This morning, over coffee and last night’s jalapeno cornbread, three of us were discussing how well continuous improvement initiatives work in shipyards and football fields, so why wouldn’t they work well in our personal lives? Several reasons came to mind.
The major reason that occurred to all of us is how often we identify our problems belonging to the actions of others.
Coach, my very dear friend, is always pointing out to me that I should stop and ask the question, “who is this about?”
He said, “It took me a long time to identify the problems in my life. I finally realized that these problems were me. Once I had this actionable information firmly in mind, I was able to begin living life the way I wanted to instead of how others demanded.”
I thought, well, that’s pretty damned simple.
Coach then said, “by the way, I hate that yellow shirt you’re wearing with the khaki pants. It’s horrible.”
I was taken aback—some might say righteous. “You didn’t have to eat that third piece of cornbread, you know.”
Coach leaned back laughing. “Do you like the yellow shirt with the pants?’
I debated how to answer the question. “Is this a trick question?” I wanted to know.
My wife chimed in, chuckling under her breath. “He means, “Whose problem is the yellow shirt? His or yours?”
I almost reached out to slap the buzzer. “The answer is… my problem? I don’t want to go around wearing a shirt that no one likes…oh.”
I confess that I made part of that conversation up in order to make a point (we were actually eating leftover cornbread, however). The point is, you can’t really have a personal continuous improvement initiative as long as you think everything is about you.
The threat of narcissism prevents a lot of us from doing a thorough job of self examination. We’ve had too many classes or read too many books on amateur psychology. The case of the yellow shirt may be stupidly simple, but it makes its point. The shirt was the coach’s problem, not mine. It was about him, not me.
One dictionary defines narcissism as: erotic gratification derived from admiration of one’s own physical or mental attributes. In other words, standing in front of a mirror and compulsively admiring your reflection. That’s the connection that comes to my mind. It’s the mirror that the narcissist demands to be perfect.
We can’t close the gap between our present selves and perfection, it’s the permanent condition of our imperfections. Hence, continuous improvement initiative is an expression which ultimately describes the breadth of the gap that will remains in the end.
Coach has a flair for the comment that will reduce any ego to a convenient size. He once almost-quoted me an interesting line, but confessed he couldn’t remember it exactly. “What clothes would you wear if no one was around to see you?”
See? I find that a perfect example of the sort of question one would pose as part of a continuous improvement initiative.
What story would you write if there were no one to read it? Who would you be if no one could see you? Do you have to have a mirror to comb your hair?
I recently wrote a piece asking about an imaginary playmate or companion. Who grew up, you or the playmate, and how do you know which you are—all questions that belong on the palette of the personal continuous improvement initiative. Mix your colors thoughtfully in life or you get a muddy gray.