A post from Chris Brogan has me thinking this morning:
Jacqueline brought me iced coffee a few weeks ago, and I commented that it tasted especially delicious. She said, “I used two sugars instead of one or none, the way you usually say you like it.” As is often the case with me, I ended up thinking about a bit more than how many sugars I take in my coffee. The truth is, I wasn’t really being honest with myself.
I can say I prefer my coffee black, but what I was really saying was, “I know that I’m supposed to have it black.” I prefer my coffee with two sugars. It’s much nicer that way. Healthier? No. But I have to be where I am. Maybe it’s a matter of having it sometimes with sugar and sometimes black.
One thing I've noticed in myself and in the people I work with is how often we lie to ourselves. In Chris's case, he was telling himself that he "prefers" black coffee, when the reality is that he prefers sugar; he just thinks he should prefer black coffee because it's better for him.
One way we lie to ourselves is through our "shoulds." I should be happy with my work, so I will ignore the reality that I'm not. As if denying reality is an effective method for dealing with our lives.
Another way we lie to ourselves is by saying that something is beyond our power to change. I hear this all the time. "I can't quit my job" or "I can't take that responsibility." That's not true. Just about everything is within our power to change. The bigger issue is whether or not we can or want to live with the consequences of those changes. There's a big difference between saying "I can't do something" and "I choose not do something because I don't want to experience what I think are the likely consequences." The former makes us a victim. The latter says we are making an informed choice.
One of the reasons we lie to ourselves is because we don't want to be kind to ourselves. We find reality unacceptable, so the it feels like the easiest way to deal with an unacceptable reality is to deny it. But denying reality is one of the best ways for us to stay stuck. We'd be better off exploring and accepting our reality and learning how to be kind to ourselves in the process. No need to start berating ourselves for being whereever we find ourselves. Just accept that we are here and figure out the next step to move forward.
One sure way to explore reality and stop telling ourselves lies is to allow ourselves to feel the emotions that go with our experiences. If I allow myself to feel my responses to what I'm experiencing at work, my emotions can start to help me better understand the reality of where I'm at. At the least I can get clearer about how I'm responding to what's going on, which is half the battle in starting to tell ourselves the truth of our lives.
I know that for me, I deny reality when I want to protect myself from having to make painful or difficult decisions. I don't want to take risks or I don't want to deal with the potential fall out of changed circumstances. But all that denial does is prolong the inevitable. Eventually, reality will intrude, often in huge ways that force my hand and have far greater consequences than if I'd just accepted reality earlier and done what I needed to do to address it.
I think that part of effectively managing our careers is starting to be scrupulously honest with ourselves. Where are the places that we need to stop denying the reality? What would happen if we stopped doing this?
It can be hard to stop lying to ourselves, but ultimately it's liberating. Even if the changes you have to make are difficult or challenging, you also feel a peculiar energy because deep down you know you are dealing with what is, not what you wish it would be. Your body and mind know when you've finally given in and are working from truth.
So what lies do you need to stop telling yourself? How do your options change when you start telling the truth?