When a Lot of Things Seem Frustrating There’s a Different Place to Start



What if the things I am most sure about, I am actually most wrong about? And what if in this, you are like me?

I’d say for the vast majority of my 5-plus decades – or at least starting during my adolescence – I have been overwhelmingly certain about many many judgments. Usually, these were countless small judgments; like, “that guy drives me crazy,” or “this weather is horrible,” or “I really don’t get why _________ [fill in name of sibling, co-worker, politician, priest, wife, child, or freeway driver] is doing this.” (I have lots of positive judgments, too; people, situations, art, expressions, etc., that I love; but I’ll save those for another lesson I can perhaps learn and share with you.)

The countless “negative judgments” are, of course, varied. They differ in intensity, proximity, frequency, etc. The judgment-feelings I’ve harbored (and sometimes expressed out loud) about a challenging adolescent daughter, for instance, were way different than those I might have had about a driver who cut me off, or a work situation that seemed ridiculous. But, give me a chance here with a couple  ideas about such judgments. Your old ideas will be there for you to return to. They are the overwhelming “truths” we humans tell.

I offer two utterly counter-intuitive points. First, there is a sameness to the annoyances and the judgments that things are just wrong. And the sameness is greater than the differences among those judgments. My little frustration with the way “those idiots park,” is more alike than different than my deep frustration that my “son or daughter just can’t seem to make a good decision.” And that frustration is more alike than different than my frustration with the “wrongheaded strategy of the management at the company,” which is more alike than different than the anger I feel towards “the Republicans’ myopic behavior.” That I get irritated, uncomfortable, angry, etc., is more important – in a very important sense – than why, how much, how long, whether others think like I do, etc. And this sameness is related to a second idea – that I suspect you’ll find equally odd or wrong – but which I suggest is potentially transformational.

I believe I need these frustrations. To put this differently, these “problems” are here to give me a chance to learn and to be shaped into a different kind of leader-person. In other words, my irritations and protestations about all the things that aren’t going the way I want reflect a huge childish (or childlike if you prefer) wish that everything be as I would have it be. But isn’t that a kind of crazy self-aggrandizement? A bit like if a bee expressed irritation at every flower that failed to meet the standard of the verb best nectar producing flower he’d encountered in his whole bee career. In the view I am allowing to sink in deeply: the traffic jam, adolescent rebellion, “crazy” boss, challenging spouse, competitive co-worker are gifts disguised.

As leader, teacher, or dad, each setback or frustration gives me a chance to lead the one person I can best lead: me. And in each such instance, there’s a chance that I can see clearly — not through the wishful  lens where I hope to see just what I want to see; but to see who is really there, what is really there, and how I might meet the other(s) where they are.  Let me know your thoughts: Is this simple? Crazy? Obvious, or potentially very useful? As you strive both with others and with yourself to

Lead with your best self