If you’ve ever worked with wood or been around wood workers you’ll have heard “Go with the grain.”  If you want to make something smooth, sand with the grain (the lines in the wood).  If you sand against it you tear up the wood and just make a rough mess.  If you want to stain or paint something wooden, go with the grain, that way the pigment goes into those nooks and crannies and you don’t have splotchiness.  Of course, if you’ve ever been around a cat, you’ll know “go with the grain” because if you rub their fur the wrong way they will demonstrate their displeasure in short order.  You’re lucky if you just get the cute evil Grumpy cat glare.

This is something we should think about when we’re working with ourselves as well.  People talk about “playing to your strengths” but never really explain what that means or how to actually do it other than to “take what you do well and apply it to the problem.”  ?????  So if I’m good at understanding complex philosophical concepts and using them in context to annoy people when I’m bored in meetings I should take that skill and use it on my flat tire?  Should I read some Hobbes at it?  Or Calvin & Hobbes?  *face palm* Plus, in most situations it’s a mixed message because we’re so often told to do exactly the opposite.  Challenge yourself!  Stretch beyond what you think you can do!  Do something completely new!  Think outside the box!  So should I jettison my strengths because they are holding me back from the outside of the box or am I confusing strengths with habits or am I supposed to stay in the box but stay in a completely different way from the way I’ve always done it before?  Philosophy is starting to feel so much simpler…

Going with the grain, when you’re working with wood, is about knowing where you want to end up, what the final product should be, and then working with the tools and materials you have to get there.  Wood workers will tell you that they have conversations with the wood, that it tells them as much about the end product as they tell it.  Working with your grain means knowing the goal you want to achieve, knowing the end result, then starting a conversation with yourself on how to get there.  Working against the grain would be trying to get you to do it in a way that others think is right but doesn’t fit you at all.  Trying to be social and network when you don’t like people or trying to get everything done between 8pm and midnight when you’re a morning person.  Like sandpaper against the grain it not only doesn’t make for a smooth surface it roughs things up, wastes the wood and the paper as well as the effort and leaves you further behind than when you started.

If you’re not a preplanner, then get someone who is to build you a plan, then use your non-linear gifts to goto town figuring out the most amazing way to implement it.  If you need approval before you can move forward on a project, ask someone to be your designated approver.  They don’t get to voice an opinion, they aren’t being asked for advice, they are the rubber stamp approval that you need to have physically voiced.  Hand them a piece of paper with a script for them to read which gives you approval.  Have them read it with all the weight of their authority (assumed or otherwise).  Accept the approval and move forward.  This really works. Try it and see.   Going with the grain, knowing how you work, allows you to use your gifts to the full, leverage other people’s skills to join in the task, and get to a smooth but brilliant finish.  Your life is a work of art.  Work with it, not against it.