“Whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal.” – Meg Ryan in You’ve Got Mail.
Shoutout to one of the best movies of all time, even if Tom Hanks plays a highly problematic dude (it IS a 90s rom-com, after all) who essentially catfishes a girl for the entire movie and we love him anyway? Do we? Should we? #Ugh.
But back to what I meant to write about before the patriarchy got involved (as it always does)… taking shit personally.
Up until now, most of the professional “work” I did reflected me but it wasn’t a piece of me – I was proud of what I put out there, in terms of work product and how I handled myself in meetings, etc., but it was pretty easy to detach myself from the process. I actually think it was one of my real skills, being able to see things objectively and make decisions based on facts and best-responses rather than emotion. And with work taking up the majority of my time and energy, that basically became who I was.
[90s-era screech-y fast-forward montage] But now I’m in an industry that demands giving of myself every day. Teaching yoga requires authenticity and for me to put my heart and soul into leading others. And coaching is a full-time exercise in empathy, active listening, holding space, and witnessing another human being. I can’t think of much else that is more personal than that.
Lately, it’s been really hard not to take things personally. I mean, we’ve all had those days, right? When someone cuts you off, takes your parking spot, doesn’t hold a door open, talks over you in a meeting, ignores you in the hallway, leaves their dirty dishes in the sink, disrespects a request you’ve made a hundred times, etc. etc. etc. A lot of times, those things happens all on the same day and you just feel beaten up and raw. Once you start to put yourself in the role of victim, everything becomes an attack – and it all feels deeply, unfailingly personal.
I’ve noticed myself slipping into that victim role a lot lately. As I’m working on launching a new business that’s built on so much of me – not only my time and ideas, but also based on my beliefs, values, vision, and passions, it’s really easy to drop into “This didn’t land because xyz doesn’t like me.” The separation between “me” and “my work” is growing fainter, and I’m grappling with everything that means.
Someone drops my class most likely because something else came up, not because they suddenly don’t value me as a teacher. The girl walking out of yoga mid-practice probably didn’t feel well and felt safe enough to respect herself and her body; she didn’t hate what I was doing. People being late, not returning calls, sending curt and abrupt emails, or just flat out ignoring me isn’t about me... or maybe it is – I can’t control what other people think and say and do… and I certainly don’t need to personalize and internalize it.
The thing is that most of the time after that immediate reaction of negative self-talk, the situation reveals itself to be totally benign. The girl who dropped my class signed up for one the next day. The person who “won’t” return my calls had an emergency. Right after someone cut me off in the parking lot, another person held open the door. I frequently move through life probably confusing and pissing off other people (though I do try really hard to be a conscientious person, given how prone I am to feeling slighted), and it’s practically never personal.
What I’m learning through all of this is that I need to have the same reaction whether or not the action was unintentional. As I work through that in my head, though, it feels a little at odds. On one hand, I want to be empathetic: “Whatever they’re going through is probably bigger than this.” But I also recognize how that’s putting a lot of weight into a situation and basically just finding a way to justify their actions. It shouldn’t matter whether or not it’s justified: I just need to let it the eff go.
In moments where I’m feeling really stuck, I think about how I’d handle this with a coaching client. I’d ask her “Who do you want to be in these situations?”
I want to be a person who can be a stand for herself and truly embrace that 1) I am not everyone’s teacher and that 2) authenticity is greater than approval.
“How do you want to do that?”
I want to change my reaction from one of self-pity to one of self-empowerment and trust that the hard work and energy I’ve put into this will connect me with the right people at the right time. I will not beg and grovel and bend over backwards to convince people of my worth: I will simply do the work and let that attract the right connections.
With that, I’m reminded of a passage from Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic:
“Recognizing that people's reactions don't belong to you is the only sane way to create. If people enjoy what you've created, terrific. If people ignore what you've created, too bad. If people misunderstand what you've created, don't sweat it. And what if people absolutely hate what you've created? What if people attack you with savage vitriol, and insult your intelligence, and malign your motives, and drag your good name through the mud? Just smile sweetly and suggest - as politely as you possibly can - that they go make their own fucking art. Then stubbornly continue making yours.”
Cheers, Elizabeth. Big, big cheers. You get it, and you so boldly put it out there to help out the rest of us.
So yeah, Meg (and actually Nora Ephron, if we’re attributing this properly) was right. What I do every day should be personal, but it’s not my job to make sure everyone loves it. It’s my job to create, to teach, to inspire, to empower in a way that doesn’t leave anyone out, but it’s not my job to make sure everyone wants to be brought in.
It’s my job to put in the effort, the time, the heart and soul, and to reach out for connections and trust: As long as I keep opening the door, those who want and need to be there will find their way in.