What Is My Blind Spot?

Illustration: OWN Digital

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What Is My Blind Spot?
I live in Berkeley, where people like bumper stickers. One that stays with me reads "Don't believe everything you think."

Each of us has a blind spot, some part of our psyche we can't quite acknowledge—biases we don't know we have, unexamined beliefs that govern our attitudes and distort our view.

In trying to locate mine—however much I'd like to believe I don't have one—I decided to start by examining my shortcomings, the problems I've had again and again. I came up with a long list. I've been dishonest with myself and others, jealous, lazy, clueless and spiteful. I've been eager to impress, intolerant, pretentious and impatient. Blind spots, I find, are like developing Polaroids: They start out indistinct, but become clearer over time. Though I've only caught glimpses of my blind spot in the past, in hindsight I recognize it now as the root of many of my regrets and mistakes. My blind spot is an inability to see myself as a person who sometimes needs help.

I come from a family that specializes in doing things the hard way—working-class people who never take a handout. As the first in my family to go to college, I arrived on campus with a chip on my shoulder. I didn't know how to say, even to myself, that I felt out of place, worried about money, guilty about crossing class lines. Though I was in over my head, seeking help would have exposed me as weak.

I can still see myself as a sullen 19-year-old, called into a college counselor's office to explain why, as a sophomore with good grades, I was withdrawing from school. "I just want to leave," I said.

The woman pressed me, but the more she tried to help, the more I clammed up. Before she finally let me leave, she told me she would grant me a leave of absence and let me return to school during the next two years without reapplying.

After a year I was desperate to go back. So desperate, in fact, that I finally asked for help. I threw myself on the mercy of an admissions officer. I told him I wanted to go to school but had no money, no help from my parents. I walked out of his office with a grant, a work-study job and a waiver of my fees. I earned a degree, and my life was changed.

I should have learned from this, but that's how blind spots work. You can't see them; it's right there in the name. The pattern repeated itself again and again, personally and professionally. Offers of help triggered a suspicion of ulterior motives, a fear of being controlled. I squandered a lot of kindness and wisdom.

We see friends make the same mistakes over and over and wonder how they can be so oblivious. But is there a similar pattern to the problems that beset you? Criticism you hear repeatedly? Look closer at the problems you keep bumping into and see what they tell you.

Recently, I found myself searching the grocery store for dog chews. From the other end of the aisle a clerk approached, holding up a clipboard that said "Ask Me." I panicked. Every aisle I turned down, there he was, like the villain in a horror movie. When I finally broke down and followed the clipboard's instructions, the clerk grinned, as if he'd been waiting for this moment all along.

I'd done it again. Literally fled from someone who was trying to help me. That's the trouble with blind spots: They're stubborn. But maybe that's a good thing—their persistence gives you all kinds of chances to finally see them. And maybe even pay attention.

—Leslie Larson, author of, most recently, the novel Breaking Out Of Bedlam