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managing projects not goal-setting

September 19, 2011

I’m surrounded by (Myers-Briggs) Judgers, or Js. Our culture is J-oriented, and almost all of the significant people in my life are Js (both my parents, most of my aunts and uncles, Spouse, most of my in-laws, many of my friends, most of my bosses). I’m a Perceiver, a P. it’s really hard to learn how to be a happy and healthy P, in a culture that was designed by and for Js.

Js want results. They live by goals, discipline, stability; and they think everyone else should too. Something like “a sure thing” is attractive to them because it promises to remove that pesky uncertainty that they find so troublesome. In fact, that very word uncertainty tells you something. Why is it certainty that is the positive concept, and its opposite, uncertainty, is negative? That’s framing by a J right there. A P like me would have named uncertainty as the positive, and its opposite as the negative.

I spent years thinking that the way I did a lot of things was flawed and defective because it wasn’t how a J would do it. As an example, monthly budgeting. Whenever I get a paying job, I devise a monthly budget from the bottom up. I usually don’t have much in the way of fixed expenses, but when I do those are dealt with first, and then everything else (usually various ways to sock money away) gets done by percentage, rather than dollar amount. Since the longest I’ve ever been at the same pay rate was 2 years, whatever planning I do is short-term by definition. But that means I have a lot of flexibility, and my spending and saving priorities can and do change frequently, usually every couple of months.

Spouse and various friends have followed career paths such that their responsibilities and the positions they hold (as well as their wages) have continued to increase over time. But as you go up the ladder, your choices narrow. If you see a desirable job along a different track, there likely is not any way to get there from where you’re at. To try for that job, you would have to let go of everything you’ve have invested where you’re at, and start over. In my experience, not only will most people not do that, they won’t even realize it’s a possibility. I have not only done it, I’ve done it multiple times.

I never get invested in any situation I’m in, so letting go, moving on, trying something new, doesn’t make me feel like the world (as I knew it) ended. I can always start over. I always am starting (over).

Maybe it’s just me, but I think life is about verbs not nouns. Unfortunately our language seems to be based on nouns, on ideas like, “we need to ‘achieve’ ‘states’, that we will ‘remain in’, until we are forced to change things. But ‘stability’ is our worthwhile ‘goal’.”

See, I don’t think stability, or most other nouns, make any sense as “goals” to “achieve”. Because I think people are not nouns but verbs. We are not events that have happened, or goals that have been achieved; we are processes that are always evolving.

One way to look at my life is as a series of projects I’ve worked on. But I’m starting to realize that there is no end goal; there are just more projects, until I die.

A year ago, the projects I was working on included:

  1. looking for ways to meet and connect with more people in greater DC (example: volunteer curating the hyperbolic crocheted coral reef exhibit)
  2. figuring out why I was having the health problems I was, and how I could best deal with them so that I could still enjoy my life;
  3. refining my design aesthetic (moving away from bilateral symmetry)
  4. learning more about nonviolence/ahimsa
  5. starting to read memoirs, thinking about writing my own
  6. making my first stab at quilting

The projects I’m working on right now include:

  1. designing my own modular clothes
  2. revamping my wardrobe
  3. a formal committed relationship with local Pagans
  4. quilting, round 3
  5. reading about the civil rights era, blues music
  6. ‘managing’ an urban potager
  7. drawing with oil pastels
  8. thinking about flavor notes I want to put together
  9. getting to know my nocturnal neighbors, in changing seasons

Six months or a year from now, there will be a new slew of projects.


4 Comments leave one →
  1. Rev permalink
    September 22, 2011 20:10

    Out of curiosity, Laiima, what type are you? Just wondering, feel free not to answer if you want.

    I’m an INFJ. I believe that the idea is that with an introvert the ‘j’ or ‘p’, which is how you relate to the outside world, is your auxiliary process. The dominant one is the one you apply internally, not to the outside worlds. Then again, I’ve only begun to look at Myers-Briggs and Jung after conversation with my uncles prompted some more curiosity about our discussions in my AP psychology class last year. It’s something I’m interested, but really don’t understand well yet.

    That idea makes sense to me, though. How I approach things around me tends to be as reasoned or decided as I can make it, at least partially because I come from a family where decisiveness is a cardinal value. (Make up your mind, choose something to work for, choose how to do it, and then just do it already.) But when I’m just thinking about things, I’d tend to favor flexibility. (It’s okay if this idea doesn’t work out, it works for someone, just not for me.) When thinking about philosophy or anything abstract (and a handful real life decisions that are important to me, too) I have a really hard time making up my mind about anything, because there are so many different ways each could be right or wrong. Why do I have to choose one?

    Sorry for the little mini rant there. In any case, I really like what you said about people being verbs rather than nouns. Mind if I quote you on that?

    • September 22, 2011 22:55

      Hi Rev, I’ve been playing around with MBTI ideas for about 25 years because it’s one of the best models I’ve found that help me understand other people, as well as myself. I’m an INFP. I have many friends who are INFJs.

      I am not unitary about anything (i.e., “one right answer”) so I look at most choices as opportunities to experiment.

      Feel free to quote me. I’m glad the idea resonated for you.

  2. September 26, 2011 02:07

    Ooh. This is really interesting for me–I come up as an ENFP or INFP depending on the day of the week, though it’s been a while since I took the test. I have the *hardest* time coming to decisions about the future, and lately I’ve been thinking about that “stability” thing. It feels like I do want some stability–a groove I can slip into that fits me fairly well, from which I can branch out and do interesting things. On the other hand, I know I get bored easily. I wonder sometimes if I’ll ever be “career-track” anything, for the exact reason you mention: when I think of settling down and putting in effort to become a [insert career here], I start to worry that I’ll be closing off my other options. And yet, I want to become *really good* at something–or maybe more than one something–not just a dilettante playing around on the edges, you know? And I’d like to make more than minimum wage, that’d be great too.

    Projects, though, as a way of conceptualizing things–that really resonates. I could easily tell you what projects I’m working on now, what I was working on a year ago, six months ago, three years ago.

    I’m pretty sure my sweetheart is a J, which is interesting when we’re trying to plan things together. Any thoughts on how to work with a J spouse for things like that, and not get one’s P side completely flattened?

    • September 27, 2011 09:49

      I definitely struggle with the desire for ‘mastery’ vs. needing to change activities a lot. At this point, I’m looking at mastery as being in a meta sense (i.e., one level removed), so that what I’m good at is adapting to new circumstances and making the best of them. Because J’s really hate change. But our rapidly-changing world is tailor-made for the resilience and flexibility and creative thinking of P’s. We’ve got stuff to teach J’s, rather than what they’re used to – trying to make us more like them.

      Dealing with J’s and not getting flattened? Talking about Myers-Briggs helps a lot because then there’s a vocabulary to explain the advantages of being a P (or NF or whatever). It’s easier with a partner than my parents or in-laws, because with Spouse, we’re both equals, and I can say, “sweetie, we’re different; here’s what I need to do…” He readily admits now that often my way is better than his, and he wishes he could be more like me. 🙂

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