Thursday, June 18, 2009

Understanding My Own Triggers: An Awakening

So last weekend was the weekend I was supposed to get married. June 13th, Colgate Day, My Dads Birthday and supposedly a wedding. As some of you already know the inspiration for Pink Elephant Project was a product of the failed engagement, knowing deep in my heart that what was missing was the ability to communicate about our differing perspectives on various issues in a productive way. That's not to say that utilizing some totem and a promise would have solved our issues but at the very least it would have eased the shock of the ending of our engagement.

The truth is however the "shock" really wasn't really a "shock."

As I sat there in my bed, single in Santa Fe reflecting on what happened and got honest with myself, it wasn't too surprising that the relationship was over. As a coach one of the major areas that I focus on with my clients is dealing with fundamental perception that they have about the world that typically was created from some kind of childhood experience that shapes the way they end up relating to the world. When I am able so show my client that the way that they are relating to the world is from a made up perspective of say a 10 year old or teenager and when the client finally sees how that has been impacting their life, they are able to finally move forward and experience real freedom.

Well on the 13th it was time to take a bit of my own medicine. I have always known that the time I proudly came home with a 99 on my exam and not having an answer to my fathers question of what I got wrong has haunted me my whole life. His point was simple, the only way you are going to learn and grow is to know what you didn't get right and learn from that. What I made up about that experience was that I will never be good enough unless I got it perfect. Even worse is that if I did get something wrong I better have a good reason for why I did. Now, was that true? Absolutely not. Was that my dad's intention. Hell no. However, from that point forward how I chose to live my life was to be incredibly critical and look for what was wrong in every situation. For years, I would get involved in relationships and crush them before they ever got started because I would constantly focus on the 1% that wasn't right. While 99% was working, I continued to simply see what was wrong and focused on trying to fix it. I can't imagine what it must have been like for the women I dated over the years to endure someone like that! For those of you that had that experience of me I want to officially say...I'm sorry.

The other way it has showed up for me is in my work and the projects that I was on. Operating from the fear that I wouldn't be able to get it 100% right, I would systematically sabotage situations to ensure that I had an excuse for why it wasn't 100% right. In effect it was like training for a marathon for 6 months and the day before the race taking a sledgehammer to my foot and running the marathon anyway. I figured at least if I didn't win I had an excuse to fall back foot really hurts!

So I dealt with that one years ago and while some of that still lingers in the background today I find that its not as impactful as it once was. I can see it now and nip it in the bud before it takes over. In fact I think that what has brought such great results for my consulting and coaching clients is my keen ability to get right to the issue and create effective solutions for them.

On to the next one that really seems to be at the core of what has been driving me to this day. I can remember one conversation with my dad telling me that "My money is for your excellence" and another conversation in my high school guidance counselors office where my dad declared that "If he isn't going to get into a Ivy League school then he should go to a state school...I'm not going support this kind of mediocrity" To my dad's credit I was a handful and at that point I was an entitled, dope smoking, arrogant, pissed off teenager. For the record he did end up footing the bill for 4 years at Colgate University.

Nevertheless what I made up about myself was that I "wasn't good enough," "I wasn't excellent," and most recently what I have noticed for myself is what I really made up was "I'm not loveable." Now was that true? Hell no. Was that my dad's intention, absolutely not. Nevertheless that's what has been running in the background for the past 38 years for me.

To do a little Pop Psychology 101 on myself, it was clear that who I became was a gregarious people pleasing person running around the world looking for a sense of approval and belonging where ever I went and continued to base my value as a human being based on others response to me. While on the surface I made it work for myself with the people in my life, it was also one of the biggest triggers that would get in the way of difficult conversations with loved one and friends. Its clear that I would do anything to avoid criticism or conflict. The thought of someone saying something about me that they didn't like drove me to extraordinary ends to make sure that didn't happen. If it did, it was either Fight or Flight. It made it virtually impossible to have any self expression because everything that came out of my mouth was in the background designed to win others over and make you like me.

What I really didn't see until this past weekend was that what has really been going on for me over the past 38 years is that I actually have been doing is periodically creating situations and circumstances in which I "need" to be rescued or "need" to be helped. WHY? Well if you love me you would help me...

If I'm really honest with myself what the cycle looks like is the following. I start a new project. I get really excited, tell everyone about it and try to get them excited. What operating in the background it "I AM good enough, see... I AM excellent, see... I AM smart enough...see!" I get things done and rely on my god given talents and skills to make it happen. I do it, and do it well; and I make sure that everyone in my life knows that I'm doing it and doing it well. Just before getting to the top of the mountain...getting to the 100%... WHAM! I destroy it! The excuses and the stories kick in and suddenly I'm talking about the unfortunate circumstances I find myself in once again. I then need help, I need support, I need people to come to my rescue to help me through this tough time. Phew! Its exhausting even writing about it! Thank god I'm loveable!

What I didn't see is how this exact pattern was operating in the background of my past relationship. When I met my ex-fiancée I was the President of an incredible Life Coaching Company. A few months later I actually made my role unnecessary as we transition from a big box seminar company to a more virtual coaching company. Here I was again, not knowing what to do and needing to be rescued. Well that's what happened. I got rescued and moved in prematurely with my then girlfriend and started running up the ladder once again. I started my consulting company and actually did quite well and produced incredible results for the clients I worked with.

The ugly side of the story that I can now clearly see is that I did absolutely nothing to promote myself. I had no marketing materials, no website....hell I didn't even have a business card. I just sat back and made the woman that I was with responsible for finding me new clients and connecting me with her contacts and "helping" me get things going. Why? I'm really not loveable and the only way I'll know I'm lovable is if you help me. When she finally had enough and got fed up, that's when all of the fight or flight responses came in for me. I totally checked out. I made it virtually impossible to have any kind of discussion about our future that wouldn't involve me getting defensive or pissed off. While she was trying to encourage me to look to our future together and sat by my side every step of the way, operating from my fundamental misperception, I blamed her for being critical and trying to make me someone that I wasn't. I resisted like hell and instead of having the conversations, I took to working out, going surfing, and escaping. What happened for her is she gave up. Why? Because I continued to operate my life from the perspective of a pissed off teenager!?!?

I've gone through a range of emotions this past week...everything from anger to total resignation and at this point I'm happy to have identified the pattern so clearly and have actually taken the time to sent a heartfelt letter to my ex taking responsibility for how I was in our relationship. We actually really spoke today for the first time in months and it feels good to have come through to the other side of the conversation I had in my head.

I guess this is the point of this post. While I could have continued to be victimized by the "shock" of what happened by getting honest with myself, understanding my triggers, and looking at how I may have been responsible for what had occurred something very powerful happened for me that I know I will be able to take to the next relationships in my life.

As for the Pink Elephant Project...we are still trying to get a community site built that can provide a platform for all of us to discuss how our perceptions are getting in the way of our communications and understanding how those perspectives were created. I'm really committed to connecting with other fellow seekers that have the courage and commitment to communicate who want to share what's possible when one does. In the meantime I figure I've just got to keep the Pink Elephants out of my relationships, continue my journey of understanding what it is that has me stop in the face of those difficult communications, and continue to share with you the insights along the way.

From the heart


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Oh yeah... that's what its all about!

It's 10:00 am in NYC and its pouring on the streets, 5 police cars and 2 fire engines are clogging up the corner of 41st and Lexington, sirens blazing, people running through the streets adeptly navigating their bodies and umbrellas, trading spaces between one another while never trading glances, in what appears to be a highly efficient well choreographed and automated dance. 

I'm late to meet my sister for coffee and I too enter the flow, albeit not as skilled as the hundreds of New Yorkers that seem to have been in training all their lives for moments like these.   Big umbrellas small umbrellas... is he going high or low?  Left or right?  As I try to look into the next persons eyes looking for a sign, I see nothing but focus on the empty space that they appear to be creating for themselves as they move forward. 

I feel alone, disconnected, and find myself sad as I look into the blank faces of my fellow New Yorkers wondering about each person as the walk by.  My mind muses...  are they married, divorced, employed, recently laid off, a mom, a dad, are their parents alive, when was the last time they spoke to their kids?  Lost in thought, I snag a passerby's umbrella then proceed to step right into a running stream of New York's mystery moisture, soaking my foot.   

Finally, a cup of coffee in hand, my sister and I have a chance to catch up.   I reflect on the insanity that I just experienced walking to meet her in the rain and of course she is quick to point out she's got bomb proof knee high boots and a simple yet functional waterproof coat.     

Our conversation quickly moved to the family, at which time I began recounting the seemingly toxic experience that I just experienced with my mother and my father.   As I try to talk myself off the ledge, knowing its simply a matter of perspective, and to simply allow them to be the way they are and the way they are not, I fall into my own trap.   I just cant do it.  I'm right they're wrong.   It just shouldn't be this way...   I'm on a roll... ranting about my parents, wanting to check out, commenting on our completely ass backwards society running around like lunatics trying to convince everyone they are all happy, the Indian cultures obsession with pedigree and achievement, and the overall alienated existence of mankind.   I tell her "I'm done!"  "I'm over it"    I just want to go back to Santa Fe, get back in the garden, coach my clients, work my couple of nights at the restaurant and just get back to basics.   

Its been a frustrating couple of weeks.  The Project has been moving slower than I've liked and I've been to two family events over the past two weeks.  Dropping in to a group of highly educated over achieving Indians obsessed with school, vocation, and marriage is enough to make even the most successful person question whether or not they are doing enough.   Questions of when is it going to be live?  I thought it was supposed to be up a month ago?   Is this going to be your business?   How do you plan on making money? What are you doing with your life?   I try to explain that this project is about service... but that falls mostly on deaf ears. 

At the same time I've been confronted with how difficult it is to actually take incredible creative, intriguing copy, a novel idea, and present it in a web format that is easy to understand and have it be compelling.    The Facebook Group continues to grow and everyone that I speak to is intrigued by the concept.   But what is it going to take to get people to really take this on?  Who is going to be the first group of pioneers that will be willing to share their experience with this?   Does anyone really care about the Courage and Commitment to Communicate?   

My sister begins to share with me how she has handled her communications, making direct requests and refusing to get hooked.    As I proudly sit there in total admiration of my little sister's simple yet infinite wisdom, all of the frustration, resignation, and anger started to melt away.   While I'm now jacked on my second cup of coffee, I feel a certain calm...   Isn't this the whole point of the Pink Elephant Project?!?!  Sharing stories with one another about what worked and what didn't.   

At that exact moment a woman who had been sitting in the corner of the coffee shop comes up to us and gently says to us:  "I'm sorry to bother you but I could not help overhearing what you both were talking about but if you haven't heard of this book, I think you might find it helpful."  She proceeds to hand us a note that says... "Non Violent Communication  By:  Marshall Rosenberg."  My sister and I look at each other in a state of disbelief thinking this never happens in New York.   How bizarre.   As we both get up getting ready to leave and thank this woman for her suggestion, my sister just laughs  "What a perfect end to the conversation!"  and headed off to her next stop.   I took a moment to introduce myself,  let her know that I was familiar with Rosenberg's work and proceeded to quickly tell her about the Pink Elephant Project, as I also had to get going.   

As I walked out of the coffee shop, I noticed the rain had stopped and there seemed to be a certain calm in the air, I caught the eyes and a smile from an older lady that passed me by, and I too had a smile on my face.   

Who was that woman in the coffee shop?  She didn't know us at all.  She didn't just sit there listening to us, she heard us, and she decided to do something about it.    How easy would it have been to just sit there and judge my sister and I?  How easy would it have been to just refocus her attention on to what she was doing?   How easy would it have been for her to just simply go about her own business?   But she didn't.  She chose to participate, make a difference, contribute, share, reach out, and connect.  Such a simple genuine and human act of caring... how  awesome.  

What this woman doesn't know is how much that simple act has impacted me all day!  While I started the day exhausted, late, wet, frustrated and filled with resignation I find myself re-inspired and reinvigorated.  My faith in humanity completely restored.  

The need for the Pink Elephant Project project for me has never been clearer.  There is something about dealing with those difficult conversations that seems to be speaking to much so that they would get up out of their chairs and approach two total strangers to offer a helping hand.   And what about my sister...what started out as a simple bitch session from me turned into a healthy story telling about strategies that work and what was possible for her after being straight, clear, and direct in her communications.   This is the Pink Elephant Project, thats what its all about. 

Glancing at my horoscope for the day, it all seemed to make sense!  Sometimes you've just got to puke out the ugly stuff with a loved one or good friend so that you can let the good stuff come back in.  Thanks for the strong shoulders sis.  

Cancer Horoscope
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You may be worried about medical expenses that are coming in, but you may find that what you need is not more expensive herbs or medicines, it's a good old fashioned venting session, preferably with a loved one with strong shoulders and the ability to keep a secret.