The Bottom Line on Toeing the Line


I was driving home from work the other day when something happened that really made me think about the lines that define us. Of the significance of even the smallest decision we make, because we make them in the moment, without the safety net of hindsight and often without the benefit of clear foresight! Yet our lives can be changed in an instant.

The road home for me goes through seemingly endless valleys and over hills large and small; it meanders through the nooks and crannies of the beautiful Northland countryside for about 30 minutes before I finally arrive at my destination. It is a stunning trip which can however; at the end of a long day seem interminable and frustrating. There are times when arriving at my end destination seems far more important than the trip itself. Times when my day is longer than my patience; and I fail to appreciate the beauty of the scenery around me in my desire to arrive.

This was one of those days, and on this trip, with the sun beating down upon me, with good visibility and a wide stretch of road visible in front of me, I cut the corners on an s bend, crossing over the centre line at speed, enjoying the smooth sensation and pleased to be taking the more efficient route. The manoeuvre successfully completed I rounded the next bend to see another car coming toward me doing the same thing - cutting the corner. As we hurtled toward each other, he was on my side of the road, and as I leaned on my horn he skimmed past me alarmingly close before scooting back across the line to the correct side of the road and motoring off into the horizon behind me. It occurred to me in that moment; that not only our lives but the lives of those around us are shaped and defined by the lines we cross.

There are so many lines we draw and deal with every day. In fact, each moment of each day - both ‘real' and imagined, visible and metaphorical. Lines are drawn that define wealth and poverty, that define social appropriateness and gaffes for each given group, and we each in our own minds draw lines at certain behaviours that define our own moral etiquette and boundaries too.

Some lines we cross can change our lives forever, like centre lines on the road; while others are less permanent but just as important because they literally create the lives we live, where they are drawn and how we respond determining who we are as human being.

For example we can draw a line in the sand and then demand or challenge others to toe the line.
Alternatively, in other situations we ourselves ‘toe the line' that others before us or with us have drawn and in doing so we maintain our position in that group and the relationships we value.

We can throw someone a line in times of crisis or spin them a line when it suits us, and our decisions within and around all of these lines will determine the nature of our relationships and the way we are perceived.

So not only do the lines we draw and cross create the way we live but they define the way others see us. Have you ever noticed that the way others see you is often quite different to how you see yourself? This is because we can only judge people by the behaviours we see - and in fact what we see is instantly and unavoidably filtered through the veil of our past experiences, values, beliefs, culture, personality and expectations so that the raw data of our experience is immediately altered and distorted as we ‘make sense of it' and assign meaning to what we sense or observe.
We draw lines of distinction, we judge events against our expectation or experience, and we create not just lines but boxes that we try to fit things and people into or around.

In doing so, our experience is created not just from raw data of what we see, hear, feel, taste or smell, but by our understanding and beliefs around each observation or interaction. So even when we believe we understand another person's intention, even when it seems obvious to us it's good to remind ourselves that we can never really know the other person's intention - because everything we experience is coloured by our own unique experiences, values and expectations. Bottom line? We each necessarily see things and each other differently.

Have you ever wondered what people really think of you? Many of us don't ever really find out, and it is not till our funerals that the people who know us share their opinions of us. Talk about too little, too late!

For a fantastic website that can give you greater insight now into how others see you vs. how you see yourself you visit and complete the free online Johari window tool to uncover your blind spots and discover how others see you.

As you do this and receive the feedback, remember what I see as a strength may be a weakness in your book, and vice versa. What you think is appropriate may bottom line be totally unacceptable in my thinking and experience.

In summary, I challenge you now to stop and take a moment to think about the lines you live by each day, and how they define you. Stop now and think forward to your funeral (way, way forward I'm sure) and recognise that if what you would hear in your eulogy does not reflect the you inside now is the time to make changes to the lines you are drawing, toeing, crossing or not crossing. Are the lines you're drawing reflective of person you really want to be? Do they give you enough room to move? Do they give others a chance too?

What would crossing a few lines mean to you, would it be more effective, make things smoother, or would it simply be dangerous? What would crossing the line mean for you and about you?

In the financial word we talk about the bottom line or upshot/result and I think that's a fitting question to close on - bottom line, as you look at the lines you draw and the boundaries that define you, who is drawing them and what do they say about you?

Here's the good news - if you don't like the answer, you can change it, now! That's all from me for now. Here's wishing you a positive, powerful and pro active day.

Jaki George-Tunnicliffe



Jaki George-Tunnicliffe is a high-energy, engaging speaker, training consultant and facilitator of excellence. In 2006 she founded Fusion At Work Ltd – a training company dedicated to empowering and developing people to drive results, and is now based in beautiful Northland. She dedicates her time to helping businesses large and small to empower their people for greater workplace synergy and higher performance. She travels nation-wide delivering training and keynotes on creating workplace synergy and working together through change.

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