectable job, but it just feels like there's something missing in that design. I think I know what it is. Any mental training or exercise has to have within it the ability to fit a certain degree of ridiculousness, an area where testing ideas and role-playing is allowed to romp. We are taught to learn by memorizing things, not imagine them from different angles or other perspectives.
If we were to see a bumper-car suddenly swerve onto an on-ramp and onto the expressway, our thought processes would naturally pause. Our brain wouldn't even attempt to figure out how this bumper-car got here or why, because whatever is about to happen is surely more important than anything else. In situations where we are unable to plan, the operation of our brain is peaceful, quiet, unfocused and open. We might imagine what could happen, but to do that, our brains take into account the factors involved in the situation. The drivers on the road, the speed of the bumper car, direction, look of the driver, everything that it can collect. Then, as we begin to process these new feeds of information, time slows and we become aware of the situation. Having expectations fool us into thinking we've somehow mentally prepared ourselves for whatever is going on, but they're rarely more than shortcuts for the brain, an attempt to give us, the user, a perceived sense of control.
Sure, we can expect the food we cooked to come out a certain way, but there’s something cute about an eight-year old telling you that they will be an astronaut when they grow up because unconsciously, you realize the thousands of small decisions they’d have to make before they’d get there, something a lot of us didn’t do and might not want to acknowledge. Instead, we think their naivety is comical and non-threatening.
Presently, psychology is in stark contrast to physics, where detailed plans and mathematics provide results that, at this point, are an exercise in the imaginative prowess of the scientific community. Our task as psychologists on the other hand, is to take perception, expectation and imagination and determine how they affect not only our behavior and moods, but how they can be altered and looped back into the system to change our personalities, ideas and beliefs. It’s going to take some imaginative drive to unlock those cognitive charts, but like I said, we’re Derivators ‘and you can too!’ We need some serious inspirations. We're looking for a system that not only reflects the individual but the entirety of humanity.
We need a revelation and we're not going to get there playing with statistics. Carl Jung said you could measure a thousand pebbles in a pile, find the average weight of all of them, choose a single one and still have a measurement that is grossly off. That's what psychologists are up against. But that's not your mountain, that's ours. So, for the time being, I can only encourage you to try new things in the direction of your goal, not expect your to-do list to pan out exactly as you had planned. We, the people who are supposed to know, are unfortunately doing the same thing at this point and everyone is standing around looking at somebody else to take the next step.
Integrating new information, new methods and new frames of reference become more important than preserving our own beliefs and ideas about the world around us once you get in the habit of finding them. Visiting a new city? Get your bearings and then put away the GPS or a map. You'll discover more. Want to learn how to paint? Ignore instruction videos and paint. You'll learn more. Want to learn how to cook? Experiment with different temperatures and proportions, you'll respect recipes much less and begin to learn what cooking is actually all about, tasting your way to a better meal.
An accurate picture of how things interact, why they are the way that they are and whether or not they are something worthy of change all spring from being able to see their place in a bigger picture, not the picture itself. We usually gain the kind of wisdom so often attributed to our grandparents only after decades of experience, but in all of human history, the freedom to which we are able to experience and learn from the tradition and ability of a global population hasn't been available to us until the past few decades.
Visit the next country over, explore your own city, your neighborhood, whatever, just don't be afraid to get back out there again and again and again until you've found what it is you're supposed to be doing with your extremely short time on this planet.