Putting “Defects” to Work

My gardening friend says that a weed is just a flower in the wrong place.  I wish I could cultivate her positive attitude toward weeds.  But it is true that some of us struggle to blossom in the right place, the one where we are an ornament rather than an irritation.  Finding our niche, our calling, our self-expression is an important task that follows us through life. It requires us to be aware of certain of our inborn (or sometimes cultivated traits.  I have one of my own and one of my granddaughter’s in mind when I think about finding our niche, our vocation, the place where our gifts meet our passions.  Sometimes those gifts masquerade as failures or faults.

My granddaughter has been diagnosed as “on the spectrum,” with elements of autism that include obsessive compulsive disorder (CD).  Her mother remarked that she hoped Abby could channel her OCD into something that would enable her to succeed, like her other grandmother, who was also OCD, and  raised eight children and cared for dozens of others and eventually entered library work.  Abby has been at loose ends after getting her AA degree and has been happily working in a pizza place for two years., but she is thinking about her future  She is taking the initial steps toward becoming a pharmacy tech.  I am sort of at the opposite end of the spectrum, so it wouldn’t appeal to me and I wouldn’t be good at it, but if there is one valuable trait in a person who manages prescriptions and keeps track of pharmaceuticals, it is OCD.  I have high hopes for her.

My particular trait that is not always valued in my chosen profession of academic/policy economist is linked to my “butterfly” personality on the Enneagram, easily distracted, interested in everything, having trouble narrowing myself to a limited range of ideas and interests. Traditional academia values focus, specialization, intensive over extensive, and frowns on interdisciplinary work (although that is beginning to change). I loved economics but was also very interested in its relationship to other disciplines, especially psychology, sociology, history,  and political science. And eventually theology, with a focus on ethics, when I got a post retirement degree in theological studies.

That breadth rather than depth of interest made me particularly good at the underappreciated academic skill of synthesis, held up as a form of scholarship in the Carnegie Report several decades ago.  It made me a good teacher because my lectures connected economics to many aspects of life and related disciplines. It made me a good textbook writer. It made me a good policy analyst, because it gave me a broader context to examine the impact of alternative policy choices.  When I went back to teaching, I put together the threads of the emerging sub-discipline of behavioral economics in order to teach a graduate class in Political Economy and Public Policy that integrated those other disciplines.

So here is a question for each of you to ponder.  What quality in yourself do others complain about? Procrastination?  Maybe you are just letting things simmer and develop rather than rushing to completion. Inability to work alone? Maybe you are meant to be a team member. One crazy scheme after another?  They said that about Edison.

Whether it is your own inner qualities or those of your children, students, or friends, hold up a mirror that helps them see that quality and its potential in the right choices of work, hobbies, civic engagement or anything else they want to be part of their lives.  They will be richer for it, and so will the rest of us.

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