It works for me

Never underestimate the depth of “it works for me.” Humans are complex. We play such a lattice weave of roles for each other, and it shifts at incredible speed.

This happens in all aspects of life, but in particular, with the people you grow closest to. We all live at least two lives. I suspect most of us live orders of magnitude more, but because we intersect with people in specific ways, we’re not able to see it.

It happens, even in the most casual of ways. In moments where you don’t even realize you’re building relationships.

The first time you are at a local supermarket, the check-out clerk is one-dimensional. They are there because we haven’t yet invented the machine that does the job for them. Beep, beep, beep, here’s some money, I’m out of here. The fifth time you go to that supermarket, you notice that check-out clerk has gotten a tiny nose stud. “Hey! Awesome nose stud! I didn’t notice that before” “Yeah, it’s new, it hurt, but I gave birth twice. A nose stud is nothing.” Even in the most casual of universes, relationships find a way to evolve. The check-out clerk is more than a machine; it’s a touchstone for humanity. On the eight visit, you are surprised by a slight pang of disappointment that the clerk isn’t there. On the tenth errand, you pick the longest line because nose-stud is serving at that register, and you look forward to the brief but meaningful interaction with her. You’re curious whether her oldest passed his driving test.

I’ve been that check-out clerk, in a sense. At a petrol station in a tiny village in Norway. And people needed me for different things. Some needed me to be a robot to take their money and get them on their way. “250 kroner, takk” is the extent of the interaction. Others come in, upset and looking for a gift that says “I’m sorry, please forgive me” — a true challenge of consumerism in the context of a middle-of-nowhere hole-in-the-wall gas station. You learn to support someone when they are trying to figure out how to say I’m sorry with a Snickers bar and a phone charger.

We are on both sides of those brief, but complex, personal interactions all the time. People who are good at it and who are well resourced thrive on them. I think that’s extroversion, in its true sense. Finding an increase of energy in the small interactions.

On the introversion/extroversion scale, the tolerance for those interactions may be about the threshold for where it feels worth investing energy in relationships. Some people would prefer to check-out clerk to be a robot. Hell, when I’m depressed or otherwise emotionally preoccupied, I’ll wait in the longest line for the self-check-out line at the supermarket. People? No thanks.

Where it gets truly complex is in relationships that context-switch frequently. A co-worker that is also a friend. A friend who is sometimes a lover. A mentor who is having an off-day and needs a little support. A child who grows and evolves beyond their parent in some aspects. In so many of our relationships, it isn’t as clear-cut as “you sell me groceries”. And we forget that the relationships we have aren’t static. They change, evolve, attain more nuance and perspective.

Your best friend may be better at reading people than you are, but you are better at understanding interpersonal dynamics. You end up in situations where you disagree, but you’re both, in fact, correct in your observations, because you’re coming at them from different angles. It turns out, a lot of the time, that giving someone advice about what you would do isn’t actually helpful — because it isn’t you in that situation. It is them. With their full set of experiences, strengths, weaknesses, and lived experience. Your privileges don’t apply to them, so the way you would handle something might not work for them. Their traumas don’t apply to you, so the way you would resolve something isn’t a resolution to them.

And yet, there’s a powerful lesson in learning how someone does something. Many a time, I’ve found myself confused by how someone resolved a relationship conflict. But I’m slowly starting to learn that it isn’t about me — it doesn’t matter how I would do something, or whether I would feel that a situation is resolved. “It works for me” is a powerful thing — it’s an extension of if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Perfection is unattainable and it looks different from person to person. That’s the beauty of humans — we are so different, that your ‘that will do’ is orders of magnitude beyond what I would have perceived as perfection. My ‘good enough’ may be yours.




Writer, startup pitch coach, enthusiastic dabbler in photography.

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Haje Jan Kamps

Haje Jan Kamps

Writer, startup pitch coach, enthusiastic dabbler in photography.

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