Do You Change Yourself, or the Situation?

I had a conversation with my wife the other week, and the big question boiled down to: do you tend to try to change yourself, or the goal/situation? 

My wife tends to try to change the situation. If it seems remotely changeable, she will try to change it. If she truly can’t change it, if it seems remotely possible, she will try to exit the situation. 

I, however, tend to try to change myself, if at all possible, to modify my skills and strategies, to push myself to adapt. 

There are big pros and cons to both.

If the situation is changeable or leavable, my wife tends to get faster, easier results. But I tend to come out of the situation with more tools to help me with the next one.

For example, I can write almost anywhere. In a passenger seat of a moving car. On the swings or grass at the park. While donating plasma. Next to the campfire at 8,000 feet. In a crowded coffeeshop. On an airplane. Over time, I’ve developed my toolbox that helps me in each of those situations, whether it’s having a meditation practice to be able to bring my focus back where I want it, noise canceling headphones and the right playlist downloaded, building experience with writing sprints by various amounts of time or word count goals, a small task lamp that runs on battery, or consciously working on reducing my attention residue.

While there are good reasons I favor adapting myself, I admit the approach comes with some real cons, too. It can cause excessive self criticism, perpetual self blame no matter why things actually aren’t working—or restlessness to change, move forward, even when they are.

Using this metaphor feels a bit like beating a dead horse (and it’s about a dead horse), but it’s kind of like Boxer in Animal Farm, the cart horse known for saying, “I will work harder,” to his own detriment (and demise), even though it’s the situation that’s the issue. 

Some situations or goals are just impossible or pointless. This may be the result of something malicious, or it may be just be poorly suited to you, but not every situation is worth the effort, and tending to change yourself can make you more hesitant to truly evaluate it and maybe cut your losses. While you may feel bad for dumping as much time and energy into something as you have, and then giving up, dumping more time and energy into it—if you are eventually going to cut your losses anyway—only increases those losses. 

I teach a class called Professional Standards for Service, about bringing professional archetypes, systems, and skills into personal homemaking or relationship dynamics. One thing I stress in that class repeatedly is to always remember the goal you started with: coming at it as a non professional who wants to poke their head into the professional world, look around, take what works for them, leave what doesn’t, and return to their own life and relationships. Because it’s easy to forget, to get swept along in all the resources aimed at professionals, to try to stuff yourself into that established set of boxes, and forget what you or your loved ones actually want. You have to remember what the real goal and situation is for change to be worthwhile. 

Now, changing the situation may let you stay truer to you, but it can also make you flighty and inflexible. Being too eager to change the situation or goal can deprive you of opportunities to learn and grow, build something long term, though it tends to be a quicker fix if it’s possible. I wouldn’t have learned about any of those tools or developed any of those skills for writing almost anywhere if I only attempted writing at my desk, in my office. I wouldn’t have the apposite tools at the ready for the next situation, which might not be so changeable. And there are worthy things I simply wouldn’t have accomplished—like a lot of NaNoWriMo wins—if I hadn’t been so dedicated to keeping that goal, to changing myself instead. 

Now, there’s nothing wrong with writing at my desk, in my office (where I wrote the majority of this post), if it’s possible. General optimization is still a thing. But, it’s not always where I am when I want or need to get work done. 

As with most things in productivity, there’s a balance, a season for most strategies. 

Maybe don’t give up all your opportunities to grow; but don’t make yourself be something you’re not, either. 

There’s a middle ground. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s