Monday, October 21, 2013

Boxes and Labels

I have a friend who way-back-when worked as an organization development consultant (or something like that) for one of our big tech companies up here. I'm sure she was good at it because she is super smart. I'm also sure she was good at it because they ended up promoting her to the European division after which she and her family moved to Paris for several years where she did leadership training all over Europe and the Middle East. She is also one of the funniest, most magnetic people I know.

Anyway, about a million years ago, she and I were chatting and I was telling her about my tendency to start strong with things and then lose interest somewhere down the line and wish I'd never started the thing in the first place. I can't remember exactly what tiresome project/plan/organization I was referring to, but I must have been growing weary of something I'd agreed to.

She listened intently, nodding along very seriously. Then, in her bright, ever-optimistic way, she smiled widely and slapped me on the leg and said, "Well, that all makes perfect sense! You are an Initiator not a Sustainer!"

I stared at her silently for probably a full five seconds as I let this revelation settle in and then I burst out laughing. Hysterically.

I congratulated her for finding a way to put a pretty label on the reality that I am a lazy slacker with grand intentions who eventually wants everyone else to do all the work.

We laughed and laughed together with her assuring me that Initiators were every bit as valuable in the world as Sustainers, and me shaking my head and saying, "Uh huh. I'm sure that's how those dependable, reliable Sustainers look at it. Thanks a lot, Initiators. Don't worry about us as you flutter off to your next project, we'll keep this thing rolling..."

And even though that conversation was at least a million years ago, and was always something I remembered with great humor, I also never forgot it.

I catch myself evaluating different decisions I make, projects I start, committees I'm considering and thinking, "So, this something you can sustain? Is it necessary to be able to sustain it? Do you want to?" Which are all really very good questions to ask of anything we are considering giving our time and energy to.

It also makes me look at my kids and quietly evaluate their tendencies. I have one that definitely exhibits a preference for Initiating things over Sustaining, one that shows all the signs of being a stalwart Sustainer, and one that is a little hard to tell. None of it changes how I relate to them or what I expect of them, but it's an interesting distinction to ponder.

Let me be clear, I don't really believe in boxing people into labels. I'm also certain my friend doesn't either and if I ever reminded her of this conversation she would probably say, "I said what?!?" And then we would laugh hysterically about it all over again. But I do think there is something to this. I do think there are people who are better at generating ideas and energy and enthusiasm, and there are people who are better at buckling down and keeping the day to day operations of things rolling along.

This blog is a good example of my struggles with Initiation vs. Sustaining. It's true I have Sustained the blog but I also have done a terrible job of sticking with the original intention behind its Initiation.

But here's the thing:

I completed high school, college and graduate school.

I've been happily married for 21 years.

I have one friend whom I've known since infancy and two others since preschool. We are still very connected to one another and have been long before the advent of Facebook.

I just returned from a reunion with some of my college girlfriends (for those keeping count, that would have been 20+ years ago). We do these reunions every other year and they only get more and more fun. We pick up right where we left off every time.

I talk to my sister and my cousin (who is like a sister to me) almost daily.

My house is reasonably tidy (but please don't stop by unannounced).

I have been in my Director of Children's Ministry position for two years now and I have no interest in stepping away anytime soon.

If I do agree to see a project through, I really will (it might just happen in the 11th hour).

Last time I checked, I never stopped being a mom for the past 18+ years.

So...what's my point?

Maybe I'm a Selective Sustainer? (I just created my own new group functioning term, I hope my friend is impressed). Maybe I am more than capable of sustaining the things and relationships that really matter but anything else has to be weighed against the energy I'm already pouring out. Maybe I recognize there is only so much of me to go around so I keep a handful of things in the "Sustain Permanently" column and everything else goes in the "Sustain Until I No Longer I Have the Energy" column. Actually, I'm pretty sure there is a third column titled, "Avert Your Eyes, Keep Your Head Down and Do Not Agree to One More Thing". That third column is a biggie.

So, that's what I'm going with. I am both an Initiator AND a Selective Sustainer. I will not be contained by labels and boxes. I am going to be like a human Venn Diagram with a foot in each circle. I am the embodiment of "and/or"and a living oxymoron.

I'm such a rebel.

Just don't ask me how the Great Bedroom Switcharoo Project is coming along...

1 comment:

  1. I am totally an Initiator too. I don't even keep up relationships as well as you do!

    Still, what would all those Sustainers slave away at if there was no one to get the ball rolling?