I attended a course recently where one of the central tenets we were asked to hold was, “People are naturally creative, resourceful, and whole.” That may seem benign enough to you, but as I sat with the invitation to believe this – really believe it – I realized it was staggeringly hard for me to do. You see, I struggle with a longstanding habit of what might charitably be termed hyperresponsibility, or less charitably, control-freak tendencies.
That habit (which I’ve been working on breaking for some time now, with fair-to-middling success) stems from insecurity, of course – and one of the ways it manifests is in a belief that people need my help.
Well, people don’t need my help, of course. The world does manage to turn without me. And yet I’ve spent countless days of my life fretting about what I need to do in order to manage things, to control chaos, or to make people feel better.
Of course, I could see I was projecting stuff onto other people, trying to control what was not mine to control. But what was I projecting? It has taken me years to see it.
Not only have I not believed that people were naturally creative, resourceful, and whole; I haven’t believed I was naturally creative, resourceful, and whole.
So long as I saw other people as having problems I needed to solve, I could ignore my shame about being flawed myself. I could distract myself with the comparison game – ooh, look, his problems are bigger than mine, so why don’t I just go and help fix him? I could boost my ego by convincing myself I was serving other people and therefore a good, selfless person. (I grew up with a bit of a black-and-white perspective on selflessness (yay, martyrdom!) and selfishness (boo, anything else!) that has definitely not served me well.)
It also meant that I have tended to look outside myself for solutions to my own challenges.
The irony that I have spent the last fifteen years of my life as a consultant, i.e. trying to fix other people’s problems for a living, does not escape me.
This is a multi-generational problem. I’ve been on the receiving end of the same things I’ve projected onto other people. It’s not fun. I haven’t enjoyed it. But still, the habit persisted. Despite therapy, coaching, deep, empathetic talks with wonderful friends and partners.
And then, when I least expect it – I walk into a nondescript meeting room in a nondescript downtown hotel, nod hello to a bunch of strangers, and within minutes, am confronted with this humongous reality check. We believe that people are naturally creative, resourceful, and whole. Thud. Right in the gut.
Can I believe that? Moreover: What if I can’t? What does the world look like if I don’t believe it?
(Answer: Pretty frigging dark. A world full of walking-wounded people, unable to heal themselves? Yikes. Sounds like the zombie apocalypse is already here.)
OK, so… if I would like to believe it, I’d better start acting like I do.
I spent three days in the class trying my damnedest to believe that my colleagues were capable of solving their own problems – not a huge stretch, as it turns out, since they’re a wonderful bunch. And something amazing happened. They’d share something they wanted to shift in their lives. I’d listen, ask questions, and most importantly, refrain from offering solutions. And you know what happened?
They came up with far better solutions than I ever could. Solutions that came from within, and spoke to their unique personalities and circumstances. Solutions that I believed would work for them, and that they would actually implement, and that would make their lives better.
My ego was crushed – but the rest of me marveled at what I had witnessed. I’m still reeling, and savouring the experience.
This isn’t a neatly-tied-up-in-a-bow story. It’s in progress. It’s also not intended as a poor-me story (Alas! I never believed I was good enough!), though I recognize it may read that way. I’m sharing it because:
1. I want to stop this crazy freight train of a belief system, and I hear that public pledges are good for that sort of thing.
And 2. I suspect I’m not alone in having this old, habitual belief.
Oh, and also 3. I’ve seen how shifting one’s mindset can transform not just individuals, but groups. And I would love to see what might happen in our communities if we could hold each other’s natural creativity, resourcefulness, and wholeness sacred.
Could be huge. Could be good. Let’s find out.