Friday, 5 April 2013


Are you a doer?  Or a ponderer? 

Some might reply ‘a bit of both’, ‘depends on the context’, ‘don’t really ponder or do’… but if we’re talking about natural tendencies, I think most people can be broadly defined as instinctively one or the other.

Declaring my bias upfront, I admit to being a doer.  I acknowledge too that doers should sometimes ponder more, and ponderers should stop procrastinating and take decisive action.  When taken to the extreme we each get into trouble as much for our strength as our weakness, and there’s bound to be conflict between opposing dispositions.

Nevertheless unless writing fiction, fleshing out the character in a play, or empathizing with a friend, I can only speak knowledgeably from the point of view of a doer.  It’s how I came out of the womb and there’s not a thing I or anyone else can do about it.

I fondly recall my Dad picking me up from the train on Friday nights during the period I was a weekly boarder at a convent school in the Hunter Valley – a school appropriately named Lochinvar given we felt resolutely ‘locked up’.  Or so they thought…

Dad would often say to me “you jump off that train after a five hour journey like you’ve just jumped out of the shower.  You are a born doer”.   As this was accompanied by a warm smile and hug… and loving and admiring my father as immensely as I did… I naturally came to associate ‘doing’ as a virtue.  

So if you bat for the other team you might have to indulge me here…

Examples of situations where doers ‘do’, abound.  The other day I changed a toilet roll in a restaurant toilet.  The roll on the wall was empty, the other sitting on the ground.  Why didn’t the person before just attach the full one, I wondered?  Strange.

Recently I emailed the local Council to say the recycling hadn’t been picked up for weeks, the last time the men had only taken half of it, and it was creating an unsightly mess outside my block of flats.  Yesterday the Council came and took it all away.  Fabulous.  Good job.  Some hours later I left the house for an appointment and saw lots of litter had been scattered across the freshly laid turf and courtyard.   It looked awful, taking away from the relief of the recycling being moved.  So I put down my handbag and proceeded to pick up the rubbish and deposit it into a plastic bag.  Close to the end of this five minute chore I had a disgusting eeeeeeeeewwwwwwww moment when I discovered, a split-second too late, that I had picked up a used-condom.  How GROSS is that?!  So after screeching with horror and dropping it, I eventually composed myself sufficiently to find something to pick it up with and quickly finished the job.  I continued meanwhile to cringe at the thought someone had seemingly used, and then disgarded, this condom near the bushes on the front lawn over which my lounge-room windows have full view. 

In Wandsworth?  Seriously, there is none so queer as folk…

My point is that I finished the job despite the unexpected and shocking grossness.  Only then did I return to the house to scrub my hands half a dozen times before continuing about my business.  It just isn’t in me to leave something half done.  And it seems churlish to ignore such things, as if magic fairies will resolve the problem.

The props girl on Neighbours used to tease me that when I was playing Julie Martin and the scene was being filmed in the kitchen where I was busy doing ‘mother acting’… if the director said CUT and I was wiping the kitchen bench I would finish wiping that section before I put the cloth down.  It makes me laugh to remember her teasing.  For though I’m generally a fairly tidy person, I’m far from a ‘clean freak’, it is simply that I do what I’m doing until it’s done. 

That’s why, I guess, I am also comfortable with the lifestyle of a writer.  I daren’t just stare at the blank page or procrastinate around the house, I get stuck in and write – whether or not the early drafts are any good. That is why I spent an average of six to eight hours a day writing and researching two books for the best part of three years in Italy.  I’d made a decision to write and that’s all there was to it.

Similarly, once the tenants in my house on the south coast of NSW did a runner, leaving the place in a pig-sty.  I was only recently out of hospital and not at all well, but at the time couldn’t afford to hire people to fix it for me.  So I got down on my hands and knees and slowly but surely did all the scrubbing myself.  I hired a painter then to do the big stuff and after two hard weeks the house looked brand spanking new and I was able to lease it again on an increased rent.  (I got back some $ too from the departing tenants after taking them to the Tenancy Tribunal.)  I probably shouldn’t have put myself under such physical strain at the time, but that’s what doers do. 

When I’m working in management roles, I’ve noticed that the staff who are real doers and I get on famously.  I don’t micro-manage and leave them to innovate and run with the ball as appropriate.  The ponderers, if they err toward slackness, and I emphasis if, tend to drive me crazy.  They simply don’t move or think fast enough for my liking. (Or perhaps they don’t sufficiently communicate why they need to ponder so extensively prior to acting.) 

Once I was picking up rubbish around the periphery of a large performing arts centre where I was General Manager.  It didn’t occur to me to leave it on the ground.  I then cleared glasses off the bar and stacked them at the end so the incoming shift could more easily collect them.  It was standard stuff during regular venue inspections – a break, actually, from meetings, emails, grant applications and budgets.  A little while later I met an usher in the foyer toilets and asked “would you please be kind enough to pick up these hand-towels… the cleaner isn’t back until tonight and we have a matinee audience coming in shortly for the small theatre”.  Well, if she didn’t just brazenly look at me and say “Why, that’s not my job”.  I still remember a) my shock, b) my dilemma as what to do next, and c) the strong desire I felt to grab her around the shoulders and shake her.

Not quite so extreme, but a colleague I worked with on the Olympics and Paralympics said to me on the way to the pub after shift: “Can you believe how slowly some of the team walk?  I mean, are they incapable of feeling any sense of urgency”.  I laughed heartily as I had been feeling the exact same way about many of the more junior staff (never the volunteers who were awesome) but had been reluctant to voice it -  knowing, as I do, that quite often in a work environment slower, or more reluctant, members of the team have trouble keeping up with me.  

I should be careful not to infer that ‘doers’ as opposed to ‘ponderers’ are necessarily the productive ones.  It depends, no doubt, on the quality of the output.  Some things take a little brewing before they mature. Sometimes it is best to step back and do absolutely nothing; though by and large that goes against the grain for a doer. 

However I have had some success with that approach on occasion - for the expectation has been that I will ‘do’, and so when I didn’t ‘do’, or didn’t react, the lack of ‘doing’ was all the more powerful.  Recently some colleagues even congratulated me for ‘not doing’ when the temptation to ‘do’ was quite immense but would have inevitably ended up in a negative environment.  So I was quite chuffed actually to have successfully acted the part of a ‘ponderer’.  

I think Eastern thinkers would say that was something about Ying and Yang? Or using opposite force?  Not sure.  I've got too much Ying.  Or is that Yang?

Anyway, sometimes doers are thought to be impetuous or are accused of failing to think/plan.  But, generally speaking, that is no more true than the reverse: that ponderers think to the exclusion of action.  I am talking about tendencies, instinctive drivers.

And it’s perfectly clear that if the dilemma had been “ do or not to do, that is the question...” after a reasonable time spent ruminating I’d have told Hamlet to GET ON WITH IT!

Ok, blog done.  What’s next on my ‘to do’ list?



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