Under New Management: The Art of Rediscovery
I’ve been feeling a bit like a restaurant lately, which is an uncomfortable thing to admit. I’m not used to comparing myself to buildings, much less ones that serve food, especially considering that I am a notoriously poor cook. Nonetheless, it dawned on me recently just how perfect this metaphor is to describe a phenomenon that I believe is fairly common among people in general, not just me. In fact, I bet you’ve felt like a restaurant plenty of times before; you just didn’t describe it in these terms.
Have you ever been to a restaurant and, after suffering through an unpleasant experience–either due to the quality of the food or service or atmosphere or whatever–decided that you would never go back there again? Of course! If you’ve never made such a declaration, then you must not eat out very often. It’s perfectly normal to “swear off” restaurants that fail to meet our expectations.
Unfortunately, we do this a lot of times with people too. On the bases of one or more unpleasant experiences, we make iron clad determinations about who someone is and choose our future interactions (or lack thereof) accordingly. We do this because we believe we know all there is to know about this person, that we’ve figured him or her out.
Just as we might drive by a restaurant and say to our friend, “Yeah, I’ve eaten there. Their food sucks,” we might similarly comment about another human being, “Yeah, I know her. She’s fill-in-the-blank.” When we adopt such a perspective, what we might be failing to recognize is the very real (if not inevitable) possibility that such a restaurant, or person, is currently under new management.
Now, imagine a restaurant that truly is under new management. It has changed everything about itself except for its name and exterior facade. It now serves gourmet cuisine, has a gorgeous interior, exceptional service, and is reasonably priced. When you drive by, how likely are you to stop? Not very. You’ve already made up your mind about this restaurant, despite the fact that it is currently very different. Because of this, you miss out on the opportunity to discover this restaurant anew, as it is now rather than as it once was.
When it comes to people, it’s much the same way (and also fundamentally different). It’s similar in that, like with restaurants, we often hold firm to the judgments we’ve made from our past experiences and have difficulty letting these judgments go. Even when new evidence arrives that contradicts our judgments, it’s not received with equal weight. By our nature, we tend to intuitively discount new information that conflicts with our established understanding, preferring to maintain a cohesive worldview where all the pieces fit neatly together. Plus, it takes more energy to change what we think than to continue to think as we already do. So, out of laziness (or what Daniel Kahneman in Thinking, Fast & Slow calls “cognitive ease”), we readily ignore the new evidence. We don’t even notice we’re doing it! Bummer.
Besides the many obvious reasons, people are different from restaurants in one key way. Restaurants rarely go under new management and, when they do, a name change and new construction usually clues us into this. But people don’t have the same luxury. It’s simply not feasible to change our name and external appearance every time we transform. Because of this, it’s much harder for us to advertise our changes in a blatant way. And yet, while restaurants rarely go under new management, the exact opposite is true of people; our management is constantly changing!
Seriously, think about this. Every moment, each and everyone of us is transforming, growing, evolving. As this happens, the way we do things, say things, value things, prioritize things, etc. changes too; now we’re managing ourselves, like a restaurant, differently than ever before. And, sure, sometimes these managerial changes are slight and sometimes more dramatic, but there’s still this ever-shifting advance in leadership. Right this very moment, I know that I am under new management, that I’m different than I was when I started writing this article and certainly different than I was 10 years ago. And I’m obviously not unique in this. Everyone’s always under new management.
Because you cannot easily advertise your changes to the world, some people will simply see you as they have always seen you, seemingly oblivious to the growth in you that has transpired. Ironically, it’s therefore the people who’ve known us the longest that, sometimes, now know us the very least! Crazy, right? But this is totally natural because these people are the ones whose perspectives may be based on the oldest–and most extinct–information. It’s like they’re claiming to understand modern geography by memorizing every detail of a map from the 14th century.
Whenever this is the case, I’ve realized that the best thing we can do is to be forgiving and patient. Someone else’s inability to notice our new self isn’t intentional; it’s how their mind is hard-wired by nature. That said, it’s not impossible for the views of others to change. It just takes someone valuing new information more than old. Although intellectually it seems obvious that we would want to do this anyway, instinctively it rarely happens. It takes conscious effort.
If you want someone to exert this kind of effort, there is something you can do to help. You can put a sign in the window of your restaurant that lets others know you’re “Under New Management”. For instance, I’ve been recently telling certain people, “You seem to have a perspective about me that makes sense considering how I once was, but I want you to know that I’m very different now. If you’d like me to explain how so, I’d be happy to tell you.” This is akin to welcoming someone into your new restaurant. The maturity you display through such communication will show that you’ve changed, or at least open their mind to the possibility. In essence, you lead them into your restaurant, sit them down, take their order, and feed them their first appetizer, without them even knowing it. Though doing this is no guarantee that their outdated perspective of you will transform, at least it creates an opportunity. In the end, this is all you can do.
Simultaneously, realize that everyone else is under new management too. Really be open to this. Fully embrace the fact that the judgments you might have made about someone may no longer be valid. Don’t be so sure you know someone as well as you think you know them, even if you think you know them very well. Invite discovery instead. Find out, for yourself, what is true right now (and then adopt this exact same mission in the next moment, and the next moment, and the next). If you do this, you just might find yourself a brand new, favorite neighborhood restaurant.
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