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Archive for October, 2010

The point of no return

Things I am good at:

  • Framing problems of all kinds
  • Making sense of complex and unstable situations & circumstances
  • Seeing the potential in other people and helping them succeed
  • Things I am bad at:

  • Expressing my emotions and feelings
  • Distinguishing what I want to do versus what I think should do
  • Allowing people to be my friends
  • I am not good at expressing my feelings. Oddly, I am good at reading other people’s feelings. It’s hard to reconcile how the two are possible in the same person, but I have years of data (aka experience and stories) to prove this. I have been particularly excellent at applying this professionally and have found the ability to distinguish subtle emotions key to solving problems and helping people.

    For a long time I subscribed to the very limiting (and limited) perspective that emotions and feelings made people less adept to do what they needed to do. Almost every situation or problem I have encountered in my life I have tried to reduce to a logical problem. By framing something as a problem, you immediately set yourself up for success because problems have solutions. However, I have come to learn that not all things are solvable. More importantly, not all things require a solution. I only learned this when I came to realize how unsuccessful I had been at solving my own “problems”.

    When you learn something significant about yourself you have four choices:

    1. Deny it
    2. Ignore it
    3. Sublimate it
    4. Address it.

    I am great at doing #2 and quite excellent at #3. I don’t know why that’s how I respond to things but at least I’ve come to accept that is true since learning it. I am able to do #1, but I have a strong desire to learn about the world and myself so it doesn’t happen as frequently. The reality is that only #4 is a healthy viable option.

    The past three years have been particularly difficult for me because I decided I wanted to figure out why I am bad at the items I listed above and chose option #4 as the path to understanding what I found. I don’t recall being more frustrated, dissatisfied, helpless and exhausted in my life.

    In situations where objective problem-solving was the focus, I always perceived the expression of emotions and feelings as a weakness. It is much easier to solve a “problem” when you can discard what is “fuzzy” and that is precisely what emotions and feelings are. We may even have a shared understanding of what some of them mean, but because these things are by nature felt, the way I see it will never be the same as how you see it.

    About two years ago I found myself incredibly frustrated due to my inability to address the things I set out to address. At the time I did not realize it was, for the most part, because they were all feelings and emotions. I also was surprised to find that most of the things that seemed hard in this category were all things about myself. Everything that was about the world and other people seemed incredibly easy in comparison to how hard it was to solve the “problems” in my internal dialogue. When you are bad at expressing feelings and emotions, you lack the right level of appreciation for the types of issues you are trying to solve within yourself.

    Language is key. If you can’t express what something is, you can’t truly think about it. I literally had to start from scratch. What is anger? What is contentment? What is frustration? What is joy? I still suck at describing, even though I am better at spotting it. I will be eternally in debt to my wife who has always been incredibly patient with me in my awkward attempts to express my own emotions and figure out how to deal with these sort of things. It’s much easier to fight than to admit fault, to spin in frustration instead of making progress, to struggle and point at the wrong things as the source of issues than it is to get perspective and introspective enough to understand them fully.

    Being aware of who you are and what you do is a really hard thing. I think a lot of people take that for granted. I certainly felt that way and in choosing to address it have only found further frustration. But I believe in the long-term benefits I can rip from this. It certainly is a leap of faith.

    The point of no return is the point beyond which someone, or some group of people, must continue on their current course of action, either because turning back is physically impossible, or because to do so would be prohibitively expensive or dangerous. It is also used when the distance or effort required to get back would be greater than the remainder of the journey or task as yet undertaken. - Wikipedia

    Allowing yourself to just experience a feeling or emotion and let it take it as far as it will take you is hard. That’s what made me think of the expression “point of no return”. If you allow it to just happen, you’ll come out the other side with something. It will never be the same because you can’t get back to where you were before, but you’ve learned and you are better for it.

    I decided to write this up today because I’m feeling angry. I’ve come to learn that this is not something that happens very frequently, and when it does I am really bad at realizing that’s the case. In order to experience it I figured writing about it would let me make the feeling last. I was right. I am angry at a bunch of different things. And the urge to respond to this feeling with some “solution” is overpowering. However, there is one important lesson I have learned in these past few years: If you are able to acknowledge the feeling or emotion, sit with it. Feel it. That’s the only way to learn how not to ignore and sublimate it. Also: no judgment. There is no good or bad feeling, there are just feelings. If you make a judgment call you can’t learn from it.

    I have about a hundred things I should be doing right now, but I’d lose a lot if I didn’t allow myself to feel the anger I am feeling. It’s a new emotion to my repertoire. Before I can learn what to do with it, I need to learn what it is. Clearly today my lesson is that anger is a constructive feeling because I sat down and allowed myself the introspection.

    UX People Widget Library for Axure

    Thanks to the lovely Peter Morville and Jeff Callender, the UX People stencils (from the butterfly book), are now available as an Axure Widget Library. Now you have everything you need to incorporate better, more humanized flow diagrams into your prototypes:

    RSW Flow Diagram Example

    Jeff was nice enough to send me the source images so I created the widget library for us dynamic prototyping fans. You can still download the original OmniGraffle stencils.

    To use it, download the UX People Widget Library for Axure file (3.2 MB), run Axure RP, then, on the Widget pane (located on the left side of the screen) click “Load Library….”. Locate the file you just downloaded (UX People.rplib). The library should load up and look something like this:

    UX People Widget Library for Axure

    Just drag any UX person into your prototype and you’re done. You can resize as needed. If you use it, please leave a comment and let me know!

    Related and of interest: