A couple of recent conversations with colleagues have been really impactful. Some aspects of what Seth Godin calls ‘practical empathy’ had escaped me.
I had forgotten that the people I work with and the people I serve don’t know what I know or think what I think. I had taken my expertise for granted much to the detriment of both myself and my clients.
This is part four of what started as a five part series that is now six or maybe seven parts. Math is difficult. Here, I’m exploring my personal, practical knowledge and why it enables me to help people build more resilient businesses, relationships, and lives by connecting better with themselves and the world around them. My hope is that from reading these, you might see yourself in some of my stories. Perhaps you’ll find the courage and humility to get help and become more resilient in all aspects of your life.
These Sunday posts are becoming the first draft of my second book. The Book of Wrong Answers Volume 2 - Exploding Canaries.
It’s really that simple.
I was supposed to be happy.
I was supposed to be in a blissed-out state.
When my wife was pregnant, people kept telling me that life would be wonderful with a new baby.
I was miserable.
They told me that having a baby in my life would bring with it all kinds of good fortune and love.
For me at the time? It didn’t.
People kept bringing us more shit. Plastic shit. Polyester shit. Noisy shit. The shit enraged and engulfed me.
I was told to be grateful:
Our child was healthy.
We had a roof over our heads.
We had food to eat.
I was hateful.
Overwhelmed, it was too much for my sensitive little nervous system to process.
First. My relationship changed.I had grown used to married life. My wife is the first long term relationship that I ever had.
Before meeting me she ran marathons. She competed in and completed triathlons. She was really into endurance sports. I guess that’s what attracted her to me.
Not only did she endure, she spent a lot of time paying attention to me. We cared for each other. There was a give and take process going on there.
Granted, I likely took more than I gave. But I gave some and was rewarded with love and attention.
That changed really suddenly after her emergency Cesarean section, when the bottom fell out of my being nurtured by my wife.
Suddenly the fit woman who endured grueling 4 hour runs couldn't sit up. Couldn't drive a car for 6 weeks. Couldn't get the baby to latch. Couldn't soothe the baby and sleep for longer than two hours at a time. So my needs? They suddenly got demoted to the bottom of her "to do" list.
So much of that love, attention and affection that I was used to was gone.
I really missed having that kind of care in my life.
When our daughter arrived, it was a great gift.
Every great gift, positive change and shift in our lives comes with a loss.
Losses bring grief - even in times of great joy.
That grief stuff takes time to process.
I needed to care for her.
I needed to care for my daughter. Who cried A LOT. Who I couldn't feed.
And in addition to being suddenly thrown into the role of nurturer, I needed to sort through and organize the mountain of shit people had given us.
Clearly, I had no idea what I was getting into when having our first baby.
I felt smothered by a landslide of ‘shoulds’.
Should be happy
Should do the laundry
Should be grateful
Should do the dishes
Should do more around the house
Should get the groceries
Should make more money
Should be more present
Shouldn’t play video games
Should pay attention
Should do the laundry
Didn’t I already mention the laundry?
Yup. There was just so much.
Should be able to keep my lists straight
Should go to the family diner
Should bring the baby to visit my parents
Should have people over for dinner
DON’T MAKE ANYTHING ABOUT YOU
YOU SHOULD FOCUS ON THEM!
The shoulds kept coming while the days were not getting any longer at all.
Mountain of shame however?
That was growing with each tick of the clock.
I couldn’t stand it anymore.
I remember filling my pockets with rocks with the intention of walking from Toronto to Rochester NY via lake Ontario.
But before I set out? I made another appointment to see Tony.
One of our first appointments that fall stands out in my mind. All we did was talk about hockey. I didn't have to do anything. He’s a Toronto fan. I’m a Montreal fan. That was all we talked about for the whole appointment.
Beneath the surface there was more going on than that. So subtle, but so skillful on his part.
When I was drowning in shoulds, he asked nothing of me. I didn't have to do anything productive. And, I didn't have to change. To put on my grown up pants. He could be a Leafs fan and I could be a Habs fan. I could be right. He could be wrong. There could be a bit of playful banter. But at the core. I was acceptable to him. At the core, just as I was, I was okay.
That was perhaps one of the most transformational therapy appointments in my life. Hockey talk with Tony saved my life. It cost over a hundred dollars to pay this dude to talk with me about hockey. It was worth every penny.
It was during that session I learned that therapy was a matter of creating a relationship. And that an effective therapeutic relationship is ongoing. It evolves, as we all do, through the stages of our lives. Like exercise for the body, a therapeutic relationship isn't effective unless it is ongoing. And as my former-workout-junkie wife tells me, "some days you need to taper and rest so your muscles can rebuild and get stronger."
And so it’s been through that ongoing relationship with Tony, who is skilled enough to recognize when I need to go hard and when I need to taper, that I’ve been able to transform. I learned that the only expectation that Tony had from me in the relationship was that I would pay for a session. Beyond that? I was fine, acceptable and worthy.
If you ever find yourself in an avalanche of ‘shoulds’, a great therapist can help you dig your way out and into the light of just being grateful to be alive once again. When you find one, hold on. Because you will need them again and again.