Every gambler knows that the secret to survivin’ is knowin’ what to throw away and knowin’ what to keep
– The Gambler, by Kenny Rogers
After reading Adam Grant‘s recent opinion piece in the NY Times titled Your Most Ambivalent Relationships Are the Most Toxic, I’m inspired to share a life-changing realization that came to me only within the last year or so.
But first, some background…
As a recovering #peoplepleaser, I’ve spent the last twenty years or so mastering the ability to communicate honestly and directly to others. As an #executivecoach and #coachtrainer I’m often acknowledged for my ability to articulate and deliver difficult feedback delicately, which means my hard work must be paying off!
This is probably why I’ve had a difficult time over the years when people who played key roles in my professional and personal life came across as passive, over-generalizing of important things, or offered unhelpful and self-protecting input or advice.
In Grant’s article he writes:
…ambivalence is an invitation for rumination. We agonize about ambiguous comments, unsure what to make of them and whether to trust the people who make them. We dwell on our mixed feelings, torn between avoiding our frenemies and holding out hope that they’ll change.
In hindsight, I can recognize now that when I was confronted with these ambiguous comments, especially coming from people I trusted, I felt safe exercising my directness in an attempt to gain clarity. In many cases, my careful candor was unfortunately categorized as an attack. Referencing the life-changing book The Power of TED, by David Emerald Womeldorff, in which he highlights the differences between the Karpman drama triangle, and what Emerald calls TED: The Empowerment Dynamic, my intention was to play the role of #challenger and instead I was experienced as the #persecutor.
A relationship in which you can’t be candid isn’t a relationship at all; it’s a charade. Research shows that we tend to underestimate how open people are to constructive suggestions. Feedback doesn’t always lead to change, but change doesn’t happen without feedback. The goal is to be as candid as possible in what you say and as caring as possible in how you say it. As Brené Brown emphasizes, “Clear is kind.”
It’s never fun to inadvertently trigger someone when you’re genuinely seeking understanding and connection, and yet it happens everyday. Sometimes these triggers can open doors to stronger relationships, or they can ultimately lead to their gradual or immediate demise.
Which brings me back to my life-changing realization, couched in a metaphor:
Life is a gamble; go all-in on yourself.
Consider life as an intricate card game where every person you encounter is a unique card from an enormous deck – the global population. This grand game, the ‘Tournament of Life,’ begins even before we grasp its complex rules, and the array of game styles we can choose to play is limitless.
As we mature and develop a clearer vision of our desired life experiences, we start to collect these ‘human’ cards. We hold onto some, letting others go based on the roles they play in our journey. The duration we hold onto each card also bears significance.
But, there’s a limit to how many cards one can hold at once. Eventually, even if we’re reluctant, we must let some cards go to make space for new ones, adhering to the game’s rules. As we navigate through different variations of the game, we gradually improve at optimizing our hand.
Being someone who identifies as an ‘Internalizer,’ as referred in the groundbreaking book: Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents, I used to be devastated when someone important decided to walk out of my life. The internalizer’s default is to investigate what we did or didn’t do to lose that person, and how we can change in such a way to prevent it from happening again. Only, it will happen again, and again.
I used to introspect in unhealthy ways, overly questioning my own actions, and trying to think of ways to prevent such losses in the future. However, I later realized these painful departures as a necessary part of my journey.
In trying to shape ourselves to be universally lovable, we overreach, attempting to hold onto too many cards simultaneously. In essence, we’re violating the rules of the game – cheating, even. Clinging to people who demand our #conformity only leads to self-betrayal, stripping us of our #authenticselves.
The only way to truly win at being authentic is to let go.