The greatest argument that never was

I had an interesting conversation the other day. It was a conversation I didn’t want to have. I had tied myself up in knots about it because I was sure that it would go badly.

I like people, I like conversations, but I don’t like conflict at all. So I wanted to hide, I wanted to shoot from behind my keyboard. I wanted to be able to take the time to carefully craft my sentences.

But sometimes it’s better to talk in person.

In fact, my Mother always told me, ‘Talk in person, and if you can’t do that, talk on the phone, and if that’s impossible, then write.’

Let me set the scene.

I am giving a talk for our church soon, and I have been working with the women’s ministry team to prepare the talk. I want the talk to be suitable for their situation. They want it to be right too. It’s an exciting opportunity and I’m thrilled to be doing it.

The ladies organising the talk made some suggestions to me about how I should proceed. I thought through those suggestions and decided I didn’t want to do things that way, I wanted a slightly different take. I needed to tell them, but I was scared.

I was worried that I was wrong, that I was being proud, that I should just take their suggestions on board and go with them. It sounds like humility (a good thing) but I think it was just imposter complex (a bad thing) masquerading as humility.

The thing is, I’ve been a lecturer for ten years, I know how to talk in front of people, I’m trained in it. And yet, here I was, stressing about these little changes. Stressing because I wanted to do things my way and yet here was an email (and an in-person conversation) suggesting that I should do things another way.

So my first instinct was to write an email. A list of very good reasons why my way was better. A strong argument where I could put my thoughts in order and push these people over to my point of view.

The email I wrote instead asked if we could meet in person and talk about things.

After sending that email, I stressed. I spent time thinking of exactly how I wanted to phrase my arguments when we chatted. I thought of the best way to start, the way to push my point across, the way to make sure we were still in relationship afterwards.

Over and over again I replayed the possible conversation. And then I would pray and give it to God and get on with life. I had to wait a few days until we could meet and there was nothing I could do. I decided not to keep stressing, there was no point. But I also replayed my points to myself several times a day so I wouldn’t forget them. I’m not real good at letting go of the stress, can you tell? But I’m trying.

So then the day came, and we had the chat. And I have to say, the women were lovely. They are really great people. They weren’t holding tight to their suggestions, the ideas were just that – suggestions. I only got out maybe two of my carefully rehearsed sentences, they weren’t needed. We had a great chat about all our thoughts about the night and then prayed together and left.

And I laughed at myself.

Imposter complex is so difficult to overcome. In fact, it was really only as I was writing this that I fully realised what was going on there. So I guess that’s one take-home message: check whether your humility is imposter complex or fear in disguise.

But the other thing is, I can see looking back that our conversation could have escalated into a horrible resentment and anger on both sides (or at least on mine) if I had allowed it to continue by email. It would have been impossible to read the subtle body language, the joyous laughter, and the side comments. We would have got more stilted, more precious, and it could have brought disaster.

But dealing with the conflict in person blew all those cobwebs away, made see just how little conflict there actually was, and has left me free and light and ready to go for it with my little talk.

I wish I could keep this wisdom with me all the time. I know I’ve stuffed this one up more than once.

The online world is wonderful and I love messenger and email for giving me the ability to converse easily as an introvert without having to actually get out of my house and see people 🙂 but sometimes, with these difficult conversations, I think my Mum’s wisdom stands:

Talk in person if you can, otherwise talk on the phone, and only write if you absolutely must.

What do you think?

Jumping to say ‘yes’

Demands

Here’s another thing about me – I’m a pretty obedient person.

When my daughter Jess was younger she used to boss me around.

“Mum, I need a drink,” she’d say, as toddlers do.

“Yes, sure.” I’d groan, getting up from my extremely comfortable position on the couch or shutting down what I was working on and fulfilling her request immediately.

My husband Moz would tell me that I was supposed to be the parent, telling her what to do, and that when a three year old tells you to jump, you shouldn’t ask “how high?” on the way up. But obedience has always been my first response to an order and it probably always will be.

I needed to learn to put a filter in between that response and the requests of others.

I listened to a podcast interview last week with Jocelyn K Glei. It was talking about email anxiety and how to deal with your inbox. She mentioned an interesting concept. She said that some people are ‘guessers’ and others are ‘askers’.

Now, when askers need something, they ask for it. If they are visiting from another city and want to spend a month sleeping in your spare room, they ask. If they want someone to photograph their wedding, they ask. Implicit in the request is the confidence that you can say no at any time. They just throw the question to you, and expect you to say no if the task is too hard or not convenient at the moment.

However, guessers are not built like that. Guessers try to figure out if you are the best and most reasonable person to ask. They’ve tried to take everything into account, and they only ask if they think you’ll say yes.

Both of these personality types are fine. The problem is when an asker asks something of a guesser. Then the guesser feels very guilty about saying no to the request and often ends up doing something they really don’t want to do because they assume that it would be dreadful if they didn’t. They assume that they are the only one who can fulfil the request and that all other options have been tried.

You can guess what type of person I am.

I found the idea really freeing. The idea that I may not even be expected to answer all requests with a yes. That the asker might be just as happy for me to say no.

People don’t even need to ask me sometimes – I obey the call of technology without thinking.

When my phone rings I jump to answer it. Moz gets frustrated with me, especially at meal times.

“Just leave it,” he says, “you can ring back.”

Which is quite true, but leaving a ringing phone is incredibly difficult for me.

I’ve even answered the phone while sitting on the toilet. But only once. Never again. Believe me, it’s not a good idea.

I spent a long time trying to work out why I have this compulsion to answer every phone call. I think I’ve figured it out.

I only make a phone call when there is no other option. If I can text, I will text. If the conversation requires more words than are easy to text I will use messenger on my computer so that I can easily touch type. I only ring someone when I need an answer right now. Almost every phone call I make has a sense of urgency.

I need to remember that other people don’t work like that. Jess, for example, prefers to call than text. She will only text when there is no other option.

People are different in the way they approach these things, and this means that I don’t need to jump to answer whenever my phone rings. I need to prioritise.

I like to help people out. I like to answer their phone calls. I like to be able to solve their problems and give them a hand. But I cannot do that for every request that ends up in my email inbox. I can’t spend quality time with my family if I’m talking on the phone. I can’t fill up my life with everyone else’s priorities and put my own priorities on the bottom of the list.

I am not expected to fulfil every single request that is put to me and neither are you. I think that most people actually expect you to decide whether what they have asked is what you want/worth your time/necessary and to make a decision accordingly.

Total, instant, joyful obedience is only due to God and no one else.

How about you? Are you an asker, or a guesser? Are you able to leave your phone when it rings? How likely are you to respond with a yes when someone asks something of you?

This post is part of a series I am writing about what I have learned about saying no. I’d love to have you join me on this journey. If you want to make sure you never miss a post, you can sign up on WordPress and the post will be sent to your email address every week without fail.

You’ll notice some special art in this series. If you want to see more of it you can find the artist on instagram @deteor42

Memories

I don’t have the world’s best memory. I am not one of those writers who can remember everything that happened to me through my childhood. I forget great chunks of happenings and I’m dreadful with people’s names.

I was part of  a science panel the other night on the radio and the announcer asked me why I chose chemistry. I said that I remembered my grade 12 chemistry, how much I enjoyed it, and that was the major factor in my decision – the decision that has led to my career in chemistry. So the announcer (naturally) asked what it was that I enjoyed. I couldn’t really remember. Then she asked what was the teacher’s name – the teacher that has had a major influence on my life. I couldn’t remember. I still can’t. Dreadful.

My daughter can remember details about the house her grandparents lived in when she was two years old. Actually, I remember that when she turned two I suddenly got really stressed. I was pretty sure she’d be able to remember things from then on, and I knew I wasn’t doing great at this parenting gig, and that now she’d be able to remember what I was doing. It added a whole layer of pressure! (We coped alright though, I now realise that everyone struggles with the parenting gig, I think she’s grown up to be a well-balanced and healthy young woman, and brilliant too, of course).

When the kids were younger I blamed my shonky memory on the number of things I had to keep in the front of my brain: who had eaten what and how long ago, when the sunscreen was last applied, where the socks were dumped, and where the favourite toy was last seen. There wasn’t a whole lot of room in the head for anything else.

Now I don’t have those sorts of excuses. I still have the same memory issues though.

Instead of trusting my creaky memory, I hoard. I have journals that reach back to 2010 sitting on my bookshelf in my study downstairs, and I’m hopeful that somewhere I have the journal I wrote back when we were married in 94 and the journal I remember writing in grade 10. They are important to me, though I don’t go back and look at them often, they store my memories, my feelings, my struggles and joys of the years. And I’m hoping they will be a great resource for my writing too.

My email is another place where I hoard. When the IT guy set up my new computer it took ages, simply ages, to load up properly.

‘How much saved email do you have?’ he asked.

‘Heaps.’

‘That would be it.’

It is.

Every so often, I go to the ‘sent’ folder and I copy email after email to a word document I have set up for this purpose. I’m up to 2005. Emails I set to my parents while they were in the USA. Emails to my sister when her life turned upside down. Emails to my brother, thanking him for the flowers he sent. Work emails, school emails. All of them documenting my life.

Last night I read something about ‘my rat dying on the operating table’. I had forgotten about the big biochemistry project I did that required operating on rats and changing the nitrate levels in the blood to see how that changed the blood perfusion. It’s coming back to me now but without the email record I may have never remembered.

On the subject of rats – or rather mice – there was an email about the mouse plague we had in our old house. About a mouse that dropped onto our bed in the middle of the night, ran across DH’s face and ended up in my slipper. You’d think an experience like that would stick in the brain but until I read it in the email, I had completely forgotten.

I think there are just too many memories to keep them all in the front of my brain at one time. I have forty three years of experiences. Living with them constantly would be much to great a burden to bear. I’m already absent minded enough without all those memories swirling around me. But it’s so much fun to go back through what has been written down and relive the memories just for a while.

Sometimes I would like to keep only the good memories and delete the bad ones, but that wouldn’t be my life. My life is the good memories, the bad, and the things that I can’t even remember but that have shaped me on the way through.

I read somewhere a long time ago that the most boring real person is much more interesting than the most interesting fictional character.

But don’t ask me where I read it. I can’t remember!