Richard Thompson, guitar hero to many (me not so much) and all around very-much-a-Brit sort of fella, along with his lovely-voiced then-wife Linda, on their seminal getting-divorced album called Shoot Out the Lights, did a song called Did She Jump or was She Pushed?
Far more of a music guy than a poetry guy, I never really listen to all the words of most songs, but I do usually hear the words in a chorus, and in this song the Thompsons repeat the chorus a good dozen times or so: Did she jump or was she pushed?
So that phrase stuck with me, and now it’s been with me and part of my linguistic and consultative repertoire lo’ these thirty-some-odd years the song has been around.
The way I hear it, the line has a very specific meaning, which is likely quite different from what the Thompsons heard when they wrote it. The way I hear the line is this: sometimes we change voluntarily and sometimes we change because we haven’t a choice, as in, sometimes we need a big ol’ push to get a move on, and sometimes we just jump right in and hightail it in the direction in which we’re facing.
* * *
I was pushed recently to buy a new computer. My four-year-old Lenovo X200t multi-touch, swivel-screen laptop computer up ‘n died one day, and did it right before I was set to travel for a week. 100% died. (Yes, I was backed up. Hallelujah for that. Thanks for asking. And, yes, I was touch before touch was cool. Thank you for noticing.)
That computer had always been temperamental. It ran very hot. Very. I kept XP on it because it came with that disaster called Vista, and because that Lenny just totally choked on Vista. And then there was the restore function that never worked (never, not even the first week). So it was always a tightrope walk with that thing — every moment being a point of no return. But when it worked well, it was very sweet indeed.
I write this now on an ASUS touchscreen Windows 8 machine. It does not run hot, and Windows 8 is a very wonderful touch-based paradise compared to Windows XP (though I agree with the rest of the world that the metro/app layer is close to useless). All thoughts I had of trying to resuscitate that Lenovo died about an hour after I started using the ASUS. Welcome to the twenty-teens, you old fart, the little voice inside me says.
Did I jump? No. I was pushed. That friggin’ Lenny X200t pushed me right off that cliff, and it waited to do so until right before I was leaving town. It took physics and gravity to get me to move. Thoughts and decision-making were not enough.
* * *
That’s a fairly trivial story (trivial now that it’s past; at the time it was a nightmare).
Now let’s go to the other end of the spectrum, shall we? In the jigsaw puzzle of life, few things loom larger than how we make our ways as economic beings through this loverly ol’ world of ours. Most of us make our way thusly by being employees — by being subject to the hiring and firing decisions (and whims and sillinesses) of others. Once we’re in a job, then, many of us find it very hard to jump out of it — even when we know it’s the right thing to do.
And that’s why it is quite common to hear people say something along the lines of, Getting fired was the best thing that ever happened to me. They needed to be pushed. They knew it was the direction in which they needed to go, but they could not bring themselves to forgo the comfort zone in which they were ensconced, to venture out into the cold harsh reality of whatever it was that beckoned them.
And once they were pushed off the cliff, rather than going kersplat down below in a puff of squished coyote cartoon dust, they fell up. It took some time, but they ended up in a better place.
You can think of this as frictional unemployment at the level of the individual. We all seek out our highest and best use — the sweetest allocation of our most precious, most scarce, most singular resource, which is our human capital as it courses through the unique span of time in which it exists — painful though that seeking often is.
* * *
So if you ever find yourself hesitant to embrace some sort of change which your head is telling you is good for you while at the same time your heart is ex(tr)uding reluctance and your actions are saying stay, think about giving yourself a kick in the butt to topple your own reluctant self right over that cliff upon which you rest. You are apt to fall up, though your first direction of travel might be anything but.
The alternative is to wait for the change to happen to you, out of your control timing-wise, so that you run the risk of finding yourself at BestBuy some Saturday night at closing, buying a laptop to take with you the following day as you get on a plane to somewhere.
Probably not the best way to buy a laptop . . . or is it?