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In which I am not actually that good at shearing - Tactical Ninja

Nov. 9th, 2012

09:14 am - In which I am not actually that good at shearing

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Shearing season starts properly tomorrow. What this means is that I'm booked every weekend for the next month or so, and by the time I get to the end of that I'll be booked every weekend for the following month. Hopefully the weather will stay relatively settled because otherwise I'll get behind and end up shearing after work during the week. The aim is to have them all done by Christmas, but usually I have one or two catch-up clients afterwards.

It's a bit of an acid test for my shoulder too, shearing being a somewhat round-shouldered affair with added sheep weight, it could end up making it flare up. Not sure what I'll do if that happens. I cut the Horokiwi mob in half and will only be doing the Leicesters and a couple of giant blobs tomorrow (a total of 25), which should test it out without nailing me completely.


There's been a discussion going on in and around my friends about fear of mediocrity, and how fear of being mediocre despite one's best efforts can cause people to not commit fully to whatever they are pursuing. It's like a watered-down version of that thing the YoT is working so hard to get over - he fears failure so doesn't want to try. He's got good reason to feel this way, having lived a childhood where "Don't do that you'll hurt yourself" was a mantra, and getting things wrong or making mistakes was a catlyst for lots of yelling and maybe some violence.

He's worked pretty damn hard on himself these last few years, and had some wins. With each win, the willingness to try has increased a little. Now he's learning to drive. I'm really proud of him.

So I kind of get that if a person has a certain combination of personality traits and history, they might fear mediocrity enough to not fully commit. If you've had more successes than failures it'd be pretty easy to begin to set the 'failure' bar a lot higher - witness my disappointment at getting a B+ for an essay after a string of As. And if part of your motivation is an internal voice that's a bit like the YoT's Dad, telling you you can't do it, then being abusive towards you if you don't reach the standards you set for yourself, then yeah, I totally get the tendency to not fully commit so that you never have the YoT's Dad in your head telling you you're not good enough despite your best efforts.

News flash: the YoT's Dad is a fuckwit. So is my internal voice that berates me for getting a B+. Because everyone's mediocre at something, even despite their best efforts.

I am mediocre at horse riding, despite having put my all into it every day for my entire teenage years. Sure, I won lots of ribbons, but hey - I was in the same cohort as Blyth Tait, and you don't see me with any Olympic medals. The highest I went was Novice (which is higher than most people think given the name - at that level you're jumping 4 foot) before realising that I would always be mediocre at horse riding. It didn't stop me loving doing it, but I had to come to terms with the fact that I'm just not that good at it.

I'm also mediocre at shearing. Yes, my clients love me. They love me because I'm careful not to cut the sheep and I talk to the sheep and am kind to them, and I care about the quality of the wool and I'm a good conversationalist and mostly manage to stay cheerful when I have a hoof up my nose and a flailing demonbeast in my hand. But at shearing itself, I'm mediocre. On a very good day with the right conditions and good sheep I could shear maybe 200. In the conditions I usually work, I can manage 80-100. I have a video on YouTube of me shearing the last hogget of the day. It's called The World's Slowest Shearer, and there's a comment on it from a guy who is being encouraging, telling me to keep at it, it took him a whole year before he got as good as he is now.

I didn't have the heart to reply that actually, I've been shearing for 20 years and I'm just not that good a shearer. That would have been humiliating, right? But it's true. I'm mediocre at shearing - yet I get asked back again and again because I fulfil the needs of my clients, which don't include 'peel out my mob of 20 in half an hour'.

It rankles, to me, having spent so much time and effort learning to do things I really want to be good at, only to realise that I'm just not that good. My inner voice really wants to keep reminding me about these supposed failures, because it's a fuckwit and thinks the bar should be set at the same level for everything I do. But then I remember that string of As, and the difference I've made to the YoT's life, and how I made a staff that everyone thinks is awesome, and how several people whose work I admire want to collaborate with me on projects, and how most of my friends want to be in my group after the zombie apocalypse, and I go "Hmm."

Maybe I don't have to excel at everything. Maybe excelling at the things I am capable of excelling at is good enough. Maybe the bar for failure should be set at different levels based on my strengths and weaknesses*. Here I am at 42, the first person in my family to have a degree (almost!), and with a pretty damn good idea of what things I excel at and what I don't. So sure, set the bar as high as it'll go for analysis and argument, because I fucking rock at that stuff. But set it a bit lower for strength-and-coordination based physical skills, because evidence suggests that 'pretty good at that' is the pinnacle I can expect to reach with it**.

So where am I going with all this? Mostly I'm just musing, but I have also realised that if I am to take an evidence based approach when assessing my chances of excelling at something new, having a look at what I've historically excelled at might help me decide whether my inner voice is just being a fuckwit when I dither about commitment through fear of failure to be brilliant. Say I got a job in drug policy - it's on the cards one day right? I've never done drug policy and I'd be a total noob at it and flounder a fair bit I imagine. But I'm good at being a student, at learning new techniques, and I rock at research, analysis and argument. I'm not afraid of learning new things or admitting I don't know, and I'm good at finding the information I need. In other words, while I'm not a brilliant drug policy analyst yet, I have all the ingredients I need to be one, and everything on that list is something I rock at.

So if I'm going to commit myself fully to something in the hopes of becoming brilliant at it, that sounds like a good option to choose, right? And my inner voice can shut the fuck up and go back to berating me about every time I cut a sheep by accident, mmk? Because I'm ok with being a mediocre shearer, but I'm not ok with cutting sheep so at least in that role, it's being useful.

* Yes, part of me thinks I shouldn't have any weaknesses, but the part of my life where weakness = eaten by the metaphorical lions was a long time ago, and I beat those fucking lions, remember?
** I am aware that shearing a sheep is something most people think is a fantastic super-achievement. I'm also aware that being able to do it as well as I do is impressive in the grand scheme of things. But I'm pretty good, not fantastic at it. It's a fact.

Huh. That was long. Have some pictures. Here's a picture of the thing on the wall in my new quarters at the Mages' College in Skyrim:



Totally looks like:



Also, in 'picture paints a thousand words' news, here's the phone book pile in our building after 2 weeks:



Yep, only one has been taken. Says something, really.


*phone rings*

OK scratch that, apparently I'm now doing three lots of sheep tomorrow and the tally just went to 35. Such is the nature of shearing season. *sigh*

But check it out, my mediocrity is totally in demand! ;-)

Comments:

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From:decemberthirty
Date:November 8th, 2012 10:58 pm (UTC)
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This reminds me a lot of my swimming career. (Note: I swam competitively from the time I was...maybe 8 or 9?...until I was 22.) I was mediocre for all of that time. I stood a good chance of being able to beat the average person on the street but I was never the fastest person on any of my teams, let alone being anywhere near the Olympic level. At times that really bothered me, but by the time I was graduating college I was realistic enough to know that if I wanted to swim in college, I couldn't choose a school with high-level athletics because I wouldn't make the team. And I think it was worth it to me to have the experience of deciding to keep going anyway, to pursue swimming for reasons other than being great at it.

It gets a little more uncomfortable for me when I start to apply the same thinking to writing. I mean, I'm not going to stop just because I'm not as good as Virginia Woolf, but I'm much less comfortable with the idea of writing being something I do "just for me." And I guess that's where it gets complicated with the inner voice. I want it to push me to keep getting better, and to point out when I'm not doing my best work so I can figure out how to make it better, but all of that skates so close to allowing the inner voice to shut me down completely...

Interesting post--thanks!

(Also, that mounted goat head, and the LJ mascot? Hilarious!)
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From:tatjna
Date:November 9th, 2012 02:33 am (UTC)
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Yeah. I'm thinking about the difference between things that are physical skills and things that are expressions of self, like maybe dancing, or your writing, or perhaps even my passion for drug policy. Whether that makes a difference to a) the desire to be exceptionally good at it and b) the fear of being mediocre.
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From:decemberthirty
Date:November 9th, 2012 08:12 pm (UTC)
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That's an interesting point. There are some physical limitations that are beyond our control, so we have no choice but to accept those. I'm short, for instance, and I will always be short. There are some physical skills that I'd be better at if I were taller, but I've long since given up on waiting for a growth spurt! But the other things (writing for me, or your skill in analysis and argumentation) are not just expressive, they're also connected to intelligence. And perhaps that intensifies the fear of being mediocre. I may never be tall, but I sure as hell don't want to be stupid!
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From:t_c_da
Date:November 9th, 2012 12:01 am (UTC)
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You should have taken a picture of the pile in our office that was that size for the year before last...
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From:rivet
Date:November 9th, 2012 03:40 am (UTC)
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I'm mediocre at a lot of things, but being good at them is not central to my identity. I do them because they're fun or interesting or I'm too cheap to pay someone else for them (a lot less of that last one these days).

I find the idea of being mediocre at the thing you're supposed to be best at quite confronting, possibly because I got a lot of that 'gifted child' crap in school growing up. And frankly, given how messed up a lot of the rest of my life often was, clinging to that message probably wasn't a bad strategy. It worked right up through university; more effort was required, but I was still 'special'. I was an A- student who always got the talk about how that would be an A if I just applied myself a bit more.

One of the things that was most bruising to the ego when I got to grad school was that I was pretty average in my department. I learned to get used to it, mostly by observing that I had better work-life balance etc than my peers (implying of course, that if I actually *tried*--even though I was already killing myself with trying--I'd be in the top of the pack). Fast forward to government job, and I'm once again 'special' with one lobe tied behind my back. It was a welcome reprieve, but I could feel it making me soft the whole time. Now I'm back to academia and it's giving my ego blisters. Hopefully they'll turn into calluses soon.
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From:rivet
Date:November 9th, 2012 03:41 am (UTC)
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Hey, look how I made that ALL ABOUT ME!
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From:tatjna
Date:November 9th, 2012 06:08 am (UTC)
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But this is all about you. I just took it and made this post about me so that I could get it straight in my head within mental and emotional parameters I'm familiar with, in the hopes of batting something back to you that might contain something useful. ;-)

Also, a lot of what you wrote in your first comment resonates. Only swap grad school for you & Jez. Hehe.
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From:tatjna
Date:November 9th, 2012 06:10 am (UTC)
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PS something I've also noticed in both my work and my academic 'career' (such as it is), is that my idea of mediocre seems to equate with others' idea of Fucking Rocks. So there's that.
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From:pombagira
Date:November 9th, 2012 09:37 am (UTC)
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i wrote a thing..but didn't like it, cause it was lame, and i am brain sore currently.. so instead have this

**loves**
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From:labelleizzy
Date:November 9th, 2012 07:01 am (UTC)
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Maybe I don't have to excel at everything. Maybe excelling at the things I am capable of excelling at is good enough. Maybe the bar for failure should be set at different levels based on my strengths and weaknesses*

fuck. yeah. this!


p.s. good points all around.

p.p.s. My spouse is arriving in your lovely country at oh-dark-thirty on Saturday, feel free to make a welcoming wave in the general direction of Auckland if you are so inclined. =D
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From:tatjna
Date:November 18th, 2012 07:09 pm (UTC)
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Auckland is overrated*. He should come to Wellington.

*It apparently has all the people and the nice weather, but we have.. um... coffee! And culture! Yeah.
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From:labelleizzy
Date:November 18th, 2012 07:27 pm (UTC)
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LOL! He's wandering about without much of an agenda, a bit lonesome because the one NZ friend we knew of is in the middle of examinations for her glassworking degree.

What kinda culture? how can I tempt him to visit your home? he's in NZ till the 28th.
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From:tatjna
Date:November 18th, 2012 07:35 pm (UTC)
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Wellington is small but it's the capital so all the stuff you'd normally find in a capital city (or any city for that matter) is condensed into an area you can walk across in half an hour. There are a lot of buskers and weird little shops selling weird little things and oddball theatres putting on home-written plays. And then right next to them there are politicians in suits and students in their goth phase and it's all just an interesting mix of high-density goings-on.

Also, if he were to drop in to Fidels cafe on a Friday after 4pm, there's a bunch of people there who'd make him welcome. Me included. ;-)
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From:tatjna
Date:November 19th, 2012 07:05 pm (UTC)
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Ah, crap, I only just saw this, so I guess I missed you. Maybe give us a yell on the way back through? Email is tatjna (at) gmail (dot) com
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From:pundigrion
Date:November 18th, 2012 04:59 am (UTC)
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I so get this. All of this. (Even the phone books, really what is the deal with these things?!)

I often just wish there was at least *one* thing I was really truly fantastic at. That maybe then I could tell the voice to shut up. Of course, knowing me it would turn out that I am a fantastic manualist and my voice would still yell at me because that isn't exactly useful...
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From:tatjna
Date:November 18th, 2012 07:08 pm (UTC)
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Everyone has a secret superpower. Mine is accidentally catching people having sex.

It's not very useful but can be entertaining?
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