Sometimes what seems like the problem isn’t actually the problem.
Ellen is stuck. She runs a service business. She’s brilliant at the service, has been doing a good job at the business part too, but after 8 years of hard work and a series of challenges in the past months, it’s starting to come unravelled. She’s no longer sure if the dream she had when she started is the one she still wants. And she has no idea how she’s going to get through 2019.
We talk through her future, the life she wants to create. Despite her worries, that comes easily; it’s bright and clear and compelling. There’s nothing impossible about this: her dream house is lived in, mud-flecked from the dogs, cosy and comfortable. Her practice is healthy, sustainable, productive. Her life a balance of work, practicality and play. Everything I know about her, her skills, work ethic, business sense and innate likeability makes this intrinsically manageable.
We build it back, tracing out the path to reach it, every stage clear and attainable, until we hit the six-month mark. Suddenly she feels enveloped in fog.
“I can’t see it”, she says. “I can’t see anything. This is where there are so many unknowns, there’s just tension and panic. I don’t know how I’m going to get through the next six months.”
The clarity’s gone. Her voice is tight, anxious. We talk about the coming months, how leadership will become a battle between wanting to be open, and needing to conceal to avoid panicking others. Burdening others, it becomes. For Ellen the very idea of being any kind of burden is terrifying. This isn’t just about her business, it comes up for her friendships, love, everything. Not wanting to burden others gets in the way of them all.
We sit with that, waiting to see what else is there. “I just can’t escape the feeling”, she says, trying to hold her voice steady, “that if people really knew me they wouldn’t like me.”
And boom, we’ve found the problem.
When there’s something we need to learn, life has a way of kicking us in the ass until we pay attention. We can ignore it and ignore it, keep ploughing on in head-down denial, but the reality is it will keep kicking harder until we do something about it.
“This is your big, can’t-ignore-it-this-time, kick in the ass,” I say. “Time to learn that it’s ok to burden.”
Letting people in isn’t selective. We can’t give access for the parts of ourselves we’ve labelled ‘good’ – the fun, smart, loving side – without also revealing the ‘bad’ – the insecurities, fears and failures. For many of us that means restricting access altogether, hoping that the parts we do reveal will convince someone that we're worth enough to seek out the rest. It doesn't work; the result is limited connection and depth of relationships. Scary as it is, it's only when we risk honesty, vulnerability and rejection that we can find acceptance - both from ourself and from others. The reality is, the truth is the truth. Hiding it doesn’t make it any less real, it just limits what we can do with it.
Produced with full client permission, names changed.
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