Last week I wrote about how stories from our past become rules and expectations for our present and future. They also keep us from getting what we want. Today I thought I’d tell a very specific story that illustrates this lesson – when I very clearly kept myself from getting what I wanted.
At the same business retreat that I mentioned last week, during the first night of the retreat (Sunday), our coach Christine led us through an exercise to discover our stories…
…On Monday afternoon I got to live some of mine.
This retreat was a jam-packed event. We were scheduled from 8 AM until 9 PM each day, with minimal breaks and lots of material to cover. It seems now that Christine and her team might have underestimated the amount of discussion that 200 participants could generate; as a result, Q&A was sometimes cut short, with some people being asked to wait until later.
It seemed like I was always one who got asked to wait till later.
After a day and a half of what felt like repeated rejections, I hit my breaking point. I had approached the microphone, waiting to be acknowledged and ask my question.
…and once again I was told No. Christine looked at me and said that there wasn’t time for questions. Could she come back to me at the end of the segment if there was time for Q&A?
I crumbled. What could I say other than Yes? But I was completely deflated. I returned to my seat and heard nothing else that was said; instead I sat there stubbornly cursing my coach like a sulking child. My mind spilled over with a self-pitying stream of all my stories:
- She’s saying Yes to everyone else but me…
- I’m one of those know-it-all kids that teachers never call on…
- There must be some past-life stuff that we need to resolve…
- Her name is the same as my mother’s. Is there some level of my being that thinks they’re the same person? Is being rejected by her like being rejected by my mother? In what way was I rejected by my mother?
Each thought brought another wave of emotion. It took less than five minutes to reach the point when I knew I was going to lose it right there in the midst of 200 people. So I got up, walked out of the ballroom, and went to the ladies room to have a big, ugly cry.
By the time I recovered the group had been dismissed for lunch. And here’s the kicker: I was told by several people over lunch, and much later by Christine herself, that five minutes after I walked out of the session, she called on me. She had gotten through her material and had time for Q&A. She honored her promise to me by calling on me first.
…but I wasn’t there. I had gotten so caught up in my stories that when the opportunity I was seeking got dropped into my lap, I wasn’t present to receive it. (Very literally in this case, but I’m sure you can see the metaphor.)
I had also blown a simple situation way out of proportion. I couldn’t tell you the real count of who got called on and whose question got postponed, but intellectually I know that plenty of people other than me were told No. And of course Christine was not singling me out or intentionally rejecting me—but that’s what I saw through the filters of my stories, and it was also the circumstance I was attracting with the energy of my thoughts.
Bottom line: I was the only actor in this whole drama.
What could I have done differently? Knowing what I know now, most of this could have been avoided by taking control and focusing my thoughts, instead of stubbornly indulging my wounds. I seem to be great at talking myself out of things; this would have been one opportunity to use that power for good.
I can’t go back now to change what happened or how I perceived it, but I can remember this example going forward. Maybe I’ll get it right next time; maybe I’ll end up crying in a bathroom again. But I know that each time I’ll do it a little bit better. That is what learning is.
What did you get from this story? Are they any lessons that it helps you learn? Post a comment below and let me know.