“You can close your eyes to reality but not to memories!”
– Stanislaw Jerzy Lec, poet
“You seem to me to be really angry about something.”
Mary was a short, petite woman about 35 years old, who had called me with a vague reference to some confusion about her career. After an extended discussion about needing to working around her spouse and her three kids’ schedules, she made an appointment for the following week. Then, two days later, she postponed it until the next week.
Mary finally arrived at her appointment with a reserved and somewhat distant air…as if she really didn’t want to be there at all! Also, Mary seemed to be wound very tight, holding a long standing anger, at someone or something, deep inside!
I collected a brief history of her current situation. Mary was married to Steve, a lawyer, and had three young teenage sons, each about eighteen months apart in age. Her parents were alive and well. She had four siblings, only one of whom she felt close. Mary was an accountant who had been working in a large firm for a number of years, and was expecting to be offered a full partnership soon.
When I asked her how I could serve her she seemed a little mystified by the question. So I used another, more direct, approach to assess her level of self awareness.
“Mary!” I said, “You seem, to me, to be really angry about something. Anger is a really healthy emotion…among other things, it’s a great motivator for action! People usually get angry when their highest values are being threatened. If that is true, which value is being threatened right now in your life?”
Mary looked straight at me for a second, and then her eyes flooded. She put her head down and said softly, “I hate being an accountant…and I hate my life in general! I feel at times, like I hate everything!”
“I expected to be rewarded for doing the right thing!”
“What happened, Mary?” I asked.
She exploded verbally with, “Ken, I have followed the rules my entire life…I did everything I was expected to do…I had the right friends, went to the right church, attended the right school, got excellent grades, was captain of the field hockey team, married the right guy…and even have the right number of kids! So, I expected more by now…I expected to be rewarded for doing the right thing for my whole…my entire life! But here I am dissatisfied, still not happy…I’m not even in the right career for me!”
“What would be the right career for you, Mary?”
“I come from a legal family, with my Mom, a legal secretary, to my Dad, brother and sister who are all lawyers.” she replied.
“Mary, it sounds like you’re carrying some significant regrets in your life?”
“Ken, I have a long list of them! But don’t get me wrong, I make a good living at what I do. And my husband, Sammy, is a good man and my kids are nice people, too! I love them all…but its me…I just expected to be happier by now and I’m not…not one bit!”
“Mary, what comes to mind that’s bothering you the most, at this point in your life?”
“It’s funny you should ask me that…I’m going to make partner soon in my firm…it is supposed to be a big deal…more money, more security, more status, etc. But I don’t see it that way at all! To me…since I have done all the right things to get to this point in my career…I think I should be ecstatic…or, at least, excited…but I’m not at all!”
“Our dreams must be stronger than our memories. We must be pulled by our dreams, rather than pushed by our memories.” – Jesse Jackson, activist
“I felt so angry and confused…it just broke my heart!”
“What are you instead, Mary?”
“I think I’m mostly angry, confused and disappointed!”
“Ken, I keep going back to an old memory I still carry around from my university days. It was another time I remember feeling the same way I do today. I was the captain of our field hockey team that year and we were playing for the provincial championship. We were in the quarter finals, about half way through the game, when it suddenly dawned on me we could never beat this team…they were just too good. And I remember thinking to myself…’we had done all the right things…focused all our time and energy on staying fit; practiced for months, strategized continually and then practiced some more…we should be winning.’ But, we were losing and badly…and there was nothing we could do about it. I felt so angry and confused…it just broke my heart!”
“Mary, you must have been very disappointed at that moment, not just for yourself, but for your whole team!”
“Yea…it was devastating and I just didn’t know what to say to them after…it still haunts me to this day!”
“Mary, can I offer you another perspective of what happened that day at that game?”
“Sure! Because I think by now I should have let it go…it must have been 10 to 15 years ago!”
“… there is no right or wrong when the lion eats the impala…”
“Mary, you’ve probably have noticed the human heart is one of our most flexible organs…it doesn’t get broken…plugged up sometimes…but not broken! I think what you broke that day was one of your most important illusions about how life works!”
“I don’t know what you mean, Ken …an illusion about how life works!”
“Mary, you said earlier you have always done the ‘right’ thing, the thing you thought others expected of you…and you thought you’d would be rewarded for doing so. That is a theological postulate…not a natural principle. In our natural world, there are no rewards or punishments…only the natural laws which apply to everything. So, there is no right or wrong when the lion eats the impala or an earthquake destroys a city. These are just natural events occurring within the laws of nature. These same laws also apply to the events of your life!”
“Do you mean to say I should not be expected to be rewarded for doing the right thing?”
“Mary, you will be rewarded and punished, equally and simultaneously, in compliance with natures law of balance.” I replied.
“But I was only punished that day…there was no reward, Ken!”
“I suspect the reward that day, at that very second, with the loss of that illusion, was a gain of wisdom or insight…which you have been utilizing ever since!”
“I’m not sure what you mean…wisdom or insight?” she replied.
“…but I decided instead to take a business degree…”
“Mary, what changed for you that day, what did you learn that day, perhaps unconsciously then, but looking back consciously now…what was it that shifted for you in your thinking, about yourself, and your world, from losing that game?” I asked her.
Mary was thoughtful for a moment. Then she looked up at me and said, “I guess one thing was we have kept our friendships regardless, but we also kind of lost interest in the sport. We were getting ready to graduate and had to focus on what was next for us.”
“What did that mean for you Mary? Where did you put your focus?”
“Well, I had been considering law school next…following the family tradition…but, I decided instead to take a business degree, and then I did an MBA.” she replied.
“Are you telling me, you decided to do what was right for you, instead of, what was right according to someone else?”
“I suppose you could say that…I never thought about it that way before! But, I guess I was following my own dream, rather than, what I thought others wanted me to do. And, that was also when I also decided to go to a university across the country, instead of the local one…which upset my parents at the time.”
“It sounds like you learned to stop doing the right thing for others and start doing the right thing for you! Can you see what I’m saying, Mary?”
“Your brain forms roughly 10,000 new cells every day, but unless they hook up to preexisting cells with strong memories, they die. Serves them right.” – Douglas Coupland, author
“I realize I don’t hate my work…actually, I love it.”
“Yes, I’m starting to get it…as I think about it now, losing that hockey game was the catalyst for me to learn to listen to my own dreams instead of those of others. I remember how disappointed my parents were when I told them I was going away to business school, rather than the nearby law school. They didn’t say much at the time…but I could tell!” she added.
“Mary, can you see now how losing that game won you your own dreams, your own life…but you still had to pay for it, just like we pay for everything in life? And, my guess is you still pay in some ways for following your own dreams. Let me ask you…do you ever get teased at times, by your family member, for your career choice?”
“Interesting you should bring that up, Ken…it is still a regular family joke of how I couldn’t have done law school…not enough ‘smarts’…even though I make money money working less hours than anyone else in my family.” she said smiling at mefor the first time.
“I think you’re getting the idea now, Mary. There is no right without wrong, and no wrong without a right, in our natural system…so each of us must learn this law and define for ourselves, what right and wrong means to us. Our society defines some for the common good but, the personal ones are ours to define based on our values and purpose!”
“Ken, I’m starting to make sense of this now…I realize, I don’t hate my work…actually, I love it. But, I was expecting my family to tell me I did the right thing by going into business, but they don’t have my values…they have their own. It is really kind of naive of me to expect that as well…isn’t it?”
“Now, you’re showing me you understand how nature, and life, really work! Congratulations Mary!” I said smiling at her.
Mary went on to uncover a couple of other important illusions she was still carrying from her past which accelerated her awareness and self appreciation further. As she realized the value of her anger as a learning tool, she created more harmony within herself and those around her.
“Our nightmares are just unexplored, learning opportunities!”
King Ayles, author
Until Next time…
So, remember, your value system creates your version of right and wrong and, if you use someone else’s version, you won’t be satisfied with the choices you make. And, you will create an imbalanced perception of yourself and your life.
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