Good things come in small packages?
Normally my trips to the mailbox are predictable. This day was different. Buried in the assortment of catalogues, spring landscaping coupons and paper bills and statements, was a curious business envelope, missing a return address but covered in shamrock stickers, two on the front and three on the back. My home address was handwritten so I assumed it was from a child,
one of the high school girls I met with every Wednesday night at church. I brought it in, sat at my desk and tore the envelope open with a smile, expecting a nice note about the influence I am having in a teenage girls life.
So strong was the dissonance, it took me a few sentences to correctly identify the nature of the letter. A few signals in the first paragraph, words like “constructive” and “feedback.” I won’t bore you with the specifics. In short, the writer, freedoms afforded her by either the Constitution or the Bill of Rights (I can’t remember which), considered my speaking services less than preferred.
A few days earlier I had spoken at a women’s luncheon. I was pleased with the results, positive e-mails, a few phone calls, two new coaching clients and the possibility of another, bigger speaking engagement. Don’t get me wrong, after a decade of working on stage, I am familiar with the mixed bag that comes with speaking. It’s a bell curve. A few really love you, most will smile when they think of you and there are always a few that can’t stand being in your presence.
This was a new one. I had never been quite so ambushed by the distaste cloaked in shamrocks. I had gotten constructive mail before, but not without a signature. My trip to the mailbox had turned into a self-evaluating (you know what) storm. There was no real explanation, except-
It was a trigger. Here’s what happened.
- I read the letter.
- I looked at the envelope.
- I read the letter again.
- I almost cried. And I never cry.
- I read it again for the feedback, considering resigning as speaker, coach and writer.
- And now I’m writing a blog.
- About triggers.
I think I am a pretty positive person with a penchant for spinning difficulty into gold. But even I, when taken off guard, spun out of control for a few hours. Sure it hurt my feelings, but I was more mad at the envelope than the note inside. It just seemed so sneaky.
We all have triggers, even the most positive people. There is a semblance of control and something sneaky, a shamrock covered envelope for instance, triggers a pile of what could only be called manure and reveals an opportunity to improve.
So what’s your trigger?
TRIGGER #1: THE SURPRISE MANURE BOMB: You were expecting something, something good.
You gave your heart. You did your best. Blood, sweat and tears and all that.
So sure of your performance, you would place your chips all on one square if there was a place to bet on this sort of thing. It’s not reinforcement you crave, but you enjoy the feeling of safety that comes with a job well done.
You are blindsided by the feedback. The package doesn’t matter, a voicemail, a letter, in person or an e-mail. You open yourself in Christmas-like expectation, without armor and the knife goes in. As sure as you were before, you are now off balance. Your integrity, your abilities, your intentions are questioned and you sputter, weak and defenseless. Without the shield of expectation, the poison goes right into your veins and ruins your day.
Release the trigger: The “second” agreement in Don Miguel Ruiz’s book, The Four Agreements is not to take it personally. Don’t take the feedback personally. Take your life personally. It’s okay to be surprised. The truth is, you will not please everyone all the time. It’s important to believe in your efforts and live in continuous learning. Search through the communication to glean whatever truth you can find and release the rest.
TRIGGER #2: THE WITCH IN THE MIRROR: Facing something about yourself you don’t want to see.
It started so effortlessly, a simply conversation about Saturday plans. Then, your friend asks you to spontaneously clear your schedule. You dislike last
minute requests, especially those that disrupt what you do love: a productive weekend. You want to make her happy but you can’t, the routine is too tantalizing. The disappointment written on her face makes you feel rigid and stressed. You walk away from dinner with a sense you have weakened your relationship and it lasts all weekend.
Release the trigger: Let go of the illusion. Your friend and anyone else with regular interaction knows you are not perfect. Your trigger is telling you to accept yourself and stop pretending. Trust the relationship and consult your gut. You may need to release the grip on your control, but not out of fear, only self-love.
TRIGGER #3: THE UNEXPECTED DETOUR: The stuff that happens when you are busy making plans.
As usual, your brain is a few steps ahead of your physical location. Waiting at a light on your way home from your son’s track meet, you planned to fill your
gas tank and get a pizza from the grocery store. You could see the gas station from a few meters away and you don’t notice the 83-year old lady as she runs into your front corner of your car.
Thankfully no one is hurt but you can’t shake the uncertainty of life and your general grumpiness over the unwelcome stress. You yell at your partner and you smile a little less. You feel a little afflicted and unlucky and you find wait for the other shoe to drop.
Release the trigger: When you brain thinks it’s being robbed, it reacts. It’s a gift really, when you see how uncertain life is. No one is persecuting you. With everything good comes something bad. You are living in constant uncertainty (who knows when your last day on earth is) but you are experiencing it right now. Embrace the moment, express yourself, tell people you love them. Do something good with that feeling.
TRIGGER #4: I DON’T WANNA GO INTO THAT CLOSET! It’s a fear you didn’t want to think about.
You are talking with your girlfriends about a blind date gone wrong and one of them starts to give you the kind of tactical advice that makes you feel- well, stupid. The unappointed matchmaker ignores your pursed lips and enlarged
pupils while she presses you, reminding you of the difficulty of finding someone if you don’t keep pressing on into that murky sludge called adult romance. You might end up alone, otherwise. She said with a smile. You don’t remember who took the first verbal swing but you find yourself arguing about what it’s like to b e single, something that your married friend doesn’t seem to remember.
Release the trigger: Disappointing relationships are a common cause of anger for women. While your friend undoubtedly needs some lessons in discretion, she put a finger on the fears you have around adult dating. After a short stint of anger because you thought you were having drinks with your friend, not Dear Abby, it’s time to release your expectations. She doesn’t understand what you are going through. Take the best and leave the rest. Deal with your underlying fear about being alone, and the uncertainty of your future. Remind yourself of the truth- there is someone for everyone and you deserve the best. Dating (or whatever else you are going through) is just a process.
TRIGGER #5: POST TRAUMATIC STRESS RELATED TO THE OLD YOU: It reminds you of something you thought you left behind.
You used to be different. At some point, a very long time ago, you were unfaithful, you forgot things, you were, well let’s say “irresponsible.” Things
have changed since your wayward younger years and you are a new person. Your spouse accuses you of having feelings for a co-worker and even though your actions have been above-board, you somehow feel guilty. You have a sinking feeling you will never shake your role as the bad guy and you find yourself over-explaining and arguing.
Release the trigger. You still are the bad guy. And you are the good guy. You will always be what you were: fat, lonely, stressed out, (insert past here). It’s all one long constant continuum called life. Step into the truth and pay attention to what matters. Honor your self who has made so many wonderful changes. Then, turn your attention to that person you love and do what you can to reassure someone who feels they can lose you.
TRIGGER #6: DON’T EVER CALL ME STUPID: They touch a sacred space.
Have you ever seen that movie, A Fish Called Wanda? The character, Otto, played by Kevin Kline, was brilliant evil strategist with one tiny problem. He couldn’t be called “stupid.” Most of us have a sacred space, money, religion, your mother, your bad fashion sense in 9th grade.
Every so often you trust someone enough to let them close and when they “go there,” you become unreasonable emotional- angry, sad, distant. Your response doesn’t fit the crime, but they shouldn’t have done that. Some things should just be respected.
Release the trigger: We should all respect each others’ sacred spaces but humans are crafty and thoughtless at times. Here is the question: Do you want to have a trigger that reduces you to a blubbering idiot or do you want to let it go, draw boundaries and move forward. It’s up to you. My suggestion: Don’t take it personally.
We all have triggers. Turns and twists in life. Unexpected bends where you thought you were going straight. I’ll never remove that shamrock envelope from my board, at least not for a very long time. It reminds me that I am not doing this to get approval, I only need to respect myself. Every time I look at the envelope I’ll remember that I don’t need to take it personally, but I need to learn something new every day. And, I will always remember that bad things can come into good packages. It’s just my job to learn the lesson and turn it around once again.
What are your triggers? Have you taken a detour from an expected circumstance? Tell me what they are and let’s work on releasing them?