By Jackie Bland
I was working with a client recently who was in a very stuck place. He is a small business owner who wants out in order to travel the world and expand her horizons. The problem is that he is completely unable to move forward because of the fear of letting other people down, of being seen to hurt or disappoint. It seems an immovable hurdle, and he’s not alone in finding it incredibly difficult to take actions which hurt and challenge other people.
We can find ourselves in situations like this when a relationship is coming to an end, when we want to change our job, when we want to move to live away from family and friends and many other life situations.
When we end up stuck, we can do two things; stay stuck and live with it (not always a comfortable or enduring option) or we can get unstuck by radically changing something, and often the first thing we need to change is our thinking. If we can re-frame the thinking, creating a different perspective on what is actually happening then we can win back the freedom to act.
But, you might ask, how can you re-frame the fact that you are going to hurt or let down other people?
One way is to think above and beyond the immediate consequences which can make you feel emotional pain.
We have all been hurt, disappointed and let down at one time or another. These times aren’t welcome and we are right to avoid them if possible. But most of us would also acknowledge that the times we’ve been challenged and hurt have been opportunities for great learning and strengthening. We are the sum of our experiences, and often the most challenging experiences were the times we learned and changed the fastest. Sometimes those challenges made us dig deep, find strategies for enduring the difficulties, and triggered creativity and invention. We might sometimes be devastated when our expectations aren’t met, but a life where all expectations are met, where everything is handed on a plate and is super-safe, is a life without that extra edge that brings out the best in our human nature and helps us appreciate the good stuff when it happens.
We can, of course, take this way of thinking too far. This is not an argument for wantonly disregarding other people’s needs and feelings; we should be kind and considerate at all times, even when making tough decisions.
But it is an argument for balance. When your own needs and desires are crying out, but you feel dis-empowered and stuck because they cut across someone else’s desires and expectations then you must sometimes give yourself the freedom to allow other people to be disappointed, challenged, shocked, surprised or even sometimes, hurt for while. Just as we would expect to be responsible for our own lives and our own feelings, you can sometimes allow other people to deal with the consequences of your decisions without buffering their feelings by denying yourself what feels like the right course of action for you.
Sometimes we end up stuck like this because of imagined consequences that are not even accurate. Many years ago as the CEO of a charity I was faced with a really tricky decision when a key member of staff started behaving erratically whilst responsible for vulnerable people in her care. We knew the member of staff had endured personal tragedy and we used every mechanism we knew to find her support and help her succeed, but nothing improved. We ended up in an impossible position, not wanting to hurt her more or damage her career but fearful of the consequences if we didn’t. With heavy hearts we ended her employment and I spent several years revisiting the situation, wondering what else we could have done, feeling very bad about it.
Then about four years later I saw the same member of staff in a supermarket car park. My stomach turned over as I saw her recognise me and walk over to speak. I expected her to tell me what she thought in no uncertain terms, since I imagined I had ruined her life.
‘Jackie’ she called rushing up to me ‘Oh, I am so glad I’ve bumped into you, I’ve been wanting to contact you for ages. I wanted to say thank you for what you did - I know it was awful….but it was the best thing that ever happened to me, it gave me what I needed to sort myself out.’
It turned out that she had completely changed course, set up a business, made a huge amount of money very fast and was the very next week setting off to start a new life in a Mediterranean villa she had bought with her husband.
Of course, I could take no credit whatsoever for this happy turn-out, but it just shows how wrong we can be about the consequences of choices we make; what we imagine might hurt someone could be a turning point for them that opens them up to new unexpected opportunities.
So if you are stuck in a similar way, give yourself permission to free up your thinking a little…..