I took a little time to write this in my mind before setting words down because it is such a personal journey for me to face these dark parts of myself! Yet I find that by owning them out loud, so to speak, and writing about them, it really helps me clear my path toward a more rewarding life experience. The stories below are just a tiny few of the times I have had to learn this the hard way. And of course, the cosmic joke on me is that I’m much better at spotting the pattern in others and helping them break it than I have been with myself. Oh, well! At least I keep working on it!!!
Step 6: Stop thinking with me it will be different!
Why do I consider that a dark part of myself? Because it makes my tendency for self-delusion public!
Way too many times I have turned off my sweet inner voice — whether it was shouting “danger” or just whispering to me that this situation doesn’t feel right. Instead, I have plowed into situations, relationships, difficulties as if I somehow had a secret weapon of invincibility unlike anyone else.
I start dating someone. He is charming, delightful, interesting. And he also doesn’t show up on time, leaves me waiting patiently without even a phone call. Doesn’t do things he says he will do. Instead of calling a halt right at the beginning, I make up a story: Once we are really connected, he will see that I am important, he will value me like I want to be valued.
BONG: WRONG ANSWER!!!!!
He has shown me from the beginning who he is, but I didn’t want to see it. I liked my story better. Result: disappointment and eventual end of our connection, when I finally decided I was important enough to stop seeing him and subjecting myself to that.
I hire a new sales person. He doesn’t come up with a sales plan from the get go. He has excuses for why things aren’t going well. But he comes from a company that was successful, he has a good reputation in our industry (people like him) and I think, once he gets the hang of our system, once he realizes what a great company we are to work for, he’ll come around! I work on this for over a year, try to get the other sales people to help him, I encourage him, lots of pep talks.
BONG: WRONG ANSWER!!!!!
Not only does he not improve, he gets worse and worse. I realize he is drinking during lunch breaks. He hangs around the office more than he goes out to make calls. His sales don’t ever reach an acceptable level. I end up firing him and he files for unemployment and I have to explain to the Texas Workforce Commission just why he doesn’t deserve it. I won the case, but it was an ugly, unpleasant thing for everyone concerned.
I married an alcoholic. I didn’t want to face that truth, and had plenty of ways to avoid it because in the early ’70s, most of my peer group drank, our parents all drank, parties almost always had full bars, it was our lifestyle. I was madly in love with him. He was handsome, something about being around him soothed me. He was going to be an adoptive father to my son, who was not quite 3 at the time. I was going to have a new life! I eventually quit teaching Montessori and went into the family business to help file invoices. Soon, I realized he wasn’t capable of running the business (his dad quickly retired after I showed up) and I started teaching myself how to do what needed to be done. I built a very successful business for my husband, and found myself covering for him more and more.
He was unreliable. He didn’t show up on time. He would give me that “sh-t-eating grin” which was supposed to charm me back into cooperating and taking care of him. His dad died and he really lost it, started drinking more and more, made bad business decisions that I had to repair, I kept having to tell people that I would solve the problem, that I would get them the information quickly, whatever I needed to do to stop the disaster. I called myself a traveling basketball hoop — anywhere I needed to be, I made sure I was there.
I let my son live in a bad relationship with him. I watched him blow up at my son and sometimes scare him. I kept trying to fix the situation. I got us counseling, I sought help. I felt I was so entwined in the business with him that there were no possible exit strategies.I gained weight. I tried to keep everything going. I stayed married to him for 14 years!!!
I kept trying to convince myself that he would see the light and change.
BONG: WRONG ANSWER!!!!!
I filed for divorce to try to scare him into stopping drinking. Instead I found out he had been having affairs with my two saleswomen for the past two years. I went through with the divorce, and he actually quit drinking, but I didn’t trust him so I wouldn’t take him back. Within 9 months he convinced me to buy him out of the business, which I did, then I had to deal with all the factories we represented questioning my ability to run the very business I had built and been running all those years, because I had let them think that he was far more valuable to it than he actually was. We pulled through it, and I continued running and building it for 18 more years until I sold it to two of my sales guys. It took years for my son to move through his anger about his dad. To this day, this guy sends Christmas presents to my son, but has visited him only one time, rarely contacts him. The father I thought I was giving my son was useless to both of us.
Does it sound like it takes me a while to learn my lessons?
Yes it does! And I finally have reconciled myself to a life long journey of learning. I fully expect to have many more lessons in the future, because I will continue to “try to do the right thing” and very likely find out the hard way something I needed to learn.
People show us who they are. It is our job to believe them!
My commitment to myself:
- Ask more questions.
- Pay attention to whether they do what they say they will do.
- Notice how they treat others.
- Take more time to really get to know them.
- Once certain behavior patterns are revealed, stop making up stories about how I can influence them to be different.
- Remember the adage: looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, walks like a duck — it’s a duck! and stop pretending a swan will somehow magically show up!!!!!
Isn’t it possible for people to change?
Of course it is! But it is THEIR job to do it, not our job to convince them to. If they decide to do the work, show up differently, then I am open to get to know the new, improved version. I’m just letting go of the fantasy that I had anything to do with it, save maybe having been an example of a different way of being.
That is what sets me free.