My natural tendency, if unchecked, is to be a bit of a Pollyanna when it comes to the people I meet.
I will assume good intentions, and I generally like people unless I am given a very good reason not to. Even then, I tend to give them the benefit of a doubt— sometimes for much longer than I should.
It’s enough to make me long for the old Western movies my father loved, where you could tell who the good guys were by the color of their hats!
It’s the natural result of my upbringing, my time in the military and the aerospace industry, and my general nature. We were good scouts, dedicated employees and parents— sworn to do good at every turn— especially when the going got tough. For many years, we were a band of brothers united in defense of our country— something many of us carried forward from active duty into our aerospace contract work.
To this day I still really want everyone to be acting based solely on kind intent. That’s how I was raised. That’s how my closest friends are.
It’s a good way to live and work. You sleep well at night.
…until you bump into an opportunist, or two, or three!
… and even then, you still sleep well, working with the situation as it is (blinders off) from a position of personal integrity.
I have known many smiling saboteurs in the jobs I have held and in other areas of my life— “friends” and work colleagues who seemed to always be bursting my bubble with an “I told you so.” I have to admit that for many years I never saw it coming. Worse yet— sometimes I even believed them!
I’d quickly fold if it wasn’t an issue of immediate importance or, in areas of profound disagreement, I’d lay my cards on the table in open forums or with “the boss” and be really surprised to learn that my counterpart was less a colleague with shared interests than a ruthless opponent intent on having me removed from the game all together!
When the ace was suddenly removed from my colleague’s sleeve and played at my expense I was always amazed, and a little hurt. (Okay, more than a little.)
The classic watchman’s question, “Who goes there? Friend or foe?” is one we should ask often— perhaps every day.
This is especially true for anyone who is changing his or her game.
Many people who like you when you are struggling, or doing well in a job that just “isn’t you,” will change their tune when you start to achieve some modest success in a different field, or when you make personal choices that differ from what they would do in your situation.
One of my best friends over the last 25 years put it this way, “The people in your life will be like a deck of cards. Some of your treasured aces will fall on the floor and that’s okay. In the meantime, those twos you were holding— they can turn out to be aces and you might not have ever realized it before.”
She is a wise woman!
Allowing those who are not meant to stay in your life or your business to go away (without contempt from you) is hard, but necessary.
Otherwise you lose valuable time spinning your wheels over what happened and how it could/should have been different. If you are in business for yourself, or have a high power job, especially if it involves creativity, you simply can’t afford the time lost. The opportunity cost, what you are NOT doing because you are busy being upset, is simply too high.
Once you let go of those who have moved on, or assisted them in moving on for your own sake, it’s time for gratitude.
Whew! I sure am glad that I am free of that ugliness. Now let’s take stock!
Celebrate the aces you’ve kept!
Notice the former twos who have taken off their masks and proven to be the “real aces.” Then, and only then, can you assess the relationships you aren’t quite sure about and decide what to do about them. Here is a chart offering five telltale signs, from my own experience. They can offer helpful insights to sum up your situation, but only if you first examine your own behaviors and perceptions.
Take out your own garbage first!
I can't stress this enough.
If you look at yourself first, it becomes easier to empathize with those who are, like you, in the process of growing and changing. Perhaps you were a two once upon a time— most of us have been at some point, myself included. Even once we have grown substantially, we can unwittingly backslide (ugh!). That doesn’t mean you can’t become an ace if you want to, and the same goes for those whom you no longer count among your inner circle at this point in time.
These lessons are gleaned from many years of experience in multiple settings, both professional and personal, not from any one situation in particular.
The yoga sutras remind us that By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard toward the wicked, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness. I love this passage. It reminds us not to waste our energy on those whose intent is mean-spirited, while sharing freely with the openhearted regardless of their circumstances.
So what about you?
Can you spot the saboteurs in your world?
How much power do you give them?
Isn't it time you quit letting difficult people rent space in your head?
...After all, that's valuable real estate! You could be growing something amazing in that space instead!
This blog posting was originally published on 8 November 2015 as part of the Management on the Mat blog.
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 I love what Brenée Brown says about sharing. She says to stick with those who have earned the right to hear your story. This is a great way to protect yourself from being unwittingly pulled into an uneven sharing where you blindly bear your soul to someone who looks upon you with silent (or not so silent) contempt. (Brown, Brene. 2012. Daring Greatly, Gothan Books. New York, NY: Penguin Group.)