Sometimes we think we know someone because they have been in our lives for a long time. But this can get in the way of their process of self-discovery. While helping Sumay with WEquil.School I’ve seen this so many times that I wanted to take a moment to share why we do this and how we can do more to help ourselves, our spouse, and our kids learn to continually reinvent themselves and not be tethered by expectations to the past.
It is challenging to mentally recognize change in others. This seems to be especially true for spouses and siblings. For example, my wife and I will sometimes make the mistake of thinking we deeply know how the other feels about something just because we have spent so much time together. Then a friend comes to visit and she will start saying things I don’t expect. Just having that new person around sparks an opening to share a new point of view... one that she may have had for years but I never bothered to ask without any expectations.
I’ve noticed this with my kids also. Aila thought I didn’t care much about hair and braids, so she didn’t talk to me about it. Then I saw a new braid she invented and was really excited about it. She was shocked 😳...just goes to show you may not know!
Mentally it makes perfect sense that ones impression of someone that they have known for a long time will be some weighted average of experiences over the years. That impression can be good...such as building trust and understanding. That impression can also be bad...such as when one is trying to grow, change, or otherwise reinvent themselves.
One powerful way to help members of our family reinvent themselves is to create change! Change creates a lot of opportunity for rethinking who we are and who we want to be. Changing jobs, changing schools, changing locations...all make it easier to try and re-evaluate who we want to be and take a chance expressing that because we have new people around us without any impressions. Big change may not be feasible but small changes can still make a big difference.
There is a saying that people will act the way you expect ... and there is truth to this. We feel these impressions creating expectations which influence our behavior back to an earlier version of ourselves.
When I was starting my career I switched jobs a lot. My career really took off when I got into consulting. The nature of consulting work like the kind Sumay is doing now at WEquil.Startups is very relationship oriented. I reinvented myself to adapt and become more personable and agreeable. That’s critical to success as a consultant.
Then I started working for the FDIC where a lot of the time I was working independently on very mentally complex challenges such as understanding financial risks and machine learning models. I had a lot more mental energy from the switch as well and got into investing on the side. Investing is a very calculating and cold endeavor. Being dispassionate and focusing on facts rather than emotions is critical to success as an investor.
Then we started a school and a lot of my day is spent talking to parents and helping kids with projects. In many ways it’s like the opposite of investing...where it’s all about the relationship and emotional side of the mind that can make or break getting through to inspiring a young person to love learning.
Change has been a rather big part of my life. I’ve changed jobs, locations, and worn a lot of different hats. Trying new things helped me to reinvent myself many times over.
It’s strange sometimes because I’ll meet up with an old friend who knew me as “Joe the Tree Guy” or “Joe the Economics Teacher” or “Joe the Wedding Singer” or “Joe the Banker” or “Joe who loves Castle Toys” or “Joe the Disaster Recovery Expert” or “Joe the Silly Dad” or “Joe the Fancy Pants 👖 [Insert Job Title] or “Master Joda” ... etc
... and when they bring up the prior experiences they remember me from I experience a flash back to another iteration of me. Their expectation of what I will do actually influences what I do. Like last night when one of my best friends “Cliff” came to our home. I kept hugging him and jumping on his back ... why? Because 16 years ago he carried me around on his back the day I proposed to Lulu in celebration 🎊!!!
Just seeing Cliff made those memories come back into my mind and reliving the experience made me feel like I was a 20 year old back in college again ... recently fallen in love with Lulu.
My big takeaway from thinking this through is that every human has so much depth to them that our impressions never come close to truly capturing who they are. This is especially true for family ... because all the history can leave one tethered to the past even as we all keep changing. Being family can create a false sense of understanding because we think we should know ... like spouses who have been together for decades but stopped talking because they convinced themselves that they had nothing else to learn from the other.
So I try to keep that in my mind.
Always cultivating curiosity.
By assuming I know very little.
It’s an aspirational goal ... work-in-progress 😂
Joe WEquil...Husband, Father, Teacher, Student