Reflections on My Cluelessness

I used to work for an organization called “Young Life” that partnered with local high schools to help kids learn about Jesus, life, relationships – just about anything we could do to journey with them as they navigated their teens. It was one of the most challenging jobs I’ve had.

It was also one of the most clueless episodes of my life. I won’t list all of the awkward things I perpetrated there, partly because there’s not enough storage on my WordPress account, and partly because I don’t want to re-hash it all.

However, just to illustrate how bad I wrestle with this…

I went on a date with a friend’s cousin. Nothing huge, no fireworks, neither of us was really into it. At the end of the date, I parked the car in front of her apartment, unbuckled my seat belt, opened the door and started to get out. She got agitated and said, “No. No, it’s OK, you don’t have to walk me up.”

As someone who’s always struggled with social anxiety, trying to figure out norms, protocols, and the myriad games we’re supposed to play, especially the ones that apply to girls, I thought I had run into something new. Maybe girls don’t actually like being walked to their door. Maybe it makes them feel some kind of pressure to invite you in, or kiss you because you went out of your way.

My next date, some time later, with a different girl who worked with Young Life, went way better, until the end when I didn’t get out of the car. I didn’t want to freak her out, or put some kind of pressure on her – I thought I was doing a good thing.

So I sat in the car like an idiot and said “good night.”

She slammed the door and we never went out again.

And everyone was talking about it.

And that’s just one example. I’ve racked up a treasure-trove of moments like these to forever cherish.

I’m happy to report that I’m no longer as clueless as I used to be, but the problem with cluelessness is that you have no idea you’re suffering from it. Have I really gotten better? Worse?

Other people’s cluelessness, however, is easy to detect, and fun. Our culture loves it when someone does something stupid, especially if they’re clueless about it. And if it’s caught on video – look out – we eat that stuff like candy.

Why? What is it about the stupid deeds of other people that’s not just entertaining, it feels good? Why isn’t our own stupid just as fun and soothing?

Turns out that I don’t have a fear of being clueless, I’m scared of what people might think if I do or say something dumb. When someone else mindlessly screws up, it gives me a momentary respite from the myriad ways I look down on myself – “at least I’m not as bad as that idiot…”

But these days, in this old, very tired chapter of my life, when I witness a clueless perpetration, I try my best not to emotionally ingest it, judge that person, or find some other way to use their screw-up for my benefit.

I do my best not to “eat” it.

On some days that’s easy – but when I’m tired, discouraged, feeling like I don’t matter,  ramped up on coffee, and starving for anything that might help me feel better, it’s hard to say no.

Saying no requires a strength of sorts, like working out in the gym. The more I say no, the easier it is to say no. Cheat days make it worse.

But even if you take away the threat of judgment from others, I still don’t want to be clueless, in any arena. I want to know the places where I’m not “getting it,” where I’m weak, or doing damage to my relationships.

Following is something that forever put my cluelessness on red alert.

It’s called the “Johari Window,” and while that might sound utterly uninteresting, hang with me, it’ll change your life.

clueless people

Here’s how it works:

We start at window “A.” We all have areas of our life where we’re completely clueless, totally unconscious of the areas where we’re incompetent.

All of us.

Moving to window “B” is difficult. We have to put ourselves in situations that are risky, places that will expose our weak places. We have to have mentors, coaches, and other people who are willing to tell us that we’ve been talking with our mouths full, or screaming at bad drivers while we pull an illegal u-turn, or blaming our spouse for our bad marriage when we’re doing just as much damage.

We’re Americans. We typically don’t have those kinds of friendships. And we don’t do mentors.

But, if you can make it to window “B,” moving beyond it is much easier. You and your mentor can work on a plan to move you to window “C,” where you can get to a place where it’s no longer an area of incompetence.

And if you do it right, if you really work on it, this new competence can become a habit, so much so that you don’t even know it exists, it happens automatically. Welcome to window “D,” the one that few make it to – takes too much courage, humility, sacrifice, and emotional elbow grease.

A friend showed me the Johari Window a few years ago, and since then I’ve done a lot of moving from window A to B. I used to be afraid of getting my weak spots exposed, but now I welcome it. These places of incompetent incompetence are causing me and my loved ones a ton of pain, a loss of freedom. I don’t want them any more.

And the window helped me to understand that we’re all in the same boat, we’re all struggling with cluelessness – personal, unidentified weaknesses that are keeping us from a better life.

It’s helped me to give others a break when I watch something stupid go down, which forces me to give myself a break – wash, rinse, repeat.

This version of the Johari Window and the following commentary are borrowed heavily from a curriculum called Faithwalking – one of the best personal growth programs I’ve ever been part of. Check it out.

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