There it sits before me. An innocent thermos mug.
Which I hate.
And which I can’t throw out.
I hate it, because every time I use it, I land up burning myself when I sip my tea from it. Because it keeps things so damn hot. And then I don’t enjoy drinking my tea.
And the whole damn point of my tea ritual (my English ancestors and mother would be so proud of me) is that I get to really savor and enjoy drinking lovely hot tea throughout the morning without endless runs to the kettle.
(And wow, I really am throwing those damns around here aren’t I? Can you tell I get just a leeetle wound up over my tea?? )
OK, back to the thermos mug in hand.
And that’s also why I can’t throw it out. Because it really is the best thermos mug that we have - rating it on the scale of how long it will keep things hot. And, you know - landfill. Argh. Or I could just give it away to the Salvation Army or something. But….it’s a really good thermos mug.
So I hate it. And it sits there. And I stare at it malevolently - not using it nearly enough as I should.
There’s always more, isn’t there?
This thermos mug - the best one we have - also happens to be the sole physical object I still have from that awful toxic workplace that so completely crushed me that I fell apart completely and didn’t move off the couch for two months.
So every time I look at it, it’s a little reminder of that.
So I hate it. Of course.
But I still can’t get rid of it.
I mean it’s just an effing thermos mug. It’s not like it’s done anything to me.
Except burn me every time I use it for my tea.
So yesterday I decided, enough already. This is ridiculous. Either get rid of the damn thing or keep it and use it gladly.
I pulled it off the shelf and we had a little talk.
OK, I did the talking. It just sat there. Yup - it’s as crazy as it sounds.
“OK thermos,” I said. “Let’s figure this out. You just want to be you. You just want to do your job and keep things hot. And I keep putting too much boiling water in you, and not leaving enough space for milk, and then when I sip, you burn my tongue. Which is so not cool. So here’s what we’re going to do: we are GOING TO FIGURE THIS DAMN THING OUT OR YOU”RE OUT! I’m only going to fill you up to here with boiling water this time. Then add the milk, and lets see if that’s the right temperature.”
Thermos just sat there - duh - but grateful that I was at last getting this through my thick head.
I poured in less water than I usually do. Added my milk. And sipped.
Better. But still a little too hot.
Poor a little off. Add a little more milk.
Aaaaaah, just right.
I screwed-on the lid, and had 3 hours of hot tea. It was divine.
And yes, now I am going to get all profound on you. Bear with me.
Because that thermos mug, just like that toxic work environment, was just being who it was. I was the one who kept on burning myself - expecting, wanting, hoping it would change. The thermos mug wasn’t trying to burn me. It was just doing it’s thing. That awful boss, that passive-aggressive teflon-coated brick, that two-faced little witch, that lily-livered doormat of a manager - they were all just human beings, coping the best way they knew how. Doing the best they could with what they had. They were just doing their thing.
I was the one who kept wanting them to be something they weren’t - and couldn’t be. And so they burned me. Burned me to such a crisp that all that remained was the jewel inside of me. The jewel that had been there all along, but had needed the heat of their toxicity to burn away all the crud I had accumulated around myself in a life-time of proving, perfecting, pleasing, striving, justifying, defending, avoiding, ignoring.
So who in your life, or at work, is that thermos mug. The one that keeps on burning you. That you keep on getting so frustrated with, so hurt by, but which you just can’t seem to put down or walk away from.
What would happen if you just accepted him or her for exactly who they are. Stopped trying to change them. Stopped trying to please. Stopped seeking approval from. Stopped twisting yourself in knots to try and satisfy. Because you can never satisfy what they want from you. They want a personality transplant from you. And that’s not just impossible - you’ll die (figuratively or literally) in the attempt if you do try.
It doesn’t mean either of you is wrong. Or that either of you is right. It just means that you either need to truly accept them for they are, and truly be OK with that. Or you need to leave them be. To stopping putting yourself into the heat of their toxicity and get yourself to a better, safer place.
So yes, I’m keeping the thermos mug. Because while it still reminds me of that pain - it also reminds me of all the ways I’ve learned and grown since then. It doesn’t have to burn me anymore.
And those people? They are, of course, long gone from my life. And I’m all the better for it.
People can burn hot - with their fear, their anger, their hurt, their rage, their meanness, their negativity, their criticism, their unreasonableness. But they can only truly burn you if sip of their toxicity. If you take it inside you.
So stop drinking from them.
Struggling to know how? Drop me a line and let’s talk.
In the meantime: here’s to the perfect cup of hot tea (or coffee, or whatever!)
Over the last few week the skill of acceptance has kept popping its head up for both my clients and me.
Why on earth would acceptance be a skill of empowerment, confidence and resilience?
To answer that, first we need to deal with what acceptance is and isn’t.
By acceptance, I mean the ability to look at any situation or person and just accept it or them for what it is or who they are. Without judgement. Without labeling it or them as good or bad.
Acceptance does not mean acquiescence or apathy. It does not mean resignation, defeat or giving up. Acceptance is not indifference. On the contrary, there is quality of courage to acceptance. And true acceptance provides tremendous power and energy to take action and move forwards positively and purposefully.
What people say and do is about them; how we interpret their words and actions is about us.
A few weeks back one of my clients was talking about how hard she was fighting to change something. The image she brought up was of being on a raft, stuck in a whirlpool, going round and round, and she was paddling desperately trying to get out.
I happen to be an occasional river kayaker so I know just how scary whirlpools can be. And there is a trick to getting out of them. It’s counter intuitive and takes practice and courage. But it works. Every time.
You’ve basically got two options. Both involve surrendering to the whirlpool and letting it do the work for you. One option is to take a big breath, surrender, let yourself be sucked down to the bottom and then let the river naturally spit you out. Which it always does. In a second. Or two. Or ten. Ten seconds may feel like an eternity, I know, but the whirlpool does dissipate naturally in the current of the river. Alternatively, you just let the energy of the whirlpool take you around. As it brings you to the side of the whirlpool that is moving downstream, you take few strokes and let it slingshot you out, using the energy of the whirlpool for a fun boost. Experienced kayakers will intentionally seek out and play with and in whirlpools – harnessing the current’s energy to give them an exhilarating ride. I’m not in that category, though!
From this comes the other corollary about acceptance: it takes vast amounts of energy to fight acceptance, to struggle against what is. Fighting the whirlpool– that’s a recipe for exhaustion – and drowning. When you fight what is, you are using all of your energy against something or someone. Maybe even against yourself. Acceptance, rather, is about using that energy FOR something. As you relax and surrender to what is, you free up all that energy to take positive action TOWARDS something,
Activism comes from a deep acceptance of what is. The Archbishop did not accept the inevitability of apartheid [in South Africa], but he did accept it’s reality…We cannot succeed by denying what exists. The acceptance of reality is the only place from which change can begin…[Acceptance] allows us to engage with life on it’s own terms, rather than rail against the fact that life is not as we would wish…When we react, we stay locked in judgement and criticism, anxiety and despair, even denial and addiction. Acceptance is the sword that cuts through all of this resistance, allowing us to relax, to see clearly, and respond appropriately…Acceptance is not passive. It is powerful….[And] when we accept what is happening now, we can be curious about what might happen next.”
When we judge situations, others or our ourselves as good or bad, right or wrong, easy or hard, we move away from accepting what is. Being completely non-judgmental is a monumental task and, I would argue, neither helpful nor maybe even possible. However, just working in the direction towards greater acceptance, raises your energy and improves your ability to take positive action.
I’ve been talking a whole lot of people recently about their experiences with toxic environments and workplace bullying. Most them (me included), started off full of judgements and struggling hard against the situation. This is not the way work should be, this is not what I wanted or expected, this is not how people should behave to each other.
In not truly, fully accepting the reality of the situation, most of them stayed far longer in a really dysfunctional environment than they should have. In many cases years. They kept on trying to change others, or themselves, to make it “better”, the way it “should be”. The quicker they came to full acceptance that this was just how this particular organization, team or individual tended to operate, the quicker they started to make more powerful choices for themselves. Their energy shifted from struggle and fight (draining), to “Ok, given this, what do I need to do for me?”
Many chose to leave.
A brave few chose to stay, but in so doing, made a very conscious choice to shift from judging, criticizing and fighting , or feeling like a victim, to doing the inner work so that they could fully accept themselves, and in so doing develop the skills, courage and confidence to truly stand-up for themselves in a very different way.
Now instead of coming across as being defensive, aggressive, or the passive victim; instead of shaming, blaming and judging and in so doing perpetuating the cycle of negativity and toxicity, they came across as calm, powerful, and positive. They named the truth of what was really going on – but didn’t make it about them or others. The organization or individual could either hear what they were saying, or not – either way, they knew what they stood for and what they were worth. This released the hold of the organization, or the toxic boss or co-worker over them.
At a superficial level acceptance looks like rationalizing and tolerating. Neither of those are acceptance. Rather, they’re justifications. True acceptance takes more work and more courage. It’s not about complaining or feeling hard-done by. It’s not about giving in or coping. It’s about reaching true peace and calm, and taking action from that place.
There is a very different energy when you are throwing in the towel or giving up, than when you can simply be with what is, without judgement, and so create a powerful sense of peace and calm. True acceptance propels you towards positive, purposeful action that that is in line with your integrity and values. As such, you paradoxically become much more likely to achieve the results you desire. It is in the very act of letting go of what “should” be, and fully accepting what “is”, that you can find the power, energy and confidence to effect the change that seems to have eluded you for so long.
Developing acceptance is a deep work. It is also transformative work. One is never “done” with this. It is always a moving towards.
In the Acceptance practice in the Resilience Toolkit there are some questions and practices to get you thinking and get you started.
I’d love to hear how you go with this. How can I help you move from feeling disempowered and defeated, to empowered acceptance?
Sue Mann - Coach
Reflections on how we reclaim and sustain our worthiness in the face of falls and challenges.