I have this thing that I do sometimes where I become frustrated, impatient and even slightly aggressive in situations where I'm working with people to manage complex problems and navigate complex, protracted, big-picture strategies. These fluid, ethereal situations are never easy to navigate. Basically, I want to yell out: "Why can't we all just move forward with this idea which we all think is great and that we all seem to want, even though the path forward doesn't necessarily please 100% of everyone at the table, and we all understand that nothing can ever please everyone all of the time in every way...so, c'mon now - 76% consensus is still a B+! So let's do this already!!"
What I have realised is that, quite often, these feelings of frustration and impatience are a result of my childhood wounding of not having felt free to determine and follow my own intentions and purposes. I never felt safe enough to freely develop into the person I know I am and to pursue the things that are important to me. So now, whenever my limbic brain sees a situation which threatens what I feel I want or people stand in the way of something I believe in, these emotions are triggered. You see, I grew up in a structured and fairly rigid environment - piano lessons, homework, skating lessons, hockey, Greek school, chores, homework, school, homework, homework, "work is number 1", "do this & never that", "trust me - I know best", "if you do this, you'll regret it later...". It was an environment with lots of guilt, shame, judgement, anger, people pleasing, and a few other unhealthy things thrown in for good measure. It's a familiar story. (Let's be clear - I have no regrets about how my childhood played out, and I recognise that many of the opportunities that my parents afforded me were not available to everyone, and I'm very grateful for everything in my life, both positive or negative. But I'm focusing here on the impact on me of the emotions that this style of parenting produced). Many of the decisions and beliefs which I adopted out of shame or fear didn't match with what I intuitively felt was right for me, to my "true" self; from small things like "I don't want you hanging out with David..." to bigger decisions like what life & career paths to go down, etc. I wasn't an automaton, and it wasn't like my parents were necessarily authoritarian. But the internalising of this shame, fear and guilt cemented certain neural pathways in my limbic brain. As a result, I made many decisions out of fear, judgement, shame or guilt. I still do.
So today, in complex, big-picture, head-heavy, strategic thinking situations where I am working to coalesce a multiplicity of perspectives to achieve consensus on an issue (which sums up situations many lawyers encounter - more to the point, this is essentially just navigating life), these emotions are sometimes triggered: the conversation does not always move as quickly as I would want, or in the direction I would like it to, or people don't react as I'd want them to or think they should, or the consensus isn't what I think it should be. This is all, of course, usually 100% normal given the nature of the situation. And yet, all the while, I'm growing impatient and my ego is screaming:
"Folks, let me just do what I want here. I have your best interests at heart - I truly do. I have a vision for how this works. I see the path forward. Trust me. I got this. Let's just get it done, and move on to the next issue, because there's more to do!".
Though I am an introvert at heart and thus do not directly express these emotions to other people all of the time, I still feel them, and in that way they cloud my judgement, block my empathy and stifle my creativity. Ultimately, this is to the detriment of the interests of my colleagues or clients.
But as I've started to identify the source of these emotions, I am actively trying to bring a mindful approach to dealing with them. Through practising mindfulness, I am learning to observe my emotions instead of acting on them or projecting them onto others; when I take a step back from how I am feeling, I can see that how I feel is usually unrelated to the situation or what people are doing. The result is that I feel more agreeable to work with others to solve problems, and I am able to manage people with empathy; my mind is more free to practise active listening and compassion. Of course, it's still a process of constant evolution, as these things always are - I've got to put in my own work around these emotions. But at least now that I have recognised my own wounding, I can strive to project empathy, understanding and conciliation in negotiating solutions, and not project my emotions. It has helped me understand difficult situations in a more nuanced way, and this offers a better opportunity to find creative solutions which also value interpersonal relationships. And I find this helpful, and I would hope that so do my colleagues, clients, and friends. Because, hey - complex, big-picture, head-heavy, strategic thinking stuff is not just business or the law - this is life.
*Photo by Alan Rotgers. Used with permission in accordance with Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/ and https://www.flickr.com/photos/122662432@N04/13740073235