Not Getting My Way & Crying Outside a Starbucks in a Strip Mall Parking Lot

Photo by STUDIOGRANDOUEST/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by STUDIOGRANDOUEST/iStock / Getty Images

As I sat outside the Starbucks trying to fight back the tears I wanted to both yell at my husband and kick myself for the situation I was in. I felt like I was 5 years old, crying because I didn’t get my way.

I had just spent over 5 hours on a 7am flight from Chicago working on a dialogue for a client on taking full responsibility for yourself. I was feeling good about the work I had done and the core of the messaging: that life isn’t “done to us” and that we should stop believing that the world should be a certain way. 

One hour after landing, I wasn’t able to practice what I teach or preach. That realization alone made it all worse. The narrative had started and was writing itself quickly: If my husband didn’t change our plans, I’d be happier. I wanted to lash out at him, which I did successfully in sarcastic sound bytes dispersed over a three hour time frame, but every time I did I knew it was on me that I was in this pickle. I could have said no. 

As part of my research on taking full responsibility for our choices and sharpening our ability to yes to the right things and no to the wrong things, I found a call of action from the 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership of what it means and doesn’t mean to practice this discipline:

I commit to taking full responsibility for the circumstances of my life, and my physical, emotional, mental and spiritual wellbeing. I commit to support others to take full responsibility for their lives.

The opposite would be: 

I commit to blaming others and myself for what is wrong in the world. I commit to being a victim, villain, or a hero and taking more or less than 100% responsibility.

This was all Paul’s fault. He didn’t consider my needs. He didn’t take time to wonder what a win win would be for both of us. And he is the cause of my misery right now.

I always find it so fascinating that I tell everyone that my biggest hot button is when people play victim.

Pot. Kettle. Black. Mirror Holding. Horror.

I got myself into this pickle. The details don’t matter, but the skinny version is that the plans we had changed and the new plans required us to leave a lot earlier for an appointment to get ahead of traffic and for me to “hang out somewhere” while my husband took a long client call that suddenly came up. All of which I hesitantly said yes to. 

I chose the first flight out of Chicago to San Francisco to be home super early. It would finally give me a whole day to myself after weeks of travel. A day to do what I wanted to do, when I wanted to do it. And biggest thing on my list was taking a long walk on the water to get grounded. It’s my absolute favorite thing to do after I travel. (Can you hear how well I’m building my case?)

So as I landed in SF and was giddy to be home, my husband called and told me that we’re all set for our appointment tonight but that there was a wrench. He had to take a client call which means “we have to leave three hours early for the appointment so I can be there to take the call, otherwise, if I wait to leave until after the call, I won’t make it because of traffic. Would you mind hanging out in San Rafael somewhere while I take the call?”

I am TERRIBLE at putting my needs before others. I knew in my heart that the last thing I wanted to do after just getting home was get in the car again to hang out in another town and kill time. 

I immediately went into accommodation mode, put my plan aside and got worked on Plan B. I started to “make it work.” I could catch up on email, I could get some work done, I could read. I could walk to the Mission in San Rafael, I had always wanted to see it. Yes. All valid, all productive. And all in service of making Paul happy. (Which is noble and a good thing to want to do as a wife, but it’s not as black and white as it always seems.) 

I wouldn’t be doing what I wanted to do or more importantly, needed to do, which was take a long two hour walk by the water to clear my head and get grounded. 

So I said, “sure.” 

 When I got in the car, I sulked the whole way over; reminding myself that I’m the one that said yes. When traffic turned out to be ridiculous and of course, “never like this before” heavy, we had to pull over to hit a Starbucks in a random strip mall. I couldn’t even go with the plan B I talked myself into. 

And, I lost it.

 Tears came to my eyes as I was so frustrated by the situation I put myself in. I was mad and sad. All of which were amplified by fatigue. I was mad at myself. And sad that I chose something I didn’t want to do and then didn’t have the consciousness to accept the choice and go with it.

Why is it so hard to stick to my guns and take care of myself and not compromise my needs for other people’s needs? This has nothing to do with my husband. The world is here to teach me what I need to learn, and in “taking care of self 101” I never seem to pass. 

All the years of meditation practice were put to the test in this moment. I tried to sit with the emotion coming up. But all I noticed at first was how angry I was at Paul and how many justified reasons I had to be mad at him. I started digging into other examples from our past that were remotely close to this situation and was feeling more amped up and better that I had a growing list ready for him when he finished his call.

But I kept sitting with it and behind all that masked anger was tremendous sadness. Sadness that started with disappointment in myself, which is essentially, shame. “I suck at this. I’ll never be able to do this. I know better. And here I am again — doing the last thing I want to do — sitting in a random parking lot — when I could be walking by the water and taking in the ocean air.” And I can’t even accept the choice I made with grace after all these years of practice and teaching. I felt sorry for myself.

And I felt really sad. I was sad that I was there. Literally and metaphorically. Sad that I didn’t have the courage to choose my needs, even if it meant disappointing someone I love. Sad that I didn’t have the courage at that moment to call a Lyft and go home and actually do what I wanted to do.

Why is it so hard for me, and I’m guessing for some others, to put ourselves first? What story do I have that makes this so hard to do? What must it mean to my identity if i do it? What’s at risk if I do it? What am I telling the world if I do it and why don’t I seem to like that message? And why is disappointing someone I love possibly the most difficult thing in the world for me?

 I know when I inquire into this, I have some narratives that say that doing it means I’d be selfish. Non-generous. Non-accommodating or difficult. That taking a decadent two hour walk when I could be supporting my husband isn’t being a good wife. 

I started to feel defensive about why I want what I want. I work hard, I just came from three cities, three time zones, I’ve had little sleep all week. I even made the extra effort to fly to see dad for dinner this week while I was on that side of the country. I’m a good daughter. I’m a good person. I deserve this.

I also wondered if there is as part of me that likes to be a martyr. I started to imagine myself saying to my husband, “Do you see the sacrifices I make for you?” I felt a little sick to my stomach as I wondered about that. Can there be some truth in this? Ugh. And Eew.

The questions keep coming: What do I gain by sacrificing what I really want to accommodate my husband in this case? Am I looking for payback? Am I seeking something from him? Why did I make this choice?

As I sit with this sadness and inquiry, my current conclusion is that I’m just plain old afraid to be true to myself and give myself what I need because I don’t know what it means for me and I’m afraid of the affect on the people around me. No matter how many times my husband tells me, “you have to put yourself first and I support you in doing that” I seem to never believe him. And as long as I avoid it — I can sit in anger or sadness or excuses — and regrettably — stay stuck in the same spot I’m in now.

The fact is that I need to give others a chance to support me too by saying no to some things. If I continue to block that, I’ll know what’s on the other side of it. 

Until I’m brave enough to take these steps, I will never know what’s possible for me and others. My health depends on it. My psyche depends on it. And my Work — with a Capital W — my life’s Work depends on me to to pause regularly, to get and stay centered, and to walk regularly by the water. 

Sacrificing this learning opportunity could mean sacrificing a lot of what I really want in life. 

 So another day, another day in the classroom of life, another day of extra homework, and a realization that I’m in desperate need of a tutor. Time to re-read Daring Greatly by Brene Brown.  


When and Why Do We Shrink in the Presence of Others?

Recently, a client asked me to speak to 100 HR Professionals to talk about being more bold in the workplace. He wanted me to start a conversation about the challenges and opportunities of being a bolder version of ourselves at work.

When I started to prepare for the session I wondered, “what the heck do I know about being bold?” Frankly, I had a hard time thinking of a recent experience where I myself acted boldly.  I started to define what being bold means for me. Is being bold the same as being courageous? More examples of being courageous were popping in my mind than examples of being bold. That caused me to pause.

Courageous: Not deterred by danger or pain, brave.
Bold: showing the ability to take risks; confident and courageous.

The definitions are different. And when I think about being courageous or bold, I think of different experiences and different feelings come up. 

What was I thinking?

What was I thinking?

My earliest memory of being bold (which turned out to be painful curiosity) was when I was in the first grade. Without a lot of thought, I walked up to classroom stapler - the classic kind from the 1970’s with the big round disc on top for leverage – and stuck my finger into the open slot, nail side down on the base, and slammed the stapler down with my other hand. The staple went through my finger, hit the nail bed and closed up on the inside of my finger.

The teacher looked at me horrified. “Why on earth would you do that Tina?” she yelled and rushed me to the nurse. Staring at my finger with grand curiosity, I said, “I wanted to see if it would go through.” Once I realized it did, I was equally horrified and started whaling.

Naïve? Yes. Bold? No.

I started to wonder if being bold requires overcoming a fear.  It could mean knowing you have to say or do something in a future situation and overcoming the fear to do it. It might mean facing a fear so you could “act” in a bold way.  Maybe like sky diving if you’re afraid of heights. Or staying in the room with a spider when you’re terrified. Or asking someone to the turnabout dance that you’ve been secretly in love with for two years. 

I’ve done one of those three things.  I’m not bold or courageous enough to go sky diving or hang out with a spider that could clearly kill me if it decided to leap in the air and land on my arachnophobic face. I was courageous enough to ask my high school crush Nick out to the turnabout dance after weeks of being afraid to do it and for 24 hours experienced the bliss of his “yes” response. But the next day he backed out so he could go with someone WAY more popular than me. (I was truly convinced I was the inspiration for the movie Pretty in Pink.) 

So, I did face a fear in asking out Nick. And for 12 hours owning the courage it took and the result it brought felt great. I faced it - I did it - and I got what I wanted. But Nick wasn’t courageous enough to tell me the truth when I asked and both our attempts and failures at being courageous or bold ended up pretty wonky and I felt worse than I did when all I was doing was facing the fear and idea of asking him out. In the end, I had to deal with the very thing that I was hoping wouldn’t happen. Which was useful learning. I guess.  The “all that can happen is he says no” concept, when you’re 15 years old, is not very helpful. 

After a bit of reflecting, I did come up with action that I took that I would label as truly bold.
When I was 17, my entire family chipped in to help pay for a school trip to France. This was a HUGE surprise and a HUGE deal for me as we didn’t have the money to pay for something like this, which is why I never asked. I never wanted my parents to feel bad that they couldn’t provide that opportunity for me.  But I desperately wanted to go and my French teacher, Mr. Wallace knew it. I lived and breathed everything French back then. It was my favorite class in High School and learning about another culture gave me keys to worlds I never had access to before. Knowing how passionate I was, he unknowingly contacted my parents, not realizing they couldn’t pay for it. But they found a way and in the spring of my junior year I was off to France. It was a life changing experience.

The trip started in the South of France and would end in Paris after our arrival via an overnight train. Every sign, every word, every smell, every taste, was new to me. I was overwhelmed with curiosity and wonder. I could hardly take it all in. I was in a constant state of elation. Mr. Wallace warned us over and over that if we lost our passports, it would be very difficult to get us back into the country and we’d be stuck in France. He trusted us as adults to hang on to our own documents and every day he used the scare tactic to ensure we were glued to our passports.

After days and days of hearing this, it started to sink in. “If we lose our passport, we’re stuck here. And we can’t get back to America.” So, when it was time to leave the hotel to rush to the train station, I walked out of my room, grabbed my passport and quickly threw it in the waste basket. I headed to the train station and got on the train. When Mr. Wallace did an impromptu passport check, I ‘panicked’ and couldn’t find it. He thought I was kidding but realized it was truly not in my possession.

He scurried back to the next car to talk to the other teachers, and I sank in my seat and did everything I could to hold back the smile. I was stuck in France. I was about to be stuck in France. I didn’t have to leave France and I never had to return to the United States.

For me, I’d consider this move not courageous or stupid. It was bold. (Let’s be honest, it was bold with a splash of naïve and stupidity). It was bold because it was not pre-meditated. I wasn’t facing a fear. But I was acting on an impulse that was part of my passion and my purpose: to understand the world in a new way.  I was honoring a deep desire of something very real and authentic for me.  It was a way of listening to my heart.  It was impulsive, no doubt. But it was in service of a much higher purpose. To be more of me. 

I realized in France (unconsciously at the time, consciously years later) that exploring the world and experiencing other cultures was going to be the key for me to understand myself better and to know how to live in the world as an inclusive human being.  This was the beginning of a worldwide tour for me and it hasn’t stopped.  It was the first authentic step - my first bold move - in becoming more of who I already was.

I’m still sitting with the question of what it takes to be bold. Especially at work where we have constraints and hierarchies and norms and mental models that all shape what it means to be bold, and what it doesn’t.

But the question that me and this group will continue to ponder is what it means to be just a little more bold in our roles. Where are we holding back? Where are we playing small? And why? When do we find ourselves shrinking in the presence of others? And what is the source of any resistance to be bold? Is it fear of losing our job? Is it fear of losing approval or being judged? Is it fear of losing security? What type of grounding and confidence does it take, personally, to be more bold? And in the end, what is the incentive for being more bold? Or bold at all? A favorite quote from Derek Sivers is, 

“If more information was all we needed to do something, we’d all be billionaires with killer abs.” 

So the reward for being bold has to be greater than the effort and amount of courage it takes to do it. So the question becomes, what’s at risk if I am more bold? And what do I gain if I show up more boldly? What’s at risk if I don’t act more boldly? What do I lose by not going for it?

I’m grateful for the ask to explore these questions as it made me realize there are opportunities where I can show up more boldly. In my personal relationships, asking for what I need and asking for help are two bold moves that are hard for me. And in my consultancy, continuing to listen to my heart and speak truth to a client, even when I know it may be something he or she doesn’t want to hear or take in. And choosing to do it anyway because it’s servant leadership, serving something bigger than both of us. 

Does being bold resonate with you? Do you feel you’re able to be bold in your role at work? If not, why not? And if yes, what enables you to to do? 



Can We Be Intentional About Bringing Vulnerability Into the Workplace?

Brene Brown's work (Daring Greatly and Shame Research) has resonated with thousands (maybe even millions by now.) What is so inspiring for me is that it's resonating with my clients. VP's of Fortune 50 companies are asking themselves, "how do we allow for more vulnerability at work and ensure that we are building a shame free culture?"

Our bookshelves are stocked with 10 step processes on how to do things at work. But there is no ten step process on how to build a culture that allows for vulnerability. So how do you begin?

Well, the courageous leaders I've had the privilege to work with start with intention. They have a belief and passion for building and fostering a culture that allows people to express vulnerability without shame or judgment.

And after that, they start to talk about it with others. They design intentional conversations with their direct reports about the topic of vulnerability in the workplace. They share stories of their own experience with vulnerability. They are committed to becoming more self aware about their own fears around vulnerability. They are committed to efforts to increase emotional intelligence and self awareness in themselves and all they work with. And they're committed to understanding and eliminating any unconscious behaviors or structures, including performance metrics and appraisal processes, that could instill shame or fear in the workplace.

And then, they keep talking about it. They bring the conversation into town hall meetings. Into off-site meetings. Into coaching conversations. They intentionally design conversations to allow people to share why it's hard to be vulnerable at work. To name the structures and messages that get in the way and can make employees feel shame.

And as they listen; they become more aware of the ways to make more space for vulnerability. And they work at creating more space and removing the obstacles that get in the way.

Ultimately they know that if they foster this kind of culture; it will allow more innovation and creativity to emerge. And yes, they could put a metric or ROI to it. But they don't. They just know it's the right thing to do and are vulnerable enough to lead the charge without a measurement or return.

My experience in working with these leaders and organizations has been career (and life) changing for me. They inspire me to be authentic every day in my own consulting practice and allow me to be "me" when I'm with them. They were by my side when my mother recently died and I broke down in front of them. They were by my side when I got married and transitioned into a new phase of life. And they're right by my side when I share my fears about leaving my 88 year old father for a move across the country; my first move in my entire life.

"A journey of a thousand steps starts with the first." I believe it's possible to create a shame free culture that allows people to be vulnerable and authentic. And all it needs is a seed of genuine intention.