Happy Independence Day! The other day I learned something new about someone I really admire: Buckminister Fuller. What impresses me so much about him is his range of accomplishments. He was an architect, writer, philosopher and inventor (with several patents to his name.) It turns out in his twenties, he was feeling quite low. He was broke and his infant daughter had just died from meningitis. One bitter winter evening in Chicago, he contemplated ending his life. He even went to a pawn shop to buy a pistol.
He saw one for $30 and all he had was $29. He then went to a bridge to think about jumping off. He decided that a big part of his problem was that all his thoughts and communication were simply reiterations of things he had been told; he could think of nothing that he himself had experienced as true. So he decided not to say another word until he could say something he knew deeply to be true. That led to his not saying a word for two years!
As I read about Mr. Fuller’s experience, I began to think about my own communication. How much of what I write, say and think is from my own experience? Of course I’m no longer in my twenties so I am more in touch with what I know to be true, but I did really pause to think about which things I really know for sure.
The first thing that occurred to me was I know we have to forgive ourselves. Sounds silly or perhaps narcissistic, but those of us who have wanted desperately to be perfect (and therefore immune to criticism) do much better when we allow ourselves to be imperfect human beings and stop haranguing ourselves from making mistakes. (As if not making mistakes were even an option!)
The second thing to my list of things I know for sure is ths: You can choose how you interpret what’s going on around you and much of how you feel as a result of that interpretation.
This is certainly not an original thought. Victor Frankl wrote about this theme in relationship to his experience in the Holocaust. But for years I thought that was for people like him, not for people like you and me.
This is probably the most useful thing I learned in 6 years of doctoral studies; certainly it was not something I had intended to find out — how elastic reality really is.
Here’s a recent example of the impact of your own interpretation. It’s more powerful than you know.
Let’s say you have an appointment with a client and she doesn’t show up. How are you going to interpret that?
Here are some possible thoughts that come to mind:
1. What a loser that person is, so irresponsible!
2. Obviously she does not value my work, what’s wrong with me?
3. Thank you for the unexpected gift of 2 free hours in this day.(?)
4. How am I going to pay for X when I was planning to use this fee for that?
5. If I were competent, she would never stand me up like this!
6. Something terrible must have happened to her.
7. I’m obviously not meant to be in this business.
8. I hate it when people disrespect me like this.
9. This means I’m going to win the lottery.
These are a few possible interpretations and the only ones that are positive are #3 and #9. The rest are total downers and have helpful link to reality. The problem with # 9 is that for me, it has no validity because I never buy lottery tickets.
But here’s the kicker. How do these interpretations (aka "conclusions") make you feel and how do you act as a result?
That’s the value of choosing your interpretation; it’s also choosing how you feel.
Your thoughts shape your feelings, which shape your actions, which shape your results. There’s a quick and easy work sheet you can download if you’d like to examine this potential power in your own life. Let me know how it goes and what you think.