I have an incredibly hard time getting through self-help books or articles, no matter how great the content or how badly I need to absorb its particular wisdom and use it to try to ease on down, ease on down the road of life. Stories are what grab my attention and won’t let go. Stories are how I relate with the world and back to it. The only kind of self-help I can offer you is my special brand of don’t-try-this-at-home type anecdotes. My stories. Or, if you refuse to listen and do indeed try it at home, I can also then offer up how you might try to fix it.
For metaphorical example: don’t spill your red wine on your carpet. Just trust me on this one. You don’t want to go there. Keep it in your glass. Or drink it fast. But then you’ll just refill it and we’ll be right back where we started. But if you do spill, don’t worry, I’ve got-choo. Go straight for the table salt, gobs of it, and pour it all over the red wine. Leave it there, overnight. Then vacuum it all up in the morning. IT REALLY WORKS! (Mostly. In full disclosure, it might leave a subtle reminder of where you’ve been in life and where you don’t want to go back to). And this is why I always have six large containers of salt in my pantry, metaphorically.
Anyhoo, during my last full-time gig, at a lovely branding agency owned and operated by inspirational people, our troop was exposed to a unique team building process called Culture In Action, developed by a company called We, Inc. The process was designed and engineered to help companies work on their culture, so their culture can work for them. This was good stuff, people. If you are a business and you have a team, you will benefit from what you’ll encounter using Culture In Action.
During this process that proved invaluable to our staff, an illuminating notion was voiced that I have never let go of (pun intended for later, wait for it…). Since then, it’s been a guiding principle for me, when I can remember to let it guide. The concept was: to hold on to certainly lightly. Mic drop here, yes? Do you feel it too?
Does that click for you? Let me say it again. Hold on to certainty lightly. Do you ever feel like you are right? Like the other person is wrong? Like you need to make your point and get them to see things your way? I’m sure you’ve heard cautionary sentiments about the need to be right. Like, do you want to be right or do you want to be happy? Because we can’t always be both. If we put our need to be right and recognized as such over our relationships, we won’t end up happy in the long run.
Insisting that we know we are right, even if we are, works to close our eyes to others’ perspectives and views. Sometimes these different ways of seeing the world are the missing pieces to our puzzles. The pieces that fall on the floor and then get kicked under the couch. But if we find them or become aware of them and we still have the puzzle out on the table, when we use the missing pieces and the puzzle is suddenly complete, the skies open up and the angels sing. Well not really, but it does satisfy, doesn’t it? And if the opposite is true, if we put that puzzle back in the box without finishing it, or we throw it in the trash, and THEN we find those missing pieces, the ensuing frustration of an opportunity lost is palpable. We soooo wish we had become aware of those missing pieces sooner.
It’s the same with other people’s ideas of what’s right, or at least what could work just as well. When we recognize their validity and our previous ignorance of it, it’s a palm of the hand to the forehead, uff-da! kind of moment. Yes, that does work. Hmmm. I didn’t think it would. I wasn’t open to that. In fact, my way is not the best way, I can see that now. Actually, I was wrong, I wasn’t even right. I just thought I was. Whoops. And then, the need to apologize, and that’s not always easy.
I grasped on to the concept of holding on to certainty lightly and realized how much I could benefit from employing it regularly because it brought to mind an “incident.” The don’t-try-this-at-home kind. Years ago, I was at the gym during my lunch break. A normal routine for me. So smacking of routine that I put my stuff in the same locker every day. Hopped on the same treadmill every day. Struggled hard to stay on said treadmill every day. B O R I N G. Watched the same lady work her way around the Nautilus machine circuit every day while she read a book she held in one hand and thus only ever lifted weights with the other. Became startled by the same jarring growls and grunts that emanated from the free weights area every day. And so on, and so on.
One day after my workout I could not get back in to my locker. I had forgotten my padlock combination. This was way before my memory became SAF, so this was a unique event, not at all yet the norm like it is today. Today, I would never even attempt to try to remember a lock combination. I know my limits. Exasperated and running out of time to get back to work, I had to call in a staff member for help. A nice gentleman at the front desk followed me back to my locker with bolt cutters and popped the lock right off for me. But not before asking, are you sure this is your lock? Um, yeah. I’m certain. What a strange question. Then I opened the locker and felt my stomach flip when I realized the contents inside did not belong to me. WTF? And then it hit me, then, not until that moment, just a tad too late.
When I had arrived that day, there were a couple of ladies chatting away in front of the locker I normally used. Not wanting to interrupt them just so that I could keep channeling Rain Man, I had gone to the other end of the locker room and had used a different locker. And then promptly forgot I ever did that.
Only one thing to do here. I summoned up the courage to look the nice gentleman in the eye and I said, “thank you.” The fix-it here, if you go against my advice and try something similar at home, is to skedaddle on out of there and never go back. Call in to the gym when you know the answering machine, I mean voicemail, will pick up and then cancel your membership. And just let the nice gentleman do the explaining to the mad lady that will stomp her way up to the front desk demanding to know WTF her locker is doing busted open. It’s his job after all, to deal with angry customers, he works there, not you. And then try not to worry about it too much, because you don’t really like going there anyway. It’s time for a change, way overdue in fact.
Hold on to certainty lightly.
Now, you know I’m imperfect, so sometimes I forget to employ this maxim. And maybe you will too, if you decide using it is for you. You might stumble, you might fall. But don’t worry. God, Karma and the Universe will help you get right back on that horse.
For a real world example of the kind of assistance they can offer, just the other day my husband and I hopped in the car, both of us with coffee mugs in hand. I looked over and noticed his was a regular ceramic mug, the kind used for drinking AT HOME, not in the car. DUH! Honey, that’s going to spill, you can’t even put it in the cup holder, because it has a handle. So you’ll have to hold it, while you drive, and that’s not safe. You’re putting our lives at risk with that mug. Honey, you really should be using a travel cup, like the one I have here in my hand, with a LID on it, so it won’t spill. I said all this while I was using my free hand to buckle my seatbelt, and my hand slipped and lost its grip on the buckle causing my coffee mug-holding hand to have some sort of twin-like involuntary jerk reflex and I spilled my coffee. Out of the proper travel mug, with the lid, that prevents spilling.
The following is a transcript of the acceptance speech I gave on stage at the FIMA’s (Foot In Mouth Awards). “I’d like to thank God, Karma and the Universe for this award today. For all of their undying support and for giving me the opportunity to have to apologize for my certainty. Again. I’ve already won so many of these FIMA’s over the years, surely it’s someone else’s turn. All of the other nominees are so well-qualified and so deserving of this honor. But you’ve chosen me, yet again. You like me, you REALLY LIKE ME! Thank you so much for helping me to remember that I must hold on to certainty lightly, or it will squirm and bite me.” I held the award up high, then kissed it for good measure. And then forgot which way to exit the stage.