It wasn’t just a “No, I can’t help you”, it was a, “Hey, I know we’ve been planning a project together for over a month and a half now, and I know we’re going to have a conference call about it on Sunday, but I need to bow out now. I realize I’m fifty percent of the project, and that without me, you really won’t be able to finish it, at least in a short amount of time, but I have to back out.”
I’ll tell you, it was hard to click send on that email. It was an email instead of a phone call because I really wanted to word my message so it conveyed all my thoughts without interruption.
In a live call or conversation, you could say one word and the entire conversation could go into an emotional spiral. Tempers can flare and your message may never get heard. The only thing that might be conveyed is that you are abandoning them.
Sometimes I like sending letters or emails when trying to get a message across. It’s like having someone listen completely without interruption until you’ve made your point. Not that email should be the only form of communication. But sometimes you just want to put it all on the table without losing your train of thought. It can help you spell out each detail you want to address.
With the email I sent to my friend and business partner, we’d been planning a project for almost two months. But as I got deeper and deeper into the project, I felt the stress and overwhelm building inside me. I’d made some major changes in my life in the weeks previous, including a move across the country, and I barely had time to work on my own stuff, let alone tackle anything else.
I kept going forward with this project because I committed to it. I felt that integrity and honoring my commitment were much more important than my own personal emotions or boundaries. And though he put no pressure on me to complete anything, I still put it on myself. I felt so attached to following through with my end of the deal that I was willing to make myself miserable doing it.
This is when I snapped out of it and asked myself a couple of questions:
Why would I continue doing something that kept getting more stressful?
Why would I go on with a project that I didn’t have the time or energy to commit to wholeheartedly?
My thoughts immediately fell on the feelings of my friend. I didn’t want to let him down. He was excited about this project, so I just knew that he’d be let down if I told him I wasn’t going to participate any longer. But the weight of stress and anxiety were starting to take their toll.
I felt something I hadn’t felt in a long time: Pressure.
I hadn’t felt pressure in so long I forgot what it felt like. I typically don’t get myself into situations that I know will cause me anxiety or stress. I’m usually good at determining what will be harmonious to my life and what won’t. But with this project, I dived in, not realizing how much pressure I’d be putting on myself to get things done.
All mental pressure is self-induced.
Even when someone is yelling at you and putting pressure on you to do something right away, you still have a choice not to do it. Of course, there is the idea of physical pressure too, which sometimes you may not have a say in. If you’re being tortured, then you have no choice but to endure that kind of pressure.
But in most situations, you have the option of saying “no” to something or someone. The hard part for some people is that they don’t want to face the consequences of saying “no”. They’d rather endure more pressure, than eliminate it with an “honor thyself” act.
I can certainly understand this predicament because I felt it for weeks. It kept building. I needed to pull myself out of this situation, no matter what. I felt it was time to take care of myself.
With this project I was getting deeper into, I decided to contact my friend and tell him that I would no longer be able to go on with it. I sent him a message, instead of doing the phone thing. I knew this was going to change everything. Our friendship was going to be hurt and the project would likely be scrapped because we were in it together.
I expected his upset.
“I totally understand. Do what you need to do.”
I was floored. I had visions of a big “break up” so to speak, where he would never speak to me again. I had made the commitment but was now backing out (something I almost never do). But he said that was okay.
Still in shock, I replied, “This could have gone one of two ways, and you just blew my mind. I did not expect this response.”
And from that point on, the project was no longer in my lap. It was out of my hands, and I was released from all this self-induced pressure. It felt amazing. On top of that, I got to keep a good friend, who actually honored me and what I needed, instead of favoring the project. I felt like he valued me as a person over something intangible. It was an amazing feeling.
This is a rare occurrence in any situation. There is usually one person that comes out of something like this hurt or devastated. Like their dreams were just crushed. But my friend was not like this at all. He valued the person over the thing. And that is honorable.
When you reveal to someone, something you know is going to stop their forward momentum, you get to learn what’s most important to them. You soon figure out what takes priority in their life, and also where you, and everything else stands, according to them.
Sometimes you will let someone down, and they end up hating you (or even suing you). And you quickly learn where their priorities lie. It doesn’t make them wrong or bad, but it does make you more knowledgeable about how they deal with unexpected events.
Imagine if my friend got angry and said, “How could you do this to me! You are so selfish. We had an agreement!” This is what I expected. If he had done that, I would have understood, but also realized that the project was more important than my health and well-being to him. That would certainly be his prerogative, but I’m grateful to know I took priority over the project.
So what does this mean in your life? When you give someone a piece of bad news, do they react from a “Whoa is me” place? Or do they show compassion for you? (Assuming your news is related to your health and well-being). Do they blame you for all the problems you just created in their life? What is their reaction to bad news?
Bad news reveals the true nature of an individual, for the most part. Sometimes it just reveals their temper. But everyone is usually nice when things are going right, but you don’t know a person until you’ve made them angry. It’s like that line in The Matrix Reloaded, “You do not truly know someone until you fight them.” If we use the word, “fight” as a metaphor for “react”, then we can learn the aspects of one’s personality by the way they react.
Have you ever crashed someone else’s car? If you did, when you told them about it, did they say, “Are you alright?” or did they say, “What? How much damage did you do to my car?” If you never did anything like that, I’m sure you can think of a similar situation where someone chose to care about you over material possessions.
When they react, you learn where you are in the pecking order of things. If the car is more important than you, you now know your importance to them. Again, it doesn’t make it right or wrong, it just reveals where you place in order of value in their life.
I realize this information can be painful if you rank lower than a car, but knowing this can help you understand their behavior and give you better tools the next time you have to give them bad news. For example, if the bad news is about their car, you know that any news you give them about their car needs to be approached a bit more tactfully next time.
Of course, I personally don’t want to be second to an inanimate object. If I am, I may not have a relationship with that person any longer. But that’s just me. I’m sure you may have a different opinion. But in my mind, if I got mad over someone smashing up my truck instead of being concerned about their health, then that person died tomorrow, that would be a memory I would have to live with. I know later on, I’d think to myself, “Why was I so concerned about something I could replace over my friend’s health?”
I’m not saying you need to feel bad for your own behavior if you’ve ever acted this way because we can walk around all our lives not realizing we are putting things in a hierarchy until we’re actually faced with losing those things. It’s usually “loss” that creates the reaction.
We don’t like losing things, so we react. The point of this article is to start being more aware of how you react to bad news, and how you treat the loss of inanimate things in your life. And also to understand where someone has placed you in order of importance in their life.
If you’re always coming up second to something, it may be time to question why. You may find some deep-rooted stuff in the other person. Or, you may find that they didn’t even realize they were doing it.
Reaction to bad news doesn’t mean that’s how they always are, but it does mean there’s a program running in the background of their mind that pops up whenever the situation calls for it. Do what you want with this knowledge, and learn how to use it to better your life and those around you.