Saturday, February 13, 2010

What matters?

"What lies behind us
and what lies before us
are tiny matters compared to
what lies within us."
-- William Maran

At one point in my life I thought of writing a book about Decision Matrices. My love of decision matrices began back in the 80's, when the software company I was working for decided to introduce a new product called Model.

It was billed as financial management software, but it was essentially an Excel-like spreadsheet (Excel hadn't been invented yet), and in the process of putting together all the marketing materials, designing a demo, etc. I realized the spreadsheet could be used to make decisions.

I would write all the possible choices across the top. For example, let's say I was trying to decide which car to buy: across the top I could have several different car models, some used, some new. And then, in a list down the left side of the spreadsheet, I would write down all the factors of car usage that were important to me: low mileage, price, comfort, able to carry garbage cans to the dump, coffee-cup holders, air conditioning, automatic locks, ease of maintenance, reliability, looks -- whatever factors seemed worth considering as part of the purchase decision.

And then, to the right of that list, I would have a relative importance row, and assign a numeric value (say, between 1 and 3) which would indicate how important each item on the list was to me. Low mileage, for example, would get a 3, and air conditioning -- because we only get about 5 hot days a year here -- might only be a 1.

I would then go through all the models I was considering and assign a numeric value (probably between 1 and 5) to each factor. So a Honda Pilot would get a 5 on garbage cans, a 3 on mileage, and a 2 for looks while that 1972 red BMW my husband is lusting after would get a zero for garbage cans and air conditioning and a 5 for looks. After assigning all those values, I'd multiply each by its relative importance and then add up all the results for each car.

But here's the trick: the results almost NEVER told me which car to buy. What usually happened was that I'd look at the results and think, well, THAT's not what I wanted to hear! Which meant I'd then go back and rethink my numbers: usually the discrepancy between the results and what I'd wanted or expected to see lay in the relative importance I'd assigned to the various factors. In reassessing that, I got to learn a little bit more about what really mattered to me, what made my heart beat a little faster and got my creative juices flowing.

So why bring this up now? I'm not making any decisions at the moment, so why did I launch off on this adventure?

I think it's because, for me, the point of life and the living of it is sort of like the point of the decision matrix: it's not about what we do or what decisions we make as much as it's about what we learn about ourselves in the process. For me, a lot of the joy of photography is in watching the decisions I make around it. Not so much which camera I use, or which lens or filter I choose, but what makes me take off the lens cap, what I fill my frame with, and what I cut or emphasize in the post-processing: precisely because those things teach me something about what I hunger for, and what feeds my soul.

Which, as it turns out, is what my Thomas meditation told me this morning:

"Ah, my love --
can you not see?
It is not the pearl,
or even the finding that matters.
Listen for the treasure within:
hearken to the gentle undulations
swaying like seaweed
on the floor of your heart."

So: when you look at the photo above, is the bird taking off or landing? Is she skimming the water, looking for fish, or escaping a marauding eagle? And does it matter? Or is this just a chance to drink in a rich dose of color on an otherwise gray day?

A friend of mine called not long ago, and during the course of the conversation I asked her -- as a dear friend once kindly asked me -- what is it you WANT to do? What activity could you be doing that would make you leap out of bed in the morning, eager for a chance to get back to it? Because that, I said, as she began crying quietly on the other end of the line, is probably what you were born to do.

There are so many opportunities for us to listen for our longings. But we have this unfortunate tendency to get impatient, or too caught up in the deciding and the doing to listen for the longing that lies beneath. Which is sad, because that longing has a lot to teach us about what we were born to give back to the world.

I'll close here with a lovely quote from Living Wabi Sabi, by Taro Gold:

"Revealing your inner gifts is not only for personal gain. The way of Wabi Sabi teaches that as you begin to manifest your full potential, everyone and everything around you will be positively affected as well."


Maureen said...

Really like that Taro Gold quote!

J. and I were talking just the other night about a person who the other day kept sending out e-mails, all including him cc, each asking a different group of persons, What do you think I should do? J. had already given her his answer; it wasn't one she wanted to hear. So she kept sending out e-mails until she got the answer she wanted . . . and only then made her decision. She would have been totally upended by that decision matrix you describe.

In his futures work with companies, J. always begin the discussion asking about assumptions. I've sat in and watched what happens when J. poses the assumptions question. So much time gets saved, along with money not spent implementing decisions that failed to account for what really matters.

Anonymous said...

O how I love when I open up your day's meditation and see you have written JUST to me! *said with a big grin* It feels like that sometimes, you know, and it feels really good when it does. :)