Have you ever experienced this phenomenon? At work, I am a huge fan of continuous improvement. I often anticipate problems and seek ways to make things better. Such behavior has been rewarded again and again in my professional life.
However, my interest in continuous improvement hasn’t always been appreciated at home. In fact, it’s safe to say that this characteristic is one of my wife and daughter’s least favorite things about me. On one hand, my twelve-year-old daughter gets irritated when I tell her how the dishes should be done. (Which is a bummer, because I like to think I’m really good at quality control!) In the same way, when my wife and I were redoing a room in our home together recently, my proclivity to look for the ideal fit for every inch of space drove her crazy. I mean well, but my wife and daughter have both told me that they frequently feel like they are being nitpicked.
How does this happen to us? What causes what we believe to be the best things about us to become the worst? In some ways, we are victims of our own success: having spent much of our lives cultivating highly- effective strategies for survival, we return too frequently to those strategies and overuse them. As psychologist Abraham Maslow said, “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”
Learning to reach for something besides “the hammer” has been challenging for me, but it has brought valuable results.
For example, last year, when I stopped trying to improve everything at home and made the decision to hold my tongue more often, my relationship with my daughter improved tremendously. Now, when I do say anything to her about the dishes, I am deliberate about catching her in the act of doing something good. (I couldn’t totally give up on trying to improve things!)
What precipitates such awareness and life-giving change?
For me, studying the Enneagram personality tool by reading The Complete Enneagram by Beatrice Chestnut and The Road Back to You by Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile has had a tremendous impact, providing insight and increasing my self-understanding. At the same time, conversation with friends and family–which has been both stimulating and vulnerable–has proved to be invaluable.
Formative information and trusted relationship are a life-changing combination. This is why I love working at Azusa Pacific University and value higher education.