Earlier in the summer we were out walking in a suburban Crown Point, IN neighborhood. We were home visiting family for the the most American holiday of all, the 4th of July. I slowed down to watch a neighbor mowing his lawn. A pretty normal sight, right?! He was moving much slower than I did when I mowed, granted it was hot, but I was so curious what he was doing. As I watched, he was carefully lining up the tires of his mower with the previous marks he had left from the completed row. It dawned on me, he was trying to have each mowed stripe be straight across the entire front of his home. I laughed out loud.
As we continued walking along the sidewalk, I said, “No way. He’s concentrating so hard on making the lines of his lawn perfectly straight.”
“Well, of course,” my husband responded, “you can’t have crazy lines going all different directions.”
“Of course you can,” I said with emphasis on the “can”. “I go in circles, and when you leave town next I’m going to do zig zags and infinity circles on our lawn!”
We laughed, but I know he wouldn’t be happy when he came home, the dissymmetry would disturb him.
“Different Strokes for Different Folks”
I got a lot of mileage out of that one and it made me laugh but I also had to pause and see the beauty of the metaphor. There are so many different ways to mow your lawn or live your live. Some people feel calmed and secure with straight organized lines or career paths. Others like to wander and mow in circles as they explore options, try out new ways so they don’t get bored. I fall into the second category, and if someone says I can’t do something, I always respond, “Watch me!” And I build a company to meet the need. I can also appreciate my engineer husband’s pragmatic style because I wouldn’t want the ship to sink or the building to collapse.
Build Strong Foundations
I think we learn a lot from different styles. Some times it’s important to stay inside the lines and go along the straight pathway. Mastering certain knowledge, getting the basics under our belt and gaining experience are all important building blocks. We can think of these skills as the ABCs. Along with the ABCs, we need to include life skills training, like financial literacy or healthy interpersonal relationships. Rigorous study and a straight career path towards a trade or profession is respectable and important. I think a surgeon who knows their anatomy is who I’d want operating on my shoulder to make sure it works afterward.
Those of us who wander, like to explore, and don’t have everything mapped out in advance, but still need the basics too. If you have a solid base of knowledge it keeps your options open. Wanderers need the freedom to explore different ways to do things. “Not all who wander are lost” is so true and I say embrace it.
Different Approaches Improve Outcomes
Even though these two groups of people think about things in different ways or prefer to take action (like mowing the lawn) in specific ways, doesn’t mean they are mutually exclusive. I think often these two ways (and there are many more shades of gray) can compliment each other and bring out the best.
That same shoulder surgery needs to be completed just right, but I also think the person who thinks of innovative ways to do the shoulder surgery in a more effective way will be the person who makes progress in the field.
Practice Self-Awareness & Acceptance
Be aware of how you think and perform best. Recognize the environment that will suit your personal style so you will flourish and contribute to company success. Finally, don’t stick to people who think just like you, but expose yourself to those who do things differently from you so that everyone can share and learn from the experience. If we always do everything the same way we will never grow. Many important discoveries were made through accidents and failures, or by mowing the lawn in zig zags.