A friend and I have been roasting a lot of coffee. Not too long ago we set up a cupping of four Indonesian coffees (a small number in the coffee world). We prepared the cups and had them laid out on the table in front of us. We then spent time smelling and tasting each one— trying to describe the nuances of flavor. Though they were all from the same part of the world, the profiles between each were drastically different— which is where the real challenge lies.
How do we put words to our experience?
One half of the challenge is our ability to taste the differences, but the other (very connected) half is to put those difference into categories of language. It’s one thing to say that two cups of coffee are “really different” from each other. It’s another to say, “This one has a lighter body, with more tang, and a sweeter finish. The other is heavier, with more earthy dark notes.” The next step beyond that is to nuance those flavors even further: is the sweet and tangy flavor like lemon zest or melon rind? This is geeky coffee talk, I know, but this is how it connects:
The way you describe something shapes your experience of it.[Tweet that]
This brings me back to how we talk about being stuck, not knowing what to do with your life, and finding your passion. Each of those are huge categories that can be broken down and nuanced. The more you’re able to get into specifics, the more you’re able to understand where you are, why you’re there, and (eventually) what to try next. The more other will also be able to understand and help.
I’ve been working on this myself in how I use the phrase “I don’t know”. When I feel stuck with decisions that are loaded on both sides— unable to choose a clear yes or no — I find myself giving up and saying, “I just don’t know.” The problem is that I actually know a lot. I’m quite good at knowing things, in fact— I’ve thought a lot about the options and have explored them extensively. There’s no clear perfect solution. I may not know what will work out best for me in the end, but even that is different than shrugging my shoulders and saying “I don’t know” when I start in on the problem.
Using more descriptive language helps us understand the intricacy of our experience.
The more descriptive you can be about who you are, where you are, and what you want, the easier finding your passion becomes.
Here’s a made up example of a twenty-something who feels stuck:
You could say you’ve “never made a good career decision,” and that you “don’t know what else to do.”
Or you could say that you’ve only ever made two career decisions: one to choose a major and one to choose a job after college, and your experience in your job is making you doubt whether you choose the right direction. You’re unsure what to do next, but you know that you would love to leave your job. That feels difficult because you have school loans and you come from a family that really values sticking it out even when it’s tough — so much so that your father worked the same job he didn’t like for 20 years, coming home grumpy or lifeless every night. You know you don’t want to do that to yourself, but you know there’s a big part of you that won’t let you quit. You’re in a bind because of it. You know that your job is draining and making you feel less and less alive every time you walk into the office. You also know that you’re much better with humans than you are with computers, yet your job is made up of endless spreadsheets.
Those two responses to the same situation are very different. Sure, we can say that the later is just a fleshed out version of the former, but if you never move past the first one, you may never arrive at the second.
Putting your experience into words shapes the way you think about it.[Tweet that]
It also gives you a sense of power and agency. You’re not just stuck “not knowing” anymore. By languaging your experience and the specific difficulty of it, you begin to see a better picture of who you are, what has brought you here, and the ways that your experiences and history play into the stuckness.
You’re more free than you think you are. You have choice, even when you don’t feel like you do. Language gives you a way to find it.
In the comments, what are the phrases that you find yourself using that could be worth unpacking? How do you respond to the idea of using more descriptive language? Click here and chime in! We know you have something to say.