At least 50% of surprises that come my way are unwanted by me. I know they are unwanted because my inner judge immediately labels them as dangerous, or bad, or inconvenient. I quickly double down on a conviction that the unwanted people or circumstances: 1) are being done “to me”, and 2) are the impediment standing between me and what I want.
Because we are wired to be vigilant for threats, we are very skilled at turning people and circumstances into our adversaries within a blink of an eye.
This unhelpful pattern became very visible to me about 10 years ago when I was diagnosed with a genetic neuro-muscular condition called Facioscapulohumeral Muscular Dystrophy (FSHD). It’s a condition that will not kill me but is likely to weaken my body over time. My reaction during the first few years was – “this is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me!
But over time, as I worked with my mind, three other truths emerged.
- The condition has invited me to start paying attention to wellbeing practices I had neglected for most of my life – sleep, diet, exercise. I have embraced the daily habit of an afternoon “power siesta” and am more productive as a result.
- FSHD slows me down in almost everything I do – getting dressed, walking, etc. So, in a world I’ve always experienced as demanding rabbit-like speed, I’ve become the tortoise – slow, steady, and more patient with myself and others.
- Finally, and most difficult, is: I have learned to ask for help – something up until recently I was terrible at. Yesterday my friend Erik carried my cup of coffee to the table where we were meeting. I realize that rather than being an imposition when I ask for help, others feel gifted with the opportunity to show their love and care for me.
In their book The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership: A New Paradigm for Sustainable Success, Jim Dethmer, Diana Chapman, and Kaley Warner Klemp identify a commitment called “Experiencing the world as an ally.” This concept means committing to “seeing all difficult people and circumstances as allies that are perfectly suited to help you learn the most important things for your growth.”
What if beginning tomorrow you CHOOSE to see every challenging person or circumstance you encounter as helping you discover something about yourself (e.g., beliefs, behaviors, needs) that you could not have discovered without them?
What if your inner dialogue was able to shift from “this is happening to me”
to “this is happening for me”?
This kind of mindset shift would mean:
- Your “problem employee” is a catalyst for you to grow into a more effective supervisor.
- The competitor who is dominating your market is a teacher from whom you can learn.
- The financial crisis in your organization is an invitation to wake up and address long-ignored vulnerabilities.
To be clear, on a daily basis I’m not always able to make the shift from “this is horrible” to “what’s the gift?” But I find if I can get there even 25% more often, I wind up living my life and leading others with more ease and creativity. So, who are the people and what are the circumstances in your life that represent your opportunity to partner with the “unwanted?”
Image Credit: Zdeněk Macháček on Unsplash