I’ve come to the conclusion in recent years that there are two types of people in the world: those who aren’t perfect and make mistakes, and those who aren’t perfect and make mistakes.
A closer analysis of these two seemingly identical curious categories, however, reveals one subtle differentiating characteristic. It can be found in the way each type of person naturally reacts to their own imperfections and mistakes – one with their hand, the other with their finger.
It seems that the first type will generally own up by putting their hand up, then acknowledge their shortcomings and try to make amends for their mistakes. Whereas the second type will do whatever it takes to deflect any blame and adverse attention from themselves. They often do so by means of distraction, by sleight of the finger, by pointing their finger at the imperfections and mistakes of others.
Sometimes, the imperfections or mistakes of others that the second type points out are completely out of context, completely unrelated to the matter in question. The second type seems to be pointing them out purely in order to change the subject. As I said, whatever it takes for them to deflect blame or adverse attention.
Without wanting to sound like I’m blowing my own trumpet, I’m a reasonable and honest sort of guy. I like to think I fall into the first category – if not always, then at least most of the time. After all, no one is perfect. But things have changed more than just ever-so-slightly for me in the making mistakes department since I kicked my black dog into heel. And blockbuster movies about kids who can see dead people aside, it all comes down to the day I discovered my mysterious seventh sense.
Back in the days when I used to dance with the black dog, I would constantly obsess over my shortcomings and mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes would be the cause of a bout of anxiety. But I now realise that what caused my mind to go into anxiety overdrive most of the time was not a mistake, but rather a minor chemical imbalance.
At times like this, the vicious growling black dog within my imbalanced mind would frantically fish around trying to find mistakes and shortcomings to fester over. Mistakes, that is, of a molehill variety that had not previously bothered me in the slightest. But my black dog would now latch onto them and turn them into mountains, because the bitch had to find something to keep itself alive.
In other words, when it came to bouts of anxiety, most of the time what I perceived as my mistakes would be the effect rather than the cause.
At my very worst, I was permanently in reactive mode, full of self-doubt. I was driven by fear and panic – literally day after day, hour after hour, minute after minute, for weeks and months on end.
With such an obsession for finding mistakes in myself, whenever the finger pointers kindly highlighted some of mine for me, they were in effect validating them. They were leading me to dwell more and more on my sense of uselessness, my perceived general propensity to make mistakes.
In my inner anxiety hell, I was often so busy worrying about my own shortcomings and mistakes that I simply lacked the headspace to pause for a moment and consider whether I might not be erroneous after all. I lacked the sense to say to myself “hang on a minute…” before indulging in some pointing with my own finger – and not always with my index finger, nor in a forwards direction.
When I was a student, for example, I worked part time for several years in the DIY retail chain B&Q – the British equivalent of Bunnings. It was generally a good place to work, with a great fun bunch of people.
I met my best man Charlie when we both worked together at B&Q. In fact, as Charlie said so well in his speech at our wedding, he found it ironic that he and I also met for the first time while walking down the aisle smiling at each other. Though as pointed out, we were walking in opposite directions.
But one of the store’s department supervisors, let’s call him George for the sake of anonymity, seemed to have it in for me all the time. No matter what I did, he always picked me up on the smallest of perceived shortcomings. And he wasn’t even my boss!
Every time I arrived at the store to start a shift, I’d be filled with dread if I was greeted by the sight of George’s car parked outside the front of the store.
George did have it in for a couple of other staff in the same way too. But there were others still, not necessarily supervisors, who he was always trying to be buddies and have a laugh with – such as Doug, the cheery carpet assistant. It wasn’t until years later that I discovered why he focused so much adverse attention on me.
I can still clearly remember a moment towards the end of a particularly warm summer’s day when there was just a small handful of customers left in the store. Many Glaswegians would remember this particular day too, because such warm, balmy days are rare in Scotland, even in summer. And going on the number of bags of compost I had seen flying off the shelves in the store’s garden centre that day, many had clearly spent it busy in the garden.
I remember both the day and the specific moment, however, for a different albeit related reason. As the store was closing for the day, I was doing a final top-up of the shelf supplies of the three different varieties of compost in the garden centre.
The usual done thing was to move bags of compost around the store on the pallets they had been delivered on, pulling them on a safety-approved pallet trolley. But as the store was now so quiet, rather than doing three round trips again, rather than lugging three full pallets from the warehouse all the way across the store to the garden centre and then lugging three near-full pallets back to the warehouse, I decided to speed up the process.
In the warehouse, I counted out how many bags of each variety were needed to fill the shelves, loaded them all carefully into an equally safety-approved empty cage and then closed the cage door.
I was feeling quite proud of my act of efficiency as I wheeled the fully-laden but perfectly safety-compliant cage out of the warehouse and across the store towards the garden centre. When I was about halfway there, however, I encountered George. He was walking towards me in the opposite direction – though unlike Charlie, he had anything but a smile on his face. He was like a great big growling angry black dog, prowling the aisle and blocking my way.
My heart skipped a beat.
“What are you doing, Mark?” scowled George both confidently and arrogantly, while giving me the dirtiest of condescending glares.
Just at that moment, Doug the cheery carpet dude turned into the aisle and was walking up behind me. George looked at him and raised his head and eyes skywards. He then tutted and looked at Doug while pointing his finger in the direction of my cage, as if seeking Doug’s endorsement of my chastisement. Doug being Doug just smiled neutrally back at George, patted me on the back and kept walking.
A moment later, both Doug and George had gone their separate ways and I was left alone in the aisle. And in that moment, the familiar tight knot of anxiety formed in my stomach. Countless thoughts began racing through my head.
“Oh Christ, what am I doing wrong now? How much of an idiot am I? George must think I’m just so lazy and want to get home faster. Or maybe he thinks I’ll cause an accident. Maybe I’ve already caused one and don’t realise it yet! If I keep doing stupid things like this I’m bound to get sacked. Oh Christ, what am I doing wrong now? You idiot, Mark! Have I caused an accident? George must think…”
And so on and so on and so on.
George was a supervisor, I reasoned with myself. He would know better than me. And he spoke with such confidence and conviction that there must have been something wrong with what I was doing.
In amongst all those endless racing thoughts, however, there was a single reassuring voice – one that was telling me George was just a bully, a complete and utter power-hungry prick. That same voice also told me there was nothing wrong with what I was doing, that it was in fact good thinking on my part.
The voice was also right fucking pissed off at George – and wanted to shout at him to just piss right off. Strangely, that same voice also seemed to be telling me that George wasn’t as confident and correct as he made himself out to be.
But that single voice was drowned out in a choir of a million others. A million voices, that is, who sang an endless song of self-doubt and shortcomings, a melody of mistakes. Just like George, each and every one of those voices frowned at my simple decision to use a cage rather than a pallet trolley.
When I left the store and went home that night, the knot in my stomach was tightening, my anger at George was rising, and the same thoughts continuing to race through my head – because, as I now realise, I was out of sync with my seventh sense.
With that constant fear of being sacked for making a mistake always running havoc in my head, I continued to have a tendency to avoid making decisions at work. I continued to not fully think for myself, in case whatever decision I made turned into a mistake. This mindset did not serve me well as the years progressed, I managed to clamber up a handful of rungs on the career ladder, and my jobs involved me needing to take the lead and make key decisions on a regular basis.
Nowadays I’m comfortable with making both decisions and mistakes. My seventh sense tells me that making a decision is not about always making the right decision. I’ve finally learned that being a decision-maker is about being the type of person who is prepared to regularly make decisions, knowing that every now and again they are going to make a mistake. And when they do, they will learn from it and move forwards. And so nowadays if I sense someone is fishing for my mistakes or shortcomings, I can save them the time and give them a list of a hundred that I prepared earlier.
But it wasn’t just in the workplace, or in making decisions or dealing with mistakes, that I struggled for so long without my mysterious seventh sense. Many a time whenever anyone spoke with confidence and conviction that things should be this way or that way, I’d find myself in quiet disagreement, sometimes even feeling I was being taken advantage of. Yet without concrete conviction to the contrary, I’d simply doubt myself and go with the flow.
My black dogs would fester on mini mind meals like this – one telling me I was a coward for not speaking up for what I believed in, the other casting doubt over whether, with a lack of any concrete evidence, what I thought I believed in was right anyway.
And so I found myself living a life that was often out of sync not only with my seventh sense, but also depressingly and anxiety-inducingly out of sync with what I truly believed was right.
And yet all those years, my seventh sense was right there with me, talking to me, counselling me, guiding me.
My seventh sense was and is simply that single voice in a choir of millions that speaks the truth. The voice that tells me when I’m right, the voice that tells me my opinion does count whether or not I have any solid evidence, and despite any stronger and more confident opinions to the contrary. The voice that calmly questions the confidence, arrogance or conviction of others if it doesn’t seem quite right.
My seventh sense was also the same voice that told me there was nothing wrong with pulling a single cage loaded with three different varieties of garden compost through a store; the voice that told me that despite his outer confidence, George picked on me because of his own shortcomings, anxieties and insecurities and not mine. This was confirmed to me several years later when I spotted George in a pub in Glasgow and plucked up the courage to go over and say hello to him. Much to my surprise, he actually seemed a nervous wreck when he first saw me. But we ended up having a long, deep and meaningful conversation, the clarifying contents of which I need not elaborate on.
It took until the day that the endless voices of my black dogs were finally silenced for me to become in tune with my own seventh sense. It spoke to me as a single crystal clear voice that I could hear, listen to and trust.
My seventh sense – the seventh sense that everyone has within them – goes by different names to different people, whatever feels right to each individual. Some may call it instinct, others gut feeling, vibe, trust, or knowing. For me, it is called intuition.
The more I’ve gotten to know my seventh sense, the more I’ve also come to know that it’s not just about being aware of and confident about making decisions and mistakes. It’s about anything that has always made common sense, but never quite felt like a seventh sense.
The seventh sense is also about knowing that different people think differently, knowing that something else may be driving them. The seventh sense is often even seeing what is really driving them to act in a particular way even if they don’t realise for themselves – all rather than thinking this just might be the case.
The seventh sense is about reading the intent behind why someone is laughing at you, having a go at you or making life hard for you, and not wondering if you are wrong or useless just because they imply you are. It’s about recognising that someone who is angry or aggressive or overly confident is often hiding something to the contrary.
It’s about realising that not everything, in fact nothing that someone else does or says is about you.
At the same time, the seventh sense is not about being right all the time or being a know-it-all. Nor is it about predicting the future – so to anyone who just knew Wills and Kate were going to have a boy for example, Prince George is not the seventh sense I am talking about here.
And sometimes the seventh sense is just about knowing when you are wrong, while in some situations, the seventh sense simply doesn’t speak.
Some may read this and think – so what, that’s just the way I normally think; others may read it and experience a lightbulb moment. Which would simply serve to emphasise my point – that we all have a seventh sense within us. Furthermore, that the extent to which we are in tune with our seventh sense is in correlation with the number of voices in the choir that sing to the contrary, the number of voices that try to rob us of our seventh sense. It would simply serve to further demonstrate that we all think differently.
I actually used to naively think that everyone thought the same way as me, even though I suspected this was not the case. And I reasoned that if they thought the same way as me but acted like arrogant, unreasonable arseholes and dickheads then that was precisely what they must be. And for that reason, I bore grudges against people like George.
On that note, my seventh sense has left me with an as-yet unanswered question, one that has helped me take my resounding defeat over the black dog to a whole new level.
I’ve come to question whether perhaps the reason why we may believe everyone thinks the same way is because at our very core, call it our spirit, our soul, our mind, our conscience or our essence – whatever rings true for you – perhaps at this level we actually are all exactly the same.
Perhaps, therefore, what makes us all far more unique than we realise are our genes and the way our brains are wired – our personality programming, our infinitely complex combination of nature and nurture, the filters through which our identical inner cores are able to express themselves so uniquely.
What this may imply is that people like George whom I used to bear grudges over, people who may be confident, arrogant or unreasonable, aggressive, facetious or rude, just are the way they are. And in their own world, perhaps they actually are right, the way they are is alright.
Being human, I still get pissed off, frustrated by or angry at them in the heat of the moment. But in hindsight, and with my seventh sense in sync, I can now quickly let go of any anger or frustration and leave it behind like a pile of dirty laundry on the floor.
There may be some people I choose not to associate myself with because I prefer to spend my time associating with others. But whereas I used to dislike or bear grudges against so many people without realising how much it was grinding me down, I honestly cannot think of a single person whom I dislike or with whom I bear a grudge today. And my seventh sense tells me this makes my own black dog turn as he rots in his lonely grave.
It also seems to me that many people find many ways to justify hanging onto anger or hatred – and that is their right and freedom of choice. My seventh sense has just clarified for me the extent to which anger and hatred, frustration and grudges truly are toxic, truly are the tools that the black dog can use to eat away at the soul.
I’ve also found that learning how to let go can be a long, slow, arduous process. But in allowing myself to learn to let go, I’ve discovered that I don’t need to let someone know I forgive, understand or condone them. In fact if I don’t want to, my humble opinion is that I absolutely shouldn’t.
It is, however, well worth trying to learn to let go – because letting go is one thing that is all about you.
And that’s not just common sense. By George, that’s seventh sense.