Grownups Make Choices

Bill Drummond's under-bridge graffiti
Credit: flickr / Dubber

For the cool-down at spin class, the instructor put on some Andrew Lloyd Weber, I think something from Phantom of the Opera. Yes, it was pretty random. But, for me, something of a blast from the past. It was a song I used to sing, back when I had singing lessons. And then as I wondered out of spin class I thought about what an awesome workout spin is, and if maybe I would enjoy having riding lessons – the one kind of lesson that I wanted, but didn’t get when I was a kid. I had music lessons (piano, trumpet, singing), took gymnastics, dance, swimming, and tennis. Evenings after school were busy.

I toyed with the idea of starting singing lessons again now, thinking it would be something different, and it was something that I used to enjoy. Riding lessons would be cool – my boyfriend goes go-carting at the weekends and I think it’s good to have an outside hobby here in the summer. The problem is the usual one – hours in the day, and that I’m already struggling with what and how to balance the passion I pursue outside of work – community stuff? Exercise, since I should be able to kickbox again soon? Writing? Lego video games (OK that one is not a serious contender). I’m getting really into spinning again, and wondering (as I did before when I was really into spinning) whether getting a spin instructor qualification could be the kind of crazy-audacious goal that I could pursue. The other thing I struggle how to balance is social/non-social activities. We have hot breakfast at work now, which is awesome, but it means that I don’t have Cate-time over breakfast a couple of days a week, and I’m feeling the lack of that.

In the interview for the profile (the one I’m trying to be quiet about for now), I was talking about the advice I want to give to high school girls. In this, as in the OSBR article, I am fixated on choices – keeping choices open. I don’t think the problem is that women don’t choose to be entrepreneurs, or engineers, or scientists – I think the problem is that the choice is not a free one. I worry about how gender-stereotyping in respect to math takes choices from girls, because they come to think they are bad at it, when they are not. Research shows that female math teachers who are anxious about math pass that anxiety on to their female students, but not their male students. That anxiety surely reduces the choices that girls feel they have. Research also shows that women pay a penalty in likability for success, whereas men are more likeable, the more successful they are.

And so I talked about choices, and making sure you have as many as possible. However, there’s a flip side to having choices, and that is the responsibility to make them. I worry that in my non-work time, I’m trying to do too many things and the result is that I’m doing none of them well. I’m reluctant to add new things to the mix whilst that is the case. How much worse would it be to spend all my time like that? At work, I’m ruthless in cutting things that won’t help me be awesome at being a better engineer – email once a day, minimal meetings. In my “free” (ha!) time, it’s hard to be ruthless like that because I don’t know what my focus is.

Over breakfast with a fellow doer of things, and inspiration, we talked about the conflict between those that talk, and those that do. It’s easy to talk about a lot of things, it’s hard to do even a few things – let alone many. Some people think the idea, or the name, is important; I don’t get that. I have a lot of ideas of how to spend my time, many things which I would be happy to do. My friend is the same. The decision of what not to do is important, because wanting to do everything so often seems to mean actually doing nothing. The question is – what will  you double down on? What will you commit to? What will you cut?

So – I’m going to hold off finding a singing teacher, or signing up for riding lessons. Maybe I’ll start by buying the equipment I need in order to increase the number of spinning classes I can attend (bike shorts!) and see how that goes before I make any big plans. That I have choices to make, means I’m lucky, so I’m mindful to take advantage of this good fortune, by choosing, committing to, and doing.

How about you? What are you doubling down on? And what, as a result, are you putting on ice (for now).

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