Perceived discrepancies between the “real” and the “ideal” OR What my mentor forgot to tell me!
After two years of living and working in London, “mind the gap” became more than a popular phrase used on the underground transportation system. There, of course, it referred to the distance between the train and the platform, an area of obvious danger. The imperative announcement was offered frequently, especially in the older stations that had not been updated. While the discrepancy between our ideal and our real selves is not necessarily a danger, it can have some implications, especially if the gap is wider than we can see easily and well.
The London Underground was the first under-the-surface train system in the world, opening in 1863, and it was the first to have electric trains as well. It is also the second longest metro system in the world, after the Shanghai metro. In London, this system is commonly referred to as The Tube. And it’s the third busiest system in Europe after Paris and Moscow. We liked it because it made travel in and around London so easy, at least most of the time, but not when there was a strike or mechanical malfunction.
I do not want to push the metaphor too hard nor too far but there are some similarities between The Tube and the traffic between our perceptions of real and ideal, whether in our job, in our relationships or with our own selves. And I am not talking about the mechanical parts of the system nor necessarily it’s management. Regardless of those similarities, let’s take a brief look at what we might learn and how we can use this information.
In the first place, many of our perceptions are unseen because they are “underground” and either not spoken aloud or not readily apparent. To bring our perceptions of real and ideal to the surface and to the light of day can be a helpful exercise. We can do this through an open, honest and candid discussion or through a paper and pencil exercise with ourselves or in partnership with another person or group. The classic question is what is the difference (gap) between how I regard my ideal self and my real self? Or what is the distance between how I see myself and how I am seen and regarded by others?
In our work as school leaders, our roles are often defined by others through a myriad of expectations, and we know that the assignment comes frequently with something called a job description. We often end up establishing our own priorities and hopefully helping others to be in concert with ours. We merge our expectations and priorities with those of others. When those two perceptions – self and others – have too much space between them, you can count on increased stress and frustration, as well as conflict between the two sources.
We can minimize the conflict or at least reduce the distance between real and ideal by understanding how to moderate our idealism with a healthy dose of realism. Think about your relationship with another person, significant other or colleague. What are your ideal and your real perceptions of the other and what are the other’s perceptions of you? Honest and open dialogue can help greatly to bring the two together and strengthen the working relationship.
A new year, calendar year or school year, often provides the opportunity for assessment, looking back and looking ahead. This is another place where the gap cannot be too great in terms of what has and has not been accomplished and what the goals are for the months and year ahead, whether personal or institutional. So, dear friends and colleagues, mind the gap, and all good wishes as we leave this station and move along to the next one.