Someone I love reached out a few weeks ago to ask me how to navigate a complex personal situation. Out of respect, I’ll anonymize and abstract the situation here; in essence, the person who reached out to me found themselves in the midst of a pattern and repeated interaction that to them, seemed to be creating stress and also had a simple solution that involved the individual they were interacting with to “let go” of doing this one thing. It seemed so simple. And if the individual let it go, the person who reached out to me was convinced that everyone’s life would be easier and nothing negative would come of it.
For the first time, I shared a deeply personal approach to these situations with someone else: stop thinking of this situation as a problem you can solve, and start acknowledging this as a condition you will have to live with and find a way forward with.
This may be controversial; but I believe strongly that treating some challenges as conditions is a tactic you can use to put concepts like “choose your battles” into practice. Everyone knows they have to choose their battles; but nobody tells you what to do with the battles you choose…not to choose. And without a deliberate plan for those unchosen battles, they end up lingering, they end up resurfacing, and you end up having to revisit them as decisions as a result of them remaining unsettled as well as unchosen.
What do I mean when I say “condition”?
First, let’s define “condition”. Personally, I’m not the healthiest. I’ve had 10 surgeries in my life: a corneal transplant in my right eye, both ACLs, one meniscus, a compound rotator cuff and posterior bankart repair, wrist, jaw, abdominal hernia, and two topographic laser corrections to my left eye. I also have at least 4 more procedures ready to go when I’m ready, not to mention a near certain tear of my left shoulder (which I won’t repair), and up to 60% hearing loss in both ears (which has affected my ability to and desire to socialize).
Those are conditions. I don’t wake up every day complaining about my eyesight and my degenerative eye condition because there’s nothing I can do about it. I find a way forward. I am not going to have shoulder surgery on my left shoulder (the juice is not worth the squeeze at my age) so instead, I switched my tennis backhand from a two hander to a one hander. I can do very little about my hearing loss so I’m now enjoying more time with my thoughts and with experiences where sound is less important (I read more than watch or listen, for example).
Let’s be clear: we all have conditions we live with. When they are things that happen to us, our bodies, our minds, our experiences, we find ways to accommodate them. However, when they are imposed upon us, or brought into our lives, by external parties (family, friends, co-workers) we don’t allow them, or ourselves, the same grace and space, to treat them as conditions. We struggle, we engage, we battle, we debate, we try and fix … but I for one (I’ll stop saying we, as that’s not fair) can do a better job thinking about the challenges people bring to me not as disruptions but as conditions.
In doing so, the path forward is less about finding an answer, and more about simply finding a way. Sometimes, finding a way is the only way.
Taking this approach also fits what I hope and what I see as my world view more and more. It makes me realize I am more a part of the system than an individual of matter. It places pressure on me to be empathetic to an extreme.
Because there’s more to this approach than just us. When we look for solutions we do see a path froward. But in seeing the path forward, we don’t always see the other person. For who they are. For their context.
It’s always easy to solve someone else’s problem.
I’ve spent the past year, and very aggressively, the past 6 months, focused on becoming a holistically healthier human being. The amount of pressure I allowed myself to feel was unhealthy. And the number of excuses I made for myself to remain unhealthy, to make unhealthy choices, was exceptionally problematic.
One of the biggest changes I’ve started making for myself is to pull back from finding solutions unless I’m asked, or unless it’s an absolutely critical part of moving forward. This is important at work. This is also important at home, most importantly with my kids, where I’m not yet ready to treat their quirks as conditions…c’mon folks, they’re only 7 and 5. They’re human experiments, testing boundaries; they don’t have hard coded conditions yet. So it is important in that context that I work through their thinking with them. But outside of my kids, in most cases, thinking in terms of conditions is a healthy mindset.
Thinking in terms of conditions also allows me to remove steam from the pressure cooker. If I know I have a plan for dealing with a battle not chosen, then I’m more likely to pick and choose fewer battles.
I had an intense work conversation recently; and I realized that not only was I not being heard, I was very unlikely to be heard. I hadn’t and haven’t been heard. But it very truly isn’t my fault or my problem to fix. It’s a pattern I can’t change. Instead of allowing myself to be continually frustrated by it, I decided to take my own advice.
And treat certain dynamics as conditions. Since that very poignant moment and realization, I find myself liberated, positive, and energized again at work.
I’ve always said that “why” is an important question, but for all intents and purposes, “how” is the most powerful one. Embracing the mindset at critical moments requires that you shift away from “why” (which in many cases, can be asking a question the answer to which changes nothing, which are questions I often choose to ignore) and lean into “how”.
And for that step, for Kenny Rogers playing in the background while I figure out what condition my condition is in, #iamgrateful and #iamthankful. Here’s to being healthier with every day.