Whose Life Are You Living Anyway
I have known for long time that I tend to make choices based on what other people want or think versus what I want or think. I am a pleaser, what the professionals call, a “co-dependent” or what Oprah Magazine’s, Dr. Martha Beck refers to as an “Approval Whore.” I mean once I was even too afraid to return a raincoat because I was scared of dealing with the sales person’s disapproval. I know crazy, right? I have convinced myself that if I don’t do what you want—I won’t survive. Yes, I am fairly dramatic.
Who knows why I am the way I am. My father was an Army Colonel. I learned early on to do what I was told in order to survive. What was valued was achievement, usually based off of someone else’s (my dad’s) yardstick.
Yet, I am adult now, long past blaming or trying to change my father. It’s just me. I am the one who stayed in an engineering job at Boeing for seven years even though I was miserable. I am the one who chose to go back to college and get an MBA because my aunt suggested it was a marketable degree, when what I really wanted was to get a Master’s in Writing. And finally, I am the one who stayed in a 10-year relationship four years longer than I should have because I was afraid of the reaction if I were to break up. Something about that doesn’t seem right.
As a pleaser I was sacrificing what I really wanted in order to “please” someone else, someone who may not have even wanted me to do what I was doing. As a result, life seemed like a long, joyless chore to slog through. I had very little energy to do much else.
As a life coach, I work with clients in the similar situations.
Cindy has had the same social services job for five years and is miserable. While she loves helping kids, she works for a boss who rarely shows up and in an organization that really doesn’t do what it promotes. She feels depressed, drinking with the girls to cope, staying because she doesn’t want to disappoint anyone.
Patty has been a long-term relationship with a charismatic author with mood swings. She fell in love because of that charisma but is now stuck doing all the detail labor of editing and bookkeeping to support his craft, while she starves her own creative desires.
Each of these clients is suffering silently in order to please someone else or merely to survive. They are each coping the best way they know how, but are not living a full life. In fact, they are both unhappy, tired and feel trapped. So how do they change?
Step One: Make Your Unhappiness Matter
This may seem silly. Of course, people know when they are unhappy. Most of us, however, have become resigned to live with it. We work around it, numb out through drinking, exercising or eating chocolate (my favorite). We believe we have no choice, that this is what life is supposed to be like.
Step One is about turning up the heat on what you do not like so that you feel it, making it matter, motivating yourself to do something about it. However, sometimes clients don’t know exactly what is wrong. They just know something isn’t right.
There are tools to help turn up the heat on your misery. Meditation is often suggested for people in this place, but I sucked at meditating. What worked for me is what Julia Cameron, in the Artist Way, calls Morning Pages. This simple tool begins with sitting down the first thing each morning and writing three pages of stream of consciousness writing before you start your day. The page becomes a safe place to complain, whine and express everything that isn’t working for you in your life. After doing this for a couple of weeks, things that aren’t working become pretty loud and hard to ignore. Simply giving yourself permission to acknowledge to yourself how you really feel is a powerful first step.
My clients both moved forward through regular use of the morning pages. Cindy admitted she doesn’t respect her boss and the way the organization is run. Patty acknowledged that she’s tired of doing husband’s grunt work. Once you are clear about what is wrong, what’s next?
Step Two: Dream & Experiment
Once you have acknowledged to yourself what isn’t working, Step Two is to begin dreaming of what you would like. The Morning Pages can work for this step as well. I call it Scripting, which is the act of daydreaming and writing down on the page what your perfect life would look like. What do you really want to do, to be or to have? This exercise can be quite uplifting as long as you don’t think about how you are going to make the end result happen. Give yourself permission to simply dream.
Then, without trying to make your dream happen, simply take a tiny step in that direction. When I started this exercise, my favorite scripts always included writing for Oprah Magazine. Fifteen years later I am writing for 406. The next step, Oprah!!
When my clients began the Dreaming & Experimenting step, Cindy realized she always wanted to be a teacher. To experiment with this desire, she decided to teach a class at what she was naturally good at—a “How-To” class in basic web design. This way she was “trying on” teaching in an area she knew a lot about. Patty realized that it had been years since she had done her photography. She decided to pull out her camera and take an afternoon in the rose garden to simply shoot.
On the surface these don’t seem like life changing acts, but anytime we take a step in the direction of our heart’s desires—our life is altered.
Step Three: Speak Up and Take Another Step
This sounds like a basic idea, but for pleaser speaking up may seem like climbing Mt. Everest. Pleasers, like myself, are terrified of the other person’s reaction, disappointing them, their anger. The main obstacle in speaking up is dealing with the other person’s reaction without taking it all back. In order to access courage, the question is: Who’s life are you living anyway?
When speaking up, most folks get themselves into trouble by making it about someone else. “You never let me (fill in the blank).” Really? You are an adult. Not too many people make you do anything. You have a choice. The key to speaking up is speaking about yourself, using “I” statements. “I am unhappy doing the grunt work for your career. I want to express my own creativity.”
So I bet you are wondering how the gals did on this one. Cindy signed up for a certificate teaching program at the local community college. She knew it would be a couple of years, but she was so thrilled to be moving forward in her life. Her job became easier because, with greater confidence in herself, she started speaking up when she disagreed with the boss. Not everything went her way, but Cindy is happier.
Patty had a heart-to-heart with her husband and said, “While I love your writing and want you to be successful, I am miserable doing the grunt work. I want to do something that supports my own creativity. So I am firing myself from this job, and I am going to look for a job that fits me better. I want to be happy.” Two weeks later Patty was working for the local photography shop in her city.
As for me, I quit my job and left my relationship. I wound up meeting someone that I am still with. We started our own company together and moved to Montana. I took up acting and will be in my in my fourth play this August with Stumptown Players in Whitefish, and I have finally gotten around to doing that writing I wanted oh so long ago.
CrisMarie Campbell and Susan Clarke are Master certified life coaches, business consultants, speakers and authors of The Beauty of Conflict. They believe real relationships are the key to creating great business results. They’ll take your team from mediocre to great.
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