The Only Way Out Is Through

One thing people hear me say is if we refuse to embrace growth opportunities that are uncomfortable, chances are they will just keep showing up.” My good friend Barbara learned this lesson the hard way.

A few years ago she was flying high at her job. She was a Global Manager for a startup making its turn up the “hockey stick” chart. They flew her to live in Australia and Italy for months at a time to set up satellite offices. She led them through a successful IPO. Then, she fell in love with one of their senior engineering staff, and settled in for a long and happy career at the company… or so she thought.

One day, her boss was replaced by someone new. This woman was the polar opposite of her previous boss. She was controlling, manipulative, polarizing, middle managing — the works. Barbara went from loving her job to feeling miserable, all because of one person. Barbara didn’t blame this person for how she felt. Sure, the environment now felt poisonous to her, but we agreed that by taking on new assertive behaviors and related strategies Barbara could learn to excel even around someone like her new boss.

The problem was that the new assertive strategies were in conflict with Barbara’s idea of who she was and how she wanted to act in business. In her mind, the decisive, self-confident behavior she needed to cultivate was just too close to the pushy, domineering style she observed in her boss. Barbara tried a few of the strategies, but only in a token way. She informed the C-Suite on how her boss was a toxic element, but they brushed her off. People all around her started quitting and eventually she did, too.

Instead of finding another boss, Barbara blossomed as a marketing consultant with a steady stream of clients. About a year after quitting her job, Barbara’s awful ex-boss sent her a lead. While curious about the motivations, Barbara followed up on the business. Then, as she was in the middle of the pitch process her old boss contacted her wanting intel on a marketing director position open at the company.

Barbara came to me in a panic. “I just got away from her, and now she is vying to be my boss again! I can’t take it, I won’t take it. Why is she following me?”

Sure enough, the old boss got the job. Instantly all of the feelings and experiences that Barbara thought she had left behind had come flooding back.

We think that if we avoid or ignore something it will eventually go away. But, the more we run from things, the more they have a habit of showing up. The reality is, people and situations are in our lives for a purpose, whether we are conscious of it or not. What we resist, persists.

Part of the journey of life is to find out how we can grow and expand our awareness with every experience, both good and bad. And when we notice repetition in the negative aspects of our lives, it’s a signal to be extra vigilant in uncovering the purpose of the experience and resolve any underlying cause. For Barbara, this woman was the opportunity to expand her office politics repertoire, befriend the confident, forceful side of herself, and stop people from walking all over her. She had avoided it more than once in her life, but Barbara vowed not to make the same mistake again.

The next time we spoke, Barbara had embraced her inner assertiveness, and her energy around her old boss held none of it’s previous venom. Within a month’s time, her new client had fired the toxic ex-boss was fired. It was like as soon as Barbara had resolved the conflict within her and embraced this new side of herself, there was no more need for her to pull that situation to her and it resolved itself.

What experiences seem to keep showing up in different forms in your life, no matter how you work to avoid them? What might you need to embrace within yourself in order to shift the dynamic into something positive?

“One of the great cosmic laws, I think, is that whatever we hold in our thought will come true in our experience. When we hold something, anything, in our thought, then somehow coincidence leads us in the direction that we’ve been wishing to lead ourselves.” — Richard Bach, American author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull among others.

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