Recently I met up with a dear friend over the Christmas season discussing the year ahead. She mentioned her renewed focus on a book she was writing and that she felt convinced she was now ready to move forward.
In that moment, in the midst of what had been a lovely, positive visit, something happened to me. I became negative; I was less than encouraging; in fact she thought I was being judgmental. My response was to suggest she was a Pollyanna assuming that just because she was bringing attention to the book it would automatically happen.
I could tell something had shifted in me; there was a change in the energy in my body. It felt heavy, restrictive and uncomfortable; I was no longer at ease. What had happened? My friend is extremely good at not just letting things slide so wouldn’t not allow me to drop the matter. (Another sign of my stuff coming up is that when the going gets tough, I want to get going!”)
I did my best to look at my feelings. I wondered out loud if it reflected my own frustration on having worked so hard on my book only to feel a sense of failure. I felt some judgment of my self that I didn’t try hard enough. However under the cloud of uncomfortable feelings and negative energy, I could arrive at no sense of resolution. I seemed as stuck as a fly in wet paint.
After my return to Vancouver, she emailed me to say she felt “funny/bad” about the conversation and could we talk about it. I noticed a tinge of anxiety and the familiar desire to avoid what could be a conflict. Then immediately responded in the affirmative and asked when. This conversation turned out to be very positive. Without the energy and feelings clouding our discussion, both of us were conciliatory and able to listen to the other’s point of view. I felt again that my own lack of success with my own book had contributed to my angst.
I also realized that it is almost impossible to unravel one’s “stuckness” when the occasion is muddied by powerful energy and feelings. It’s wise to disengage for a while with a commitment to follow up.
I was sharing this story with a mutual friend who immediately countered my perception that my book was a failure. “First you wrote one, most people never get that far. Then you published it and finally sold over eight hundred copies that likely helped many more to cope with tough decisions.” (My book is titled Life’s Little Book for Big Decisions.)
Although this gave me pause, the script of not trying hard enough continued to influence me. I insisted that I had never really tried very hard at anything in my life – work, relationship, sport. I explained that at the age of thirteen I had learned the price of trying was failure and so I stopped.
At the age of almost twelve I had been sent away to boarding school. I had no choice in the matter, I left a school where I was a top student both in terms of academics and sports, I was active in drama performing in school plays, respected by teachers, given a position of authority over other students and a fairly confident although somewhat shy, but independent child.
I moved into an environment where I was mediocre to say the least; I was surrounded by smart, mostly older, and more confident fellow students, many had been to preparatory schools designed to prepare them for this experience. I went from being at the top to the bottom of the heap.
At first I tried to engage fully in this new environment: I tried to join things – the band, the theatre group but seemed to meet rejection at every point. I played football (soccer) they played rugby. I can still feel the humiliation of my first rugby game when I unwittingly threw the ball forward like a quarterback in American football to the derision of everyone else on the field. Everything seemed alien and I began to sink into the background. I chose invisibility as a way to deal with rejection. I stopped trying.
Back in the current time something happened that got my attention. I tripped and suffered a painful fall on the way home. As a result I did a reading of the I Ching to check in and got a result that I hated. “Work on what has been spoiled” however it caused me to ask myself what was tripping me up? The I Ching suggested a seven-day process to explore and remedy.
A couple of days later I was sitting reflecting when I had an insight. Although I had stopped trying at the age of thirteen, I had reinvented myself at the age of 25. It’s a long story but at that age I began to impose my will on the world. I became extremely successful in business becoming Executive Vice President of Canada’s largest advertising agency, I realized that it was completely untrue for me to say I had not tried.
This made me wonder about my book and the energy and effort I had put into it. I had sent copies off to agents and publishers, made multiple public presentations on decision-making, and sold 800 copies personally. How could I say I had not tried?
It seemed so implausible that I should have such a negative self-image. Then it struck me. I was still impacted by an old script. It was as though some unconscious figure pressed “play” on an old tape and the script played out.
I still have trouble in believing that this old, redundant message could still impact my energy, feelings and responses and such was its power that I would buy in. No wonder life is so complex. How many other old scripts could be lurking in my unconscious?
My experience sure helps with maintaining humility. So the next time you want to react, check out the script that may be causing the response. Perhaps you can keep your counsel in check or perhaps like me you will react then learn to see the old refrain playing itself out. At the moment I am too much like the Pavlovian dog reacting to the sound of the bell. My hope is that bringing this old script into the light will diminish the autonomous power it seems to exert over my reactions.