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.