The pie chart is this geeky person’s version of the serenity prayer.
As someone who always wants to know “why,” I have used the humble, ubiquitous pie chart as a thinking tool for many years. What were the reasons something happened the way it did? What caused the problem? Perhaps it was 50% this factor, and 50% that factor. If I could identify the probable causes, perhaps I could prevent problems better.
I’ve always known that there’s always two sides (or more) to every story. Therefore, there’s always more than one contributing factor to a situation. As I got older, I realized it was less important to identify all the contributing causes to a situation—all the slices in the pie chart—and more important to identify how big was my slice. What did I contribute to a situation? How much of it was my fault? What did I have control over? What could I personally fix? It was rarely 100% my fault, but then again, it was rarely 100% someone else’s fault.
I’m perfectly willing to take ownership of my percentage of the problem. But I want things to be fair. I want credit for fixing my part of a problem, and I want acknowledgement if there’s any part of the problem that isn’t my fault.
The pie chart began to increase in significance for me when I was single and dating. In the complicated equation of what makes one person attractive to another, I realized that there were huge percentages of attraction factors that I had no knowledge of, couldn’t change, and honestly couldn’t care less about. Was a prospective date intimidated by smart women? I’d never know; it’s not the kind of thing people admit. Did a date have a fetish for a full head of long, thick hair? Mine doesn’t grow that way. Once I gave up on trying to please anyone but myself, I became happier. (And I met someone, too.) Here’s the story behind that, on Medium.com.
The importance of the pie chart, and what it represented (ownership and accountability), eventually saved my sanity in a situation at work. I was being gaslighted into feeling a situation was entirely my fault. It was partly my fault—and I own up to my part—but it was partly someone else’s fault, too. As the days went by, and I started to doubt myself more and more, I realized I had to leave while I knew that at least 10% of the problem was not mine. If I ever believed it was 100% mine, the gaslighter would have won, and that was not OK with me.
Since then I have tried never to be 100% of the problem. I continuously try to reduce how much I contribute to a problem, and to increase how much I contribute to a solution. The pie chart reminds me to always strive to be a better person; to be accountable; to take responsibility for my thoughts, words and deeds; and to fix problems I contribute to. At the same time, it also reminds me there will always be factors I can’t control, and to not be too hard on myself. That’s a lot of mileage out of a simple chart.