By Teresa Edmondson
There is much to be learned in the midst of all this, IF we are paying attention.
When you think about the past six months, what stands out to you? Many of you have shared with us your own takeaways from this time – what you’ve learned, how you’ve adapted, unexpected benefits you have reaped, and challenges you have faced. I’m right there with you!
Although the wake of my boat over the past months doesn’t look like I thought it would (I never did get that research article written), I can also say that this time has left its footprints and I am not the same person that I was going into all this. I wonder in what ways each of you has been influenced as well?
Times of high intensity in a family, work system, community, or world can be highly informative.
This is when the anxious, less productive patterns are most evident and easiest to identify. When things are calm, these patterns are much harder to see.
It is also an opportunity to move differently within these systems. What keeps us “stuck” is when we continue to behave in our familiar, comfortable patterns. What gets a system “unstuck” is when a member of the system has the courage to interrupt what is expected (to upset the apple cart, so to speak) by making a move that is intentionally counter to what the system expects. We call this “defining a self” which, for me, usually means doing the opposite of what every cell in my body is telling me to do. This inspires other members of the system to do the same and, over time, the system breaks out of previous ruts and begins to function just a little bit better.
Why is this so important? Because doing the hard work of defining self is protective. One’s ability to resist the predictable pulls of the system and to define self serves to keep you healthier, happier, and saner. And in the process, it can do the same for your family, community and organization. Here’s just one example of what I mean.
I have a friend, let’s call her Linda, whose adult step-daughter is driving her crazy right now. I mean, like, really crazy. Her step-daughter can feel her frustration, and at times the anger, all the way to the core of her bones. It’s almost like all the weight Linda feels about COVID – the election, social unrest, hurricanes, fires and anything else that tends to get us amped-up – are all getting channeled right now into this one important relationship. And her step-daughter isn’t cooperating. Not one bit.
At one level, Linda says she’s quite proud of her step-daughter’s independence and fearless pursuit of roads she herself would never take. At other times, she feels resentful and judgmental. What Linda is discovering about herself is how twitchy she can become when someone important to her doesn’t “play-by-the-rules,” doesn’t follow convention (or advice), or decides to color outside of the lines and then comes back for help when things don’t work out.
She realizes that her step-daughter is not really driving her crazy – Linda is doing that to herself. But it wasn’t until Linda’s own anxiousness got high enough, that she was able to clearly see the pattern and the role that she was playing within it. On a good day, Linda says she thinks about potential experiments she could run to help get herself “unstuck” in this relationship. She’s tired of the role she seems to recycle over and over with predictably unsatisfying results. She is working at coming up with new ways of thinking about the relationship with her step-daughter that might give them new ways of connecting. Ideally, these will help calm down the system and allow them both to loosen up what is a fairly “tight” system right now.
These are things that we can do TODAY; these are efforts that we can make that will make a real difference in our world. And I have a hunch that Linda’s efforts on this very small stage will make a huge difference in how well she manages the bigger stuff as well. Longer-term prognosis: a calmer family system, and a healthier, less reactive, more resilient Linda. I’ll keep you posted on their progress.
So where is your focus right now? As you try to figure out your own path forward and learn from all that is swirling around in your own emotional systems at work and home, I encourage you to start where you are. Find that one person in your life that drives you crazy. Try doing something different and notice what happens. Try focusing more energy on managing your own anxiousness and spend a bit less time on trying to “shape up” the other person. THAT is leadership, no matter what field you are playing on.
PS: More later on the links between defining a self and holding others accountable. I’m not suggesting we let others off the hook when they are under-functioning. BUT, the emotions beneath the surface that are driving your efforts will set you up for success or failure in this arena. So, keep reading future blogs “for the rest of the story!”