I hung out with Sapphire last night, and over Mexican take out, we talked about relationships.
(It’s very reminiscent of where we were both at the same time last year, with her having just broken up with someone and me feeling lonely and being too concerned with a potential connection with someone that is not acting interested enough to warrant that concern. I guess we both have lessons we need to repeat until we really get them.)
Anyway, we were talking about relationships, and what we’re looking for and what we want. Sapphire is a Capricorn and very dominant and strong willed, and one of the reasons we never got together is that I’m just not assertive enough for her taste. She wants a man that is dominant and decisive and makes quick choices and sticks with them, and in a lot of my life there are details that I just don’t care about, or would rather allow someone else to make those decisions.
Here’s an example: Several years ago we had a picnic lunch together at a park. I was going to make peanut butter an jelly sandwiches, and I asked her what flavor jelly she liked. She actually made a big deal about it, because she believed that since I was inviting her out, and since I was the man (even though it wasn’t a “date”), I should have made the decision and picked one and simply presented it for her. I am of the opinion that people should work together and be considerate of one another’s preferences, so I wanted her input on those preferences. And more importantly, as I explained to her, the flavor of the jelly was totally fucking irrelevant to me. The important thing was to spend time together, not to have debates over jelly. I didn’t care, so I asked for her input in case she did.
I had no interest in the decision, so I left it up to her. And she felt I was being indecisive.
And there are a lot of things like that in my life. I tend to defer minor decisions. I think that it’s good to allow other people choices, to respect their opinions, and have an equal concern for their preferences.
But Sapphire’s assessment back then concerned me. Am I really indecisive? Am I afraid to make decisions? Do I lack the confidence to take decisive action?
Well, sort of.
See, we were talking about relationships last night, but we were also talking about career choices.
I work in restaurant management. In that industry, you are a working manager, on the floor, shoulder to shoulder with the crew, handling issues in real time. One minute is an eternity, and two minutes to correct an error or mistake is two minutes too long. You keep things organized, and you take immediate action. If any of my crew hesitates or takes too long to do something, I direct them immediately, or step in and take over. Communication is brief and direct, and taking time to worry about things, ask for (or give) unneeded information, or discuss or assign blame can derail and entire shift and take hours to recover.
In short, I have to take immediate and decisive action, often with a bare minimum of information, and expect a team of people to adapt to those decisions instantaneously and implement action.
My ex girlfriend used to like to visit me at work (this was four job ago, at a pizza place I worked at), and I would often get frustrated that she would visit when we were busy, because I couldn’t take the time to talk to her. But she told me once that she liked to come when I was busy, because she liked watching me run a kitchen and direct people during a rush. At the time I thought she was being weird, but I realized later that she liked watching me like that because it turned her on to see me act decisively.
So I’m tying this together. Bear with me.
You hear those stories of high ranking CEOs that pay top dollar for dominatrix services. It seems there is a correlation between having a job with a lot of stress relation to having to constantly make important and far-reaching decisions and a desire to have someone else take complete charge of you for a time. When you have to act decisively all the time, it is a luxury to have someone else make decisions for you.
I’m no CEO by any means, but in discussing the issue with Sapphire last night, it occurred to me that I do this to a lesser degree. When I’m making command decisions about food all day, I don’t really want to have to make a decision about what we should have for dinner: surprise me and let me relax, and I’ll appreciate the fact that I don’t have to keep working. Allowing someone else to make decisions for me is a matter of vulnerability, trust, and comfort.
Now here’s the interesting part: I had never thought about myself this way. In my down time, when I am not working, I tend to take my time, consider all my options, reflect upon the potential impact of my choices, and even second-guess myself. I don’t think of myself as confident, and (in part because of Sapphire’s earlier assessment about the sandwiches) saw myself as indecisive.
But here’s what I came up with: that’s what I was used to thinking about myself, when I was thinking. When I work, I don’t think: I act. I don’t have time to think too much. And that’s the key to being decisive: taking an action and running with it because you don’t have time to mull things over too much. If you make the wrong choice, you make another decision to correct the error and keep going. (Restaurant work isn’t like government: you don’t have a lot of time for committees, and follow up discussions focus on how to avoid repeating problems rather than assigning blame.)
So just by talking to Sapphire, I came up with an identity crisis of sorts. I actually am a decisive person. I just don’t think about it when I have to be, and when I don’t have to be I worry about other things, because I have the luxury of doing so.
Phil Hine once defined confidence as being relaxed and comfortable in the immediate moment. I’m certainly not relaxed when I’m at work, but I think what he’s getting at is more of the “in the moment” thing. When I work, I focus on what is right in front of me. I can’t really do anything other than that and have it work out. (Long term planning is done between shifts and is a different matter altogether.) It’s really kind of Zen, I suppose, but the point is that I’m not used to thinking about myself as confident, but when you really look at how I operate in a work environment, I act with confidence and authority. Because it’s the only way to do my job.
But because I do it so much at work, I relax that attitude outside of work. It’s an interesting dichotomy – people who only know me from work are surprised at my lack of confidence in other areas of my life, and people who never see me at work don’t expect me to act with such authority. (Indeed, when I was having this talk with Sapphire and describing this idea to her, I could see her looking at me a little differently. She always talked about how I had the ability to be decisive but didn’t use it: she never really thought about the fact that I did but she never saw it.)
But here’s the real question: How can I tap that confidence and make use of it in more areas of my life?
The biggest area of my life I lack confidence in is approaching women and dating. Once I get into a relationship, I generally do fine, but starting one or finding a partner is very stressful. Beyond that, a lot of things in my life are kind of peripheral and I just don’t care that much. But the things I am confident in are those that I either have a lot of skill in, or come to me naturally and just feel comfortable. They are things that I can do without thinking or dwelling on, because the actions themselves feel second nature.
Work is one of those (well, sort of. Sometimes I second guess new skills, especially administrative and disciplinary stuff. But only after the rush has settled.) Writing is another. Magic definitely is. And when I’m comfortable with my partner, sex is as well.
These are things that I “get into the zone” for, that I lose myself in and allow the flow to take me. And I think that is what confidence really is about – being okay with getting into the zone and not caring how things will turn out in an hour or so, but only knowing how things are going in that moment.
And so with that lengthy rambling done, two important things stand out to me.
1) I need to do more of those things I am confident in. This includes any kind of management, leadership, or teaching role (even though it has been expressed mostly via restaurant work). It includes writing more (being blogging, academic writing, or fiction). It includes magical work (really need to get into a more active practice). And dammit, I need to have more really intense sex.
2) I need to find a way to develop that attitude with more areas in my life. And I need to do it without burning myself out, and without stressing out and micromanaging every detail of my life and interactions. It’s still okay to not care about what kind of jelly I have, but I should probably come up with more ideas of what we should do afterwards.