Out of my head

“Bekah, have you ever considered…?”

“But Bekah, what about…?”

“Have you ever thought of that before?”

Let me stop you right there: yes. Yes I have. I have considered that possibility; I have thought about that thing. What’s more, I’ve probably thought of the next 10 things you’re going to throw out at me, too.

Why? Because I am, irrevocably, a thinker. And I don’t mean that in the abstract; no, I mean that, according to the Myers-Briggs personality index, I come out strong on the “T” side– “thinking.”

For a long time, I liked this fact. I liked what it said about me: that I thought things through; that I was logical; that I followed rational thought above all else. As an academically-minded person, it made sense: of course I was a thinker! Why wouldn’t you be?

No longer, though.

Because here’s what no one thinks of when they start listing the pros of being a strong “T,” rather than an “S” (sensing): you can’t stop it.

Imagine that you are standing in line, waiting to buy yourself some lunch. When you walked into the restaurant, you had an idea of what you wanted to buy–a big French dip roast beef sandwich just sounded like perfection. As you stand in line, though, you see a sign for the special, a turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread with sprouts and avocado.

Instantly, your brain starts working. A French dip does sound good, and that is what you came in for, but then you do like turkey, too, and you’ve read recently about the amazing health benefits of the avocado. You check prices: the French dip is cheaper. But it’s on white bread with cheese, and then what about all those studies you’ve read on how beef is just a heart attack waiting to happen? But then that other article said good beef is actually good for you, and maybe this is good beef? The turkey is on whole wheat bread, which you know is good for you, and tastes better, too, and it has no cheese, which is bad for you. But the turkey might have more tryptophan in it; you can’t afford to fall asleep at work! And aren’t avocados pretty fatty, too? But it’s on special!

You begin a pros and cons list in your head:

Screen Shot 2013-06-15 at 11.05.40 PM.png Screen Shot 2013-06-15 at 11.10.50 PM.png

By the time you reach the register, your mind is whirling with a million little factors which may not even be relevant to your sandwich choice at all, but which call your entire life’s purpose into question. Will the French dip end up dripping on my clothes? Will my friends judge me for eating meat? How important should price be to me relative to deliciousness? Do I care about my diet? Should I care about my diet? Am I too fat? Am I too skinny? Am I overthinking this decision???

And the answer is yes. Yes, you are. ALWAYS. There is no way an everyday decision like this deserves this much thought. IT’S JUST A FREAKING SANDWICH. But there’s no way to get away from it, if you’re a “T.”

If you’re an “S,” you are probably laughing right about now. For you, I imagine, the choice would be much, much simpler. You came in wanting a French dip; you walk out with a French dip, unless something about the turkey sandwich piques your interest enough for it to supplant your original sense of what sounded good. Easy-peasy. Just know: your “T” friends are in a minefield of thought where even the simplest of decisions can turn into an impossibility with the addition of just one simple special.

Just imagine what the bigger, more complicated decisions look like. Let’s just say they’re not pretty.

The day college decisions were due for me, my parents took me out of school for the day–because I hadn’t made a decision yet and I needed a full day to process and, eventually, choose one. Choosing classes always involved a massive chart of times I had free, classes I needed, classes I wanted, and how many hours I could reasonably dedicate to classes and work. Choosing a country to apply for for Fulbright was a four-month task that involved reading each and every country description and creating detailed pro and con lists for the ones I had shortlisted, which got expanded with each new cut. Last summer was a quagmire of near-depression as I chose between Seattle and Redding.

And those are all this-or-that choices. Pull in some unknown variables, like, say, other human beings, and my brain kicks into a high gear, spinning at a NASCAR-esque speed with no traction whatsoever.

Of course, when others hear you’re trying to make a decision, they try to talk you through it. And it can, in theory, be helpful. But when your brain has already identified each and every contingency of each and every possibility of each and every choice, talking through it all, again, does absolutely nothing to help.

Know what does help? Getting out of my head. Taking a break; watching a comedy; reading a book; getting coffee with a friend; writing a blog post. Being in the present. Making a conscious choice to STOP thinking, and to trust what you’re sensing and feeling and forget about thought–even for a moment.

Because any personality trait, taken to the extreme, becomes a negative trait. And every personality, when worked on, comes closer to balance. Getting out of my head is a matter of great importance, not just for my decision making, but for my happiness.

So, just a word of encouragement to my fellow “Ts”: turn it off for a bit. Get out of your head. It’s getting musty in there, and the gears are starting to spark. Let’s shut this whole thing down, and step out for a bit. It’ll all be there when you get back.

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The Weight of a Quarter

“If you have one quarter, two dimes, four nickels and seven pennies, how much money do you have?”

My European teammates looked at me, determined, dependent on my expertise. My brain reeled–I hadn’t thought about money in terms of American coins for almost a year. Maybe more–who used coins anymore? It was July, and I was on vacation in Cairns, Australia, one of the only Americans there—and here, in my hostel-wide trivia contest, I was the only one. Sweet.

I double-checked my math, nodded, and announced my result: “72 cents.” They scribbled down my answer and we moved on to the next question. Thank goodness my knowledge of the absurdity of American coinage hadn’t completely left me. Actually, if anything, it’d gotten stronger.

Roaming about the world this last year, I have come to realize that America has a strange sort of relationship with cash. We use it less and less, and yet we go into conniption fits if someone suggests that, say, we eliminate the scarcely-used and cost-inefficient penny.

As a traveler, I’d go to a country, exchange some money, and then go about paying for everything in cash–20 NTD here, 30 baht there, with $1.50 AUD and ¥ 200 spent along the way. Sure, I had a credit card–and a debit card, in Taiwan, where I was living–but I used them only as a last resort. Coins jingled wherever I went, and I got well-used to knowing how much money I had handy based on the weight of my wallet.

In Taiwan, there was the hefty brass 50 coin, which could always be counted on to buy a nice tea, or a meal at Chialing’s or Ali’s, and the slick silver 10 coin, two of which could usually snag a nice 7-11-brand drink, or more, if paired with a few of the smaller 5 coins or penny-lookalike 1 coins. A vast number of my purchases revolved around some combination of these four, and my daily routine included rooting around in my coin purse trying to make exact change, or else wondering where all of my coins had gone and reluctantly handing over a bill. Money had a sound, and a weight, that I knew.

Then I came home. I knew, academically, of course, that I had been using cash much, much more abroad than I ever had in America. (Because, again who uses cash in America??) What I hadn’t realized was how that fact would skew my new image of American coins.

In essence, they’re puny. And insignificant. Out of Taiwan-born habit, I’ve handled a fair amount of cash since coming home, and every time I go for my coins, I have a mini heart attack as I pick up a quarter and nearly fling it off the table for its sheer lightness. Money is supposed to weigh more than this! My subconscious screams at me, assuring me that the piece in my hand cannot possibly be worth more than one or two cents. It’s jarring, and unpleasant, and just plain weird–did American coins decide to go on a starvation diet while I was gone? Or have they really always been this small?

Here’s the basic American coin set: quarter, dime, nickel, penny. (And, while we’re on the subject, why the names? Just to favor lone American citizens in hostel trivia contests?)

Quarter, dime, nickel, penny….oh, flimsy American coinage…

Already, we’ve got strangeness issues. The quarter’s worth the most, and it’s biggest. So far, so good. But then there’s the dime, and–hold on a sec, why is it so tiny? Then we jump up in thickness and size for the nickel, for some reason, and then there’s the penny, which is just bigger than the dime. (Which, again, makes sense how?)

By way of comparison, here’s an (admittedly incomplete) set of Taiwanese coins–50, 10, and 1:

I seem to have spent all my 5s before leaving the country…see, usable coins!

Now let’s take a look at it in relation to a few other currencies I happen to have picked up this year. Here’s the difference I can’t seem to get my head around–the quarter vs. the 50 NT coin.

Out. Classed.

And MASSIVELY outweighed.

And, of course, the other American coins compared to other Taiwanese currency:

EVERY SINGLE TAIWANESE COIN (bottom) is bigger than EVERY SINGLE AMERICAN COIN (top)

10s…which do YOU want to carry?

…not to mention Australian coins:

These coins are worth nearly identical sums–25 cents American and 20 cents Australian. So why is one dwarfing the other???

L-R, Australian $2, $1 and US 25 cents. To be fair, the US *does* have $1 coins, but they are almost never used…

…or Japanese:

OK, so American money may have more heft here. But Japanese money has more useable amounts, AND they have holes in the middle. Pretty cool.

…or even Thai:

5s…

The punyness is not my imagination.

And, size aside, it’s no wonder no one uses them, because they have next to no useability. In Taiwan, it made sense to pay for a snack purchase with coins, because you could usually do so with, say, a 50 and a 10. Assuming roughly equivalent prices (which is a pretty accurate assumption, if you’re talking about imported junk food) and an exchange rate of 30NT to $1 US (which is also pretty accurate), the smallest number of widely-circulated American coins that could be used to pay for the same purchase is eight. And who feels anything less than awkward and juvenile when you reach into your wallet to pay for your peanut M&Ms and can of soda, only to come up with a handful of quarters?

No. Just walk away, my friend, just walk away. Your coins are no good here, 6-year-old-kid with sticky hands and glasses. Go get your mother to pay for your gluttony–or whip out a credit card to hide your junk food shame under the protection of an ‘adult’ payment method.

In Australia and Japan, I was bemused and charmed by the larger-valued coins in common use. (Until I went to exchange money, that is, and was reminded that almost no one will change coins, no matter their worth. Incidentally, if anyone wants to buy a ¥ 500 coin…) Australians commonly use $1 and $2 coins–and while I would point out here the strangeness of a $2 coin being smaller than the $1 one, both weigh significantly more than the smaller values or than American coins in general, so I’m going to have to give them a pass. After all, at least they do have useable coin values in common circulation–American lawmakers wish they could say the same.

Sigh. If only American coins made sense, and came in ordinary, useable amounts, maybe people would go back to using cash. And, call me a Luddite, but there’s something special about feeling the physical weight of your money before you spend it–it makes the whole ritual seem a bit more real than the facile swipe of a card. If the weight of a quarter were just a bit heavier, maybe Americans would take just a moment more before flinging it across the counter for a load of trash.

Although, if American coins were easier, my group might not have won second place in that trivia contest…