Spiraling Around a Lifelong Learning


Folks who work with me tend to learn pretty quickly that my braggadocio-filled description of my own artistic talents is the run-up to me sharing some stick figure or line drawing. I actually keep a small collection of them jotted on scrap paper on my desk for those moments when they become relevant.

This one, for example, becomes relevant fairly frequently:

Often, the cue is a moment of frustration. “I know this stuff,” is the gist of what my client is saying. And yes, she generally has learned this lesson before. This, however, is not a sign of a slow learner, though. This is a sign of being in the thick of one of the Lifelong Learnings.

Let me break it down:

The bar in the middle represents the challenge. I generally use one of my most prominent Lifelong Learnings to illustrate the point: perfectionism. I first admitted my perfectionism to myself in March 2013, on the night that I stepped off a TEDx stage with legs quivering from a horrifying and transformational 30 second blank-out. That night, I ordered Brené Brown’s classic The Gifts of Imperfection and began what I now realize will be a lifetime journey of untangling and, ugh, accepting this part of myself.

For me, as with all Lifelong Learnings regardless of their particular flavor, perfectionism is endlessly creative and sneaky. It haunts me as the unasked question or unmade observation from a long-passed coaching session, the unspoken l’esprit d’escalier or bit of vulnerability in a long-buried relationship. It creeps in every time I’m anything other than an entirely supportive and pleasant partner.

While, yes, perfectionism continues to have an impact on me, my relationship with it has changed enormously over the years. As I’ve gathered tools and insights and experience, I’ve gone from feeling blindsided and paralyzed by perfectionism to catching it more quickly and easily, and even, sometimes, finding some amusement in it in a way that reminds me a bit of the neighbor’s dog who kept getting out of her fence last weekend and reappearing in our yard: she was impish and amusing even if inconvenient and somewhat disruptive.

That’s the spiral in my very fancy drawing above. Sometimes, we’re in the thick of our Lifelong Learnings; sometimes, we have some space, some distance to see that learning with clarity. Always, if we’re doing the work of introspection and personal growth, we’re seeing that quirk or challenge of ours from different perspectives as our lens is altered by what we’ve learned along the way.

The next time you realize you’re in the midst of a lesson you already knew, you might pause to notice that you’re spiraling around that Lifelong Learning, not circling; that is, you’re not just learning the same lesson over and over like doing your times tables. Instead, you might notice the way your perspective has grown and developed, that, yes, it’s the same learning but with a new depth of understanding.

The Bigger Badder Crew is my no-fee offering of love to folks working the spiral; learn more here. Coaching is my invitation to you to invest in yourself and your learning process; it still feels like wearing a jetpack to me…