Like many of you, I was home way too much last year with far too little to do. And there’s not much TV programming in the daytime other than those tell-all, confessional-type shows, at least on the 12 channels we get with our rooftop antenna. This daytime drivel has motivated me to also pour out my heart and share my shortcomings. Hence, what follows are my personal ‘Dr. Phil’ confessions.
I know it’ll come as a complete surprise to those who’ve gotten to know me only in the last few years, but I wasn’t always the totally together guy I am now. I hadn’t yet honed my now-acute interpersonal prowess or tactical acumen, essential factors in business, social and even domestic dynamics.
Around the age of four, it became evident that I already needed self-improvement when my father began calling me ‘yabit’. Several years later, I realized this wasn’t an endearing nickname. Rather, it referred to my habit of arguing all his suggestions, instructions and behavior corrections, commencing with “yeah but.” No matter how wrong I was, I’d accept no message without a retort, clearly disrespecting the advice my more learned, world-wise and mature parents offered. It took an employer who had no tolerance for anyone questioning his orders for me to finally get the message. I’ve observed that today’s ‘yeah but’ equivalent for Gen XYZ is “I’m just saying.” Maybe when they finally move out of their parents’ houses and get a job, they’ll get it, too.
Closely allied with my disrespectful ‘yabit’ nom-de-youth was excuse-making. It seemed that nothing was my fault or couldn’t be rationalized away. Again, it took employment circumstances, specifically my direct reports and their excuses, for me to see the error of my own ways and learn to just say ‘sorry’, then not make the same mistake again.
Speaking of mistakes, I’ve made plenty of them, particularly in conflict resolution. Often I’ve focused too much on being right and too little on being effective. All of us like to be right, but a fight-to-be-right mentality may mean winning the battle but losing the war. There’s more than one way to skin a cat, as they say where I’m from, and creative interpersonal solutions are more gratifying anyway. Once I learned that lesson—the hard way, I might add—I accomplished far more.
I’m also better now at picking my battles. Of course, there are more battles to pick these days, especially for a guy as cynical and skeptical as I’ve become, but overlapping skirmishes don’t seem prudent. As for arguing differences of opinion, if I agree with you, I’ll tell you so; if I don’t agree, don’t take my silence for anything other than my belief that getting into a tinkle contest with a skunk is an energy-sapping zero sum game.
I’m seldom completely candid in conversation anymore, or I just keep my mouth shut altogether. This shouldn’t be viewed as a shortcoming or mental deficiency; it’s just harder now to be politically and socially correct or avoid having some innocent observation become a gossiped indiscretion. Sometimes it’s better not to say anything than to say the wrong thing.
On occasion, I’ve ignored my initial instincts, which usually serve me well. As a result, some matters of interpersonal trust have brought only self-doubt about my judgement, not self-satisfaction for my intent. My time is valuable, my commitment is total, and my integrity is inviolate. If I’m in, I’m all in, but reciprocity is required.
Finally, I needed to stop worrying about keeping up with the Joneses. Rather, I decided a while back that I’d become the Joneses, but in atypical ways that meshed with my personal values, standards and expectations.
So, maybe the conclusion here is that I should quit beating myself up about these deficiencies and just follow the advice of those TV shows—learn to be my own person, do and say whatever I want and not care about what anybody else thinks of me!
Thanks to my roommate for suggesting this column.
Phil Goldstein writes Tales from Timnath periodically for North Forty News. Phil is an 11-year Timnath resident who proudly serves the Town of Timnath as chair of the Timnath Planning Commission. Phil is finally using his journalism degree after getting sidetracked 48 years ago. The views expressed herein are Phil’s only. Contact him with comments on the column or suggestions for future columns at NFNTimnath@gmail.com.