Letting Go of Who We Wanted Them to Be

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The most freeing thing that we can do as adults is to understand and try to accept that no other person exists to fully serve our needs. They won’t always be who we want them to be, no matter how much they love us and we love them. To accept this about them is to free ourselves from the frustration over not feeling that we have enough of them or their time.

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We humans pin our hopes on potential. There’s something there, we can glimpse it, touch it momentarily. Then, it’s gone again; as quickly as it arrived. Sometimes, we wait a lifetime to see it again.

So go relationships of all sorts. Our parents, partners, children, siblings, friends- they will all let us down at some point. And why is that? They’re good, honest folks, right? Why can’t we just be happy with them as they are, and not expect them to be something they’re not?

In our childhood years, we developed a clear sense of our needs from our caregivers. We came to idealize the traits that mattered most to us; and if we had to share our parents with other people and priorities (as most children do), we also developed jealousy as a natural response. Jealousy also came to us on those days when our parents were off their game and less attentive due to stress and fatigue from working all day, taking care of a household, and other life commitments.

The thing about jealousy is that it feels really ugly and as such is hard for us to name. Jealousy is our felt sense that we should be occupying spaces, either physical or emotional, that are taken up by someone or something else. As partners, we’re jealous of things that take the other person away from us. As colleagues, we’re jealous of accolades that a peer receives. As parents, we’re jealous of our children’s attention to their own lives and priorities that develop as they grow older.

The most freeing thing that we can do as adults is to understand and try to accept that no other person exists to fully serve our needs. They won’t always be who we want them to be, no matter how much they love us and we love them. To accept this about them is to free ourselves from the frustration over not feeling that we have enough of them or their time.

One strategy for healing this is to begin understanding the other person as a being who, as close they may be to us, is in fact on a journey separate from our own. I like to imagine each us of as a tiny point of light that, in our life quest, moves slowly toward a larger and much brighter source of light. Other points of light may be very close to us, but they are on their own journeys, at least until we are all rejoined with the big light source toward which we all move.

A great follow-up strategy is through the use of a space where we actively commemorate the lost dream we had about the person’s role in our life. This sounds a little strange, so stay with me. Just for a day or an evening, create a small space on a table or countertop. Nothing big or elaborate. Next, gather the symbols of that lost dream we hold about the other person. Maybe it’s old pictures from a happy time, a gift they gave us, a small bouquet of flowers like some that we wanted them to appreciate more than they did. Maybe it’s a small hand-drawn picture that we put together, something we call “My Perfect Mom” or “The daughter who always puts me first.”

Put it all together and observe it. If you don’t have a space in your home to do this, write these things out in a journal. it doesn’t matter how these words and symbols are assembled. The most important thing is that you give voice and shape to your desires for the person and who you wanted her or him to be.

As you complete the exercise, notice the feelings wash over you as you give space to your lost dreams for the person. Notice too how your own needs of them begin to look and feel in response to who they actually are. You may begin to recognize how confining it would be for another person to live entirely according to your wishes instead of existing as a point point of light that moves along its own journey.

You are now ready to embrace the individual, not just through an attachment or association to your own life, but for the person’s own soul journey and its potential. In turn, you free yourself just a bit more from jealousy, and can perhaps bring yourself into a more loving and receptive relationship possibility.

Regaining Self-Esteem after a Job Termination

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When we use the familiar, “It was the boss’s fault,” “it was the stupid expectations they had,” enough to actually believe our line, however, we cut ourselves off from the learning opportunity.  As a result, we are much more likely to repeat the mistake in future jobs. In repeating unhappy patterns, we aren’t going to feel very good about ourselves. 

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There are probably very few things that feel as bad as the experience of being canned. The unexpected termination of our pay is of course a big part of it; but even if we can stabilize ourselves economically, it casts lingering doubt about our worth. We were cast out, unwanted, told that we aren’t good enough to work here anymore.

Bouncing back requires us to regain our lost self-esteem sooner than later. We can’t wait for a new job to help us feel better about ourselves. We need to start self-reflecting now so that we can make better decisions for our futures.

Let’s start with the basics of why this is difficult. People are terminated from jobs for a variety of reasons. Some are within our control and some are not. Getting to work on time each day, being punctual while on the job, and maintaining performance standards with honesty and integrity tend to be the sorts of things employers like. People who don’t do these things, or do them inconsistently, are the ones who face disciplinary action.

To be clear, not every termination is lawful or ethical; and injustices do occur. Our responsibility as the terminated employee though is to be honest with ourselves. Even if we have a union grievance, workplace investigation, or even pending lawsuit, we need to be clear.

What was our role in our termination, and what could we have done differently?

No matter whether a termination is just or not; it is the rare person who says, “Yep- I knew the expectations. I mismanaged my time/made poor decisions/cut corners one too many times. That’s why I was fired.”

To arrive here, we have to get past the rhetoric we tell other people. By all means, let folks know what an ass the boss was and how unreasonable the job expectations were.

But when we get done doing that, we have to be honest with ourselves. Did we call out sick because we didn’t feel like going in? Did we opt not to deliver our best effort because we didn’t want to go through the trouble of doing our job according to its expectation? Did we steal or cheat?
The truth will set us free.

Freedom in this case means owning what we did wrong. Becoming aware of this helps immensely because we then come to see our job termination in terms of what we can do differently next time. By pinpointing it, we place accountability squarely where it belongs: within our control. This level of personal clarity tells us what we need to do differently next time and reminds us that it’s up to us to do it.

When we instead use the familiar, “It was the boss’s fault,” “it was the stupid expectations they had,” enough to actually believe our line, however, we cut ourselves off from the learning opportunity. As a result, we are much more likely to repeat the mistake in future jobs. In repeating unhappy patterns, we aren’t going to feel very good about ourselves.

That brings us to the second thing we need to do: steadfastly refuse to invest in self-pity.

Yes, it’s devastating to be terminated from a job. Mourn the loss for the weekend, and then start Monday with a plan. We know we have skills, we know we’re smart workers. If we owned our mistakes, all the better. We’ll be ready to hit the job market.

If we’re not picked up immediately, it’s a blow each time we get the rejection letter, if even that courtesy is extended. It may take time, which can be made more stressful if money is a significant issue. Sometimes we need to take a bridge job or two, or borrow money to support our households until something else comes along.

During these times, we need to continue being honest with ourselves.

Don’t blame the recruiters or companies who aren’t hiring for the better jobs. Look at the skills we have and the current job market. Do we need to stretch, learn a new skill or technology? Do it. It’s hard, but taking personal responsibility for the changes we want and need is up to each individual. Acting from this place of responsibility will boost our confidence, and increase our job-finding skills.

Another consideration is whether we even want to return to work that resembles what we did in the past. After all, our behavior that got us fired was probably telling us something. If we were avoiding work previously, whether by calling out, going in late, or not doing the job to the best of our abilities; then what did our behavior really telling us about what we want or don’t want in a job?

I’ve seen so many people who hated the job from which they were terminated; but who upon termination got back into the same kind of work. That’s like leaving a marriage to an alcoholic only to marry the compulsive gambler down the street.

Job terminations are devastating experiences that potentially impact our self-worth and esteem if we let them. Rigorous honesty, openness to feedback, and a willingness to accept where and how we can improve our employability skills will take us a long way in bouncing back and rejoining the workforce. More importantly, ownership of our skills and the act of taking charge of the changes we want for ourselves can go a long way to boost our confidence, and by extension, our self-esteem.

If you believe you have been discriminated against in the workplace, review Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for more information and resources: http://www.eeoc.gov/

Did High School Help or Hinder Us?

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In many ways, high school is the staging area for life. We learn to fake our way through, never really naming what was happening for us or how much life hurt. We develop our front, our game, our armor that we use to keep other people from seeing the hurt. We block other people from getting to know us.  

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In this second installment of my 2-part series on adolescent depression, I explore the question: Did high school help or hinder us?

Ah, the magic of high school. As any yearbook will reveal, it was all about sports and spirit, studying hard, and laughter and good times in and around campus. Band practice, pep rallies, choir and drama. Oh, the fun we had learning and socializing our way from late adolescence into young adulthood.

If only life was as good as the yearbook’s glossy images suggest.

I was one of around 3,000 students who attended Douglas MacArthur High School in San Antonio from 1985-89. Of that number, some went on to college, only to flunk out within a couple of years and never return. Many went on to struggle in jobs they hate. Some have participated in one long relationship or several sequential ones in which misery and discord were fostered.

What role, if any, did high school play for these kids in their later adult lives? Probably, a fairly significant one.

After about 5th grade, our peer relationships take on a central role in development. We learn who we are through our interactions with the people around us. Learning to conform is alternated with personal expressions of individuality. This is normal adolescent development, occurring as it does with the onset of puberty. Our brains are developing rapidly, and the period is one of general confusion and what we know to be teenage angst.

High school is our space where we make friends, explore our interests, begin to date and perhaps engage in sexual activity for which we’re entirely unprepared. It’s a critical period of development that takes place in a school in which everyone else is developing at roughly the same pace, each determining how she or he fits into the larger social order. This naturally breeds the clicks and hierarchy that mark high school life. As a result, most of us at some point feel like outsiders, different, Other. Many of us spend significant periods of our adolescence in which the pain of our Otherness is in our forefront, a daily source of social distress at school.

  • Maybe it was about being the only person of color, or at least, of our color.
  • Maybe we didn’t fit in because we were poor, or gay, or because we were shy and people labelled us as “weird.”
  • Maybe our look or our clothes were offbeat, but not enough to draw us in with the more defined rebellious groups of kids.

If we were girls, maybe we were called “slut” or “whore” because someone started rumors about our sexual activity, true or not.

Maybe we were boys who were made fun of because we were sexually inexperienced, prompting us to lie about our activity and consequentially move deeper into our shame.

And so we went about each day at school, never belonging, not realizing that other people were struggling with their own burdens that while different from our own, were nonetheless just as painful for them. We saw them, and assumed they had it better or easier; that they were somehow happier or more content than we.

In many ways, high school is the staging area for life. We learn to fake our way through, never really naming what was happening for us or how much life hurt. We develop our front, our game, our armor that we use to keep other people from seeing the hurt. We block other people from getting to know us.

And then we graduate and become adults with adult responsibilities:

in college,

in the workplace,

in relationships.

We try to forge meaningful connections with people and make them invest in us. We want people to believe that we’re worth the chance, but this presupposes that we believe in ourselves.

If high school never gave us the fundamentals for building these resources within ourselves, where and how were we supposed to develop them? If we arrive in adulthood with our self-esteem completely sapped from the shit we went through in high school, we are set up to fail in other areas of our life in the years that immediately follow. As a result, we spend a goodly portion of young adulthood struggling unnecessarily to find our way.

So if you found your way in spite of really rough times during high school, how’d you do it? I’d love to post a blog with success stories from people who really overcame negative messages and found their happiness and truth in later years.

Green Eggs and Ham

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“Do you like green eggs and ham?” asks Sam-I-am in this Beginner Book by Dr. Seuss. In a house or with a mouse? In a boat or with a goat? On a train or in a tree? Sam keeps asking persistently. With unmistakable characters and signature rhymes, Dr. Seuss’s beloved favorite has cemented its place as a children’s classic.

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“Do you like green eggs and ham?” asks Sam-I-am in this Beginner Book by Dr. Seuss. In a house or with a mouse? In a boat or with a goat? On a train or in a tree? Sam keeps asking persistently. With unmistakable characters and signature rhymes, Dr. Seuss’s beloved favorite has cemented its place as a children’s classic. In this most famous of cumulative tales, the list of places to enjoy green eggs and ham, and friends to enjoy them with, gets longer and longer. Follow Sam-I-am as he insists that this unusual treat is indeed a delectable snack to be savored everywhere and in every way.
Originally created by Dr. Seuss, Beginner Books encourage children to read all by themselves, with simple words and illustrations that give clues to their meaning.