“Taking life personally, whether you’re aware you’re doing it or not, is a lose-lose situation. Either you’re blithely unaware that you’re deep in victim mode and taking it out on the world around you, or you’re highly aware that you are trapped in an emotionally torturous box of your own making.” -Lisa Husseini

Let’s say you have an ambitious – even competitive – nature. You’re motivated to be the best leader or team member you can be. You take pride in the fact that others see you as conscientious and hardworking. There’s nothing wrong with that, except if you:

  • shut down or become defensive in the face of criticism.
  • frequently berate yourself or blame others when things don’t go as you’d hoped.
  • find it easier to end relationships than consider your part in what’s not working.
  • live with nagging sense of self-doubt which can inhibit you from taking action.

While some authors might base a book about “not taking things personally” on the macho advice, “JUST GET OVER IT! SUCK IT UP! GET A THICKER SKIN” author and coach Lisa Husseini offers more helpful insights, backed by her own personal stories about struggling with insecurity and defensiveness when she was a first-time CEO.

Husseini shines a light on how to recognize the dynamics of defensiveness within ourselves. She normalizes defense mechanisms (while not letting us off the hook) by explaining how it’s just too easy to mistake them for strengths. Her book describes four primary unhealthy coping mechanisms and the damage they can cause – anger, shame, blame, and toxic positivity.

Husseini explains: “So much of the way we approach taking things personally is like a headache. When we are triggered, we feel the pain and want to stop it. So, we use coping mechanisms and distancing techniques to soothe ourselves. If we aren’t careful, we forget to investigate the root cause of our pain. We trick ourselves into thinking that we’ve taken care of the issue and banished it for good! This works fine until one day, the root cause regrows, and it comes back with a vengeance.”

Page by page, It’s Nothing Personal provides dozens of examples designed to help us recognize our own blind spots and insecurities. More importantly, it provides practical insights about how to work with our own emotional triggers and defensive routines. What I most appreciate about this book is that Husseini frames “not taking things personally” as a set of practices wecan master – practices that help us de-escalate our defensive reactions in the moment, build a foundation of self-esteem and curiosity, and cultivate long-term resilience and personal integrity.

I’ve seen promising careers hit dead ends and abruptly derail due to a leader’s tendency to take things too personally. No one wants this person on their team, let alone in a leadership position. And the truth is, most leaders struggle with this trait to some measure. Lisa Husseini has a supportive and nonjudgmental way of walking us through our own narratives, asking us to reflect, and challenging us to experiment with new practices. Her book is an important read for anyone who wants to enter the new year with a fresh perspective on the art of letting go..

Do you know someone who is highly-skilled at not taking things too personally? How does he or she do it? Share an example in the comments below.

Image Credit: Adam Cai on Unsplash

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