One afternoon while standing on the shoreline, watching the waves and playing mental ping pong about life, as one does, I misjudged the tide and my feet and pants got a good soaking. I had to laugh at the irony; here I was trying to work out what the right move would be and getting my current position completely wrong? Classic. But it brought me back into the present and as the icy water lapped around it occurred to me there were a few options open to me in that moment; Do I stand my ground? I’m wet anyway now. I could accept that with the next wave would come another bitter shock of cold, it was uncomfortable yes, but not dangerous, nor unbearable, and with every new wave my body would adapt and eventually the water wouldn’t feel so cold anymore? Or, should I learn from the experience, decide I’m not comfortable with the repeated soakings and step back toward the shore and continue watching from a distance?
Most of us are presented with difficult situations daily. Relationships are complex and often we find ourselves needing to have challenging conversations, whether with a friend who we feel has let us down or with a partner that we need to set a boundary with or a situation at work that is causing us stress. It can be overwhelming, especially as things are rarely black and white and so many variables need to be considered. It’s in our nature to problem-solve and to look for certainty and while we’re doing all that, the waves just keep coming. So I began to wonder, how do we know when it’s time to step back from a situation or to jump right on in?
Resilience is a hot topic right now and understandably so. We’re reminded to teach it to our kids at every given opportunity, because for many of us, it’s a skill we have had to learn later in life. There were no bounce-back bobble heads or meditation mats when we were at school! You either won or lost, had friends or didn’t, succeeded or failed, thrived or survived…took the ping with the pong. Rarely were struggles, losses or failures discussed, or used as tools to prepare us for life in the ‘real world’ that is of course full of them. Nor were many of us told often enough that it was ok to try and fail, that there were lessons to be learned and sometimes we’d need to have difficult conversations or sit with uncomfortable feelings, to ‘rumble with them’ as Brené Brown would say.
Holding your ground doesn’t mean simply accepting a situation. This isn’t about immersion therapy. Unfortunately unlike acclimatising to the water temperature, if there is something wrong it won’t improve by just letting the pattern repeat itself in the hope it will become more bearable or just magically change. It’s about recognising the difficulty and the awkwardness of taking a stand, about facing the situation and going deep into the discomfort and working through it.
As with the tides, thankfully, nothing is permanent, so as we pause in this space, already things are changing. The more we can do this the more adept we become. As the wave at the back looks set to overwhelm us, the undertow of past experiences counteracts it, so that once it reaches us, it’s a fraction of the once towering force. For example, on this particular day, I was weighing up a situation at work. I was unhappy with they way things were going and finding myself transforming from someone who looked forward to going into the office and the challenges and unpredictability of my day, to dreading whatever new dramas lay ahead. I realised I had to accept that change was inevitable and apparently with it the new level of ‘drama’, but rather than letting it rile me or sitting at my desk fantasizing about simply walking away, I needed to dig down and ground myself in the knowledge that the dramas did not define the role and that they were just noise. I could choose how I engaged with them and where appropriate set my own boundaries. This wasn’t going to be easy, but was necessary if I was going to be able to perform at my best. I certainly didn’t need to let them overwhelm me, as experience was showing that they were rarely worthy of my attention and I just needed to learn to watch the waves, identify the patterns and work out when to stand my ground and when to let them wash over me and let them go.
Conversely, some situations require us to take a deliberate step back and how might we feel about that? I used to feel I was being weak, running away, avoiding confrontation, but in truth, assessing the situation, being realistic about my own boundaries and accepting that for the sake of self-preservation the best thing I could do in that moment is step back…this as it turns out my friends, is a strength – Ta-da! You probably knew that though, I was slow to catch on! Looking for the wood when you’re up against the trees, giving yourself distance, gaining perspective, whether that’s by taking a break, seeking advice, even just going for a walk, can help strengthen your position when you’re ready to get your feet wet again. I’m a listener. I want to help. I’m analytical and good at workshopping ideas from every perspective. I’m that person who has a book or a podcast or a TED Talk for every given situation…I listen and read A LOT! But, while I naturally prefer to listen more than talk, occasionally even the listeners go through times when they need to be heard and I was in situations where my words were falling on deaf ears. In those instances I kept on jumping back in, telling myself that the next time would be different, when time and time again the pattern repeated itself. I would listen, and listen and when I finally found an opportunity to speak, the other person would need to leave. Eventually I realised that while I wanted to be supportive, these were one-way conversations. Perhaps one day that could be addressed, when I could find the right words and the space to speak them, but under the circumstances the best thing to do was to take a healthy step back. I didn’t walk away, I would never do that, but I realised that perhaps I needed to reserve a little energy for what was going on in my life too – work was tumultuous and the future unpredictable and I’d lost a baby – what I needed was to plant myself on solid ground for a while. It was incredibly hard because my nature is to go all in for others, but that step was absolutely necessary and enabled me to recharge so I could face the waves with others again, as well as for myself.
Whatever our circumstances, the tides will come and go each day and with every new wave comes a new opportunity and a choice of how we want to interact with it. One thing I do know for certain, is that closing our eyes and hoping the waves will stop is a fool’s errand. We have to make a move one way or the other; dig in or step back. But the one thing we must never do is turn our backs, because that’s when the monster wave will wipe us out without warning, ripping off our swimmers and leaving us buck naked and in need of a lifeguard…and honestly, ain’t nobody wanting that, am I right?
Was this at all helpful? What are your thoughts and experiences of stepping back or going all in? We’d love to hear from you, so please, let us know in the comments below or via our Instagram or Facebook feeds