Strength, Courage and Wisdom
This is my site Written by Alora on March 30, 2009 – 9:27 pm

Weight LifterIt’s probably a weird thing for a vocal atheist to quote, but there is something about the famous prayer that has been resonating with me more and more lately. Well, maybe not the “God” part of it, but the recognition part.

Grant me strength to accept the things that I can’t change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.

Since 2003, I have been working really, really hard on changing the things I can change. Everything from my work-over-life habits, to my physical health, to my determination to stay in my hometown because it was too easy to bother doing anything else. “Change” has been my mantra.

But it’s also been my addiction, and this gets me to where I am now. I got in the habit of changing things just because I could. I was enjoying the novelty of that, and was finding it invigorating. I still do a lot of times. But, now I have a husband who likes things to be a bit more stable than that, and I have realized that — much as I like to think otherwise — there are some things that I haven’t really changed, no matter how much window dressing I put up to try to make things look different.

This is particularly true in some of the most frustrating areas of my professional life. In the past, I have been notorious for being passionate, a bit volatile (a “bit”! Ha!), inclined towards taking things personally, having no boundaries, etc. Since late 2003 I have been working on all of those things, and some of them have been harder than others. But there is one area that no matter how much effort I put into it, my internal needle doesn’t seem willing to budge. And that is my ability to fake how I feel about something.

One of my strengths is that, when I feel strongly about something, I am a force of nature. My commitment level is unparalleled, my ability to motivate anyone is unmatched, and my energy level is uncontainable. My husband, my former bosses and co-workers and my friends all tend to enjoy seeing me this way, because my energy and enthusiasm is contagious, and they all have found themselves swept up in my tidal wave of excitement.

Of course, it is the other side of that coin that tends to be a problem. When I am unhappy in a given situation, I have a near impossible time containing it. I really try, but I could never be an actress, because the one thing I can’t do convincingly is fake emotion on demand. And the more unhappy I get, the less I can contain it. This gets me into huge, huge amounts of trouble. It has caused me to leave jobs, even when it was not necessarily in my long-term best interest. It has caused me to burn bridges I didn’t necessarily need to burn.

But, because it is something that I have been adamant I need to control, I have spent years trying to convince myself that it is only a sheer force of will that stands between my normal patterns and new ones. And now I’m not so sure.

I look around me at the people who make awesome consultants. They are people who can fake interest and enthusiasm so well they deserve an Oscar. Because I have spent years wanting to be a consultant, I have tried convincing myself that I was capable of that, too. But the more time goes one, the less convinced I am of that.

I have some dear people in my life — husband, mentor, friends, father — who have ridiculously challenged relationships with time. And no amount of effort fundamentally changes that. So the shift moves from CHANGING it, to MANAGING it.

I think this is where I am when it comes to my ability to fake my emotions. After years of trying to convince myself I could CHANGE this about myself, I think I have now arrived at the conclusion that the best I can hope to do is to MANAGE it, instead.

So what does this mean? First and foremost, this means that I start listening to my gut and not trying to convince myself that, by sheer force of will, my brain will be able to over-ride all of my emotional reactions. When I feel that familiar feeling that I am setting myself up for a disaster by trying to force a situation that fundamentally makes me unhappy, I need to stop and GET OFF the bus. For years I have continued to let myself be boxed in tighter and tighter, and then eventually, I end up exploding. And when that happens, I make a bigger mess than I ever needed to.

If I had walked away when I first noticed the signs, an amicable parting has always been possible. It’s only waiting too long, until tempers are running hot and patience is running out, that things become unsalvagable.

So, now I find myself in a strange position: because, like I’ve written before, I don’t like to quit, am I being a quitter by accepting that I may not be able to change this about myself, and focusing instead on management? Or am I being a pragmatist who is owning her short-comings and recognizing that some things really aren’t ever going to change?

Probably a little bit of both. I know I’m not going to give up and just universally accept that just because it’s hard that I can’t change something; but I also need to recognize that some things just need to be managed, and deluding myself into thinking that I can bulldoze my way through something is arrogant and impractical — and tends to make life more complicated than it needs to be.

So, for now I focus on management. And, the truth is, when there is something that I get truly excited about, my inability to fake my emotions serves me very well. And I’d be afraid that changing one side of that coin could have an adverse impact on the other, too.