Awareness is an interesting thing

In Ultraspeaking Fundamentals this week, we were working on storytelling.

I was playing one of the games, and a topic came up. Fortunately, I had a story that came to mind, so I jumped into sharing that story.

Afterwards, my group gave me some feedback. I learned that I was sharing my thoughts about the story–not the story itself. My coach suggested that I find a specific moment, and share from that moment.

The next time I played the game, I again had a story come to mind. I managed to put myself in a specific moment of that story, and I shared from that specific moment.

Again, my group told me I was sharing my reflections about that specific moment. Instead, I should try speaking in present tense as if I were reliving that moment.

So I tried playing the game again, this time sharing from a specific moment–describing my actions, thoughts, and feelings using the present tense.

Although I again got closer, I was told that sometimes when I shared my thoughts, I jumped back out of the moment–almost as if I were jumping into the role of a third-party narrator.

I was surprised. I knew the exact moment I wanted to talk about. I know what present tense is. Yet, somehow, I wasn’t aware of when I shifted out of present tense in telling my story. I wasn’t aware of when I shifted out of telling my story and instead move towards reflecting on it.

This made me think of a story I read this week in No Rules Rules. Reed Hastings shares a story of teaching high school math in Swaziland as a Peace Corps volunteer:

On a weekly quiz I provided a problem that, from my understanding of their skill set, they should have been able to answer:

A room measures 2 meters by 3 meters. How many 50-centimeter tiles does it take to cover the floor?

Not one of my students gave the accurate response and most of them left the question blank.

The next day in class I put the question on the blackboard and asked for a volunteer to solve it. Students shuffled their feet and looked out the window. I felt my face becoming flushed with frustration. “No one? No one is able to answer?” I asked incredulously. Feeling deflated, I sat down at my desk and waited for a response. That’s when Thabo, a tall, earnest student raised his hand from the back of the class. “Yes, Thabo, please tell us how to solve this problem,” I said, jumping up hopefully. But instead of answering the question Thabo asked, “Mr. Hastings, sir, please, what is a tile?”

Sometimes, things are right in our face, and yet we’re blind to them. Sometimes we can only see things when other people point them out, or when we find ourselves in a position to see another perspective.

This also made me reflect on an experience I had almost a year ago when I was learning how to drive. I had another driving class this week, and my instructor and I were laughing about this. For some reason, pullover parking was the bane of my existence.

I pulled over to the side of the curb slowly, trying to keep all the queues in my head. Then I felt a small bump as the front wheel touched the curb.

As I recall it, my instructor told me that it doesn’t need to be perfect. Just 95% would be great–we can fix the rest later. He gave me a demo, and then asked me to try again.

So I tried it again. I slowed down the car, slowly pulled up to the side of the curb, and then bump.

This time, my instructor gave me a food analogy. When salting food, it’s always better to add too little salt. If you over salt, there’s nothing you can do to fix it. If you under salt, you can always add a little more salt afterwards. With that, he gave me another demo, and then asked me to try again.

So I tried it again. And once again, my attempt concluded with a bump.

It took probably between 3-5 lessons for me to figure it out.

Eventually, I realized what he kept demoing to me. Something about my perfectionism or maybe my ego had me thinking 95% meant my error range was on the order of centimeters, not feet.

But as soon as it clicked, pullover parking was suddenly easy.

My instructor and I had a good laugh about that.

Awareness is an interesting thing.

All I know is that my life is better when I assume that people are doing their best. It keeps me out of judgment and lets me focus on what is, and not what should or could be.

Brené Brown

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