Wednesday, May 30, 2012

What Is It About Virginity?

No, not just that kind.  I'm thinking of all kinds of firsts, any first.

While virginity in other areas don't get nearly the play that sexual innocence/experience gets (why is that?), many firsts are paradigm-altering experiences.

In youth, life starts with non-stop firsts.  Everything is a firstfirst breath, first cry, first word, first smile, first tooth, first food, first step.  Of course the proportions change over timefrom 100% firsts in those intial hours, dropping to a still demanding percentage of firsts Vs familiar: first school, first friend, first fight, first love, first job, and so on.

As we explore, experiment and stake out our ground, we often build a life around the familiar, shrinking that percentage of demanding firsts we have to experience.  We've found our sweet spot, our comfort zone, our wheelhouse.

Yes, we understand our job as parents and mentors: we must push children, students, trainees to expand their horizons, open their eyes and minds to a world of possibilities, but hey, we've BTDT (Been There, Done That).  We don't need to do it again.  It's exhausting, time consuming, scary, disappointing, uncomfortable.  Something we encourage others to do, extolling the benefits of remaining open to new ideas, continuous learning, etc.

So I was wonderingwhat makes it hard to try something new?

And I realized that when you are a virgin/newbie approaching any new situation, you maintain a constant 360º scan of the situation, holding all potential options (given the lack of prior experience) open and possible.  Depending on your personality (some types listed below) or level of experience in related areas, your need to maintain a high-gain assessment of all information may vary, but the constant data flow can be significant and challenging to process.

Powering that constant scan consumes energyyou are not only trying to assess all the possibilities, but may (if more compulsive, or if this is a value-laden or important first) do some scenario building off of that 360 degrees of possibility, increasing the amount of information that has to stay active and running on your "screen."

When that 360º energy-intensive radar goes on for anyone who feels compelled to think ahead, it is tiring.  However if we are frequently trying new things, we can get used to it.  Like daily exercise, our mental muscles adjust and accommodate.  But for those who aren't in shape, the learning curve of newness can feel very daunting, a steep hill to climb.  We may give up, forgetting how quickly that initial learning curve can pass with minimal experience, narrowing that 360º circle into an ever smaller and more focused slice of the pie, enabling us to rapidly eliminate and jettison inappropriate options or scenarios.

Learning can be a heady experience, as we offload unecessary information that has been cluttering our mind, like cleaning house.

In general, I have observed three broad attitudes/approachesperhaps you have experienced others...

The Laissez Faire:  So if you're not so compulsive or caring, and something new comes up, you might not switch into high gear.  You're in the "Whatever" school that believes in minimum-to-no-effort and deal with it (or abandon it) if things blow up. Relatively low increased energy required for approaching something new.

The Go For Its: Another mindset falls in the toss-it-in-the-air-and-See-If-It-Sticks (SIIS) school.  Simultaneously adventurous and lazy, this group is afraid to pre-think much, as that may lead to a never-ending list of what-ifs that would require additional research, effort and more thinking, which might result in inaction and depression.  For them, there's often some kind of mental mechanism that kicks in while they are dithering which launches them into the challenge willy-nilly.  They, closing their eyes, take the leap and deal real-time with the possible consequences of unthought-through actions. Energy only required if things go awry!

I Am, Therefore I Think: The third group are the pre-thinkers, sometimes so good at their job that no action is ever able to be taken!  The wide spectrum of this group can range from the thoughtful plan-aheader to the truly obsessive I-must-think-of-everything-or-else-there-will-be-a-break-in-the-Force-and-the-world-will-end. Required energy can be medium, to off the charts. For the extremists in this segment, seemingly "simple" tasks or decisions can be overwhelming.  To illustrate this, consider taking a small number, say 2, but then saying you have to think of it to the tenth power.  The complexity increases exponentially.

Of course, there's always the straightforward fear of looking like an idiot, which is always a disincentive to trying something new.  Get over it. Try something new. Don't expect yourself to be perfect from the start.

Embrace failure, for without it, there is no learning. And remember that something not working out the way you had planned ("failure") may be a door that opens a new direction, insight, opportunity.


Isabel Swift (learning to knit…)