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Walking the (Fine) Lines

Know your limits. Push a positive quality too far and it can too easily flip into its negative aspect.

Ever experience being a comedian on stage, telling a funny story to a highly appreciative audience ... and then barreling on way past the punchline until the joke totally falls flat, and you bomb?

Me neither. Well, actually I did experience it in a dream once, a very long time ago. It might have meant that I didn't have enough confidence in my performing talent. Or it may have been my subconscious clubbing me over the head with the obvious realization that I'm just not funny. Dreams have a way of revealing the truth.

They say that "the road to hell is paved with good intentions." Well, religious and philosophical doctrine aside, good intentions CAN carry us off the deep end. Going too far in whatever we're doing and totally blowing past that something "good" and over into its flip side.

There IS a tipping point at which a positive quality becomes negative. Such as when care about a neat, clean appearance turns into vanity. When wanting to spend time with someone slowly becomes an obsession. Or when concern for your health transforms into hypochondria. It's a fine line that separates the two.

Moderation vs. Excess.
Too much of a good thing often perverts it.

"I'm 51% sweetheart, 49% b*tch. Don't push it."

That fine line never fails to crack me up. In fact, I use it on the landing page for my on camera work, because it's ideal for describing the polar opposites that many actresses like to play.

Me included. Especially when a role can mix the two and deliver the unexpected. Like the sweet neighbor lady who turns out to be a serial killer. Or the tough, uncompromising district attorney who goes to bat for the unjustly accused. Or like Dolly Parton, playing the brothel madame with a heart of gold in "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas."

Fun stuff.

This type of fine line demonstrates what happens when we push someone too far. That line is crossed. That last straw finally broke the poor camel's back. That sweet little old library lady phantom in "Ghostbusters" turns vicious. And usually, one way or another, you get slimed in the aftermath. Messy.

Stubborn, colorful characters who like to assert themselves

The other type of fine line is when we push a positive quality or behavior in ourselves too far. What comes out is usually the opposite than our intended result. And it's usually not received well. We end up sliming ourselves. Again, messy.

It's moderation taken to excess. And sometimes we don't know we've even crossed it, because where that line sits is situational, depending on geography, culture, and the mood of the people around you.

Assertive vs. Aggressive

I learned firsthand about this fine line when this straight-talking Midwestern gal moved to the South. As a woman, my Northern assertiveness was perceived as a bit too aggressive down here.

What works in one area of the country can be interpreted quite differently in another.

Fortunately, I learned how to soften my approach by watching successful Southern women. Whether it was a business deal, a social interaction, or whatever, they got away with saying the darnedest things, especially when they smiled while they said it.

Let's not even get into the whole "bless your heart" thing. For those unfamiliar, it's a phrase added like an after-thought to the tail end of a very caustic comment that transforms it into an apparent compliment. Or at least confuses the heck out of the listener. It's a verbal weapon dipped in honey, best wielded while wearing the warmest smile this side of Southern sweet tea. No one's every going to mistake me for a true Southerner, so I can't pull it off, but it's a marvel to behold.

Determined vs. Stubborn

Determined is "good." You've made a decision and you're resolved not to change it. The word "determined" conjures up images of leadership, thoughtful analysis, and the Dudley Do Right of conviction.

Stubborn is a stick-in-the-mud. How much it bothers you depends on how badly you want to get the stick out of the way. You see, there's stubborn and then there's STUBBORN. Stubborn is when the other person doesn't agree with your position. And you can't get them to change their mind. STUBBORN, on the other hand, means that the individual has gone off the deep end and refuses to see reason or consider other possibilities, even when all the evidence suggests that they're mistaken.

Yeah, this fine line can be a hard one to parse, especially when it's applied to YOU. Not so hard when it's applied to others. Fortunately, you can usually expect your significant other to let you know when you've tipped the scales.

Don’t worry. They will.

Colorful Character vs. 1st Rate Jerk

We’ve all met someone who’s lost sight of that line. Usually at a party after having had too much to drink.

A little off-color humor is OK. Usually. Someone who thinks he's hilarious when he's obviously ... not... begins to slide over to the jerk side of the line. If he persists in what we consider truly obnoxious behavior, he is crowned "first rate jerk." Or worse.

Likewise, an entertaining soul is great for laughs, but when those jokes turn into insults at someone else's expense, the line has definitely been crossed. Same thing for Mr. Friendly who morphs into a creepy touchy-feely guy, especially when he's focused on sweet young things.

'nuff said. I think we've all experienced these people at one time or another. And yes, they can be women, too.

One type of fine line is pushing someone too far and receiving sudden blowback. The other type is pushing your own good quality or behavior to excess, only to watch your good work or reputation blown away.

Tweaking 'til the cows come home

Here's a fine line that I bump my head against professionally:

Excellence vs. Perfection

It's that compulsion to tweak and make something that's "good" that much better.

The cold, hard truth is that perfection is a goal imagined differently by each person, and often constantly reset. The tweaking, rewrites, reorganizing, etc. can go on forever, begging the questions:

  • When is enough, ENOUGH?

  • And good, GOOD ENOUGH?

The answer: usually when it involves limited available time and money. Or patience: yours, friends, family, or co-workers. Or when someone grabs whatever you're working on and hits you over the head with it. That's a clear indication that you might have slid into obsession.

It helps to know where that fine line is for you and how to stay on the less painful side of it. Or, if not, to invest in some protective head gear.

As a guideline, know your objective. Plan your work, taking into account your deadline and budget. And do the best you can. Aim for excellence, but don't drive yourself (and others) crazy about getting everything "just so." Most people won't be able to tell the difference anyways. That incremental improvement may end up costing more time and money than it's worth.

At least that's what I tell myself every time I obsess over the details. It's commendable to devote time to developing skills and improving a piece of work, but when the real world comes calling, something has to give. Don't let it be your peace of mind.

Laura's Quick Tips

  1. Every positive quality has its negative counterpart.

  2. Pushing too hard for a "good" result can cause you to lose sight of your goal - and flip you into more harmful, destructive territory. Perhaps without you even being aware of it.

  3. If you're unsure if you've crossed that line, ask those whom you trust. We all need a wingman once in a while to pull us back from the edge.

It all boils down to this: Moderation vs. Excess. A little bit goes a long way. Too much of a good thing can just ruin everything.

If you like living close to the edge, go ahead, fine, skirt up nice and cozy to that line - IF you can pull off the balancing act. Just make sure you're aware of what you're doing and what that tipping point is for you. Know how to readjust if and when you cross it.

And if you like pushing other people's buttons ... well, you'd better know their fine lines and be prepared to deal with the aftermath. Slime and all.

The fine line is all about maintaining our balance in life. Want to read more on the subject? Check out this blog post on keeping a balanced perspective.
Laura Doman smiling

I'm Laura Doman, a former tech industry sales executive, hands-on mom, voice & TV/film actress, and improv performer. I create memorable characters that tell my client's stories, from the friendly CEO touting new upgrades to your sassy best gal pal dispensing some necessary, real-world advice...Let's Talk!


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