4 Thoughts on Groups

Today, for seemingly unapparent reasons, one of my psychology professors broke us up into random groups. I haven’t been in a random group since high school. Here are some thoughts I had about groups:

1. Groups need a purpose. When you break people up into a group, they expect you to give them things to do. That task can be as simple as “get to know each other,” but there has to be one. Otherwise, it is quite possible the individuals of the group will sit in total and utter silence.

2. Determining a group leader is tricky. I am one of those people who likes leadership to be thrust on me. I dislike seeking it out for myself. The former technique appeals to my ego. Other people get to tell me how great of a leader I am and why I am important to a group or organization. I naturally assume that everyone prefers leadership to be thrust upon them. I also naturally assume that without knowing me, random strangers will see the great halo of leadership that emanates from my radiant body and will beg me to take the group leader position. Because leading things grows tiresome, sometimes I swiftly lead the hand of fate in another direction and thrust the leadership role onto someone else. Also, this allows me the chance to lie to myself and say that I want more people to have the chance to lead things. I did that today and then realized how much of a jerk move that is. All of a sudden I’ve become that guy – the group leader has reason to dislike me because I gave him more responsibility and everyone else is a little off-put by the fact that I chose the leader. Not very diplomatic. And just so you know, while this paragraph reads as over-the-top, these thoughts literally went through my mind.

3. There is always a Negative Nelly. Negative Nelly’s happen. I try not to be one. Sometimes, I try to combat Negative Nelly’s with humor. I do this by re-spinning negative thoughts into positive ones. This isn’t always effective, but it’s helpful and provides a fun past time.

4. You will never be part of the cool group. You know the one. Somehow, all of the frat guys have congregated to one corner of the room and all get put into the same group. Their group is cracking jokes within a minute of introducing themselves. You are never part of that group mostly because of the “grass is always greener” phenomenon. Believe it or not, the people in the cool group are probably envious of the group that has it all together or the group with the strong, clear leader. There’s no point in trying to be the “cool group.” Just do what you do and do it. If your group is the joke-cracking group, be the joke-cracking group, but don’t force it.

Even though I kind of dislike being assigned a random group, I’m actually kind of excited by the prospect. It’s not very often that you are forced to interact with complete strangers and build a relationship from it. It’s invigorating.

I’m Asking You for Criticism

I don’t ask for criticism nearly enough. I get myself into situations where I think I got it all under control. And then I find out I don’t. Then I start to wonder how all of that happened. And it occurs to me that if I asked for some criticism every once in a while, it would fix all of these out of control situations.

I used to play golf competitively. My dad was my coach. It was complicated. I used to complain to him that every time he criticized me, it felt like he was breaking me down. He was my dad, I argued, he should be giving me confidence. And so I made it a big deal that my dad was my coach. It became a challenge that other kids didn’t have to deal with. But the truth was that the hard part wasn’t having a dad that was a coach, it was learning how to take criticism. If someone else had coached me, that coach would have criticized me too. Then I would have been able to come home and have my parents build me up and tell me how great I was already. And I probably would have never gotten better. Instead, I had to learn to take criticism from someone who loved me.

The truth is that when we talk about things that are important to us, we don’t like hearing the problems with those things. We don’t like hearing we are bad at getting people excited when we are the leader of an organization. We don’t like hearing that we are too clingy when we are in a relationship. We don’t like hearing that we don’t spend enough time studying or that we aren’t thrifty enough with our money. But we need to hear it.

Think about how efficient our social interactions would be, how much happier we would be if, instead of meeting over coffee with friends to complain, we asked them what we were doing wrong. Because our friends would tell us lovingly, and they would help us get better. Sure, we might have to bite the bullet and let them start seeing us as people rather than superhumans, but it would be worth it. Batman isn’t happy.

And in the end, it’s our decision what to do with the criticism. Sometimes it just makes you explain more what you are doing. Several people have told me they hate the question at the end of my posts. And I told them that it is standard practice for blogs, and eventually there will be a payoff.

What am I doing wrong? How can I make my blog better?

Planning Unicorns

I’m a planner. This used to really worry me. Men aren’t planners; moms are. Men should be spontaneous so that they can make women fall in love with them by doing crazy things involving rain and late nights. And if men aren’t spontaneous, it’s a defect. They need a woman to teach them how to be spontaneous. So for a long time, I refused to embrace my planning.

Not everyone is a planner. But the thing about being a planner is that non-planners are always telling you how great being a non-planner is. There aren’t too many planers romanticizing the planned life. That’s mostly because they are too busy planning. If you’ve ever been a planner who wants to be a non-planner, then you know how messed up the whole situation is. You take on lots of responsibility because planners like responsibility. And then you get frustrated that all of your non-planner friends are living fine lives, and so you give up for a little bit. That’s when you get behind, and being behind is hellish for planners.

The world needs both planners and non-planners though. Both are heroic. Both are creative. And we need passionate people in both categories. I recently started thinking about things that I like. I came up with some interesting things. For example, I really love Mondays. I get energized by them. I like being around people who are learning, working, talking about real issues, and planning, and all of that starts happening on Mondays. I also love watching my Google Calendar fill up. It seems the busier I am, the happier I am. I like to be a part of things. And I like to be around people, but I like to be around people when they are doing something important. Being around people doing unimportant things makes me sad (I’m horrid at most parties). And all of this together made me realize that I am a planner.

That kind of changed everything. I’ve always been someone who has fancied that he’s a romantic. And I always thought that my pragmatic side was in direct conflict with this romanticism, and I like the romantic side better. He’s the one who writes poetry, and daydreams, and comes up with bold new ideas. But what I didn’t realize was that the romantic side was actually a part of my pragmatic being. I am romantic precisely because I’m pragmatic. My best creative thinking happens when my days are entirely structured, when I go from class to work to coffee with a friend, seamlessly. On those days, my pragmatic brain is synthesizing material in really cool ways, applying information from one event to the information from the next event.

I ran across this short film a few days ago. The filmmakers were given six lines of dialogue as part of a contest, and they had to fashion a short film around those six lines. The six lines kind of function as a story by themselves. (There’s a unicorn in one line). And so you feel like you know what the story is going to be about. But in reality, you have no idea. The filmmakers are actually able to be more creative because the audience is already expecting something, and they get something completely different. I think planning is a lot like this. Planning doesn’t stifle our creativity. It allows us to use creativity in new ways!