The frustration and magic of being a slow thinker

I’m a slow thinker. Not slow in that I don’t understand what’s going on, but slow in that my thoughts tend to percolate a little longer than others’ do. I guess you could say I’m more of a pourover thinker than a Nespresso thinker.

I’ve always been a slow thinker. In school, I was never the one with their hand up first. I hated being put on the spot. Back of the room, that’s me. When a teacher would call on me for an answer, I would freeze up. Even if I knew the material well, I just couldn’t give it up right away.

Let’s just say the debate team was not going to miss me. Even debating friends on any subject wasn’t something I had any interest in at all. I could spout off a quick answer, but it was usually some kind of non sequitur-ish funny comment linked to the last movie we saw. Forced to comment on the actual subject at hand, I was typically at a loss.

It’s not that I don’t understand things, or think my own thoughts. Obviously, because here we are in this post together. No empty vessel, me. I just like to linger in my thoughts. When I read, hear or see something new, I go into processing mode. I’m not one for quick reactions to things, unless it’s on the freeway. I like to absorb things, let them soak into all my brain pockets before coming up with thoughts about them.

You might guess that this did not go over well during meetings in the corporate world. After taking in a slide presentation or an info dump about a new project, I was percolating. Unfortunately, bosses and clients don’t want percolating, they want fast answers and verbose dialogue. Whenever I heard the words “Let’s have a brainstorming session,” I started looking for the closest fire alarm to pull.

Brainstorming is not only not my forté, it’s my Kryptonite.

Currently I have a writing gig with a media company. Once a month, we have a writer’s meeting where we share our ideas for articles and talk about our writing processes. I enjoy them because I genuinely like the people I work with there, but the big clouds of dread start to roll in as soon as we start discussing ideas. I love listening to everyone’s ideas. It just takes me a bit longer to jump in with helpful insights or feedback. Because everyone can’t hang out on a video call for two days while I percolate, I’m usually quiet during those portions of the meeting. Two days later, I’m full of thoughts and feedback on what I heard.

The flip side to this personality quirk feature is that I can also be very quickly witty in certain situations. When there’s any room to comment in a way that links the current topic with an absurdly weird observation, I slide right in like my brain was coated in grease. It’s usually funny to someone. And yes, it’s a coping mechanism because it draws attention away from the fact that I have nothing solid to contribute, yet it seems that I’ve somehow contributed something of value. It’s not actually a conscious tactic, I just drew that conclusion retroactively. Insert witticism = Take that, farty old brainstorming session.

I’ve learned to adapt my slow thinking ways to be a mostly functioning member of society. I’m also not as freaked out or bothered by the way my brain processes information as I used to be. When I’m working with clients I’ve become very adept at saying things like, “Tell me more about that,” or “Hmm, yeah. That will require some focused thought and I will get back to you.” It works most of the time. The other times I probably look stupid, but I’m becoming more okay with that, too.

While I sometimes envy people who can jump in and provide ideas or feedback seemingly without effort, I also think my percolating nature is kind of a super power. I think slow, but I think deep.

I’ll leave you with two quotes on this.

“If I look confused it is because I am thinking.” — Samuel Goldwyn

Did you ever stop to think, and forget to start again?” — Winnie the Pooh


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