In college I proudly worked as one of the most successful shoe salespeople at Williamsburg, Virginia’s only Birkenstock store. I worked there mainly because I wanted a discount on shoes (I was a pretty devoted hippie), but also because I liked that our boss referred to me as a terrier. Being compared to a dog doesn’t sound like a good thing, but what he constantly referenced was my tenacity, toughness and inability to let anything (like a sale) go.
As a petite southern woman, I find most people assume that I’m going to be as sweet as sugar. And to be fair, I think I was raised by a family that did a very good job instilling in me the value of manners, politeness and treating people the way you’d like to be treated. But one of the things I struggle with the most about myself is my inability to let things go. I think my diminutive stature has played a big part in my development of a fairly steely interior (I don’t think I look particularly menacing on the outside) that was part of my early attempt to show people I was louder, stronger and tougher than they thought. That interior unfortunately expresses itself all too often as a need to speak up or correct people when I think they’ve done something wrong, unfair or unkind. Sometimes that’s fine. But sometimes that does nothing but frustrate me when the best thing for me to do would have been to let it go and walk away. So for this month’s essay theme (each one of us is embarking on a personal challenge) I decided to work on letting go and being a nicer person.
This challenge might sound overly grandiose or conversely too simple of a challenge, but it’s one I’m glad I undertook because I learned a lot about myself and how much stress I add to my own plate by creating problems where there don’t need to be any. While this challenge taught me a lot about myself personally, it exposed one of my biggest professional flaws: avoiding difficult work by creating small fires that need to be put out elsewhere.
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Click through to read the full article and the steps I took to learn to let go…
Most of us have enough stress in our lives. Whether you’re running a business, raising a family or working a tough job (or all three), life throws us enough curve balls that daily stressors are almost a given. So why is it so easy to fall into a trap of creating more for ourselves?
Here is my primary problem: I have an awful little switch in my brain that goes off when someone does something that upsets me. It’s probably not awful in of itself, but my response to it being triggered is. Here is a quick list of the things that pop up in my inbox every day that lead to me getting upset, stressed out and involved in discussions I should be walking away from instead:
- Emails sent to “Gracie”, “Bonnie”, “DEAR BLOGGER” or another blogger’s name (ie: a cut and paste mass press release).
- Any hints of sexism that pop up in emails from people that discuss my gender or size or make reference to something being “sexy” when it has no place in a press release.
- Emails that ignore something I’ve already said to someone or show that someone hasn’t read anything I’ve written to them before
- Repeat press releases with errors/misspelling and inaccurate remarks from an agent that I know a good friend is spending their hard earned money on.
Sure, some of these things are annoying and possibly warrant a response. But what I realized about myself was that in taking on these tiny battles every day, I was creating unnecessary stress and distracting myself from the work that I really needed to be doing. So I gave myself a challenge for one week: I had to ignore every single thing that upset me and let it go. Instead of correcting or arguing or sticking my nose somewhere it shouldn’t be, I had to simply say thank you and move on. The only exception I allowed myself was a 2 minute window to feel my emotions and write down something if it really upset me to revisit later. And you know what I found after 2 minutes? I really didn’t feel so upset anymore.
After a week of writing friendlier emails, ignoring things I’d typically feed the “need” to correct and embracing the idea of just letting things go, I realized that 9 times out of 10, I was simply failing to put myself in someone else’s shoes. It’s rarely someone’s intention to upset someone else with a misspelling, incorrect name or by missing a paragraph of someone’s email. Haven’t I done the same? Absolutely.
Simply taking the time to make “letting go” a muscle I used on a daily basis, turned what seemed like a challenge into a learned behavior. It had not only the effect of increasing the amount of kindness and patience I focused on practicing, but it was hard evidence that half of the upset in my daily work life was something I did to myself. What was so bad with letting something go anyway? I had convinced myself that letting go meant “losing” in some way. But we’re not all in a war. There isn’t a daily battle to keep score- and by operating with that mindset I was closing myself off to meeting new people, making new s and having real discussions with people rather than making assumptions.
My takeaway after a week of changed email behavior taught me three major lessons:
1. It is always a good idea to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. I was being so narrow-minded and needlessly sensitive to assume that anyone else’s error was about me or wanting to bother me. Most of us don’t have time for that sort of needless drama and I shouldn’t either.
2. Being kinder and more patient with others allowed me to do the same with myself. Working through all those feelings taught me a lot about the way I operate and let me work through what was really under all those emotions. The majority of which were about feeling tired, stressed out or failing to adapt to and accept change more completely. Cutting myself a little slack to understand where those feelings came from and then working through them reminded me that I should be doing the same with every person I’m coming in with each day.
3. If something is truly upsetting, I should work to change it, rather than complain about it. I’ve always been someone who prided myself on problem solving, but too often I fall into a spiral of just talking about the problem, rather than fi it. So with the remaining few “upsets” I had written down after my week, I’ve decided to turn them into a larger project I hope to make happen this fall. Actions speak louder than words and after taking away my frustrated words for a week, I see how much more valuable it is to act kindly and with a purpose than to just talk about it.