You’re going into the crucible to shape and form your thoughts.
That comment hit me like lightning during a conversation I had with one of my closest friends. We were talking about the trip I am on right now, traveling across the country to spend time with my parents.
People who know me (you don’t even have to know me that well or for very long) know very well that family has been an emotionally relational Rubik’s cube with strong personalities starting with my dominant, immigrant father who’s a force. He and I have clashed for most of my life and have even gone for years and years without speaking, which is a pattern I have noticed with many clients who are also children of immigrants or 1st generation Americans.
For myself, my father has been my biggest trigger, and it took most of my life to understand that he’s also my biggest and most important teacher (although spending time together can feel like getting a root canal). As I sit on the plane, I’m working on mental preparation by coaching myself, so that when I feel the vortex of emotion taking over, I can turn to curiosity or practice detachment instead of sliding wildly down the rabbit hole of irritation, angst, feeling judged, misunderstood, etc. Some examples of the things that might trigger me include his vociferous and irreverent political opinions, his absolutism about anything, his harsh judgment of most things and people, including me. Really, it’s hard not to feel like I’m entering the gauntlet by staying with my parents on this trip. At the same time, deep down, I do realize this challenge is also an opportunity because spending time with one of my most important teachers helps me understand my triggers. Plus, at 83 years, I’ve noticed that beyond many of the funny stories that have been recycled over the years, there are new family stories that are being shared for the first time.
Gift? Teacher? It seems an odd way of looking at a challenge, I know. Many times when my clients are struggling with something, I ask them, “What is the gift?” The first time they hear this, they’re usually stymied because we tend to be conditioned to register a challenge or struggle as negative or heavy. But, it’s not too long before they catch on to the realization that we can choose our perspectives, and when we do, we claim our freedom.
This was a revelation for me. For example, when I was growing up, if someone said something that I interpreted as disparaging, the only response I considered appropriate was to take offense and respond in kind. That was before I read, The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, where one of the Agreements is “Don’t take anything personally.” If we can stop in the moment of hurt, anger or frustration and allow that agreement to frame our response every time we feel ourselves triggered, we expand our emotion lexicon and also push the boundaries of our growth edges.
As coaches, we do learn this. However, for me, this went deeper and really hit a chord when I took a 10-month leadership program several years ago through The Coaches Training Institute to aid in my own personal development. One moment that really struck me as transformative was when one of our leaders, Angelique, asked us, “What is the gift?” in response to any of the other participants’ complaints, struggles, or challenges. This question ended up being a special gift to me, as if it came in a beautiful Tiffany box. This question has the power to shift our perspective immediately, once we recognize that we always have the ability to choose our perspectives.
For example, when spending time with a difficult family member, here are some perspectives I can choose:
- The Gauntlet – where I imagine that there’s a trap at every twist and turn
- The Crucible – where I look at this time with family as I way to gain deeper understanding and depth
- The Classroom – where I can practice patience, detachment, and curiosity and show up open and ready to learn
- The Punishment – where I set myself up to dread every moment and count down the seconds to my escape
- The Opportunity – where I look at this experience from the lens of possibility and am open to receiving and giving, with as little baggage as possible.
To help me “feel into” these perspectives, I’m thinking about what it would feel like to show up with each one of these perspectives. The door opens, and I’m running The Gauntlet. The door opens, and I’m in The Crucible. The door opens, and I enter The Classroom…and so on. What do I imagine might transpire with each perspective, and how might I be feeling at the end of the visit?
Now the plane is descending, and I’ve proactively selected the perspective of Classroom and Opportunity. My 8-year-old niece is with me, and unbeknownst to her, I’ve recruited her to support me. We have selected a random word for this trip. Our word is just between us, and we’ll both use it when we feel like something is challenging. So when my father says something and I feel my blood pressure rise, I’ll look at my niece and say or mouth the word. She knows to make a funny face or just give me a look. Likewise, when she’s frustrated about not being able to continue playing or swimming as long as she wants, she can communicate that word to me and I’ll know she needs a little boost. We’ve chosen a word that is completely random and funny to us, alone. That’s the gift we’re giving each other.
Between all the mental preparation and my various pieces of armor I have with me—my tattoo that says, “Curious,” my bracelet that says, “Detached,” and deep breathing (which always feels good)—I feel prepared and supported for 3 days of family time.
Wondering how it went? Don’t worry! I’ll write about it in the following newsletter on the flight back.
What do you think about the concept of choosing your perspective?
When you say things like, “I have no choice,” can you see how language informs our experience and that we always have choices?
What comes up for you when you read the statement “Don’t take anything personally”?
I appreciate all comments and feedback however you decide to send them. Feel free to comment here, through Instagram, or drop me an email.