This morning my singing partner and I did a scary thing. We took a tough song, with cutting and horrifying lyrics, added a dissonant and haunting harmony and performed it a cappella for our congregation, twice. We had a total of 5 songs to perform, 2 others that were new for us and new to to them, but only the one had me nervous. I knew we had really pushed some boundaries on what was comfortable for people to hear, certainly on what was easy for us to learn and perform, and on what we would do with the information of executing it poorly or being poorly received.
The song fell in the middle of the service. She was shaking before that song. I started shaking after and shook so hard that my hold torso was trembling a bit. All that fear and all that adrenaline sorting itself out after nailing that song, which was still impossibly difficult to perform and to hear. We sang Strange Fruit, made famous by Billie Holliday. While a musical masterpiece, it is not pleasing to listen to in the way that most music is. The song lyrics are a metaphorical description of a lynching, written by a white Jewish man from the Bronx, after seeing a photograph in the newspaper. My partner and I decided to sing the song facing one another to maintain our concentration and keep our emotions at bay. It was haunting. It was powerful. It was profound in exactly the way that we hoped. And we shook with the effort of getting past the fear and doubt and concern that we brought to the microphone with us.
Let me be clear, we didn’t have to sing that song. We chose it, really against our better judgment in many ways. We knew it was risky. We could easily have found something else, either that we already knew or that would have served and been easy to learn. We could have satisficed. Do you know this word? I LOVE it. Satisficing is “accepting an available option as satisfactory.” Satsificing is doing what you know so it will be okay – and believe me there is a time for satisficing. My husband is preparing to leave town for two weeks, and while I single-handedly wrangle our domestic zoo, I imagine there will be plenty of satificing.
The danger in satisficing, is that I think we forget that there is another option. There is more than being okay. There is more out there than satisfactory. There is more available to us than being alright. Sometimes that means reaching beyond the available options, listening to the voices, signs, body signals, friendly urgings that try to let us know that the available options may seem satisfactory, but really aren’t the point.
I know I do my fair share of satisficing. When I was weighing my options for going back to work after staying home with my twins, I initially decided I would go back to teaching. Now, I didn’t come to this decision because I had missed the classroom SO much. I had good memories from teaching and had so many transformative experiences while teaching. I cherish the young adults that I’m privileged to be in touch with today after teaching them as adolescents. All that said, I wasn’t really dying to get back to it, but that’s what I was going to do because it was the easiest path I could see back to a profession. As I started to walk the very beginning of that path, my body told me very clearly that I needed to consider options. What was easy and available might be satisfactory, and it really probably would have been just that. I think teaching is wonderful and I have nothing but respect for teachers, and I believe many of them find it to be far more than satisfactory, but for me, at that particular moment, it was clear that I was satisficing, choosing the available option rather than really answering the question of what I wanted to do.
As you can well imagine if you’ve poked around on the site a bit, I DID actually get to that question of what I wanted to do. And then I pursued it even though I was really scared that it wouldn’t work for a whole slew of reasons that I won’t bore you with because they really all boiled down to fear, fear of those unknown options, fear of the unknown outcomes, fear of failing or looking foolish. When I’m satisficing, it’s almost always fear. I can paint it as laziness, but it’s usually fear.
What I know is that when I find ways to push past it: “Fine fear, you can be here, but you don’t get to drive,” I find vast expanses of the world that I didn’t even know existed. I find new skills, new joys, a new profession, new ways of being, new ways of loving. They all make satisficing seem like a pretty silly choice in the moments where it’s not about hungry kids and getting homework done. I think it’s just another muscle, that courage thing, using it to see the options that aren’t so readily available, and using it to admit what I really want.
Where are you satisficing? Where are you settling for satisfactory? What stories are you telling yourself about your options? I’d love to help you reach for something new and better. I’d love to help you set the fear aside and reach for something you really want. Drop me a line and let’s talk about it.