I’ve been noticing a trend in popular culture lately as it pertains to relationships. Evidently, we live in a toxic world, full of narcissistic people who don’t deserve to have our friendship or our comradery as colleagues. We are often told by various self-help guru’s and other talking heads that we need to cut these people out of our lives.
You know the kind of problem people I’m talking about. They’re the selfish, difficult ones who don’t respect boundaries. Who take and never give. And the most appropriate response is to ghost them, particularly if it’s a personal relationship. Ghosting a colleague or a boss at work is a bit tricker but many of us find ways to “work around” problem people or secure our escape in other ways, perhaps by changing departments or jobs.
The problem is, it’s just not this simple. And there comes a point at which you can’t keep avoiding problem people, trust me I’ve tried. I’m not in any way advocating tolerating abuse, but there’s a difference between abuse and dislike. There’s a difference between abuse and valuing different things. We can put up wall after wall after wall, but the interesting thing about life is that it will keep sending you the same challenges over and over until you rise to the occasion and look more deeply inwards at what is really going on.
Grace under pressure
I’ve known my friend Morgan for years. She’s the amazing artist type, somewhat erratic, flies by the seat of her pants, creative and fun. I’m not, and that has been a point of contention over the years, especially as it relates to timeliness and honoring appointments. I expect her to agree to a time to meet and be there at that time. It doesn’t always happen. And so the tension had grown and grown in our relationship – I was becoming increasingly resentful of her tardiness, and I made it personal. That she didn’t respect me, that she didn’t care, that she didn’t give a damn. We had fought about this in the past and I just didn’t have the energy to re-engage, plus, she’s a better fighter than I am. I was ready to walk away from the relationship.
So the other day I showed up for a walk at 8 am, the agreed time, and I rang the door and I waited. No Morgan. I called. No answer. I waited about 5 minutes and then I left. I went and got gas. I was looking at my phone, deciding which yoga class to go to instead, and I saw her name pop up. Normally I would have avoided the call – she lost the opportunity to walk with me, she can bear the consequences, and this friendship really is on its way out. So be it.
Instead, I took the call and told her I’d come back to walk after I got the gas. Why did I do it? I’m still not sure. But I knew in that moment I had a choice. I could have held my ground and insisted that she apologize right there and then. I could have unloaded my frustration about what a crappy friend she is. Or I could have ignored her, not taken the call and chances are it would have taken a very long time for us to reconnect, if at all.
But I went back. And we walked. I didn’t say a word about the tardiness, but it hung in the air like stale bread. She didn’t say anything about it either. We walked, it was incredibly awkward, we talked about superficial things like the weather, and not the usual deep, philosophical questions we ponder together.
I left and came home. I kept wondering whether I had done the right thing. Maybe I’m a doormat, maybe I should have stood my ground, maybe I should have tried harder to hold her accountable there and then.
And then I got a text acknowledging how much she appreciated the fact I came back, that she knows how important being on time is to me, and she won’t do it again. And to be fair, she hasn’t. I also realize how hard that text was for her to send. Because she’s not me, she values different things. And was most likely thinking to herself – Why does Shelley always have to be such a stickler about time? Why can’t she just go with the flow more often? If I put myself in her shoes, I can see her perspective, I just don’t necessarily agree with it.
In order to get grace you have to give it
Since receiving that text our friendship has been stronger than ever before. And it brings up a very interesting point about grace. Grace is often defined in a spiritual context as “undeserved favor.” And it’s something that cannot be earned – it is freely given. “There but for the grace of God go I…”
But here’s what I realized that day about grace, and relationships in general. In order to get grace, you have to be willing to give it. And that can be painfully vulnerable, especially when we are convinced we are right. We often talk about boundaries and these days are encouraged to draw hard lines with people. Boundaries are helpful, don’t get me wrong. For many of us, we desperately lack them, and so the work is to establish them where there have been none in the first place. This is tricky territory for sure. When do I draw a super hard line? When do I not? And yet, maybe in some situations, it’s ourselves that need the grace. Maybe we’ve tried with an honest heart as hard as we could. Maybe we need to give ourselves the beautiful gift of grace to let go.
The answer is there is no answer. The solution doesn’t lie in the logic of who is right or who did what to whom. The solution lies in our heart. In that moment when I saw Morgan’s name flash up on the screen, I knew our friendship was on the line and our friendship matters to me. So I asked myself the question, “What’s the most loving thing I can do right now?” My heart answered the call and pushed me back to her house. I left the judgment at the gas station. And I had the courage to go back – not knowing what would happen. It wasn’t a Hallmark movie moment – I didn’t sugar coat it and say things I didn’t mean, like “It’s all right, don’t worry about it.” There was no hug. The walk was awkward as hell. But miraculously that grace I bestowed that day has moved mountains.
Coaching questions for thought:
- Where in your life are you currently locked into a hard perspective? For that situation, what would it look like to show a little grace?
- In difficult situations, if you were able to give up being right and ask yourself instead, “What’s the most loving thing I can do right now?” what would change for you?
Shelley Pernot is a career and leadership coach who is passionate about helping her clients develop clarity, confidence, and compassion for self. She is particularly adept at working with high performing women who are hard on themselves. Reach out to me here for a free consultation to learn more about the coaching process and how it may benefit you!