Write mediocre things now 

boredI never thought of myself as one of those writers who’s afraid to put their writing out there.

I’ve published over 1,100 posts on Tech Cocktail and hundreds of posts on my personal blogs. Fear is not my problem – right? 

But the other day, I was toying with an idea for a blog post about “should” – a phrase I use all the time in my head, which may not be the best motivational strategy. And I realized: I was afraid. 

Not of trolls or scathing refutations, but of mediocrity. 

I often get my fiance to read my posts, and when he responds with something along the lines of “Hm! That’s nice,” I feel like I did something wrong. Somewhere in my head, I want all the posts I write to be the musings of a genius. I want to be creating new ideas, challenging assumptions, and evoking more than a “Hm!” And, as a perfectionist, I’ll always push myself to take the ideas further, to categorize and define, to find the connections that lie just below the surface. 

But maybe I’m too hard on myself. Maybe I have to write lots of mediocre stuff before I someday arrive at my magnum opus, my book, my profound revelations. Maybe writing is just like a form of public practicing, where I get better at the actual writing and the idea development each time I click “publish.” 

Paul Jarvis, who published an ebook for creative entrepreneurs last November called Everything I Know, says, “Einstein wrote thousands of research papers and most were considered either awful or simply average. It wasn’t until he had tried several ideas and explored many new paths that he finally came upon his genius.” When Jarvis felt like a weak web designer himself, he responded by building more websites – practicing. 

The student doesn’t walk into physics 101 and expect to invent a new theory. As bloggers and writers, maybe we need to see ourselves as students – particularly if we’re hoping to become experts in a certain subject. While I aim for the fascinating, today I may have to settle for the mildly interesting. 

Photo by Flickr user TRF_Mr_Hyde

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The jelly to my peanut butter

On our first date, Fred and I discovered that we were both INTJs, one of 16 personalities in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Hooray – we could understand each other perfectly!

Well, not really. Six years later, it turns out we aren’t as similar as we originally thought. It’s been a process of “I don’t get why…” and “Wait, what are you doing?” and “Huh, really?”

Here are all the differences we’ve discovered – so far. Maybe you recognize some in your relationship.

1. I’m theoretical; he’s practical. I want to figure out problems; he wants to go out and solve them. We both like learning and creating, but my prominent mode is thinking and his is acting.

2. I like routine; he likes variety. Yes, I’m ordering the sushi for the fifth time this month – I’d get it every day if I could. And yes, I want to go to another cafe this weekend.

3. I plan; he’s spontaneous – at least in the realm of leisure. As we’re enjoying an activity, my brain already goes to what we’re doing next, what’s for dinner, and when we should leave. Fred’s a fan of “just-in-time thinking.”

4. I judge; he explores. Even though we’re both Js, Fred is much more open to new ideas than me. He reminds me to keep an open mind and not be so critical so fast when someone (including him) expresses an idea I disagree with.

5. My instinct is to follow rules; his is to question them. Small case in point: the pool at our hotel supposedly closes at 7:30 pm, but we wanted to swim later. Fred said we should just do it; I wanted to ask permission. (We ended up asking, and getting permission.) Fred makes me more flexible when I realize some rules are dumb.

6. I’m risk-averse; he’s risk-tolerant. When Fred decided to venture through malaria land on a bus, I had to grit my teeth – and stay home. When I paid $1,000 for a rabies vaccine, he was the one gritting his teeth.

7. My mood is variable; his is consistently positive. I’m happy when Fred’s mood rubs off on me, but I’ve had to assure him that it’s okay for me to feel down sometimes.

8. I work constantly in moderation; he works in spurts in excess. I can do 9-5 all year; Fred prefers binge working for six months then taking a break. I had to learn that those breaks weren’t lazy or unproductive; they were a needed counterbalance and recharge.

9. I abstain; he indulges. I have to sit by while Fred eats many small desserts throughout the week; he has to resist the urge to tell me to “live a little.” (And I do – just once a week.)

Recognizing these things was the first step. Next is actually, genuinely, wholeheartedly believing that your partner is entitled to their own approach. You may think you accept something, then discover rogue thoughts and feelings in your head when the difference comes up. It’s a process – so why not celebrate your differences this Valentine’s Day?

Mur des Je T'Aime

“Don’t get your hopes up” is only half the story

don't get your hopes upLast Friday, I treated myself to a 45-minute reflexology massage in Ubud. Luckily, being a veteran of Asian massages by now, I expected this to be painful. I’m normally quiet as I get tenderized and prodded, but this time I couldn’t help but shriek. 

American masseuses would stop in their tracks if you yelped in pain. Indonesian ones take it as a sign they’re doing it right #ow

— Kira M. Newman (@KiraMNewman) February 7, 2014

What would have happened, I wondered, if I had gone into the massage expecting your normal, everyday, American massage? It would have been terrible – painful and terrible.

It’s not that my expectations would have been too high – a Balinese massage isn’t worse than an American massage. They’re just different. In fact, they have entirely different purposes (at least in my mind) – one relaxes me, the other loosens up my tight muscles.

“Don’t get your hopes up” or “Your expectations are too high” are common pieces of advice, but they don’t account for cases like this. Here, the problem is that your expectations are simply wrong, not high or low. And I think these cases are fairly common.

When I was living in Montreal, I remember one time when Fred planned what he called a “surprise.” I was expecting something romantic, and was dismayed to discover a surprise bubble blowing meetup! (Creative and awesome for sure, just not what I had in mind.) It’s like when you pack for cold weather and it turns out to be warm – that’s not a worse situation, but you aren’t equipped to deal with it right away.

Maybe our brains simply have trouble with the discrepancy, and with being wrong – something akin to cognitive dissonance. Then it’s a question of how quickly we can adjust and adapt. I’d suspect that the people who suffer from mis-expectation are the same people who don’t like big surprises.

We might be tempted to believe that the remedy is having no expectations, but I think that’s impossible. We can’t help it – everything that’s happened in the past causes us to make predictions for the future, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to cross the street or guess our friend’s feelings. Expectations also seem to come from desires – like whatever you happen to be expecting for Valentine’s Day this year. Instead, we just have to try the tricky process of untangling and naming our own expectations and asking ourselves whether they’re realistic – and maybe communicating them to our boyfriend so he can go buy some roses, chocolates, and unicorns.

“Managing expectations” is something that great businesspeople do. If it reduces stress and smoothes things out in the workplace, why not in everyday life, too?

Photo by Flickr user Benson Kua