April 30, 2015

The Importance of Listening to Yourself

Take the time to stop, get quiet, and listen to yourself. What do you really want? What's best for you?

I've always been a big believer in research. For a fair number of years, research was actually my day job. But, 9-to-5 business aside, when it came to making decisions, especially big decisions, I have long been someone who researched the heck out of things before deciding. I look at all of the options, learn all of the pertinent information, narrow the field, gather additional input, and then make a decision. Generally speaking, I think this is a good thing, this data-gathering.

To a point, that is.

When I bought my first car on my own, I knew the specs backward and forward before I went into the dealer. I think I startled the salesman when I started asking really detailed questions about the inner-workings of the car I was interested in. (He really didn't expect to hear that come out of the mouth of a woman in her early twenties. Which, of course, I loved. I've always loved surprising people who have made assumptions about me based on my age or gender or both. Yes, I can drive a stick shift. Yes, I know what I'm talking about in those business meetings. But that's another blog post.)

But two things about that have changed as I've gotten older.

The first is that options have become seemingly infinite in our current world. I mean, seriously, have you walked down the cereal aisle in a grocery store in recent years? Or the shampoo aisle at Target? Or tried to buy a new hairdryer on Amazon? The options feel limitless when you try to assess everything that's available. So, considering everything out there when making decisions, big and small, is pretty close to impossible. And it's most definitely exhausting.

For me, this has meant narrowing the consideration set faster. For example, I only consider the more natural haircare brands, and I only look at their volumizing and scalp health lines. This narrows the field considerably before I even start reading labels and product reviews.

It also means that I'm more likely to listen to trusted recommendations. For example, I asked my hairstylist what hairdryer she recommended. I then looked on Amazon at the one she suggested, saw it got really good reviews and was available at a reasonable price, and ordered it. No further research.

And, I'm more likely to stick with something that works. I have bought the exact same four cereal brands each time we run out for quite some time now. They are the cereals that make my family happy and meet my requirements. So, until they stop working, I will keep buying them. And I will walk right by the 500 other options available in my grocery store. (I shop with a 3 year old. I don't have time to peruse.)

But most importantly, I have gotten more comfortable with these ideas:

- Nothing is perfect.
- The grass isn't as green as it looks over the fence.
- Nobody really cares about the 20, just get the 80 and get on with it.

Super extensive research is really about security. It's a way of making ourselves feel comfortable with decisions we fear getting wrong. I don't want to be the dumbass who buys the junky car or who pays way too much for it. I just don't. So I research the heck out of it to make sure I'm making a good decision. Not only do I read up on the cars, but I also ask other people for their opinions on those cars.

Which brings me to the second thing that has changed as I've gotten older: I now recognize the importance of listening to myself.

That does not mean that I don't ask other people's opinions when I'm making decisions. I do. A lot. But I don't always take their advice. This, of course, drives my husband nuts. He hates it when I ask his opinion on something and then proceed to do the exact opposite.

Me: "Do you like these shorts in the blue or the black?"
Husband: "The black."
Me: "Yeah, I think I'll get the blue."
Husband: Sighs, shakes head, and walks away.
Me: Checks out butt in mirror one last time.

That's because I've learned that, though I really want my husband to like how I look in the outfits I choose to wear, he'll never actually see me in those outfits unless I feel good in them. So I value his opinion, but I have to trust my own feelings. If the blue shorts make me feel better, then the blue shorts I shall get. If both things are truly equal for me, then I'll choose the one he likes...he's a great tie-breaker, my husband.

This approach was never more apparent than in our recent car buying decision.

My husband and I recently decided it was time to trade in my current car (a small SUV) for something a bit bigger. After some initial research (led by my dad, actually...thanks for the help, Dad!) we narrowed it down to one mid-size SUV and one minivan. I, of course, was soliciting advice on this decision left and right.

And, almost without fail, everyone told me to get a minivan.

I hemmed and hawed over this decision. I listed pros and cons of each. But I was torn. Because here were all of these smart people, whose opinions I trust, telling me to get the minivan...but when I stopped and really listened to myself, I believed the SUV was the right choice for me.

Guess what I got?

Yep. The SUV. I take delivery on it next week.

Lucky for me my husband actually felt the same way I did about the decision. (Whew!) So that helped a lot. But ultimately it will be my car, so it was up to me.

You know what did it? A conversation with my dear, dear friend, Wendy. She reminded me that I was getting all caught up in listening to other people and I was forgetting to listen to myself. After my talk with her, and a side-by-side, look-at-every-feature-and-sit-in-every-seat comparison, it took me all of 30 seconds to make the decision.

It doesn't mean that all those people didn't give me great advice. They did. But ultimately I needed to listen to myself and make what felt like the right decision for me.

And I think that's a lesson that applies to everything in life.

If going back to work after having kids feels right to you, even if all of your friends are staying home, get to work. If being less busy in an over-committed world is right for you, drop the commitments. If cutting your hair short feels like what you need to do, even though all of your friends have long locks, chop it.

If your soul needs quiet time alone, or a night out with your friends, or volunteer work, or creative expression, or a date night, or a pedicure, or time to journal, or coffee with a friend, or a thriving career, or playtime with the kids... Whatever it is that your soul is telling you it needs...listen. Listen to it. Listen to you. And give yourself what you need.

Until next time, get quiet for a moment or two and listen to what your heart is saying. And give yourself some of that.

Or buy your heart a mid-size SUV. Whatever works.

P.S. Please don't leave a comment telling me why I should get a minivan. It's too late.

P.P.S. And by the way, I love my new hairdryer. Super lightweight and still quite powerful. It's a Babyliss Pro TT 3000. In case you're in the market.

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