Lent: Day Fourteen

As I grow older I find my ability to concentrate on multiple demands at the same diminishing and when I have something I absolutely have to do, it tends to overwhelm everything else. My wife has always joked with me that I tend to behave like an old mainframe. Back in the 70’s main frame computers were large batch processors, they ran one job at a time so things were done sequentially. You had to finish one job before you could start another. Currently, that appears to be the way that I work best; I get the most accomplished when I can work on one thing at a time.

However, this limitation can be very frustrating. We live in a time when modern computers are multiprocessors, able to juggle multiple tasks, giving each enough time to get its requirements accomplished. Historically, women tend to be good multiprocessors, which is why when they entered the workforce one the jobs they immediately took over was that of secretary, the epitome of multiprocessing.

We all have some multiprocessing abilities otherwise we couldn’t carry on a conversation while eating our dinner. However, as something demands more of our attention, the ability to shift away from it and do something else, while not dropping the ball on that initial demand is what makes multiprocessing so useful, yet so difficult for so many people, especially men; especially, it seems, for me.

Take right now. I have my presentation for a conference I am speaking at due tomorrow. That demand is overriding everything else, making concentrating on anything else difficult, including this posting. (The presentation is even filtering into my Lenten thoughts today).

Up till now, I have only accommodated this tendency of mine by going off to or trying to create a quiet place to work. Sometimes, however, quiet is unavailable. As a result, I began taking Ritalin in 1996 in an effort to deal with interruptions preventing me from getting my work done. The other side of having this problem is that when you are in a disruptive environment, and at the time I was having my first work experience in a mass of cubicles, you find that everything interrupts your thinking. In the cubical environment that my work at the time required, made it almost impossible to concentrate and accomplish a linear task like writing procedures for a technical manual and online help system, which is what I was contracted to do. Ritalin helped tremendously, allowing me concentrate despite the disruptions around me, helping to make that effort very successful. I am not sure what I would have done without it, since I usually passed my coffee limit before 10 am.

Lately, rather than just accommodating my limitations, I have begun to examine them, to see what they tell me about myself rather than just look for ways around or through them. As a “somewhat reformed” Christian, I believe that God made me (or allowed me to become what I am, if you believe environmental factors were a large contribution) for a reason. So, instead of just fighting my limitations, I am trying to explore them, to map out who I am and then, hopefully, figure out how best to use that knowledge in the service of God.

I am not sure how long this will take, since it is something I can only do around the edges of the daily things I have to get done. However, one thing I keep coming back to is that this limitation forces me to somewhat solitary as I try to accomplish things. This is one of the reasons I have been a self-employed contractor for the last fifteen years. However, I have to balance this need for solitude with the understanding that I think best, have my most creative moments, when talking to someone. Verbalizing gives me my best insights and they usually come when I am trying to explain something to someone.

Those two requirements appear to be contradictory. It will be interesting to see how I can work out a model of living that allows both their necessary place, since to be both creative and accomplished they each must have their due.

So, I ask that you remember me in your prayers and if you want me to remember you in mine, let me know.

Grace and peace to your day.