I want to be clear about something. The first place I needed to clean was my side of the street. I had to stop the blame machine. I view this machine as something that churns like a locomotive, angry and moving with smoke stacks, billowing with black smoke and moving almost unmercifully down the train tracks in our mind. The train is long and behind the locomotive are all the cars like fault and shame, regret and doubt. I had to stop this. I had to end this cycle and stop my interaction, which was the fuel for the locomotive. Or, as my good friend Fran always says, “I had to fess up when I mess up” and learn to keep moving.
To give this a different perspective imagine there was a fire in the house, I knew there was nothing I could do to stop this. I knew that I only had a little time before I was engulfed in flames.
Now, what would I do in a case like this?
Would I spend time wondering how the fire started?
Would I look to see who was at fault?
Would I complain about the inconvenience and let time escape me?
Or, would I gather what I could and get out fast?
The obvious answer is that I would look to find safety. However, life comes with challenges and oftentimes, we find ourselves in mid-debate over what happened, how, who is to blame, who is at fault, why did this happen and how come no one is helping and oops, wait, why am I catching on fire in the meantime? This is life in relation to a fire scenario.
Blame, fault and accountability are often the focus; meanwhile, we have a life to live. We have grown folks’ business to tend to. Sometimes, we have to come to an agreement with ourselves that we can lose our mind tomorrow but for now, we have work to do.
There comes a time when the blaming statements have to stop. How many times have you heard someone say, “I feel that you are doing this,” or “I feel like this is the reason why it didn’t work out” when regarding an excuse?
There comes a time when the fire grows and if we’re not careful, we can lose ourselves to the flames of an incident. Or, we can change directions. We can switch to the tactical side of the mind. We can come up with a plan and find a strategy to achieve this.
By the way, it is easy to tell someone, “Don’t get excited.” In fact, I have a favorite saying that has been popularized by a meme that has been scattered around social media in different versions. The saying does not belong to me per-se; however, this saying is something that I both laugh at and nod to in total agreement.
The saying is:
NEVER in the history of calming down
has anyone ever calmed down
by being told to calm down.
There is the idea that life and life choices are often easier said than done. And I agree. Sometimes the obvious and easiest choice is usually the most difficult.
Years ago, I decided to enter into a new plan that would allow me to improve and evolve as a person. I wanted to learn how to address my thinking errors and be free from the cognitive traps. I wanted to step away from my subconscious programs. So, in an effort to “Find myself,” I had to take notice of what was missing.
And the answer was me.
I was missing my priorities. I was missing a plan and goals, tactics, methods and like a shoelace that weaves through the eyelets of a shoe, I was missing the strategy to weave this all together.
I had dreams. I had hopes and ideas. Then again, there was life to deal with. I had relationships that soured and friendships that were lost. There were family arguments and splits and unresolved tensions, all of which were items that distracted me from my goals. I spent so much time trying to understand why things were happening that I forgot to adjust my personal program. Hence, the flames around me grew and essentially, I was engulfed.
I can take this thinking back to different moments of anxiety. I can think of the times when the worry machine went into tilt-mode and I could hardly think straight.
Here’s an example: I was working as a young salesman. My numbers were the lowest in the company. I had a sales manager who was also the owner’s son. He was also the top seller in the business. I was having a less than stellar week at the time. I knew there was something coming my way. I found myself thinking about all of the different reasons why my sales were failing. I thought about all of the problems I was having. I thought about the lack of attention my products received. I was given poor attention in the shipping room and other orders took precedence over mine. I was never given any good leads that were strong or fair. I was operating at a disadvantage and there were countless reasons why the other sales people were more successful than me. As I stoked the flames to my own panic, I knew there was something coming my way.
And I was right.
I arrived at my small cubicle to see my desk was missing something. I noticed my phone. I saw that my files were exactly where I left them. My samples were there. My notes were there. But wait, where was my chair? The son of a bitch took my chair away.
I asked around like, “Hey, has anybody seen my chair?”
I was told to ask Adam.
“Adam knows where your chair is” said another sales person with a guilty-pleasure smile.
My anxiety began to skyrocket because I knew this conversation was going to go poorly. I knew that I was going to receive a motivational hollering, which would be less than kind and far from sensitive and definitely the opposite of polite.
“Excuse me, Adam” I said to Adam while peeking from the side of his doorway. Adam was behind his desk in his office. The top of his desk was covered with orders and paperwork. He had flow charts for new accounts on his wall. His mess was organized but he was flowing with a flood of business that nearly topped the industry.
Adam looked up at me.
I said “Good morning,” and “Happy Valentine’s Day.”
I agree this was a weird thing to say but after all, it was Valentine’s Day and I figured an ice breaker couldn’t hurt. Right?
Adam said, “Good morning,” in return with no sense of emotion on his face.
“Say, um, Adam, have you seen my chair anywhere?”
“Yeah,” Adam said.
“Can you tell me where it is so I can go get it?”
A look of rage took the expression on Adam’s face. This was certainly before the times of sensitivity and understanding in the workplace seminars. His eyebrows folded downward with a snarl to his top lip. He spoke to me through grinding teeth and said. “You don’t deserve to have a chair.”
The volume of his voice exceeded the maximum level.
“You want your chair back? Then go bring me an order.”
Adam yelled, “Bring me an order and I will give you your chair back.”
I left Adam’s doorway with my neck bent downwards and my ego deflated and beaten. I knew this was coming my way, And look who this was coming from. This was coming from someone with an advantage. This was coming from a person who received special privileges. Oh, and for the record, decency prevented me from accurately quoting the words Adam used to define me as a person and a salesman during this interaction.
I went back to my cubicle where all the other salespeople near me were sitting at their desks. They were making appointments and booking sales. And me, I was standing up at my desk, partly shamed, partly beaten, partly humiliated and partly devoured by my inner-thoughts and the internal voice that would not stop speaking to me. I called every account that was pending. I called in every favor I could and eventually, I took an order that was in-between the price range of small to somewhat decent.
Within an approximate hour of my “Talking-to,” I proudly took the order over to Adam’s office where he was still sitting behind his desk with stacks of papers and orders that flooded his in-box.
“Do you have an order for me?”
“Yes,” I said and I presented the paperwork to Adam.
Adam reviewed my paperwork. I could see his dark eyes aggressively scanning the details from left to right.
Adam threw the paper at me and asked, “What is this?”
“It’s an order,” I said.
Adam shook his head with an acute snarl of disapproval.
“That’s not an order,” said Adam.
He lifted a paper from his desk and pointed to the bottom right corner of the page.
He was holding up a million dollar program.
“This is an order,” Adam said.
“Now go back to your desk and make a sale!”
I spent so much of my life trying to find accountability for things that happened. I tried to rationalize and explain away my fitness (or the lack thereof) and at no point did I understand that I was the missing element. I fed the blame machine for so long and stoked the flames of incidents that I allowed myself to habitually be engulfed in flames.
A time came when I decided to address my misperceptions of myself. I addressed the way I lived and thought. A time came when I had to stop the locomotive on the tracks and stop the wheels from spinning.
Another favorite quote of mine is this:
“Worrying is like sitting in a rocking chair.
It gives you something to do
but it doesn’t get you anywhere.”
I sat in that rocking chair for too long. I was unfit. I was living a life that had no passion or direction and when asked “Where do I see myself in 10 years,” my answer was sadly unenthused and uninspired.
This was me and to change this, I had to clean my side of the street. And when I say I had to fess up when I messed up, I do not mean this in regard to blame, shame, fault or regret. Instead, I had to wrap this up and understand this is where I was. Rather than stress for the reasons “Why” I allowed myself to get out of the fire.
I had to discover what I needed to navigate away from and then I had to learn to negotiate the path in front of me. I had to learn how to adjust and make changes. Rather than worry about why things weren’t happening in my favor, I chose to focus on strategies and turn this around to create my own opportunities.
The grass isn’t always greener on the other side. No, the grass is greenest where it is taken care of. I stopped shopping for comparison. I turned off the excuse machine and stopped allowing myself to be educationally, personally and intellectually lazy. I decided to switch my direction of accountability. I had to let go of my old habitual standards and to improve my relationships (and mind you, this is not just about business). I had to clean up my side of the street and prepare to change my thinking. I switched from irrational and emotional thinking to strategy and procedures. I had to relieve myself from the rigidness of my doubts and beliefs and learn to maneuver away from old habits and thinking.
Do you know what happened afterwards?
Well, I can tell you.
I became a certified professional life coach. I am a mental health advocate. I have state recognized credentials that certify me with peer support and peer advocacy. I have been flown across the country to act in supporting roles for different wellbeing initiatives.
I have authored eight books. I have earned myself a column in a labor publication. I became certified as a consulting hypnotist so that I can assist people with hypnosis and guided meditations. I created programs in homeless shelters. I had a pre-Covid Sunday morning program in a Northern New Jersey correctional facility.
I have done presentations that cover mental health, understanding, wellbeing and recovery in front of law enforcement, county officials, college students and in corporate settings. And today, I enter a new stage of my evolution towards being the person I choose to be. There are no more excuses. No more fires building around me. There is only the path that I choose and the plans to reach my goals.
This is not written to say “Look at me! I’m cool.”
This is not me patting myself on the back.
No, this is me pointing out that my direction changed the day I decided to change the direction of my accountability.
Oh, and excuse me Adam, may I have my chair back please . . .
Oh, wait. I don’t work for Adam anymore.
That’s right. I have my own chair now.
And do you know what?
No one can take this away from me.
(Unless I let them.)