When I was in high school, the police took me out of my parents’ house and put me at my grandma’s house. (Here’s the story.)
My grandma spent a lot of time telling me I was special. That’s exactly how she’d say it: “You’re special.” And I used to think she was lying, saying that to make me feel better. Now that I’ve read some parenting books I know that you should give specific reasons that your kids are special. As they pop up. Or something. Anyway, her telling me I was special actually made me feel like I was less special. Like she knew I knew I wasn’t and she was trying to fix it.
Of course, this is from my childhood full of trying to get my parents to love me. And of course, this is a problem with the farmer because he married me because he thinks I’m special and I still have a problem feeling special.
I am not sure I can ever fix this stuff. I’m trying. For one thing, I realize that spending time with a person is what makes them feel special, rather than telling them they are special. So I think part of the reason I like the farm so much is that the lifestyle is all about spending time with each other. For example, we go out to our forest (a five-minute walk from our house) once or twice a week.
I know the kids feel special that we are with them because when I first met the farmer, I felt special being there with him. There is nothing to do, really, where we live.
And there are drawbacks to that, for sure, but I like that we just have to be here. Together. It’s not necessarily quality time. It’s just time.
I’m starting to think that there’s no difference between time and quality time when it comes to feeling special. You can’t shortcut it by adding quality to the front.
I was really struck by the book, Abolishing the Performance Review, by Samuel Culbert, professor at the UCLA school of business. Culbert says that complimenting someone you manage does not produce better work from them. Rather, it’s sort of a shortcut to good management that doesn’t work. Like adding quality in front of time for parenting.
This makes sense to me. Because people compliment you only on stuff they think you don’t know. Like my grandma telling me I’m special.
And hearing compliments about stuff I do know—that I’m a good writer, for instance—does not help me. Helpful is someone telling me how to be a better writer still. For instance, an editor told me that I needed to use more research when I used only stories of my life with no supporting research. (And, look, here is research to show that people like research.)
So the constructive advice helps me do better. Compliments don’t make me better. And telling me what I do wrong and nothing else—well, of course that doesn’t help me or anyone because no one tries to do stuff wrong. They just don’t know what else to do, which takes us back to a need for constructive advice.
So—this management book about how you should not compliment people expecting improvement to ensue—I wasn’t going to write about it. It struck me as stupid, because I thought how I love being managed with compliments that tell me something I didn’t know. But actually, I realize now that what I love is someone who tells me how to be better. And all managers should be like that.
It’s fundamentally very caring: To take the time to see what someone is doing poorly and give them advice on how to be better. It’s much more caring than a simple compliment or mere criticism. So really, this comes back to what I’ve always thought: good management is about truly caring.
Too often people talk about time management in an abstract, detached way: Work a four-hour week, disavow your possessions, try polyphasic sleep. But all of time management comes down, really, to your heart, not your to do list. Figure out a new way to manage time, one that divides the day for doing good, instead of just doing.
To confront this issue—as a parent, a manager, or anything else—is the crux of adult life. Who are your relationships with? Who do you care about most? And how do you deal with the heartbreak of not being able to give enough time?