Sunday, September 7, 2008 9:09 AM
This post is part of a series called Ignite Your Life. For background info on the series, please refer to previous posts on introducing the series and The 5 R's (where you can find links to the other posts in this series).
I’ve been fighting with how to start this post…some witty anecdote, some deep insight, some metaphor that drives the point home. But none of those are formalizing so let me just be blunt:
You need relationships in your life for it to be successful.
Out of all the ideas and concepts that I’ll post in this series, I’m probably the most passionate about relationships because I’ve seen the power that they hold.
I became an independent consultant for many reasons, but one of them was a lack of trust for company ownership that I built up over my 7 years in the industry. I had a choice to jump ship to another company, possibly facing the same frustrations and issues that I’d experienced throughout all of my career, or try to strike out on my own. I did the latter. The interesting thing though is that although my first year of being independent was definitely what I’d call a success and a great learning time, it wouldn’t have been if I hadn’t embraced the idea of building relationships. Going out of my way to meet people, looking for opportunities to connect with people, re-connecting with people I’d worked with in the past…all of these things were crucial to my first year and onward. More importantly, the discipline of doing those things will be invaluable to my life going forward.
I want to make it clear though: despite the business context, building relationships is so much more than just adding to your rolodex. In Rules for Renegades, Christine uses an equation often and its one that I’ve made doctrine in all areas of my life:
Life = The people you meet + What you create together
Notice that the equation doesn’t start with “Work” or “Career” or “Status”, etc. It starts with Life. Life is about getting people together and seeing what happens. It’s an activity…its an exercise…its ongoing. But I firmly believe that life is not meant to be experienced in isolation. Life is a contact sport, but its also a team sport. We need others, and others need us. And not in the “what can you do for me/I do for you” type of leeching agreement. Relationships are about showing interest and care in someone else’s life. You don’t have to be best friends with everyone you meet, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be empathetic and reach out to people. The more you reach out, the more you realize others are willing to reach out to you too.
This all sounds great, but let’s tackle the elephant in the room: there are those of us that avoid relationships or fostering the ones we already have for a number of reasons. Some claim they don’t have the personality for it, some don’t want to spend the energy, some feel that its a waste of time. I’m going to suggest that we don’t engage in relationships because of a few key fears.
Fear of Rejection
None of us want to be rejected. The feeling that we weren’t <fill in the blank> enough for someone…that we were somehow a failure. Personal rejection is always the worst, and it cuts the deepest into our psyche and self worth. Many of us have experienced this type of rejection at some point in our lives, and it can be a hurdle that seems too large to overcome in building new relationships.
One of the key lies that we buy into and which fuels this fear is the idea that we’re somehow lesser than the people we fear will reject us. We see it as a top-down system where we’re always looking up for approval.
In one of the earlier posts where we talked about Realization, we brought up the ideas of ‘Being Comfortable As You’ and ‘Declaring Yourself’. These concepts are crucial to overcoming the fear of rejection. Despite all the talk of blue/white collars, rich/poor, upper class/middle class, <insert your own status comparison here>, the reality is that none of us has any greater worth than anyone else. Not only does realizing that free us from the fear of rejection, but it frees us to make connections we normally wouldn’t have made. Stop giving others power over you. If you allow yourself to see others as greater value than you, then rejection has power. If you see others as equals, then as Christine says in her book: “When someone says ‘no’, I say ‘next’!”
Fear of Trust
All of us have had someone betray a trust, act against us instead of for us, have their actions be different then their words. When opportunities for relationships arise in the areas where trust is broken, we tend to paint everyone with a broad stroke. Friendships, romantic relationships, business partners, co-workers, bosses…
For me it was bosses. Over my years in the IT industry, I met some incredibly unscrupulous people that soured me on placing any trust in a business owner. In my mind, an owner cared only about money and not about people, either employees or customers. It was one of the catalysts for me to strike out on my own and become my own boss; the ultimate defensive barrier – nobody was truly my ‘boss’, just my ‘customer’. I could rationalize the difference.
I still struggle with this. I still struggle with believing that there are those in the business world that value people above profit, or at least realize that the former directly impacts the latter. I’ve been lucky to work with some fantastic people and companies that have given me opportunities to put away my trust issues and open myself up more, and I’m starting to realize that not everyone in the business world is the same.
Be cautious, realize that your wounds and scars are also your education, but don’t let those keep you from experiencing the potential good that is out in the world. Try trusting people again and you’ll find, like I have, that for every bad apple there’s a basket full of good fruit.
Fear of Expectations
Do you remember when talking about ‘Stop Leaking Power’ what we said about expectations?
Don’t place expectations on people. Expectations are simply a way of letting others decide whether you’re happy. You can’t expect people to act in a certain way when you don’t have any say over their lives or their actions. It can also lead to leaked power because expectations also mean that we’re relying on someone else to act in a certain way for us to feel happy, loved, accepted, etc.
Relationships ebb and flow…people will be closer to you at different times of your life. The way you interact with them has more to do with environment, situation, and circumstance than anything else.
I recently realized the danger of placing expectations on relationships. I’ve got this friend, and for many years we worked together on various activities at our church, hung out and watched football, met for lunch pretty regularly to talk about life, etc. Over the last year and a half though, things changed. He moved up to a different position in the church and I started working with a new guy in the youth ministry. He also started doing things more with people who had children the same age as his own…we drifted into different circles of friends and different places in life.
I got angry. I still held an expectation on our friendship. I had let him know we were thinking of leaving our church, that we had gone through some family health issues over the past year, that we were making some big decisions in the next little while. I got an email reply and then…silence. From both sides though: I heard nothing really from him, and I didn’t put out any effort because HE should be contacting ME, like all the other times I had touched base to see how life was treating him! Nevermind the fact that he was also dealing with some pretty intense issues, in my mind it was no excuse.
Now, what I *should* have done is realized this and accepted it for what it was: the ebb and flow of relationships.
There are, of course, certain expectations that you can put on relationships: I expect that my wife isn’t going to have any boyfriends on the side, I expect that my friends won’t steal from me, etc. But beyond the common sense pieces, you can’t place expectations on people or relationships because at some point they won’t be met. We need to appreciate and accept people for who they are and what they can and do offer.
And of course the golden rule still applies: do unto others as you would have others do unto you. Sometimes we need to be that model to show others what it means to foster relationships.
You cannot ignite your life without relationships, period. We talked about being your own CEO and how that means you have to ensure all areas of You Inc. are well managed and well run. That means your social/relational department needs to be running at peak efficiency too. Don’t shy away from relationships…don’t allow fears of rejection, trust, or expectations get in the way of experiencing all the positives relationships hold.