Have you ever had an experience where something isn’t working or something goes wrong, and instead of going with the flow you double down, push a little harder, start to try to force it, maybe rail against why it’s not working out, and then it doesn’t really change the outcome anyway?
Yeah. Me, too.
In my coaching group, we are using the Enneagram as a tool for self-understanding and expanding our capacities in the areas where we want to grow. There’s a line in my personality type report that refers to a tendency that – when taken to an extreme in an unhealthy way – can show up like this, “They become like a person aggressively trying to push a door open that opens inwardly.”
When I first read this, I burst out laughing. Not in that full-body, oh-this-is-hilarious kind of way, but that slightly embarrassed, chagrined, “Yep, that’s totally me and I am big enough to admit it” kind of way. Because, WOW. I have definitely experienced that before.
Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think this is only a negative thing. I actually think this ability to push harder, stay the course, get MORE passionate about things is one of my best qualities. Except when it’s not.
Then, it becomes something that can create real challenges for me and can end up causing more harm than good. I had a recent experience where this floated right up to the surface and smacked me in the face. (Pardon the mixed metaphors here!) I injured my back and am in some pretty intensive physical therapy, which is not only taking a lot of time, but if you’ve ever done anything like this, you know that often the work of healing is also something that causes different pain and challenges as you go through the work of re-strengthening the area that was hurt. So I was physically not at my best, and I was planning for a work trip that required a four-hour drive to deliver a keynote and a workshop at a conference of about 500 people in the neighboring state. Then the Universe decided to get cheeky with me, and my daughter’s cough worsened, resulting in a trip to the doctor and two prescriptions for bronchitis. This also meant she stayed home from school and was with me while I was trying to work and prep for this trip AND it changed our travel plans because she was originally going to come with me and go stay with her Aunt while I went to the conference.
Up until this point, I’d rolled with the punches. Yep, had to fit in another physical therapy appointment and get a prescription for the resulting inflammation. Yep, had to figure out how to work from home with a full day of clients and meetings when my 4-year-old was in the living room not feeling well and asking for my attention. Yep, needed to pack and gas the car. Yep, didn’t sleep so great because the pain in my back was above normal levels. Yep, needed to rearrange hotel reservations last-minute.
I finally got everyone and everything settled, was running a bit late for my departure time but had some flexibility so it was okay. I was driving along to my conference, noticing my body and emotions were still activated, but giving them some space as I listened to a podcast and did some deep breathing as I tried to shift my energy into a calmer space. I was about 2 hours away from my house and realized…I forgot all of the boxes of books I was going to sell at the conference.
Yep. My beautiful book that I was so proud of and that I was so excited to offer at this conference. 500 people! An audience that was literally the *perfect* audience for my book! Something I’d negotiated into my speaking contract! It was going to be awesome!
Except it wasn’t. Because those books were neatly packed and waiting right by the front door in the boxes I failed to bring. My grip tightened on the steering wheel as I kept driving. My mind raced, calculating whether or not it was feasible (and safe) to drive 2 hours back home to get them to turn around. I contemplated whether or not I could call someone to help me and meet me halfway. I grunted and yelled out loud because I was so angry. And then the self-beration came crashing in. How could I possibly not have brought them? How could I be so forgetful? Why was I so stupid?!?!
Push, push, push, push. Trying to force. And then I exhaled. Inhaled, then exhaled again. No pushing was going to resolve this. No machination of overextending my energy or sacrificing a night of rest to drive back across the state was going to be a good choice. It was time to lean into it. So I took a few more deep breaths, acknowledged the disappointment, and then consciously chose to let it go. And then about 73 seconds later, I had to consciously choose to let it go again. And then about 6 minutes later, I had to do it again. And pretty much for the duration of the trip (not just the remainder of the drive- the entire next day, too!) I had to do the same thing over and over again.
If you’re someone who has a tendency to push or force and “just try one more time” instead of leaning into the situation – even in all its crumminess – I feel you. I get it. And I’m also learning how to disrupt this tendency earlier in order to be kinder myself. I don’t have it down just yet, but I’m getting there.
Also, recognizing when I’m pushing on a door that actually pulls inwardly really is helpful!