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can giraffes / feign a scarf?

May 30, 2013

The more I thought about that thing I didn’t want to do at my volunteering place [leading field trips], the more uneasy I felt. Because what if my discomfort wasn’t that it was a bad fit for me. What if, instead, I was afraid to do something that would be good for me? Something that would be . . . tricky . . . in the beginning, but would pay off in the end?

There are precedents.

(1) In 1999, I participated in controlled burn training. The final exam required using a drip torch. I was petrified of the drip torch. But it was clear I could not achieve my larger goal — being part of a controlled burn — unless I somehow faced my fear, and took the test. So I did.

Using a drip torch? Was terrifying and amazing, and a peak experience.

Both of the controlled burns I participated in afterwards were also peak experiences, for different reasons.

None of those things would’ve been possible if I hadn’t found a way to accept the challenge before me.

(2) Then there are professional conferences. The first one I attended was also in 1999. It was in Stamford, Connecticut, to promote environmental jobs. Every single person I met had either interned for or worked for US EPA. Almost everyone had impressive educational backgrounds I could only dream about; many of them were in graduate school. Everyone was from either the Northeast, or California. I was in my last semester as an undergraduate (which had taken me 15 years). My internship was with a tiny, underfunded, environmental government agency in Indiana, that no one had ever heard of.

To say I had a terrible time at this conference would be an understatement. Not only did I call Spouse the first night, in tears, wondering if I should come home, but I also worried that my plans for my environmental career were perhaps totally unrealistic: with all these impressive people as my competition, why would anyone hire me?

Less than 4 years later, though, a different (and much larger) environmental government agency in Indiana hired me, somewhat on the strength of that internship, somewhat based on my B.A. in geography, and probably somewhat based on my enthusiasm for the challenges ahead.

And that job sent me to 6 professional conferences, while I attended another 5 connected with my graduate school interests. By the time I left that job in 2007, I had attended 13 professional conferences total. But fully the first 8 conferences were . . . kind of awful. By #10, though, I had started to find my feet.

The last 2 professional conferences I attended? A piece of cake. I know exactly how to get what I want out of where I find myself.

In fact, after my recent weekend in Philadelphia, I realized if I had gone into that writer’s workshop thinking of it as a conference, I probably could’ve loved every minute of it. Of course, I would have had to behave a lot differently than I did.


Back to the challenge of leading field trips at my volunteering place. During the email conversation with my contact, in which I revealed my deeper fears, I decided I would take the plunge.

Because if this really was something like conferences, it would take a lot of attempts before I knew if I could be good at it. (In other words, failing the first time wouldn’t really tell me anything about my long-term prospects.)

I signed up to lead a field trip on Friday, May 24. It rained that day, which shortened our time in the gardens (con), but also meant we ditched the clipboards (pro). My “leadership” was wobbly, inconsistent, and distractible — just like I am. However, I also enjoyed a surprisingly high rapport with the kids, who asked me tons of questions. And I was able to answer all of their questions.

Yesterday, I observed a different program for the second time. If I were to lead field trips in this program, there are a lot more structured things I would have to say. (Which I don’t like.) And the leader talks for the entire 2.5 hours. (I really don’t like that.)

But . . . each group of a field trip is different because their leaders are different. If I would be allowed to customize how I lead, so it better matches my own preferences and strengths, I think this second program could also work for me. And I think it’s at least possible that the benefit I was originally interested in could be achieved by some tinkering. Unlike a lot of people, I actually enjoy experimenting with my methods, even knowing that many things I try won’t “work”. Failing is just another learning opportunity.

When I get something right the first time (which, perhaps thankfully, doesn’t happen very often), I don’t learn where I have blindspots. I don’t discover what I don’t know. I don’t know why things worked, only that they did.

For me, it’s not fun to succeed right off the bat. In fact, it’s kind of a letdown.

Hmmm, I think I can qualify that. If I’m doing something complicated/complex, that will be an ongoing project, I don’t like to succeed right away.

If it’s something that’s very immediate, a one-time thing — play, or otherwise trying a wild idea out, I do enjoy it when I get cool results, even if they are not much like how I thought my original idea would turn out.

I did do an experiment like that, on Monday, May 27. The last time I got a haircut was in January. In April, I finally dragged myself back to the salon I’d gone to before, only to find the hairstylist I had really liked no longer worked there. Spouse goes to one of those $15 places, which I had also been doing for a while, but I never liked the results.

I’ve been thinking for a while that it would be cool to cut my hair by how it feels, not how it looks. (Since I’m primarily tactile, not primarily visual.) But how would one do that?

Well, Monday, I found out. I spread a large plastic garbage bag across our bed. I grabbed some scissors in one hand, and hanks of hair in the other, and just chopped in all directions. After I did my whole head once, I looked in the mirror. It didn’t look much different! So I went back for Round Two. Now it looks different!

I didn’t make any attempt to preconceive how it would look. Nor how it would function. I just wanted my hair to be shorter. But I also wanted it to be done in a very free-form organic way. Self organizing, almost. There was no plan. There was no attempt to “fix” it to look “normal”.

I think it looks like the kind of haircut a non-binary person would have. Which is perfect.


I recently ran into the woman I’d had a lunch date with in late January; we had agreed to “stay in touch”, but of course we didn’t. We had a pleasant electronic exchange. As it petered out, I decided to be bold: I said I would be willing to get together again, if she wanted to. It had been four months after all; maybe it would make more sense now. But she never responded. Which is fine. I’m learning not to take these sorts of things personally.

I’ve joined a new Meetup group: conversational Spanish while eating food from Spanish-language cultures [surely there is an easier way to say that!?]. This group is based in Baltimore County, which is much more reasonable for me than the group I dropped out of previously, which held events in downtown Baltimore City.

I talked to one of my neighbors yesterday.

I’m currently reading a bunch of books on relationships because I’m ready to seek out a lot more new people.


Joss Whedon:

You are going to change the world, because that is actually what the world is. You do not pass through this life, it passes through you. You experience it, you interpret it, you act, and then it is different. That happens constantly. You are changing the world. You always have been. . . the one thing that I wish I’d known and want to say is, don’t just be yourself. Be all of yourselves.

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