May 24, 2013

Are You Asking the Wrong Questions?

The trap that most of us super-responsible high-achievers fall into is that we get stuck believing that we ought to have prevented something, should be fixing something, must be making up for something, or still have something to prove.

I just spent a week in New York celebrating my daughter’s newly acquired MBA. She’s terrific, & I’m SO proud, and almost the whole family was there. So – my husband & I had lots of practice juggling lots of peoples’ needs, wants, demands, wishes, schedules, restaurant preferences, and taxi fares. And, at the same time that we were celebrating, we also fielded phone calls & texts: an uncle had a stroke, a son had a court date, another son went to the ER, a contractor upped his estimate, a daughter-in-law had a birthday, a mother-in-law continued hospice care, and my housekeeper gave notice. And – I am not kidding – this is all just business as usual in our crazy, frenetic, fantastic, blended, extended family.

It’s a challenge, a huge thrill, an honor, and an occasional burden, to love so many people. I never set out to have 4 children, and yet – here they are! I would not have planned it, but life set out to teach me a lesson that I am still learning: It is a good thing to let your heart feel ‘heartily,’ to let little pieces of it walk around out there among the throngs, to risk hurt and loss and embarrassment, and to get back in return: LIFE. A real, solid, heart-felt, life.

diplomaI used to be much more careful, thoughtful, planful – ummm, maybe a little controlling? I worked hard to get to the top of the career mountain, only to find myself wondering, “Is this the right mountain…for me?” I used to be a parenting expert (oxymoron alert), and I spent a decade trying hard to answer clients’ questions that started with, “How do you get them to _____??” You know – “How do you get them to care about grades?” Or, take a bath? Practice good manners? Not have sex? Pay attention??!? Stay out of trouble? The list is long, and, as long as we are mostly asking questions like this, it’s just too damn hard to love lots of people. Because, really, these are the wrong questions….

Instead, what if we asked these questions: How can I show you what it’s like to love the life you live? What is it that you are meant to grow up to be like – and how can I help you get there? And, of course, you still have to bathe and get your homework done and mind your manners. But these are just the little things. God, how I wish I’d put the little things where they belonged, back when my kids were little….

But, to be clear: I wish this, not because I made bad mistakes (I would have made other, different mistakes, undoubtedly), and not because I should have focused my efforts on different things (I’m pretty convinced that, sooner or later, my kids were going to be who they were going to be…). I wish I’d worried less and relaxed more because that would have been more fun.

Life throws us curve after unexpected curve, and some of it hurts, and some of it is glorious. The trap that most of us super-responsible high-achievers fall into is that we get stuck believing that we ought to have prevented something, should be fixing something, must be making up for something, or still have something to prove. That trap is your belief system, and it can make you sick, nutty, sad, or anxious. If you’re trapped believing all of your should’s, then you’re missing out on the splendid fun of a full, heart-felt life. String your should’s and ought-to’s together, and you’re telling the story of your life.

Think about the stories that you tell yourself about who you are, about why you do what you do, and what your future holds. My story could have been a sad one: divorce, struggle, loss, cancer, remorse. Instead, my story that I tell myself weaves themes of loss with those of strength, resilience, treasure, magic, and possibility. Your story could be one that makes your heart sing, instead of sink. If you want to change your story, I’d love to hear about it.

Start now: As you go through your day, pay attention to how you talk yourself through your day. You are the hero of your life, so talk to yourself as you would to someone whom you love, admire, respect, and expect to be great. And, let the little things go; let them stay little. And, have some fun!