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Join Me in the Journey, Don’t try to Fix Me

September 4, 2008

I approached my immediate overseer and asked some questions.  The more I probed, the more vague the answers became.  Later I asked a colleague of his, another administrator in our office, the same questions.  Not only did the answers continue to be vague, but he asked other administrators to join in the conversation.  I suppose if more people are in the conversation it is harder to hold anyone accountable for bad information.

A few weeks later an assistant called me and invited me out to lunch.  My attempts to get a straight answer continued to be fruitless.  In fact, when I told him I am an agent of change, and a catalyst that will probably generate complaints, our conversation ground to a crashing halt.  It’s funny how some people avoid controversy and change, while others, like me, thrive in an environment of change.

I’ve always said that my specialty is creating order out of chaos.

I’ve always said that my specialty is creating order out of chaos.  I didn’t ask for this, it just comes natural to me.  I seem to think in systems and can easily see broken systems.  In fact, I don’t mind speaking up and stopping the pandimonium and panic.  It just happens, sometimes without even thinking about it.

So, not finding answers, I sought out our organization’s president and asked to meet with him.  I knew he would give me straight answers.  I knew he would help me see the bigger picture – which is important to me.  Understanding the big picture enables me to wade through the minutea and mundane.  I can handle some of the seemingly unimportant tasks, if I know there is an ultimate purpose.

The organization I worked with in Colorado was similar to where I am now, but the President was unclear on where we were going and how we were going to get there.  Well, let me rephrase that.  I believe he knows where he’s going, but he was unable to communicate that clearly.  In fact, it often seemed as if the ultimate goal was a moving target.  It was hard to get enthused with no clear goal in sight.

Now, to be fair, I’ve changed too.

Now, to be fair, I’ve changed too.  Before my kids were born I was not just ready and willing to change the world, but I welcomed the opportunity to be a world-changer.  I”m much more relaxed now – at least about the external world.  I realize that my best opportunity to change the world is through my kids.  By pouring my heart and soul into them, they will have far more influence than I, alone, could ever have – especially at my advanced age.

In fact, the wiser I get, in my old age, the more inspiration to I draw from the serenity prayer.  I see more clearly the things I have no control over – not even any influence.  So, I let go of those things and move on to other options.  When I find something that I might have some influence over, I can invest in that – but I see little that I actually have control over.

I don’t lack courage to make change.  If anything, I lack courage to leave things alone.  I’ve spent too much of my life’s energy banging my head on brick walls.  I’m now a little better and recognizing the unchangeable, and leaving those things alone.  I still have some a lot of work to do in this area, but I’m learning.

Yesterday after a phone conversation to clear up some misunderstandings, I told my wife that I’m tired of Crucial Conversations.  I’m tired of constantly trying to convince people that I’m right and they’re wrong.  I’m tired of blocking hurting people and preventing them from hurting others.  I’m tired of standing in the gap.

Then it hit me.  The inability of people to let go of their losses is preventing them from moving forward.

I used to tell my clients and others that once you’ve stood in the middle of an intersection and made the decision to let someone die, because there aren’t enough resources to apply to all the victims of this multiple patient car wreck, most management decisions are easy.  It’s one thing to let one of two brothers, who crashed their motorcycle on Kelley Butte, die.  It’s quite another to slash the budget and lay off 500 employees.  Both are life changing; but death is much worse than unemployment.

Yesterday, for the second day in a row, my daughter had a knock-down, kicking and screaming, full-on tantrum.  The “experts” will tell you to let it happen and just protect them from injury.
Faced with it, in a non-academic realm, is a whole different story.  It went on for a full 15-20 minutes; and for a lot of that time I was holding her in my arms.  I was trying to keep her from running out of the room, from hurting herself, and from doing damage to me, her room, and herself.

It was horrible.

In fact, I think I would rather face 100 dying young men, then go through this again.  I was exhausted, emotionally spent, and yes, I’ll admit it, traumatized.  The really scary thing is that I saw myself in that tantrum.  Though I never acted out that way, I’ve felt that raw rage and pure emotional anger.  I know the feeling.  I know the emotion.  I understand what she felt.

One of the crucial conversations I had recently involved a man complaining about other’s behavior.  Others were, or were not, doing what he thought they should be doing.  Interestingly, his own wife has complained of emotional abuse and recently left him.  This man’s kids are engaging in the behavior he finds abarent.  And worse, he is somewhat estranged from everyone in his life.

One of his chief complaints is that I didn’t accompany him when he went to court over the restraining order his wife had sought.  Smart enough to stay out of a family issue, and not choose sides, I knew it was a no-win situation for me to support him in that manner.

That’s when it hit me, last night, as we arrived home after the last of several crucial conversations – at least then.  People tend to try and control others in areas where they have failed.  Maybe they wrestled with their kids, and lost.  Maybe they struggled with alcohol, smoking, sex, debt, anger, grief, depression, relationships, et cetera, et cetera – and lost.  But instead of accepting their loss and moving on, they continue to fight the battle – through others.

The serenity prayer teaches me to let go.  The serenity prayer has taught me to not operate outside of my own sphere of control.  I’ve learned that I can barely control myself, what business is it of mine what other people are doing?  Let it go people!

It’s been said that “hurting people hurt others.”  I see that all the time.  While some are malicious, and seek to bring others down with them; for the most part though, I don’t think people are trying to be malicious.  I think it is more about their own pain and their attempts to seek relief.

How do I know this?  Because I was one of those people.

Generally speaking, many people who go into “helping” professions (nurses, cops, firefighters, paramedics, preachers, teachers, psychologists, counselors, etc) are really seeking to help/fix themselves.  They are attempting to do this by “fixing” others.  Which usually, doesn’t work.  Focusing outside ourselves can be destracting, and can give us purpose, it can also distract from the real need in our souls.

The only real cure is to take care of ourselves first.  We are no good to others if we’re broken.  I used to teach this to paramedics and firefighters.  If you don’t arrive safely, you can’t help anyone.  If you become injured, you’ll not only be of no help to others, but you’ll take other responders out of the rescue also.  Hence, hurt rescuers hurt others by removing resources that could be applied to another’s lifesaving needs.

We do everyone around us more good by focusing on our own problems and leaving theirs alone.  My job, your job, is to take care of yourself.  Quit trying to fix me.  Instead take time to understand me.

A humble approach to others allows us to understand who they are, where they’re coming from, and who they are striving to become.  Instead of trying to impose my idea on who you should be, I would rather help you achieve your goals and your ambitions – but only as you give me permission.

This is what I do.  As a life coach, I seek to understand who people are and who they want to become.  As they give me permission to speak into their lives, I want to help them attain these goals.  This is not only rewarding, but fun.  Fixing people never works and it is incredibly frustrating.  Joining people in the journey though, well, that’s exciting, adventuresome, educational, and enlightening.

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One Comment
  1. September 4, 2008 9:19 pm

    Gary,

    Wow. What a great post. You have said so many important things here, I don’t know where to begin.

    First of all, I like your attitude about getting straight answers from those in your organization. It is clear that you like to shoot straight and sometimes people are uncomfortable when they have to confront the truth. Often the truth is that there are serious communication problems. Sometimes leaders do not realize that all team members in an organization should understand the bigger picture. Enough about that, there are other things in your post that I liked.

    Long ago, when I was in recovery from drug dependency, I learned the Serenity Prayer and it changed my whole life. Once I realized that I could break down my life into things that I could control and things that I could not control, I found some peace. It certainly takes serenity, courage and wisdom to decipher between the two, so the Serenity Prayer makes sense to me.

    Another thing you said caused me to pause and take a look at myself; “The inability of people to let go of there losses is preventing them from moving forward.” I am driven to finally succeed, but maybe I am holding on to past failures. The fact is, I have ultimately failed at everything important I have ever done and it weighs heavy on me. I must find a way to let it all go. Alright, one more short point and I will stop bugging you.

    I like your statement; “A humble approach to others allows us to understand who they are, where they’re coming from, and who they are striving to become.” This is exactly how I try to relate to others.

    I enjoy your writing. Post like these are very powerful. Keep up the good work.

    Doug

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