A while ago, my friend Jason asked on Instagram for our biggest life lessons. “I’ll need a write a book,” I said. “Write it, I’ll read it,” he said.
I joked about the effort it’ll take, but I started thinking about what the life lesson would be, after falling so many times. I thought about being kind, being patient, being brave, and even my philosophy about knowing our needs and wants – but that’s a mere (and simple) ideology, not so much a lesson.
Lessons, I believe, stick best when they cost. They truly stick when it cost you a lot, although unfortunately, monetary cost is not usually quite as effective as emotional or other means of personal cost. Sometimes, we are lucky enough to learn from another person’s experience. It may not have cost us, but it is likely to have cost that person quite a bit for our complacent selves to take notice.
So, when I think about the things that have costed me, it’s the emotional turmoil that sears itself into my memory. I remember long moments of heartbreak, frustration, anger, feeling stuck and helpless, and anxiety.
The life lesson. One.
It came down to this: taking a step back. Zooming out to see the bigger picture. I thought it was about letting go, but it’s not. Letting go cannot be the answer to everything. There are things you cannot and should not let go of, like your integrity, love, and your right to what you are entitled to if you truly believe in it. In most, if not all of my painful falls, the common thread was that I lacked peripheral vision. I was so focused on the issue at hand, may it be a petty bicker with loved ones or an actual problem at work, that I forgot to take a step back to evaluate how much it even mattered.
There is only a point in taking a step back to see the bigger picture if you are also willing to consider what response would be appropriate. Because of my personality, I tend to fight harder than I need to. But I know for many, and even myself at times, I failed to fight as hard as I should have for something was really worth it.
If you are like me, your challenge is most likely in pride and managing the feeling of anger and frustration which tend to give us tunnel vision in a conflict. We become wrapped up in the “principle” or “integrity” or whatever we like to call it and forget to evaluate whether this fixation is worth it when all things are considered. This is not to say that we should become spineless doormats, but that we can probably benefit from reframing our response in terms of intensity, word choice, willingness to truly hear the other person, and ultimately, how big of a deal we choose to make this.
When we are able to zoom out and evaluate, I believe we are much better equipped to choose an appropriate response. We may still chemically be angry or frustrated, but we’ll know the emotion for what it is in view of what the bigger picture looks like. From here, you figure out your needs and wants, which we’ll talk about in another post, but in this starting point, having zoomed out, is where you make a decision on what you are going to focus on when you confront this person (or not?), how intense you need to be when you are communicating your frustration/hurt, and whether this is a one-way or two-way (usually the better option) conversation.
So this is what I think is the biggest life lesson I’ve learned so far. What’s yours? Comment or email me to let me know.