Close to the Vest

Learned Vol. 2, Issue 29

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I talk too much.

Not in a spilling secrets or giving away the plans to the operation sort of way, but in a rambling, incoherent, just babbling kind of way.  I know I do it and I do it for one of two reasons:  I’m nervous, or I’m thinking.

The first problem, nerves, is one that I’ve been more or less able to overcome in professional situations by being prepared.  Whenever I walk into a new class or lecture, I have more material at the ready than I could use in a dozen lesson periods.  Socially, it’s a different thing.  I get worried that people aren’t really listening or that they don’t understand what I’m trying to say (because I didn’t communicate clearly, not because of any fault of theirs) so I repeat myself and over-explain and generally miss all cues to shut up.

The second problem is clearly related.  I tend to think out loud.  I work through problems or ideas by discussing it with people, even when they have no real interest in hearing it.  I’ve been able to overcome this a bit by substituting writing for talking and by carrying out discussions with that handsome bastard in the mirror.  But only a bit.

When I get around groups of people who are actually listening to me and want to hear my ideas, the two problems merge, Voltron-like, into a frothing cascade of words that, again, doesn’t know when to stop.

In high school, my best friend was a master at playing things close to the vest.  Nobody ever heard the idea, they only saw the result.  No one ever knew the plan, only the execution.  I always wanted to be more like that.  I’m still trying.

I suspect that part of the root, the problem behind the problem, is imposter syndrome.  I never feel like I can just have an idea.  I have to justify the idea and explain all the steps as to how I got there.   It wasn’t until (embarrassingly) recently I realized, no one cares.  No one needs all the reasoning and consideration because they’re only interested in the results.

That’s not a critique of anyone by the way.  That’s just human nature.  We all do it.  Unless we’re actually involved in the planning process or brainstorming session, we don’t really want to know why.  (How is a different story.  The mind-numbing number of process videos available on YouTube testifies to that.)

So is imposter syndrome.  The more you know about something, the more you are aware of how much you don’t know and so you feel like you’re pretending to have knowledge and experience that no one could have.  Welcome to the club.  We have cookies.

Maybe playing too close to the vest is the wrong phrase.  I’m not trying to keep secrets after all, I’m just trying to not chatter the ears off of my friends and co-workers.  But a scene in Hamilton comes to mind - Hamilton and the other revolutionaries are conspiring and Burr admonishes them to keep things on the down-low:

Geniuses, lower your voices, you keep out of trouble and you double your choices

Later, he follows this up by saying:

Talk Less. Smile More. Don’t Let Them Know What You’re Against or What You’re For.

That’s kind of what my friend was like in high school.  “Never volunteer” was his motto.  He just never bothered to differentiate between volunteering action or information.  And, unlike Hamilton, I actually think it’s good advice.  I’m just not that good at following it.  But I’m trying to be better.

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Definition:

MacMillan Dictionary:

to not tell people what you are thinking or planning

conceal, suppress, keep something to yourself...

Origin:

Play things close to the vest comes from the days when card games were the main form of entertainment.  The closer you hold your cards to your vest (or chest) the harder it is for others to read them.  Thus, playing cards secretively came to mean keeping any sort of secret.

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Notable Events of the Year 1961

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Next time: Grave dancing. That's it. Stay strong, stay curious. Learn something.

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