A bunch of years ago, back during my first marriage, there was this one particular visit with his family. My then-hubby was a little ramped up about it, as many of us can get in the run-up to a visit that evokes a complexity of feelings. I got a little ramped up, too, both with my own feelings and in what I think I considered some sort of solidarity with him.
Long very-not-pretty story short: I brought the stress that we were fearing. My anticipation of stress led to reactivity led to me behaving in ways that still have a little cringe attached to the memories.
This past weekend, Theresa and I headed toward a chore related to her family, cleaning a family storage space, that we anticipated would be stressful. I had missed the first round due to a nasty allergy day and had considered that a win for both of us; I feared that I would bring the stress.
On the drive there, I reminded myself of what I’ve learned in the years since the oh-so-painful visit with my ex’s family: I needed to attend to myself first. If I wanted to be as present for and helpful to Theresa as possible, I had to start by nurturing myself proactively in the hopes of avoiding getting to a reactive place. I had to pay attention to my own needs for breaks, water and snacks – even a desire to call it a day; I had to be willing to enact my own needs first.
I reminded myself in the car and then again and again while we worked.
The reminders played out as I suggested a switch to outdoor work when the dust and ick of the indoors started getting to me; as I paused to drink the soothing herbal tea we brought; as I noticed the tickling of impatience around the third hour and got curious if it was a cue that I needed to be done or something I could breathe through.
And you know what? It was stressful. But I wasn’t the moldy maraschino on top.
We tend to think of selfishness and selflessness as polar opposites, as dichotomous options on some behavioral switch.
As is so often true in life, there is a greater complexity, a place where it’s not me or you but, rather, me and you, or even me for you.
Which is to say, selflessness starts looking mighty selfish when we don’t manage our energy well enough to show up in meaningful ways.
This one comes up in coaching a good bit, this fear of selfishness/selflessness. Discovering your own way through the complexity of life is what coaching is all about. Fun, meaningful community is what The Bigger Badder Crew is all about.