When enough isn’t enough…

Locus

A good friend of mine recently said that I seem to give 110% to everything – particularly when it comes to work, friends and relationships. And what a wonderful thing to hear, that to the outside world it seems like you couldn’t really do or give much more. But it got me thinking, why is it then that despite the effort we invest into things it doesn’t always lead to the outcome you’d wanted? Sometimes it seems as though doing enough just isn’t enough.

Many people would identify with the notion that ‘what you put in, is what you get out’. That is to say, that in most cases the effort you invest is more or less equal to the outcome you will see in the end. One of the main reasons many of us like this concept is that it implies that the world is fair and full of opportunity to succeed and be happy… if you will just put in enough effort. But more importantly, it also suggests that you can be the master (or mistress) of your own destiny – that we are in control of the way that our life will pan out. People who will particularly like that idea are those who believe that their life and destiny is controlled from within themselves (as opposed to those who believe that life is controlled by external environmental factors). In psychology we call the concept of internal vs external control, your ‘locus of control’. From a young age, I identified as having an internal locus of control and believed that most things in life (good and bad) were as a result of my efforts and actions. You could also make a link with the concept of ‘karma’ too – the idea that your good and bad actions in life eventually catch up to you. If you believe in karma or something similar, you probably (but not always) will believe that your efforts determine your outcomes.

Sounds simple enough so far right? But the problem with this concept is that so often in life, situations involve another person (or several people) and therefore our own effort is no longer the sole determinant of the outcome. It is in these situations where people like me (and perhaps many of you reading this) can feel frustrated and confused. You can put in 110% effort and still end up with an undesirable result. If you take relationships as a prime example of this (romantic, friendship, work related – any type of relationship actually), you can invest so much time, effort and care into it and still end up with the other person(s) walking away, treating you badly and / or choosing to end their relationship with you. To an ‘internaliser’, this is when all hell breaks loose and can make you question your belief system and in some cases start to turn the blame for a rubbish end result inwards on yourself.

As an internaliser myself, I recognise this danger only too well and I’ve begun over recent months to reflect upon how to deal with a world that I want to believe is within my control but realistically in some circumstances is not. The conclusion I have drawn is that if control is something that is important to you in order that you can keep hopeful about the future and believe you can shape the way things go, then don’t relinquish that to others. Instead reassess where in the situation you can find your own little piece of control and try to stick with that. Also, shift your perspective to consider that control also equals responsibility. In personal relationships, the reality is that you don’t have all of the control and this is a good thing because it also means you don’t have all of the responsibility either. If a friendship, romantic relationship, work relationship succeeds or fails this is not all within your control and therefore is not all your responsibility either. If you give 110% it will not compensate for a 20% effort from someone else, much as we might wish it would. So let the responsibility go and focus on the thing that IS within your control…how you feel and react to the situation you are now faced with.

So, the things I have decided to try to keep in mind as I currently go through a tough personal situation are…

Relationships are one part of life where enough is not always enough… but that’s okay. Sometimes we can give enough (more than enough) to another person (or people) or situation and it doesn’t guarantee success. Rather than self-blaming and looking at things you could have done differently, be fair and put some of the responsibility back onto the other person / people involved and just be proud of the fact that you made your best effort.

Sometimes it’s the ‘long game’ game that counts. Just because the effort and care didn’t pay off this time, should that mean you don’t try again (and again and again…)? Short term set-backs come along that may well shake your belief system and determination but the ability to get back up again and still put in effort may well lead to longer term successes. If a situation or person wasn’t a happy recipient of your efforts should that mean you stop altogether? No, move on and try again elsewhere where it will be appreciated.

Learn to let go and hand over control and responsibility. It’s impossible (and undesirable) to keep a handle on everything in your life and those who really love you sometimes want to shoulder that control and responsibility with / for you. Let go of the control and allow others to occasionally pick up the slack, this is the only way to build healthy intimacy and trust. When you let go and allow others in, you can get the clarity you need to resume life at full speed 🙂

So in concluding, it is true that enough is not always enough to secure a particular result. But there is a journey to be had through persevering despite set-backs and staying determined to keep giving 110%. I know more than most how much each perceived ‘failure’ strips away a part of you and it becomes harder to pick yourself back up again with the same enthusiasm and optimism as before but we have to keep the faith that in the long term it will lead to better things.

“Strength and growth come only through continuous effort and struggle” Napoleon Hill

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An addiction to crack…

Light

I was first diagnosed with the condition of ‘giving too much of a shit’ at the age of 5 by my favourite primary school teacher.

I had been out playing with a group of friends when one of them rounded on the other, pushing them to the ground and stealing their favourite pog (it was a 1990s game!). As the victim of this heinous crime (!) ran away crying, I turned to the kid who’d pushed them down and asked them if they were okay… As the teacher came round the corner to smooth things over, he asked me why I was involved in the incident. So I told him I had just been there at the time and for some reason felt sorry for the other kid. The teacher just chuckled and told me that one day my caring for the ‘mean ones’ would either be my making or my downfall. As a five year old child, clearly this made no sense to me and I happily shrugged and skipped off back to my game of pogs… but several years later and I’m reminded of his words in my adult life.

Why is that we care for some people so deeply and not for others, particularly when to the outside world our care is wrongly directed? I imagine that if you were to ask this question to ten different people, you might well get ten very different answers. Are our feelings related to the things they do for us everyday, the words they utter to build our confidence, the support they provide in a crisis? Is it because they are perfect in every way and they only make us feel good? When we find ourselves drawn to people, what is it that keeps us there – even when, at times, it seems crazy to stay?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently because on the whole, I think I’m a pretty good judge of character. I mostly surround myself with honest, caring and grounded people who I know I can depend on and trust. But I’ve also noted a pattern in being drawn to some quite complicated, complex and in some cases, destructive people too. When I care about someone it happens quickly and is pretty hard to shake, even when someone behaves in a way which is hurtful and to many, unforgivable. Does that make me stupid? Naïve? Ridiculous even? To keep giving my time to those who seemingly don’t deserve it…

The way I explain it to friends and family is that sometimes to get to the most beautiful parts of who a person is, you have to wade through the murky bits – with some people there’s just a whole lot of murkiness to contend with before you get to the good bit, but it has to be there. I guess I like the idea that much like the art dealer who finds a discarded masterpiece that others’ could not or would not take the time to see, that I’ll find the person / people who, with time, will be incredibly interesting and rewarding to be around. The diamonds in the rough 🙂 I know I’m not alone in this way of thinking, we can all surely think of a time when we’ve held onto someone even though we know they haven’t done a huge amount to deserve it and / or haven’t given us anything back in return…

So in thinking about this, there are the obvious explanations that spring to mind. Curiosity – perhaps the more someone behaves differently to ourselves, the more we want to understand and explain it. Self-punishment – perhaps we don’t believe we deserve any better so we’re willing to accept hurtful behaviour. Do-gooder syndrome – somehow we want to relieve the world of all it’s ills and pain, one individual at a time. The list goes on…

But I have my own theory – perhaps it’s the case that the things we seek in other people (be it friends, lovers, colleagues etc.) are sometimes the things we want others’ to find out about ourselves. By trying to understand someone who (for example) has treated you badly, perhaps you are somehow hoping they will try to understand you back. It’s a well known fact that we tend to seek out those who are similar to ourselves in life because it reinforces our view of the world and makes us feel our values and beliefs are the ‘right’ ones because they are shared (a several thousand word dissertation on the topic has emblazoned that particular fact in my mind! 🙂 But to dig into that deeper, perhaps alongside reinforcing our beliefs and values we are also seeking out ways to confirm that the not-so-great aspects of ourselves (our imperfections and cracks) are loveable and acceptable too. For example, by finding someone who is imperfect and broken, it makes it okay for me to be imperfect and broken too – an understanding between people who have experienced difficult times in life and have not just lived life safely in monotone, and they accept and care about each other because of it.

Everyone, regardless of the façade they put on, is looking to be heard, understood and accepted. To be truly understood is rare, and to be accepted for all your imperfections and cracks is even rarer. It has always been my view (rightly or wrongly) that a person with seemingly no imperfection and no issues is either a boring one or a fake one, so it follows that when I meet people who have things to work through I equate that with being real and having experienced life a little more. I’m not sure that’s something I want to change about myself but what I am realising is, at the point at which caring about someone comes at the cost of caring about myself, that is when a line has to be drawn somewhere.

So where does this leave things I wonder for a crack addict like me? Well I think my three step programme would sound something like this:

1. Remember that understanding people is good, trying to fix them is not. The one thing which is a sure fire way to be eternally dissatisfied is to believe you can fix people – people can be broken by others’ but they must always fix themselves. You can support people by providing the tools to help and the unwavering support but ultimately they are the only ones who can do what’s necessary.

2. Keep caring but don’t let it come at the cost of your own needs. This is one I will struggle with because I just never like to give up…but it’s an inescapable truth that you can give all of yourself to help someone and they’ll take it all, leaving with you nothing. Know when it’s ‘just too much’ and take a step back, you do no one any favours by sacrificing yourself.

3. Remember that cracks are as much of who you are as rest of you. Imperfections and ‘isms’ are what make us unique and interesting, allowing people to see that can be a good thing. I remember reading an article about the success of ‘the imperfect leader’ as a leadership style because people identified with it and felt that when a person is willing to be vulnerable, it shows their ability to be real and present.

Finally, a quote which has stayed with me ever since I first encountered it is below. Although it sort of feeds my addiction to ‘finding the cracks’, it also makes me feel good that as an ambitious woman trying to make my mark in the world, it’s okay to sometimes show your vulnerabilities and drop the mask for a while 🙂

“There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in” Cohen