Wednesday, August 27, 2014
“There is a huge amount of freedom that comes to you when you take nothing personally.”
— Miguel Ruiz
I posted this quote recently to my Facebook page as a reminder to myself to be realistic about my expectations of others. We can’t make everyone happy, right? Not everyone is going to like us, right?
It’s a simple message and one we’re told often, but it’s advice that is quite difficult to follow. I live my life rather publicly, and with that comes a lot of awesomeness, mostly in the opportunities it affords me to meet loads of people from many walks of life. But it also comes with the knowledge that I’ve opened myself to criticism at every turn. Most people are kind enough to keep it to themselves, but sometimes it finds its way in. The trick is to know how much I should listen to.
Is it “about” me if a friend or business contact fails to call back or follow through? Most likely not. That friend is busy with her own things and had to re-prioritize her life. I’m usually good with that sort of thing, as I hope people will be patient with my limitations as well. It doesn’t mean they don’t like or care about me; it means they are distracted by something in their world.
But sometimes it is “about” me. When I become aware that someone is unhappy with me, well then there’s the challenge of knowing how much to let in. Being open to criticism and being self-reflective are important. If I’ve hurt someone, I want to know. I want an opportunity to apologize, to consider my actions and motives, to improve or repair.
But at some level, we have to stop taking things personally. We can’t internalize every critique or misunderstanding. Sometimes those things aren’t about me at all, they’re about other people’s fears, insecurities or bad days.
I know that while I am able to not take many things too personally, my day can sometimes be utterly ruined by the knowledge that there is bad blood out there and it has to do with me. And while I know that others might say, “Meh, let it go, that’s their issue, not yours,” I am guilty of letting it get too much real estate in my head sometimes.
I start with, “What did I do? How could that have gone better?” and move to, “Forget her, she’s mean-spirited,” and back to, “Oh, what if she’s right?” in a matter of seconds. And after this internal debate goes on for a day or so, it becomes time to evaluate the friendship or consider the source. Is this relationship enriching me? Is it enriching the other person? Are there far more good times than contentious ones?
Sometimes we have to evaluate the worthiness of the complaint and ask ourselves if it is valid, at least in part, and then respond sanely and appropriately, either with apology, changed actions or simply with a shrug and move on.
I have been glad that as I age, I have less drama. I have fewer and fewer situations wherein my friends and I are anything but kind, supportive and hilarious. I strive daily for peace and harmony and I certainly don’t want to borrow trouble. I try to be responsible and effective at work, and to practice good leadership that includes listening, service and patience. I’m not always successful, but I can rest assured I’m trying.
Women have to be particularly careful to not be perceived as “crazy” or “overly emotional” at work and in our personal lives, because any show of feelings can and will be used against our entire gender. I don’t want to dismiss the part of me that cares, at some level, what people think, because sometimes there is value in criticism. I want to care when it’s appropriate and dismiss when it’s not. Tricky business, to be sure.
At the end of the day, the solutions are fairly simple, though not easy to arrive upon. Choose peace. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Eliminate toxicity. Sleep on it. And finally, develop the skin of a lizard. No matter what you do, you’re going to need it.
— Megan Stuke is a wife and a mother of Johnny (4) and Lily (1). By day she works to help children and families at Ballard Community Services, and by night she writes, cooks, cleans (very little) and tries her best to be part of everything Lawrence has to offer.