I remember reading a memoir not too long ago, where the author describes a time when she was going running along a river bank and spotted something pink in the grass. Thinking back to her childhood days, she was excited at the prospect that it was Rose Quartz, only to pick it up and realize that it was merely a piece of discarded styrofoam.
When she thought it was Rose Quartz, she felt wonderful and energized with possibility and beauty, but as soon as she discovered it was styrofoam, her experience took a turn in the opposite direction--toward disgust. The object itself didn’t change--only her perception of it did.
We do the same thing with people all the time. We label them, and put them in boxes, and then we only see them through the label we gave them.
She’s a bitch.
He’s a tyrant.
He’s a bully.
She’s a gossip.
He’s a liar.
We judge others in order to protect ourselves from being vulnerable. Our labels keep us safe, and allow our ego to feel good about who we are.
Unfortunately, every time we label someone and put them in a box, it becomes extremely difficult to see them as anything other than that box. And we unknowingly look for further evidence to keep them in that box.
If that box is negative, each time we merely picture that person and their box, we can shudder in response.
And what is the result? Disconnection. We wall them off, and we all ourselves in.
What could be different, if you saw the difficult people that you work with as Rose Quartz rather than styrofoam?
Compassion. Connection. Collaboration.
YOUR CONFLICT ISN’T WITH ANOTHER PERSON--IT’S WITH YOURSELF
I know that is a bold statement, so I hope you will give me the opportunity to explain what I mean.
Last week, I was working with a new client and she was describing her situation to me and I saw a lot of patterns and similarities to my own situation with my former boss. As we probed further she realized that the core of her conflict with her coworkers and boss, was actually rooted within herself.
It was a HUGE A-HA moment, for sure.
Much like me (and probably you), this woman was conditioned to feel valuable when people told her she was valuable, and unfortunately, that wasn’t happening for her at work--if anything it was the opposite, leaving her feeling very insecure.
Over time a cycle had developed, that looked something like this:
And on and on and on it went. (Though your negative cycle probably looks different.)
When I asked her whose responsibility her feeling of SECURITY was, she knew that the answer was her.
Unfortunately, for many of us, we have been habituated or conditioned to feel good about ourselves only when other people compliment us and tell us how amazing we are. Our worth is 100% in the hands of another person. When we leave our worth in the hands of other people, we are constantly chasing something that we may or may not get. If we don’t get it, our defense mechanisms kick in causing us to act in a way that is out of alignment with our values and character, and then people are thinking to themselves, “Who the hell is this person? I don’t want to be around them.”
Now that my new client sees the cycle, she has a better chance of being able to break it, and it all STARTS WITH HER. Yes, she has a conflict outside of her, and it is an amplification of a conflict that she has inside of her.
Here is my question for you:
How can you find the root cause of your conflict, so that you can stop the negative cycle?
Courage. Compassion. Connection.
Imagine receiving a beautiful gift in a large box, but the exterior of it is wrapped in a coarse sandpaper that is difficult to touch, difficult to handle, difficult to unwrap. Lying underneath that coarseness is something truly magical, something that can change your life for the better, but it is essential that when you open that box, you do so with the utmost care. When you are gentle with the sandpaper, the gift underneath only magnifies.
Do you dare to open the box?
Do you dare to be gentle with something so coarse?
Over the course of my 40 years, I have received many gifts wrapped in sandpaper.
Some of them I ran from.
Some of them I fought.
And some of them, I unwrapped gently and carefully, so that I was rewarded with the most amazing gift.
The largest gift wrapped in sandpaper that I ever received was my relationship with my former boss. It was a conflict that I was unwilling and afraid to unwrap. It sat there between us for almost 2 years, before I finally ran from it because it was too painful to touch.
Unfortunately, it followed me around even after I left because the gift wasn’t, in fact, sitting between us, it was sitting within me. Finally, when I found the courage and the right tools to do the unwrapping, what I found underneath was amazing and magical. It was the gift of growth. The gift of a deeper connection with myself, and a deeper connection with all the people I interact with on a daily basis. It was sunshine, and laughter, and ease, and tears, and more...
I still receive gifts wrapped in sandpaper all the time.
Sometimes, I want to run from them.
Sometimes, I want to fight them.
And most often, I unwrap them gently and carefully, so that I experience the connection and sunshine underneath.
Your conflict, is also a gift wrapped in sandpaper. There is beauty and sunshine lying underneath when you too find the courage and the right tools to unwrap it.
If I can be one of those tools, I would love to be there for you when you do your unwrapping.
P.S. This idea of a “gift wrapped in sandpaper” comes from the esteemed Lisa Nichols.
Compassion. Connection. Collaboration.
ARE YOU FOCUSING ON WHERE YOU WANT TO GO, OR ON WHAT YOU WANT TO AVOID?
Over the weekend, I was out with my family on a bike ride. My daughter, who is 3, was riding by herself and loving every minute of it---except for the minute when she drove her bike right into a big pothole.
After she got herself situated again, my husband said, “When you are riding your bike, you want to look at where you want to go, rather than on what you want to avoid.” (Okay, he may not have said it exactly like, but similar enough…)
So what does this have to do with you and professional life?
The people in our lives (including ourselves) can be potholes or even rocks in our path. We want to avoid them at all costs because it could bring us pain or discomfort, yet we are often so focused on them that we ended up hitting them anyways.
The options that many of us see are these:
1) We avoid the trail altogether (find a new job, switch to a new team, drop the dreaded client, etc.)
2) We push and pull, and fight against the rock that is in our way (use our anger to try force the other person to leave or change)
3) We hope and pray that we won’t hit the rock, even though we can’t seem to help it (hope and pray that things will change for the better and deal with any uncomfortable moments along the way.)
But, wouldn’t it be great if we could enjoy the amazingness that the trail has to offer without having to worry about the rocks and potholes?
When I used to find myself up against big rocks, I typically oscillated between options 2 and 3, and when it got too painful, I opted for number 1.
Now I see two other ways to handle the big rocks, so that I can still enjoy the wonderful beauty that comes with the trail:
4) We can practice patience, and eventually smooth down the rock, or fill the pothole, so that we can still enjoy the ride, and not feel threatened by the rocks in our way (tap into your patience and compassion, so that we can see the smoothness that lies underneath the hard exterior)
5) Learn how to ride our bike differently and shift our focus to where we want to go, instead of where we don’t (take a look at our behavior and thought patterns, and start focusing on what we want to create at work, rather than what we don’t want to tolerate.)
If you are where I once was--loving your job, but sick of some of the rocks (people) in the way, I urge you to think about how the final two options could work for you.
If you can’t see the possibility, let me know, and I am happy to help you see what you can’t see for yourself.
Compassion. Connection. Collaboration.
My coached asked me a similar question today, and it is one that I have been asked before, and often ask myself--especially when I am stuck and can’t see a clear path out.
When I think back to where I was when I had a “real job” with my finger pointing, my righteousness, my victim mentality, the raging inside my head, I can see that it was all a form of self-protection. My EGO was loving the idea of making everyone else the problem because then she didn’t have to look at herself.
That is the plain and simple truth of it.
My EGO was calling my colleagues and boss’s names, and talking about how horrible the leadership was, and what a screwed up value system people lived by, because my true self was afraid that I was the one who was doing it wrong, that I was unworthy, that I was incompetent, that I had the wrong values.
All of that judgment and blame was directed outward, because I was scared shitless to look inside.
The benefit to me was that I got stand on my pedestal of righteousness and not dare to do the deeper emotional work. No matter how angry and frustrated I became, it was WAY MORE COMFORTABLE and SAFE than dealing with why I didn’t feel worthy in the first place.
Unfortunately, with every benefit there is also a cost. As I stood up there looking down my nose at everyone else because they were “doing it wrong”, the facade came tumbling down around me. I was left without a job, without a solid sense of self, with a huge amount of guilt, and with my childhood dream in pieces all around me.
So, now it is my turn to ask you…
What is the benefit of blaming others for your work situation?
What is the benefit of keeping silent when people “cross the line”?
What is the benefit of holding tight to your belief that your way is right and theirs is wrong?
What is the benefit of placing someone in the box of “asshole” or “incompetent” or “bully?”
What is the benefit of re-living your past experiences, over and over again?
Because you are getting something out of it.
What that is, is for you to figure out, but we all benefit in some way, even when the circumstances seem dire. And with every benefit, there is a cost.
Are the benefits worth the cost?
Community. Connection. Collaboration.
P.S. For more insights and ideas on navigating difficult work relationships, come join me at Thrive At Work.
I spent 2 years working for my not-so-great-boss before I finally said to myself,
"Get out of here. It isn't worth it."
Unfortunately, even though I was free of her physically, I wasn't free of her emotionally.
She was like a monkey on my back that just wouldn’t get off.
She showed up in my dreams.
She showed up in my job interviews.
She showed up when I met new people and they asked what I did.
She showed up on Facebook as a possible "friend."
She had RUINED my career and there was no way this lady would ever be my friend. I could never forgive her for what she had done to me.
Finally, about 7 months after I quit, I knew that I needed help. My initial anger had turned into resentment and bitterness and they were consuming me. I had become the negative person that people didn't want to be around. And to top that off, my new boss had to talk to me about my “attitude” which had developed because of my situation with my former boss.
She was everywhere, even though she was nowhere.
That is when I started the process of shifting my relationship with myself and with her (and she didn't even know it). It is when I started to see that my negativity and judgments were only hurting me. It is when I started to see that by forgiving her, I was actually setting myself free.
I called it my BAD BOSS DETOX.
Now I have created a program for other people to go through, so that they too can go through their own BAD BOSS DETOX.
If you are interested, come take a look. Space is limited to 6 people.