Archive for August, 2013

A Recipe for the Return of Resilience

August 29, 2013

Ok, boys and girls, up and at ‘em! My most recent post was dedicated to the real-world acknowledgement of just how bleak our lives can feel at times, but now is the moment for us to hop back up on our horse and giddyup.

 

Sometimes, the only way we can even contemplate hoppin’ back into the saddle is to go through our standard routines—whether we feel like it or not. As I have progressed through the years, I’ve come around more and more to the conclusion that my feelings about something are less important than our culture would have us believe. We should take a lesson from the Brits—that stiff upper lip bit has a valuable purpose! Legal types will recognize the phrase “pattern and practice” used to describe how one party behaves under ordinary circumstances, such as, “It’s my pattern and practice to signal whenever I turn a corner.” When we are at a loss, emotionally, our routines help us get from one moment to the next, thus aiding us transition from a dark place to a more neutral frame of mind. As tempting as it can be, sitting in the dark bemoaning our fate doesn’t do much other than make things worse.

 

As I have posited previously, I champion the “fake it ‘til you make it” approach which can result in a gradually improving mood and enthusiasm for whatever it is that I’m doing. I smile and brush my hair and maintain a civil expression on my face. Step #3 in this recipe for cultivating resilience involves a whole lot of self-praise. In fact, I spend quite a lot of time congratulating myself for accomplishing the most mundane of tasks—from the polite tone of voice I use when speaking to someone who annoys me to finishing my exercise routine to thinking up yet another topic for this blog. If I don’t feel positive about the little things, it makes it that much harder for me to feel good about my long term prospects.

 

And then I stop.

 

When you are struggling to pull yourself out of a funk, respecting the limits of your psychological, emotional, and physical energies is critical. If you don’t feel like talking to anyone that day—don’t! There’s only so much you can expect yourself to accomplish when feeling fragile or discouraged. Baby steps, remember? Although I, personally, am not like this, I know many people who push themselves too hard, who say yes to too many things, consequently running themselves into the ground, wondering why they are miserable. You’re a re-booter: you know this.

 

Ok, well, I have no idea whether what I’ve written here has been the least bit interesting or helpful, but I hope so. Alas, it’s a formula I’ve been working on for years. I hope it’s something you can use—you’re way to valuable to mire yourself down in misery, no matter how burdened you feel right now. Trust me when I say that I take my own medicine. It’ll get better; it always does. Hop back up in that saddle—a Re-booter somehow summons the strength to try.

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Some Days Are Harder Than Others

August 27, 2013

We all have days where we feel tired and discouraged. Today happens to be one of those days for me. As a Re-booter and the author of this blog, I feel it’s my responsibility to focus on the positive, to rally, to strive for endurance. As a normal person, I feel plain tired, beat up, fed up, and not particularly enthusiastic about anything.

 

When was the last time you’ve felt something similar?

 

By my count, there are a great number of people who’d answer, “Right now,” “Yesterday,” or “Who cares because there’s no sign of anything changing in the foreseeable future.”

 

In Tom Petty’s hit song Here Comes My Girl, he writes,

 

You know sometimes, I don’t know why,

But this old town seems so hopeless.

Yeah, I ain’t really sure, but it seems I remember the good times

Were just a little bit more in focus….

Every now and then I get down to the end of the day

And I have to stop and ask myself why I’ve done it.

It just seems so useless to have to work so hard

And nothin’ ever really seems to come from it.”

 

I hear ya, Tom.

 

I’ll get to the re-booting portion of our show later on, but for now, I want to focus on acknowledging just how hard and how futile our lives can seem. Not all of it; not 100%, but enough to make us wonder why we bother.

 

As Exhibit A, I will confess that the endless, soul crushing effort of seeking out employment, lo these many months and months and months, with barely an acknowledgement let alone an expression of interest from anyone has thoroughly disheartened me. I came this close to finally landing a job awhile back—after three months, 6 rounds, 9 interviewers, and 11 separate conversations—only to lose out to the guy they’d worked with before. When it came down to it, I was the bigger risk. Counterbalance this colossal endeavor with discovering that my struggles have been a source of gossip and entertainment for someone I know and, well, it doesn’t help that despite assiduously dieting the past two weeks, the scale shows no movement.

 

As Exhibit B, I can cite myriad examples of chronic, low to medium grade conditions of hostility between people—situations where the financial arrangements are irrevocably entangled; or where one member is so alienated, hostile, or holds such fixed ideas that talking is a no-go; or, perhaps, a health condition makes it impossible to exit stage left. In other words, complicated situations that are extremely difficult to address, repair, or resolve.

 

I hope your struggles are not quite so miserable/life-choices-questioned/despair inducing as mine feel to me, but I am sympathetic to the fact that, whatever your predicaments are, they engender despondency in you. (For the record, I acknowledge, too, that everything we are wrestling with pales in comparison to the suffering and atrocities going on in Syria and other war torn locales, but our personal suffering is a valid concern and a priority for each of us.) So, what are we gonna do to pull ourselves out of it? You and me: we’re in this together.

 

Well, to begin with, I gave myself the day off—instead of adhering to my lockstep schedule, I lay in bed, trying to cajole my way out of a full fledged bout of depression. I carved out some time alone. And, I made the disciplined decision not to throw a giant pity party (as tempting as it is) because it gets me nowhere I want to go. As Re-booters, we’ve seen enough to know that self-pity is unproductive and only makes things harder on us and those we care about. I try not to complain to those close to me because I know they’re struggling, too. My problems are for me to solve—even when the other person refuses to change. I am grateful for the support and help that others want to give, and accept the kindnesses offered, but there’s only so much anyone else can do.

 

Contrary to much of what is broadcast on tv, we aren’t here to “have fun.” There is no guarantee that things will work out the way we hope, regardless of the effort we’ve expended. But, what we Re-booters can do is try our best to live serenely with the hand we’ve been dealt.

 

This may not be a very satisfactory conclusion to this post, but it’s the only one I’ve got. In the meantime, I’m going to pull myself out of this funk, get back on that treadmill, and listen to Tom sing his songs of wistful woe.

The Power of Personal Courage

August 22, 2013

The recent near-tragedy at the Georgia charter school, McNair Learning Academy, was averted by a front-office school employee who wasn’t supposed to work that day. As reflected in the recorded 911 call, Antoinette Tuff displayed awe inspiring calm and compassion as she spoke to the 20 year old, mentally ill gunman, repeatedly calling him back into the room with her so he wouldn’t go into the school hallway and start shooting. In a subsequent interview with tv station WSBTV, Tuff told the reporter that she watched the gunman load his gun in front of her, realizing that what was happening was, “bigger than me. I started praying for him [the gunman].” She said that as this crisis was unfolding, she knew that, “800 babies and staff members depended on me to keep their lives safe.”

 

The composure with which Ms. Tuff speaks during the recorded call and the tv interview were only punctuated at the end by confessions of how scared she felt at the time. Her courage, compassion, and empathy is a crystalline example of what I hope I’d be able to do if confronted by a similar situation.

 

It’s hard to imagine an instance more dramatic than the conditions under which Ms. Tuff so superbly performed. She put aside all fear for her personal safety and, repeatedly, called the gunman back to her. “[This situation] was bigger than me. I started praying for him.” The fact that this brave woman could summon a concern bigger than her own survival and, simultaneously, find compassion for her would-be executor stuns me. “I gave it all to God,” she explained, somehow summoning the right words, manner, and tone of voice that connected with the gunman so effectively that he put down his weapons and lay down on the floor willing to surrender to the police. Antoinette Tuff wasn’t supposed to work at the PreK-5 school that day, and the front office desk she was sitting at wasn’t even hers.

 

Hopefully, none of us will ever be confronted with a situation so awful, but there are elements of what Ms. Tuff demonstrated that we can use for inspiration in our own lives and daily struggles—personal courage and the ability to put the big picture ahead of our individual concerns is something for each one of us to consider.

 

Towards the end of Spiderman 2, Tobey Maguire and James Franco’s characters face one another in their dual capacities as friends and enemies. Frantic to find Mary Jane Watson, Spiderman asks Harry Osborn where Doc Ock (Alfred Molina) has taken her. Reluctant to help Spiderman in any way, Harry accuses Spiderman of killing his father, to which Spiderman replies, “There are bigger things happening here than me and you.” Harry relents and gives Spidey the clues he needs to rescue Mary Jane from the evil and crazy Doc Ock. This is my favorite line in the movie.

 

It may seem strange that I would choose to pair the very serious, real life heroism of Antoinette Tuff with a scene out of a Marvel Comics’ inspired film, but as regular readers of this blog should know, I am a firm believer in the power of fiction to convey the biggest truths of human nature. Both examples discussed here are larger than the lives we lead—but that was true, too, for Antoinette Tuff until two days ago. The challenge is how do we learn from and apply examples and lessons presented in scenarios way more extreme and seemingly dramatic than those we must face throughout our lives?

 

Personal courage is a choice. Seeing the big picture and acting on it is a deliberate act of will. What is the big picture in your life? Is it remaining in a difficult relationship or job until your kids graduate and can fend for themselves? Is it turning down a promotion so you can remain closer to home in order to care for aging relatives? Is it taking the risk and inevitable backlash that accompanies most whistleblowers? Is it sacrificing your personal dream to meet a higher objective? Perhaps it’s extending yourself just one more time to give that person who’s disappointed or harmed you the reassurance or forgiveness they seek. There were no guarantees that Antoinette Tuff would live to see the next hour, but she repeatedly called the gunman back to her. As much as Harry Osborn wanted revenge on Spidey, he revealed where Mary Jane was hidden so she could be rescued. These are just two powerful examples of setting aside personal concerns for a more important cause.

 

Anonymous examples of this sort of courage surround us, but we need to watch for them, acknowledge them, and appreciate those brave enough to try because this will help us when the time comes for us to make our choice. 

Dragging Around Our Vestigial Tale

August 20, 2013

No, I haven’t spelled that incorrectly, thank you very much. Anyone who has even a passing acquaintance with evolutionary biology knows that Charles Darwin (among others) opened the door to the study of where and how we humans originated. His research set the stage for discoveries of our evolution as a species, which included insight into how adaptations that were needed for a useful purpose at one point in our advancement lost their utility as life changed. Examples of such adaptations include our tailbone, wisdom teeth, and even goose bumps. Once upon a time, these characteristics served an important purpose in how our ancient forbearers lived their lives, but their usefulness has ebbed away as the conditions of our daily existence have radically transformed. In fact, archaic adaptations now hinder many—as anyone who has suffered the extraction of an impacted wisdom tooth can attest.

By the same token, there are many, less obvious contrivances in our own lives that have outlived their usefulness. What I mean by this is the following: particular patterns of thinking, certain ways of expressing ourselves, reflexive assumptions or concerns that we utilized for very important purposes when we were children—doing our best to understand and survive in a highly complex, sometimes volatile, and often mysterious adult world—no longer are helpful to us in our maturity. Think of it like this: the only way an infant has to get attention is to cry. So, babies do a lot of crying because that’s the sole mechanism they have for getting what they need. That worked for you as an infant, but now? I sure hope you don’t go around crying and squawking and peeing on yourself.

Children are sponges; we absorb the examples around us and learn to mimic them or decide we’ll behave exactly opposite. I learned from a master pouter and rager; as a result, I unfortunately adopted the pout and in lieu of raging, turned silent and shied away from ever speaking up on a sensitive or vulnerable topic for fear of being ridiculed or yelled at. My tutor schooled me to believe that I was definitively being rejected by anyone who was subdued or inattentive in my presence. As compensation, I stuffed down all my confusing and inconvenient feelings turning to overeating and perfectionism, and by running myself down before anyone else had a chance to do so. Growing up, I had no clue that other families handled anger and disappointment in another manner—this, my friends, is an example of a vestigial tale. I assure you that it has taken me a long, long time to recognize this and to understand that there are far better and more effective ways to manage my inevitable vulnerability, discomfort, or discontent.

So, what about you? What unfortunate behaviors or mistaken assumptions that you embraced as a child still hold sway in your life? Is it your first instinct to withdraw and hide when situations get awkward? Do you nurse your anger or hurt because you don’t know any other way to express a disappointment or you fear that it won’t, somehow, “count” if you don’t nurse a grudge or make a fuss others will notice? Do you prefer to hold onto a years’ long rejection, just because?  And, yes, I’m talking to you–you do this, too.

Vestigial tails, like their counterparts which I am discussing here, once played an important and beneficial role—just no longer. Things can outlive their usefulness.

Our Secret Antonyms

August 15, 2013

By nature, I’m hugely lazy,” says one of the most industrious people I know. Does this ring a bell? I chuckle as I type this because what my friend said hits very close to home. At times, I feel that I have all the makings of being a world class couch potato—despite knowing that nothing makes me happier than being busy and accomplishing goals. I’m a huge list maker; it gives me visceral satisfaction to see my goals all lined up in black and white and then cross them off, one at a time. People who know me well would say that I am not one to dilly dally.

Except, hearkening back to my friend’s self-observation, I simultaneously recognize the Slug That Dwells Within. I can laze away an afternoon like nobody’s business. Truly! Give me a glass of something cool and a magazine while enjoying the soft breezes of Santa Barbara and, well, all my concerns about the US military position in the South China Sea disappear. And, what makes it even more embarrassing is that I do fret about it—all in the context of knowing next to nothing and being utterly unable to have any influence. So much for genuine geo-political concern.

By my estimation, anyone introspective enough and interested in this re-booting process probably lives a productive life of the mind. You’re asking yourself questions, you’re observing what goes on around you, you’re utilizing critical thinking skills. But, I bet you have a few antonyms lurking in the corners of your personality. In what part of your life are you not what you seem? Some of the perplexing things people do often originate from one of these interior contradictions, whether they realize this or not. What aspect of you might surprise (or possibly threaten) those close to you to learn that your basic nature is X, even though everything you do broadcasts Y? And what I mean by this is not to suggest hypocrisy—duality is different. It’s different because as inherently lazy as we may be, we also have the motivation to get up and go. We overcome our laziness with our ambition.

Reconciling our dualities can use up of a good portion of any Re-booter’s processing capabilities and personal flash card. I confess to being astounded by my friend’s description of his basic nature, considering how hugely busy and hardworking he is, and yet, because I recognize this quality in myself, I’m willing to consider that the manner in which he describes himself is true. So, how does this impact my understanding of him?

Internal struggles like these aren’t new; Shakespeare wrote his plays on just such premises. It’s these hidden characteristics which make me curious—those elements of ourselves that few, if any, of the people we know would recognize in us. They can take a variety of expressions—the lazy/productive example is popular, but what about someone who appears dedicated to tradition and family but, underneath it all, is far more independent and less sentimental than their behavior suggests? Sometimes we’re aware of our dual natures, but in other instances we fear them and pretend they don’t exist. Take a few moments and reflect upon your inner antonyms—do you know what they are? Have you found a way to coexist peacefully with that secret part of you?

Reconfiguring the Rickshaw

August 13, 2013

There are manifold ways for us to progress through life, to get from here to there, to meander from one phase of life to another. Some do it gracefully and others…not so much. But, when it comes down to it, we’re each on our own little rickshaw—supplying the sedan chair, the wheels, and the pedal power that impels us along this journey.

 

Some Rickshaw aficionados claim that three wheels make for a smoother ride than a mere two, but others disagree. The thing about third wheels is that they can often weigh things down and make the entire structure more cumbersome. So, my question to you is this: in what aspect of your life are you your own third wheel?

 

Ah ha! Not so easy to answer is it, Grasshopper? So, I’ll rephrase my Asian-influenced question: where are you getting in your own way?

 

There are many, many different reasons we hit bumps in the road. When I was first learning to drive, I found that I liked hitting potholes. What was that about? I still don’t know; but I went out of my way, gleefully, to hit as many potholes as possible. Somehow, the disruption and the jolting of the car thrilled me—it was only later that I gained an understanding of the consequence$$ to my diesel VW Rabbit. But, as the above example makes plain, I was the reason I kept hitting such bumps, not to mention the costly repairs that followed. So now we go back to you: where are you driving yourself into a ditch? What is it that you are doing, as you pull your own rickshaw, that disrupts your alignment?

 

Using my two wheel versus three wheel analogy, it may be something as ubiquitous as approaching an aspect of your life the way you’ve been taught by well meaning others-who are very different rickshaw drivers than you—or, perhaps you hold assumptions that “serious” rickshaws have three wheels. After all, who wants one of those bargain basement brands that only have two? They seem so unstable and, well, less glitzy. Perhaps. But, they have their advantages. And, the converse is equally relevant: if you’ve landed in a world of three wheel rickshaws but have always been attracted to the increased flexibility of just two, what’s restraining you from changing your current configuration?

 

Maybe you worry that such changes will throw off the balance of the contraption and the rickshaw will collapse or turn over. Maybe you don’t believe you have the finesse to handle one of those less predictable two wheelers. Maybe you feel ashamed for wanting the increased stability that comes with a third wheel. But, at the end of the day, nobody but you is keeping you from changing things up. And it’s your ride!

 

Do you get me? This is your personal wheelie thing. (Back in seventh grade, I remember classmates who used to decorate their lockers with cartoons from the New Yorker magazine that nobody could understand—and certainly not twelve year olds. Why did they do that? Nobody else was looking at their locker décor. It was assigned to them for their personal use but they chose features they hoped would enhance their image, never mind that they made no sense.)

 

So my point about reconfiguring is to remind you that you are the driver, the owner, and the maintenance crew of your contraption. Sure, your buggy will get you from Point A to B no matter the number of wheels, but if you feel more aligned to one design versus another, as a Re-booter, shouldn’t you get out of your own way and enjoy the ride?

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Speeding Things Along

August 8, 2013

Merriam Webster Dictionary defines a catalyst as, “a substance that enables a chemical reaction to proceed at a usually faster rate or under different conditions than otherwise possible.” One of the most memorable compliments I ever received was when someone told me I was, “a catalyst, like sugar.” I’ll never forget that—it both surprised and pleased me very much.

Regardless of our specific personality type, each of us serves as a catalyst of sorts under the right conditions. Perhaps our impact is most obvious in our capacity as a volunteer or with our students or social circle, but somewhere, for each of us we possess a certain, magic quality that helps make things happen—even if we can’t exactly pinpoint what it is that we do–personal influence and chemistry is unpredictable and not to be underestimated. By this, I don’t mean that everyone has to possess the usual charisma people wax on about in military heroes or certain entertainers. Rather, accomplishing goals and assisting in a team effort is often sped up through the contributions of many an under-the-radar personality.

Malcolm Gladwell’s sensational book The Tipping Point explores how ideas spread through society. In it, he identifies a variety of individual types who each play a critical role in whether or how a concept gains popularity. What Gladwell discusses applies equally to our own lives. While it’s true that without the catalyst, certain reactions might occur anyway (although it would take a lot longer), we need to grasp that a catalyst alone accomplishes nothing—the other reagents must be present in order for the chemical transformation to ensue. (Let the record reflect: I am giving credit to all the necessary elements.) But back to those catalysts…

So, without becoming egomaniacs, I’d like you to reflect upon where you play the role of a catalyst? Who are you helping transform? How are you doing this?

It is necessary for Re-booters to understand and respect the role we play in the lives of others. There are many, many things that would not occur without our involvement—we speed things along. The reason this is important for us to recognize is that once we appreciate this, we can better finesse how we play this role. I’m sure you can think of examples where well meaning people turn on too much of whatever good quality they have. Overwhelming others with our sparkle can douse the flame as readily as not providing the necessary oxygen. We are most effective when we understand what we are doing.

This doesn’t mean we won’t make mistakes. This doesn’t mean we will always feel like contributing. Or be petty or tired or question what the point in trying so hard really is. Because we will. But just because we may see futility in the effort doesn’t mean that our cooperation isn’t needed by those who believe otherwise. Sometimes, just showing up for another, making the effort because they want us to may be sufficient reason for us to step up to the plate, to add our special something to the mix, and watch as the elements combine.

Obviously, I’m not a chemist, nor do I play one on tv, so I apologize for any bastardization I have made of real, honest, hard working chemical reactions. I’m trying to make a point, but I don’t know if I’ve succeeded on that front, either. Please bear with me as I check with Management…

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The False Freedom of Feeling Unfettered

August 6, 2013

Recently, a close friend was sharing with me her low-grade mourning about missing that feeling of being, “fully myself, without all the caca.” As adults, we all know what she means by this because we’ve experienced it ourselves. Hearkening back to a time when we had no responsibilities and life promised to be our oyster—when all felt like silken gossamer—well, I can summon up an exact image in my mind, at college, when I felt precisely this way. What moment in time do you think about to evoke that feeling?

Except, as I’ve continued to ponder my friend’s wistful observation, as much as I relish that sense of freedom and future promise, I also know that who that unencumbered, young girl was, back in college, isn’t me—it wasn’t even fully her. And I say this because I know that freedom doesn’t translate into “feeling fully myself.” Not for me, and probably not for my friend, either.

The reason for this is that as Re-booters, we embrace the fact that our lives are filled with responsibility—responsibility to ourselves, to our family, to the world around us. Part of what made that girl back in college feel so thrilled about who she was and the things she’d accomplish was the anticipation of doing “real things” in the real world. At that point in her life, she wasn’t equipped to take on too much, but she thrilled at the potential for competence, for courage, and the confidence that only comes with experience. Look, none of us would even bother with re-booting if all we were interested in was living an unfettered life—we’d simply run away. Right?

The purpose of re-booting is to find a saner, more mature way to handle our responsibilities and to flourish—to be more fully ourselves in the context of our complex, adult lives. A very different premise than one seeking to be “free.” This applies as much to someone in their twenties as it does to someone in their eighties. The way I see it, re-booting is a process in which we recognize the lives we have created for ourselves and then try to improve upon how we manage them so that the undercurrents of fretting and unhappiness ebb away. The difference is this: you don’t avoid problems, you overcome them. This is much more than a syntactical difference. What this entails is a willingness to acknowledge and tackle the challenging issues so that they no longer become a problem for you. For instance, you don’t avoid your ex, you simply change how you think about and react to their nonsense so they no longer have the ability to upset you.

Another friend was bemoaning his decision to leave one job that he grew to dislike and returned to school for a different degree that has subsequently landed him in a job with less pay, less benefits, and doesn’t even require the degree he invested in. OK, well, yeah that sucks, but would he have been better off not trying to improve his work situation that he was growing to hate? Re-booters understand that each of these choices have consequences. Adults are aware of the balancing act and sacrifices that any important life decision involves. You don’t get everything you want. Nobody does. How you make such decisions and handle the inevitable consequences that accompany them and what it entails in terms of managing or up-ending your current situation is solely up to you—you’re free to do as you see fit—but these choices and decisions are as much a part of you as deciding where you live or whether you finally go after that long lost love or anywhere in between.

It’s tempting to get lost in the fantasy that freedom equals our ideal self when, in truth, we’ve been working all our lives towards this goal of having fulfilling, complicated relationships and responsibilities and challenges in our lives. But, the good news is that simultaneously, we have cultivated the tools to deal with them in a way that stays fully true to who we are. It’s only when we lose sight of our true self—in the midst of these complications, not because of them—that our sense of freedom slips away.

Don’t get me wrong. I struggle against the desire of unfettered freedom on a regular basis, but I remind myself it’s a fiction; I wouldn’t trade my flawed struggle for anything. Do I wish things were better for me? Yes, of course I do. Do I mourn for things in my life that failed to manifest? You bet. But, what comforts me throughout, is that I know I am making headway in terms of how I am learning to remain true to myself while cooperating with the world around me.

You can do this, too. A Re-booter knows these things.

Respecting the Limits of What We Can Do

August 1, 2013

Re-booters do not live in a vacuum. We co-exist with others, many of whom have no interest or awareness of the personal re-booting process, caught in a web of problems of their own making. I don’t say this unsympathetically; after all, much of the time we’re our own worst enemy, aren’t we? More often than not, we are enthusiastic participants in our misery making.

 

But as re-booters, we are keenly aware that we have the power to rescue ourselves from such pits whether it be through a process of re-framing the issue, taking steps to escape the triggers of such annoyances, or any number of other remedies available to us if we’re willing to do things differently. Knowing this is incredibly empowering—even if our efforts fall short of the mark—because we know we are our own rescuers.

 

But what can a re-booter do when someone close to them invites, creates, and re-creates sure-fire patterns of unhappiness? It’s difficult to watch someone we care about suffer. I think the worst part, for me, is watching them utterly refuse to think about the matter in a new light—the temptation to cling to old ways is not to be underestimated. After the typical initial expressions of support and sympathy, I find myself (internally) getting impatient with the sufferer. I wrestle with how often I can express sympathy when my stockpile has run dry. What does it mean to be kind and concerned when a loved one makes a mess of their lives yet refuses to examine their own responsibility for this mini-drama?

 

How do we manage to offer compassion and provide the sort of support we aspire to when we’re sick and tired of hearing the same complaints ad nauseam?

 

Of late, I’ve been contemplating the limits of personal responsibility to those we love. When people are in our personal space on a daily basis and driving us crazy with their particular issues, it’s a challenge to maintain those feelings of compassion and patience which are characteristic of a mature adult. As much as I may strive to do this myself, I often fall short of the mark, followed by feelings of guilt for my impatience and desire to run away. But, one of the reminders that keeps me on a more even keel when feeling fed up is the knowledge that there is little I can do to alter another’s behavior. It’s Not Up To Me.

 

I may have strongly held opinions about what’s occurring. I may have handled their situation differently. I may never have gotten myself involved in such a mess with such a cadre of dysfunctional characters, but as clearly as I may see the “solution,” it’s not for me to mend. All too often, well intentioned people want to “fix” other people’s problems—they listen and nod, bring meals and hold hands, they give advice and then listen some more—all the while experiencing increasing frustration as the complainer does nothing concrete to remedy the situation. Powerlessness is an awful feeling but recognizing that we are incapable of changing another’s behavior or choices is necessary knowledge to being able to support those we care about without exploding in frustration.

 

I want you to think about a person you love who gets themselves into the same mess over and over. Now I want you to think about your experience supporting them—it changed over the course of the problem, didn’t it? Did you start out believing you could make it better for them? What happened when they didn’t act on your advice but came to you about the same issue again? What was going through your mind?

 

People are imperfect—we make mistakes. Part of the evolution of a re-booter is recognizing just how much and when we can be there to help and respecting the limits of our power to do so.


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