Posts Tagged ‘life lessons’

Mourning What We Don’t Have

September 10, 2015

I just thought there’d be more,” muses a character in the coming of age film Boyhood. Hearing these words caught my attention because they represent a universal wistfulness and a trap we can fall into if we’re not careful. I don’t believe anyone’s life turns out the way they expect, but it’s the ones who exude an overriding sense of disappointment who run the greatest risk for missing out. Our lives are not profound; the lessons we are here to learn are, but the ways we spend our days are not. From what I’ve seen, the most potent messages and morals we master often arise from the most mundane of occasions. Hungry for wisdom, re-booters learn to watch and listen closely as they go about their routines, knowing that the key to greater understanding often reveals itself not with banging drums and sounding horns, but quietly, resting gently in the shadows of our awareness waiting to be found.

Here’s an example from my life that I hope will make sense. Being an individual whose wardrobe would suggest a calendar crammed with important engagements and an active social calendar, the truth is I’m ready for a life I don’t lead. My closet mocks me. While I used to wear “grown up clothes” when I had a clearly defined identity as a competent professional, I can’t recall the last time I put on a suit. Most of my aspirational party outfits remain just that, hanging forlornly in my closet. I could make myself very unhappy thinking about all the events I’m not going to or the clients I no longer have. I could berate myself for not making more of an effort or any number of other reasons. I could do all those things. But you know what?

I don’t. Not anymore. As I’ve moved through this re-booting process, I’ve come ‘round to see that I’m incredibly fortunate that I don’t need to wear a uniform or get dressed up for some boring lecture and meal where I paste a smile on my face, exhausted, listening to some ding dong bloviate, mesmerized by the sound of their own voice. The exact same strategy can be applied to finding the benefits in much more significant struggles: you married the wrong person, you never married, you had kids, you never had kids, you feel ignored, everybody wants something, whatever it is, there’s always an upside if we look for it.

What aspect of your life makes you mope? What might you learn from this challenge? How might you shift your perception to embrace the blessing hidden within?

For instance, an intense dislike for certain relatives or coworkers may teach you about tolerance, diplomacy, and maintaining boundaries. Not only does it not matter what they think, but you also don’t need to let it annoy you. Maybe a project you worked hard at failed—could this be a favor in the long run? Learning to become self-reliant (looking to ourselves for confirmation or approval) instead of seeking outside approval is one of the most powerful life lessons a person can master. As devastating as bankruptcy would be, finding a way to live happily in reduced circumstances teaches us something about the source of contentment. A serious illness or handicap forces us to reprioritize what and who is important. Being denied the “perfect” spouse or college admission or blue ribbon of your longing is not a failing. Or, going back to my wardrobe example, having a bunch of clothes I have no occasion to wear offers me the opportunity to realize how serene my days are, giving me time to focus on far more interesting challenges. This is my lesson. This is how I’m lucky. Realizing this makes my life better!

We all know people who have dedicated significant time and energy to nursing their grievances. “Poor me, poor me,” they cry. “Look what I have to deal with. Boo hoo.” What has it gotten them? Who do you think of when I say this? Has this perspective served them well?

Just because we fervently believe something doesn’t mean it’s true! I thought I had slammed into a brick wall when my life fell apart, never mind how miserable I was at the time. I couldn’t see how I could possibly recover (although a small part of me knew different). I wailed and carried on for months and months, a weepy, conflicted, frightened mess. This was where I had it all wrong. I know now that the beliefs and priorities I had at the time were not good for me. Looking back, I am so grateful I escaped; my life is a thousand times better and I’m a thousand times wiser. Thank God it happened. But, seeing things in this new light required me to change, required me to be willing to look for the opportunities instead of the losses. Sort of like my wardrobe.

Returning to my question about the person you know who drags around, what do you think about this? Why do you think they refuse to acknowledge the possible positives in this very real difficulty? What makes their anger or grief or malaise so much more appealing? Is there some part of your life where you run that risk? What blessings do you not see?

Rainbow

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The Hidden Blessings of Difficulties

June 18, 2015

Powerful life lessons can arrive in many guises, good or bad. There are people who cross our paths who give us great joy and confidence, the memory of whom warms our hearts and lifts our spirits. And then, there are those who evoke darker memories, painful associations that make us hurt, slightly hunching our chests in self-protection or furrowing our brow when we remember them. If we’re lucky, these thorns have faded from our lives, but their legacy haunts our awareness. Other times, such individuals or conditions are impossible to escape, their sharp ends poking at us without mercy. These teachers can arrive in any guise. Examples include difficult relatives or coping with a physical or mental condition that makes life exponentially harder. But, the truth of the matter is, these challenges are in our lives to teach us something positive we need to learn.

What lessons are you having to wrestle with that you need to master?

The most powerful lessons I’ve learned have also been the hardest. “Why is this happening to me?” I’d sob, deeply resentful of the burden, despairing about how difficult everything felt. Looking back, I realize now that walking through fire was the only way my hand would be sufficiently forced to reexamine what I was doing, to reconsider my erroneous beliefs, and to build the internal resources necessary to live my life differently.

When thinking about your own struggles, what I want to say to you is this: instead of unduly upsetting yourself, trust that your difficulties exist to teach you things you need to know.

None of this is easy.

Take, for example, someone who grows up in a household where one of the adults regularly turns their rage on the others. While I would never recommend that anyone continue to live under such conditions, I will suggest that witnessing these meltdowns can teach us how hurtful and unproductive rage is. We can take this knowledge and learn to express our displeasure in more productive ways. Similarly, if someone close to us struggles with mental illness or a serious physical infirmity, through our interactions with them we may learn how to be patient, how to build compassion, and how to work around these problems while still finding the good in life.

These sorts of problems are serious. They’re often chronic and inflict suffering for multiple individuals. In this post, I am suggesting a way to re-frame your response so that you seek out a higher lesson embedded within your distress. Bolstering your internal resources of resilience, goodwill, and optimism is a way to reduce the despair you feel when confronted by suffering (whether its your own or that of others). This knowledge doesn’t lessen the difficulty, but it makes it more bearable.

Does what I’m saying make any sense at all?

Allowing our difficulties to have too much influence over how we feel and think is a constant danger. Doing so is a choice remember that! Because the experience is so powerful, it is tempting to replay the memories, searing them into our neurons. This is a mistake since it chains us to a swamp of negativity, anger, and grief. Not only have I done this to myself , I have watched as many people I know have done the same, hurting themselves and others over and over. Who do you think of when remembering somebody who has over-identified with their hardships, unable to extract any possible, positive meaning?

When I get lost in my suffering, one of the strategies I use is to remind myself of how much more I know now and how much better equipped I am to handle extreme stress. Going forward, I know better than to recreate similar conditions. In the future, I will watch for red flags. Having withstood rejection, anger, and embarrassment, I know now that I am far more resilient than I believed. Even better, I realize that just because they say [whatever] about me doesn’t mean it’s true—I needn’t take what they say or do as an accurate reflection of who I am. I am more than what happens to me.

When you think about your painful lessons, who was your teacher? What takeaways did you extract and do you need to revisit any of the (erroneous) conclusions you formed at the time?

I ask this last question because a key part of re-booting demands that we reconsider our old assumptions and conclusions. We don’t always get it right the first time. Alas, all too often we proceed on erroneous conclusions, formed when we were younger, more emotional, less experienced. After being yelled at by his dad in front of fellow teammates, the decisions a twelve year old boy makes about himself, his dad, and how to express anger is not likely to well serve him as an adult. The twelve year old drew the conclusions of a boy. As a man, he may view things differently. He may realize that he had previously accorded his dad’s outburst far more legitimacy than it merited. He may reach a point of feeling compassion for his dad who, in a moment of supreme weakness, vented his own frustrations out on the head of his son.

Do you see how this works? Where might you have done something similar? How are you like that twelve year old boy? What conclusions do you need to reconsider?

Narrowing Our Focus So We Don’t Get Overwhelmed

March 26, 2015

In previous posts, I have written about how important it is to keep the big picture in mind when in the midst of re-booting. Today, I’m taking the opposite tact. While, generally, I believe in a long term strategy, the fact of the matter is, no game is won without taking one yard at a time. (Nothing you didn’t already know.) The trouble with a big picture focus is that it can start to feel overwhelming. When a life goal appears to be an enormous challenge, I have been known to freak out and shut down. “OMG, what am I gonna do about my life?” It’s too much. There’s no way I can manage it. Years ago, in the immediate aftermath of a crisis, the only way I could cope was in two hour chunks—that was as much as I could handle.

 

Now, I do better.

 

While my problems continue to feel daunting, one of the coping strategies I employ is focusing on what’s going right in my life. Today. Right now. I seek out those things about which I can feel positive. They can be small things like making the bed or exercising. These days, I make a deliberate effort, as best as I can manage, to choose to be happy. It sounds so simplistic, doesn’t it? Each of us can come up with a world of reasons why we should worry, why we should feel distressed and upset. Trust me, a few years ago when my life appeared to be in far better order, I was a MISERABLE WRECK. Unhappiness doesn’t begin to convey where I was. To get through this hell, I thought I had to cling to the “big picture” as my goal—a goal, it turns out, I was saved from-desperately trying to “will away” my everyday suffering by reminding myself how much was at stake. Have you suffered similarly?

 

I’m not minimizing reasonable concerns about big picture issues–I have them, too. But a major problem with a big picture focus is that it necessarily involves projecting ahead to a whole bunch of stuff that we can’t control or predict—so we’re, in effect, worrying about possibilities that may not to come to pass. Why is it that it feels more conscientious to worry about what we might lose than it is to focus on feeling happy about what we currently have?

 

How good are you at choosing to be happy?

 

Taking for granted all the things going right in our lives is a common problem. In general, we feel criticisms or insults more keenly than we do praise. We invest far more significance in a negative turn of events than a positive one. Why is that? I suppose it has something to do with where we feel vulnerable. When things are going well, we usually feel confident and minimize what it took to get us to this happy point, whereas if some calamity occurs, it throws into question our entire narrative of us as the conquering hero. And nobody likes thinking of themself as the loser. Curbing that tendency of overinvesting in loss or potential loss is precisely why we are better served if we narrow our focus onto what’s going right in our lives. So what’s going right for you?

 

Ok, so I’m not telling you anything you haven’t heard before, nevertheless it bears repeating. Redirecting our attention to what we can do and can manage and where we feel that sense of accomplishment ENCOURAGES US TO DO MORE. We feel energized and emboldened. “I did that!” we say to ourselves. The more fulfilling the activity—the more personal meaning it has for you—the more uplifted you feel. Think of a time when something happened that made you feel proud. What is it about that moment that gladdens your heart? Doesn’t just thinking about it lifts your spirits? We all need to be more like dogs. Do you think any of them worries about the big picture? Keeping our attention on our immediate positives better prepares us to find the energy to do more, to feel hope.

 

Next time you’re down in the dumps and wondering what in the world is going to become of you or your kids or your business, I want you to narrow your focus. Take a breath. Walk around the block. Remind yourself of two small goals you accomplished that day—brushing your teeth or getting the car filled up. Anything. It doesn’t matter. Start there.

 

Because, what’s your alternative?

 

A day or lifetime of handwringing about the big picture accomplishes nothing. You’re doing nobody any favors—least of all yourself.

 

Sorry to be so preachy, but I have found that it’s helpful to have the most basic of reminders when drowning in a pool of misery. I know how frustrating and frightening it can feel. Remember, no matter what your situation is, you always have more than you lack. The significance of your life extends far beyond any single crisis or mistake or unhappy number of years. There is much more to you than that. Many, many good things. Make the choice to see them today. Stop worrying about tomorrow…

 Joyful dog

A Re-booting Reminder: Keeping The Forest in View

February 10, 2015

For all of us, it’s easy to get lost in the details of our lives. Too often, we are so enmeshed in the day to day machinations of what’s going on that we lose sight of the bigger picture. For some, the bigger picture can feel overwhelming or incomprehensibly distant, as if we were being asked to read some academic tome in a language we don’t know. For others, there is such urgency to our immediate circumstances—so much is demanded from us right here, right now—that we haven’t the time or energy to peer up from our bunkers. And then, there are the intellectual zombies who never even bother to wonder. (Because this last group has zero curiosity about life and are of no interest to me, this post will ignore them.)

 

While there’s good reason to base our choices on “living in the now,” the truth is there’s more to our lives than simply what’s going on today. In fact, for each of us, there’s a big picture we’re intended to follow. Each of us is here to learn and work out particular life lessons. Alas, we are not handed these on a tablet when we turn two or twelve or twenty. Nobody emails us a power point that summarizes in seven succinct slides the life wisdom I Am Meant to Master. Instead, we thrash blindly about, plotting our course by using conventional wisdom and what’s in front of us as our only guide posts (suppressing most internal growls of protest).

 

I just don’t know why I can never get a break,” one friend ranted after detailing an episode involving her ex, a high school party, and the sheriff. Reading her words, I shake my head in sympathy because I understand what she’s feeling. In fact, last week, I was sent home early from my sad little temp job for working too efficiently, for being too productive. And paid all the less for my reward. To say I felt thwarted only touches the surface of my frustration with my earnest efforts to re-boot my life. You’re sending me home for doing too good a job? Seriously?

 

My exasperated response is understandable—especially considering how long this wilderness period has extended—but to allow my immediate reactions of disappointment and frustration to confirm that the Universe is determined to keep me down enables my emotions to obscure the big picture. Life is not random. There must be a greater purpose in my struggle. There must be a reason I continue to collide with closed doors.

 

Now, while it would be a lot more satisfactory for me to indulge myself by crediting a great conspiracy theory as to why I can’t make progress—I could get drunk and cry or run around and make a bunch of bad choices—that would be my emotions dictating both my actions and my attitude. And given how passionate a person I am, I could have a lot of fun being dramatic, so reining that in requires no small amount of discipline on my part. But because I believe that a constructive purpose exists, the calmer, more mature part of me counsels myself to pause. To wait. To calm down. To de-catastrophize what has happened. In other words, I separate out what I am feeling from a clinical assessment of what is.

 

Because the facts are this: I am not living under a bridge; I am not without talents. Odds are an open door awaits—somewhere, please God. In fact, when I dispassionately assess my situation, what becomes clear is just how much support I am receiving. All is not lost! Truth be told, I continue to get “breaks,” to receive support, and am making fundamental progress in understanding who I am while gaining maturity in how I perceive and react to the world around me. Maybe this extended ordeal is the only way I could make these breakthroughs. Such growth doesn’t pay my bills, but it does deliver a powerful sense of inner peace and confidence. Hey, you know what? Come to think of it, I feel better already.

 

So the next time you’re about to pull your hair out in frustration or drink yourself into oblivion because everything feels like it’s falling apart, I want you to take a moment to consider what you’re reacting to and the significance you’re ascribing to it. Is it your lousy day? Your lackluster marriage? Your dwindling bank account? Your impossible family? Because, as hard as it is, you have more important things on your plate; there’s a Big Picture Purpose for what you’re going through. Whatever it is, it’s something YOU need to learn. Remember that. Those trees will only trip you up…

Forest

 

 

 

 

Self-Confidence: Trusting Ourselves Enough to Try

November 25, 2014

Over the course of my college reunion, my classmates and I swapped a variety of stories about our ongoing challenges, setbacks, and successes and what lessons we drew from these experiences. One conclusion all agreed upon was that having self-confidence is the primary, determinant factor in how our lives proceed. Believing in oneself makes all the difference in the choices we make and how we go about fulfilling the roles we play.

 

As I see it, the existence of a deeply held conviction that 1) our life is of value (even if we sometimes have trouble seeing what that value is), 2) that we have worthwhile contributions to make, and 3) that we merit success, serves as the energetic core of our instinct to find meaning and gratification in our lives. Do you realize how many people spend their days without ever thinking about, let alone pursuing such goals? Do you know people who have preferred to shut down rather than acknowledge and grapple with such intimidating ideas? It’s heartbreaking to witness. Let’s face it, re-booting is an existential struggle. A fight this big and this hard would not be assumed if we didn’t believe we were worth it. Otherwise, why bother burdening ourselves with inconvenient, deeply uncomfortable questions such as Am I doing what fulfills me? Is there are constructive purpose to my suffering? How might I take these lessons and become a better person? You don’t ask these questions without a foundation of self-belief.

 

So, back to confidence…

 

Who is someone whose faith in him or herself you admire? How do they think about themselves that differs from you? Is there a way you might copy them to bolster your own sense of self-assurance?

 

I pose these enquiries somewhat timidly because, on one hand, so much of my current, awkward circumstances makes me question my understanding of myself and my worth and yet, it is my fierce self-confidence and determination to overcome such trials that enables me to move forward. I refuse to concede defeat. So, here I am, stumbling around in the fog, chasing patches of sunshine wherever they appear.

 

As we all know, confidence has both internal and external components. On occasion, people comment on my confident disposition (which generally takes me by surprise, but I know what they’re responding to). When you think about it, isn’t confidence the first thing that catches your attention and draws you to someone? It is for me. I’m always attracted to those who radiate a calm self-possession; I find it reassuring. Having confidence about themselves invites me in.

 

I know it can feel hard to believe in yourself when you feel overwhelmed by events, seriously doubting if the choices you made were good ones. Such doubts can torment us, made worse by our wavering belief as to whether we can even manage to get through the day, let alone thrive in a future we cannot envision. But what I am here to suggest is that these struggles make you stronger; they won’t break you—you won’t let them. The motivation that propels you to get up in the morning, to put one foot in front of the other, to do what you need to do, the courage of the every day. These are not small things. All of these undertakings are acts of will, and acts of will spring out from a baseline faith in yourself. (Otherwise, you wouldn’t bother.) Faith means hope. You have hope.

 

So, you. Yeah, you there, you the re-booter. You have hope! You are kicking with all your strength to make your way to the Promised Land. You have the courage and the confidence to try. My friends would be impressed.

Accepting Our Limitations in the Lives of Others

October 21, 2014

A short time ago, I was bemoaning to a friend about a situation involving someone close to me (well, to be honest, there’s more than just one) that feels intractable. As someone who considers herself quite capable in many, many arenas, I get enormous satisfaction from devising a strategy and solving a problem. So, to run up against a brick wall where nothing seems to work, I begin to fret, feel frustrated, and throw up my hands in helplessness.

 

Sound familiar?

 

After I departed, my friend called and shared with me the following. “It may sound dumb,” she began, “but reminding myself of this helped me: you can’t fix this problem. They’re going to do what they’re going to do, no matter what. You can’t fix it.” I assured my friend this was not dumb and I appreciated the reminder. I can’t fix it.

 

It’s terrible to feel powerless isn’t it?

 

From our perspective, we can see problems hovering on the horizon, like a menacing weather front generated by someone else’s insistence on pursuing a particular course despite changes in circumstances or capabilities. Ranging from denial about getting older or defiance about being young, the variety of instances where a refusal to heed or consider admonitions is infinite. For those of us on the sidelines, it is an awful feeling to watch as the locomotive bears down and no matter how fervently we wish to rescue our dear one, they have tied themselves firmly to the rails.

 

I don’t intend to present myself as a Cassandra of sorts—it’s not that we are infallible in our prognostications—and I respect a person’s free will, but the point of today’s post is the agony we experience when we see Person X heading down a path fraught with difficulty or loss.

 

I can’t fix it. I can’t fix it.

 

Re-booters understand that there are significant limits to our abilities to influence or help anyone outside of ourselves. But intellectual understanding is a far cry from emotional acceptance. It’s distressing and humbling to watch powerlessly as our child takes up with a bad crowd or a friend gets cancer or a sibling faces ruin from an addiction. We can’t protect our loved ones from the inevitable rough truths of the world—as much as we wish we could. Our rough truth is that we can’t rescue people from themselves, even if what happens hurt us, too. We can’t change what happens to others and we may wind up as collateral damage, to boot.

 

At times like these, I remind myself that suffering is part of their life journey, too, part of some lesson they need to learn. You may or may not agree with this perspective, but it helps me try to make sense of things I can’t understand. It feels so paltry to linger on the sidelines, simply loving these people from afar— praying for their protection–but this may be as much as we can conjure from our bag of tricks. Being ok with this, learning to make peace with the limitations of our intercessory powers is a key component of re-booting.

Tick Tock!

July 1, 2014

Today is July 1st; half the year now fully behind us, fading fast as we speed towards December. Instead of panicking, why don’t we use this as an opportunity to review all that we’ve achieved thus far? Come on now, I know you’ve achieved at least some goals! Ok, maybe they are small compared to what you still need to do, but they count. Let’s make a list, shall we? What life lessons have you learned since January? Have you found that interacting with Person X isn’t nearly as onerous as you feared? Have you successfully kept your mouth shut even when your feelings were hurt? Maybe you’ve mastered a more diplomatic way to present your needs so that the entire exchange runs more smoothly? Am I close?

 

On a summer’s day such as this, with the sweet smell of freshly mown grass wafting nearby or the temptation presented by an early evening BBQ with friends, perhaps the last thing you may feel like doing is taking stock of what you’ve been up to. Maybe you’re a master procrastinator or you prefer avoidance because you loathe reminders of what has been left undone. I get it. I sympathize. Trust me, when I look at my list of to-dos, say like, “find employment, do something people will pay for, or turn the other cheek towards those who are unfriendly,” I cringe. These goals have yet to be met and I wonder if that day will ever come? Despite feelings of similar reluctance, I urge you to shift your perspective and give this inventory business a try. The truth is, there will always be more things to do. Our list of goals never grows shorter. Never.

 

What I have found by conducting such an appraisal is that I’m often pleasantly surprised by just how much I have achieved—even if they seem to be “little” things. Maybe it’s only enumerating the number of dinners cooked or a rare holding of my tongue, but at least I’ve managed this much. I write about this topic often, I know, but it’s because reviewing what’s happened stimulates greater energy and enthusiasm than avoidance ever can. When you formulate your list, be sure to include examples of forbearance. Whatever we stop doing is equally significant—and usually way more difficult–than initiating new behaviors towards achieving a new goal. For instance, holding yourself back from being an obnoxious jerk is a huge success. Yeah for you! Imagine the pleasures of a jerk free existence. I mean, do you ever regret not being a jerk?

 

I’m keeping this post short because, well, it’s summer, and we all have better things to do than think big thoughts all day, especially when there are baseball games to watch and margaritas to make, but fortunately for you, you can think your thoughts wherever you go! So what if you zone out from 15 minutes of chit chat with your friends? By the time you finish this little re-booting assignment, you’ll be more energized and in a better mood.

 

So, get out there, and make the most of these next six months.

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Don’t Let This Happen To You

March 25, 2014

Over the past year or so, I’ve been called upon by more than a few individuals for a wide variety of career or life advice. (I, too, appreciate the irony of asking for guidance from someone who satisfies the definition of “long term unemployed.”) When they solicit me for guidance, I always say that my comments must be considered in light of my circumstances and that, at the end of the day, they’ve got to go with what seems right to them; other than that, I’m all in. Meanwhile, I remind myself that despite my current difficulties, it doesn’t make my experience any less worthwhile or my feedback any less valid.

 

When I think about all the situations I’ve witnessed and been embroiled in, I’ve had more than my fair share of crazy thrown at me. This reminds me of a time when someone I know hired a professional cleaning service to come to her home. As she expressed nervous chagrin about the mess, the owner of the service looked at her with a reassuring smile and said, “Don’t worry, in my line of work, I’ve seen a lot.” I bet he has! My kind of stalwart fella. I have every confidence this individual speaks the truth—he has seen a lot; in this case, the very worst of human housekeeping. Life is a messy business. I can identify. In fact, I’ve seen so much of crazy that I’ve decided to start my own life/career coaching business. I’m calling it “Don’t Let This Happen To You” Consulting Services™ (Cash only).

 

I may as well make myself some lemonade, right?

 

You bring a sack of money and I’ll listen to your tales of outrage, confusion, and misery. At the right moment, I’ll interrupt your monologue, wildly gesticulating as I proclaim the answers you need: Quit now before you lose your mind and your bail money! Cut out the feigned confusion and make a decision! If not now, when? You Can Do Better! This sort of hard earned insight can be yours for a small sum—I’ve already paid a huge price to attain this wisdom, so it’s a fair trade. Need help strategizing around narcissists? Bingo! I’m your go-to gal. Having trouble telling someone no? We’ll practice together. Need to wake up and understand how people really see you? I’ll be your mirror. On the walls of my office will hang framed caricatures of the DLTHTY Hall of Fame. There the most egregious and scary specimens of what we don’t want to turn into will be on display. The Wall of Infamy, I’ll call it, with a couple of empty frames—just waiting to be filled by obstinate clients who fail to learn their lessons.

 

“Don’t Let This Happen To You” Consulting™ will be so successful I’ll need to start franchises—maybe I’ll establish niche advice corners at every Starbuck’s and outside popular night clubs. I mean, we all have people in our lives who serve as cautionary tales, right? Or, even worse, we’ve had to learn the hard way and wouldn’t wish that fate upon any decent human being. “Don’t Let This Happen To You” Consulting can provide precisely the sort of feedback necessary when you insist on overriding your own (usually right) internal warning systems. As I’ve coached my coast-to-coast clients: if it feels wrong or weird, it probably is.

 

Highly distressed persons have come to me with clinical opinions theorizing what’s wrong with their bosses, relatives, significant others, (or even themselves). Listen, if you’re at a point where you need to consult a medical diagnostic manual, THERE’S SOMETHING SERIOUSLY AMISS! Save yourself the misery that comes with being a chicken shit and do what you dread to do. I know you’re scared—if you weren’t, you wouldn’t be seeking out the “wisdom services” of Don’t Let This Happen To You™ (Cash only). I know whereof I speak.

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Mistakes: Our Most Faithful Teachers

March 5, 2013

A key need of any Re-booter is the ability to forgive oneself. We’ve all made mistakes and experienced the guilt that accompanies those errors in judgment. If we were perfect, none of us would need to be here; so, I, for one, take comfort from the fact that we’re all on this journey together.

 

In many respects, I believe it can be harder to forgive ourself than it is to forgive those who have trespassed against us. I say this because, usually, the mistakes we make involve errors in judgment when we have had ample warning that we were heading down the wrong path. Alas, I know this condition all too well. There were many red flags to warn me off from committing myself too deeply in a relationship that straddled the professional and the personal and I still pushed forward—I did so based on  a myriad of reasons and by the time I allowed myself to acknowledge my concerns, I believed there was just too much at stake not to continue. When the whole thing blew up in my face, there was plenty of blame to go around, but much of it I aimed at myself.

 

Has anything similar ever happened to you? Have you played a role in your own misery? Do you cringe when you think about all the signs you ignored? The off ramps you could’ve taken? The blind insistence that it would “all work out?” And the worst part of it is, you can’t fool yourself, so no matter what you might try to argue back, that condemning voice won’t be silenced.

 

Guilt is a wasted emotion—it accomplishes nothing. Even taking responsibility for something you’ve done means little unless you also take active steps to make amends. How might you make amends to yourself? Well, the first step is to resolve not to be so willfully stupid again. There! See? You’ve already improved your lot in life. Even if you do nothing else about this mistake, you’ve accomplished something. Compassion can be a hard thing to come by—especially self-compassion—but I believe that if you can’t, somehow, find it in your heart to forgive yourself, how in the world will you truly practice compassion for another?

 

Waging war against oneself is easy because the target is hogtied, unable to escape. Besides, we usually hold ourselves to a higher standard than we do others, so our rage is greater when we fail. But think about how this attitude impacts those around you, especially your children. They watch what you do and then apply this sick standard to themselves. Is this what you want for them? Children are like sponges, you know that. So, if you don’t want your kids to do this, why is it ok for you to do this to yourself? There’s no virtue in self-flagellation. Nobody admires it–remember that creepy bloke from The Da Vinci Code? Yuck.

 

Forgiving yourself isn’t always easy, for all sorts of reasons, but it’s crucial that you do so. Each of us makes mistakes; the beauty of doing so is that we can learn from them. We should learn from them—they are our most faithful teachers. We’ll get a whole lot further in life if we make this the goal, rather some ill-placed idea that dragging around our guilt and regret is something we deserve.

 

What mistake has been bothering you that you really need to forgive yourself for and move beyond?

It’s Not About You!

December 11, 2012

I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again. The behavior of others has far more to do with them, not you. Repeat after me: do not take it personally.

Easier said than done!

Recently, I read a column that listed ten questions to ask elderly relatives about their life. Amongst them was the question, “What would you say you know now about living a happy and successful life that you didn’t know when you were twenty?” While there are many answers to this particular inquiry, I believe that not taking things personally ranks pretty darn high up there in terms of keeping yourself happy and satisfied with your life situation.

Recently, I was chatting with some friends about this. It’s challenging not to take a person’s behavior personally when this same behavior impacts you directly, but oh, what a mighty instrument you have in your hands if you can see past the personal impact and recognize that their behavior is about them, not you! If I could bestow a gift to each of you, it would be this. It’s not about you. Truly. It isn’t.

Repeat this to yourself as you grapple with how to answer, think about, or react to another’s ill or obnoxious treatment. Whatever it is that’s prompting them to target you, is actually about themselves. This realization may not make withstanding their conduct any more pleasant, and it may not diminish your attempts to bring it to a halt, but it does make things easier.

Years ago, a close friend had the great misfortune of falling out with someone very important to them. They had seen a pattern of bad behavior demonstrated by this person, but always told themselves that there was no way such conduct would be directed at them; they were too close and it was inconceivable that the relationship could sour like that. My friend believed that they had demonstrated their loyalty and friendship so completely that this person would never turn on them.

My friend was naïve and oh so very wrong. It was painful to witness.

When a wise colleague commented that this person’s behavior wasn’t even personal, that they did this to everyone, well, at the time, my friend was furious—even indignant–they couldn’t wrap their mind around such a concept. Of course it was personal! It was happening to them! How could it be anything but deeply hurtful?

With time, they began to see things more clearly. And as “unspecial” as they confessed to feeling once they understood the truth of the colleague’s observation—that they just happened to be the next victim in a long line of people who got treated this way—that the bad actor’s actions really were about them, not my friend, it made a world of difference. In time, my friend grew to recognize and accept that they just happened to be the person who presented a threat, but it could’ve been anyone. Their ability to put this entire, painful episode behind them and even extend the tiniest glimpse of compassion for a person so wrapped up in their own sick narcissism is due entirely to being able to not taking their behavior so personally.

What about you? To what painful situation in your life might this truth also apply? The holidays are a potent time for such conflicts to arise, so if you can somehow manage to see your distressing situation is a less personal light, your experience dealing with them may be a whole lot more serene.

Think on this awhile and get back to me…


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