You can use all of the right words.
You can use “I” statements.
You can have the gentlest tone of voice.
But–if you are judging people–they can feel it.
Let’s not kid ourselves. Let’s stop pretending that other people “can’t tell.” Of course they can tell. Even people you might think are stupid or not paying attention–they can tell.
“But Kate, everyone judges. It’s what people do.”
Roger that. But not everyone is self-righteous about it. Not everyone thinks that their take on life should be everyone else’s. There’s assessing a perspective to see if it aligns with your world-view, and then there’s “I’m going to say things in just a certain way to let you know what I really think you should be doing, all while pretending to be supportive or objective.”
Tres manipulative, non?
People who self-righteously judge keep wondering why they aren’t closer to the people in their lives, why there’s a subtle distance that they can’t quite put their finger on between themselves and other people, why someone doesn’t trust them enough to come to them as a close confidante.
Since it can be hard for others to pinpoint as well, someone who self-righteously judges others might not realize that the judgments that they hold about others, no matter how slight they might say they are, keep everyone at arm’s length.
Even if they think that they hide it well, or have arrived at a place where everyone can agree to disagree, if they carry judgments about how others do it wrong or should do it differently or could have made a smarter, more intelligent choice, other people are going to feel that.
Other people are going to feel it, and they don’t like it.
How I Know This
This is difficult for me to share: I’ve been “that person.”
I’ve been the one who, after a friend told me a course of action, said, “But are you sure that’s really a better choice than [insert what I think the better choice is]?” in neutral tones, keeping my face blank (as if facial expression and tone would be enough to mask what I was thinking: she should do XYZ!).
I know. I shake my head at that. How manipulative. How ego-driven. And to think–I thought I was being helpful, trying to keep a friend from making a mistake!
Compassion time: I was trying to be helpful. This all arose from lack; from feeling that I wasn’t enough just as I was.
I thought that I had to be the brilliant, intelligent, articulate one. I was more interested in getting the credit for helping someone arrive at a brilliant realization than I was in simply being with them, so that they would know they were not alone.
I used to rationalize it as “tough love.” Sometimes I chalked it up to simply having a “straightforward” personality and as a defense, I thought that if other people couldn’t take it, they weren’t true friends.
When enough relationships crashed and burned, I realized that it was time to change. It took me years to figure out. I didn’t even fully see the pattern at work until I started life coaching training, and realized: Oh, heya, look at that. Clients aren’t actually best helped when you try to save them from their suffering.
Since everyone suffers, they’re best helped when they know that they’re not alone.
It’s a very sane act to meet people where they are, without trying in any way to impose our unsolicited opinions (no matter how well-intentioned).
I’ve learned that trying to subtly judge someone into my point of view might “work,” but never in the way I really wanted it to.
What happens? This sort of behavior leaves people feeling like disagreeing with you means they’ll be viewed as less intelligent, less savvy. This is not a feeling that inspires intimacy and connection. More than likely, what will shout louder than anything that you say is something that the recipient feels: This person is judging me.
This isn’t to say that you should agree with everything, nor that you should never speak up. I’m not talking extremes. If someone is being hurt or abused, please–speak up. I’m speaking now to those little, daily pinpricks.
You know what I mean. The little undertones, here and there. The subtle comments. It’s “Mean Girls syndrome” transplanted from the brains of catty 13-year-olds to actual adults, and it needs to stop. I needed to stop.
Really, we all just want to know that we are loved, and that we are okay, and that we are not alone.
At the end of the day, I don’t want to be around the people with the brilliant insights, if it means that when I have a difference of opinion, I’m going to be judged for it (all while they pretend otherwise, wanting me to go along with the charade. Puh-leeze).
We want to be around the people who cultivate safety and trust by letting us know that who we are is enough, for them. That’s who I endeavor to be in my life, today.
Let’s try to be that, for each other.
I met up with Sharon* after having not hung out for a year. She lived in San Francisco, and I had moved up to wine country, and we were finally making our schedules work despite living miles apart. The cafe was abuzz with clicking laptop keys, babies on laps, and hipster baristas steaming espressos. The air smelled deliciously of coffee and fresh baked goods.
“So what’s new?” I asked. “Tell me everything.”
Sharon had finally left her job working for a high-profile magazine. Whenever we’d talked about about her job in the past year, she’d told me what she didn’t like–her boss, her co-workers, the work itself. She’d thought that it would be exciting, especially given the name on the marquee, but the work had been mindless and repetitive, the magazine just one of many owned by a conglomerate that cared more about selling ad space than about publishing great writing.
“I don’t know what happened,” she said. “I guess things just had to reach a tipping point for me to get frustrated enough, to leave. Once I decided to leave? Done. I was out of there in a week. I wish that I had left, sooner.”
Thinking about our conversation later, I couldn’t help but notice that this is one of the few upsides to dissatisfaction: you really get a pretty low tolerance for taking shit or settling for circumstances that are less than ideal.
Usually, dissatisfaction is seen as a bad thing, and I’d agree that being chronically dissatisfied points to a general pessimism in one’s approach to life. That’s probably not too healthy.
But dissatisfaction also points to something else: a willingness to feel.
The Willingness to Feel
I’ve felt straight-jacketed by every 9-5 job that I’ve had. I think that that’s why I’ve had so few of them in my lifetime, and why I haven’t had a standard 9-5 job for the past decade.
I don’t mean that 9-5 jobs just “haven’t been my favorite.” I don’t mean that I’ve just kinda-sorta not liked some, but others have been okay.
I mean that I’ve felt fidgety agitation walking in the door, which took all of my energy to contain in service to remaining “professional.” I’ve spent entire days smiling and handing things to people while inwardly, I seethed, I boiled, I wanted to claw at the walls to get the hell out of there.
My energy dipped wildly while within the confines of a cubicle, then spiked as soon as the elevator doors closed to take me to the lobby and out the front door at the end of each workday.
There’s something more to Sharon’s story, something that might get easily missed if all someone was focusing on was her courage to leave the job.
Sharon had the courage to FEEL.
It was when her frustration–her dissatisfaction–built up to a point where it couldn’t be ignored, that taking action was no longer a matter of strategy for how she’d leave. The circumstances of her employment were slowly suffocating her. She hadn’t left before, because she’d numbed out to her feelings just to make it through each day.
I understand why people clamp down on their willingness to feel. When you loathe what you do for eight hours a day, yet you think you have no other options if you want to pay your bills, it makes sense that one would say, “Look, I can’t survive this if I don’t dull these feelings. It would be intolerable for me to keep showing up here, and feel everything that I feel.”
This is also why, I think, so few people meditate. On the cushion and in the quiet, feelings will come up. Especially at first, they’ll be highly agitating and inconvenient.
Yet I also see how it was an intolerance to the 9-5 cubicle that pushed me to search for anything that would give me more flexibility in my schedule, to do whatever it takes to make that happen, so that I could build my current career.
In the great grand scheme of life, what I’ve been willing to sacrifice to make my dreams happen is nothing compared to what so many other people go through. I don’t pretend that I’ve experienced the kind of serious, “life on the line with no other options” poverty that so many face on a daily basis, and I’ve never denied the various invisible forces at work in a society that gave me, a white chick with some smarts, extra advantages and privileges that I might not even be aware of.
I will say that even with those benefits, it was still hard, and it was still scary to continue to make choices that would point me towards living the life that I’m living, today.
One of the reasons that I kept making those choices towards what I really desired was that I never clamped down on my capacity to FEEL.
My dissatisfaction felt so prevalent, that where other people see the fear of the unknown as intolerable, I see sitting with that dissatisfaction, day after day after monotonous day, as intolerable.
On the flip-side, staying open to my capacity to feel meant that when my schedule was free and I could devote myself whole-heartedly to the things that lit me up, I was blown wide open. Being tapped into the wild love of writing, I could get pretty productive with it.
Embracing All of It
So here we are, with another lesson on embracing ALL of it. Just as I invite you to stop trying to arrange your life so that you’re never afraid, I invite you to stop rigidly shutting down your dissatisfaction.
It’s always hard when we’re scared shitless and the only thing we’re grasping on to, is a dream.
But you know, it’s always worth it. If you know that there are things in your life that you’d like to shift, and you’ve wondered what it’s going to take to get them to move, consider examining where you might have shut down your feelings just to survive the day-to-day. It might be that you’ve been like Sharon, settling for something you don’t like year after year, promising yourself things are going to change and then never changing–because you haven’t let yourself truly connect to how much you really, truly dislike what’s happening and thus, how much you really and truly want things to change.
Dissatisfaction, unleashed, can be scary, but it has a lot to teach you.
“Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, then you aren’t.” –Margaret Thatcher
This quote has been making the rounds on social media, always accompanied by someone saying, “Damn straight!” or the like.
Yet I couldn’t disagree, more. No, I want to tell them. No. Assert that you are, in fact, powerful!
We live in a world where people, and especially women, can feel powerless. It shows up in the way we externalize happiness, thinking that things or positive public opinion will give us a sense of love and security. It shows up in the way that we numb out to our feelings, disconnecting from ourselves or each other, instead of harnessing these resources for their power.
The major work of self-realization is to fully recognize, own, and act from one’s sense of personal power.
What Power Isn’t
Sometimes we equate negative characteristics with power, thinking that it’s about domination, someone else losing or missing out, or a fundamental inequality. This is an out-dated notion of power.
Power is collaboration, interdependence, and everyone showing up to bring their particular, individual gifts.
Translation: to be a powerful society, and create a powerful world, we need YOU. We need you to own your powerful gifts, and show up to take part by playing your unique part.
Some people criticize personal growth as being narcissistic and navel-gazing. I’m sure that for some people, it can be, but in my own life and in my coaching practice, I’m always acutely aware of how helping people to recognize, own, and act from their own personal power is not about benefitting the individual. It’s for the good of the collective whole.
The clients that I’ve worked with have never finished our time together and sat back to say, “Ah, yes, my life is better. Too bad for those other poor schmucks.”
No. They’re owning their power, expanding their own sense of love and connection with themselves, and that becomes a greater capacity with their families. It becomes doing amazing work at their jobs or writing books that can change people’s lives. They’re cutting the drama from their lives so that they can be more effective in their day-to-day, which means that they are also more loving, open, and generous.
A fearful society is not a powerful society. The work of making courageous habits the back bone of your life is never going to be solely about you.
And about this business of “being a lady.”
Talk about antiquated notions about which I could care less- “being a lady,” which I associate with being overtly-passive, soft-spoken as repression as opposed to a natural communication style, sexually inhibited due to fear of societal repercussions, gracious and accommodating to the point of unhealthy people-pleasing, and uncomfortable undergarments–let’s just move past that.
There is no more power in “being a lady” than there is in “being a good little girl.”
There is immense potential for your own life and for the lives of others when you recognize that you are, in fact, powerful.
Declare your power.
You are not somehow more powerful just because you don’t declare it.
I’d like to see more people declaring that they are powerful. If it makes you uncomfortable to think of doing that, of stating something as simple as “I’m a powerful person,” then I’d invite you to think about why that is.
I’m guessing that few people would have trouble with saying, “I’m a kind person” or “I’m a loving person.”
Why not also recognize, own, and declare that you are powerful?
Owning and declaring your own power actually models for others, especially other young women who are looking to you for an example, what’s possible.
We face a lot of problems in this world. Violence, human-trafficking, economic disparity, and environmental crises aren’t going to be helped by a group of people who feel powerless. If this same group of people trying to help with these challenges is fearful of a simple declaration of their own power, how are these problems ever going to be legitimately faced?
Meeting the challenges that you might face in your day-to-day, such as clinical depression, substance abuse, disease and illness, dysfunctional family or marital dynamics, or an overwhelmingly busy schedule isn’t going to go well if you’re feeling too powerless to even look yourself in the mirror and say, “I’m a powerful person. I can face this.”
If you feel powerless, start the work of shifting that. It’s not a selfish endeavor. It’s for all of us.
Go ahead. Recognize your power. Then declare it, loud and proud, so that we can join one another.