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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Success as Change
You know, Stephen Covey has quite a program for personal growth--also known as personal change. All of these self-help people do.

I've said it before, but I'll say it again. On one level, all these self-helpers, whatever their subjects may be--happiness, contentment, success, fulfillment--are talking about how to live. They all have these programs for changing yourself.

Maybe you're an outside-in kind of person, so you like Dale Carnegie's "smile and the world smiles with you" approach. Maybe you're more of an analytic navel-gazer, so you like assignments that have you come up with your values (Covey, for example). Maybe you're more spiritual, so you like Deepak Chopra's methods. 

Whichever you prefer, I would like to point out that some changes are much easier to make than others.

Eons ago I attended a parenting talk at the younger daughter's nursery school. The school psychologist addressed the tendency people have to fall back into situations that are "comfortable" for them. Comfortable, in this sense, means "familiar," what you were accustomed to as a child. So if you came from a warm, open, loving, and supportive home, you'll tend to recreate that for yourself later in life. And if you came from a dysfunctional home where perhaps you were ignored or neglected or worse, you'll tend to feel "comfortable" re-creating these things in your adult life. Indeed, if you start feeling too happy, you might be uncomfortable, and screw things up for yourself until you feel "comfortable" again. 

Moving out of those situations takes a lot of mindful effort.

Reminds me of a gal I knew, a student at MIT, who got pregnant and had a baby in college. Seemed like such an unusual choice for an engineering student--until she mentioned her mother had become pregnant with her when she was 19, too.

Also consider your personality within your home environment. In the best (or most friction-less) scenario, you're temperamentally and taste-wise in accord with the rest of your household, with similar interests. So you grow up, and you join the family business--metaphorically speaking.

Think about it. How much easier is it for the musical child of musician parents to contemplate becoming a musician than for the musical child of lawyers or bankers to do so? That kind of actualization might take a lot more effort.

And if the musical child has grown up to feel somewhat embarrassed by his  "crazy and impractical" embracing of the creative lifestyle, think of the conflict he faces when he not only disappoints his parents by failing to become a lawyer or a banker, but grows his hair long and wears ratty t-shirts and travels around the country selling bongs out of a van. Without parental approval, he's going to feel pretty bad about himself, unless or until he succeeds in a way that they can understand. This means he becomes famous and wealthy (the prodigal son); or he goes into entertainment law. 

The other option for our musician is to be able to accept that success in his terms is living by his own values, not his parents.' Boy, that is hard to do. But it will give him lots of song-writing fodder.

So I think, my tens of readers, that programs of change and self-improvement can be terrific inspirations. They can even give us tools to evaluate what's important to us if we weren't equipped with them by nature or nurture.  It's important to remember, however, that change can take a long time, and it can be uncomfortable.  There can be a lot of backsliding. So it's important to appreciate the process, and remain mindful of the goals.


  1. Interesting. This corresponds with articles I've read where scientists are starting to speculate that the rise in autism/Aspergers might be partly due to the rise in skill segregation in marriages - no longer does the lawyer marry his secretary, but lawyers marry lawyers, engineers marry engineers, etc. Possibly this concentrates certain skills but also certain predispositions.

    It makes sense that "what people feel comfortable with" adds to this too - not to medical conditions like autism, necessarily, but certain ways of behaving and interacting with people. If kids see less variety in approaches and outlooks in their immediate environment, they will likely end up with less of an idea of what their pool of choices are.

    Can you believe this also relates to a debate we've been having at work on how to provide access to digitized images of material held by cultural institutions around NY? Some are saying that all we need is a description because people can do key word searching. Others (including me) want more access points, such as generic browse categories. Thanks for unknowingly providing some additional language for my side of the argument!

    1. Wow, scientific back-up! Cool. But I'm not sure I buy the skill -segregation in marriage thing as a new trend. I mean, hasn't it been this way all along? Mostly people marry people of similar backgrounds, with some mixing along the borders?

      Anyway, glad to provide useful language.

  2. Actually no - people of the same social class married each other, but so much the same skills and traits (I have not direct knowledge of this, just parroting what I've read).