Every once in awhile, I find myself reflecting on life and seeing the loving hand of God guiding my life and shaping my growth. This week I had a couple experiences that helped me appreciate the relationships in my life, particularly the ones that challenge me to grow.
I am very fortunate to have a mentor at work. She’s reads this blog regularly too, (“Hi Debby!). Over the past few years, she has encouraged, pushed, and challenged me to be a better manager (and person, for that matter!) through regular feedback. She has walked side-by-side with me through several difficult work situations, always with the delicate balance of empathy and advice. Beyond work, when I experienced acute anxiety in the summer of 2013, her office is where I retreated to cry and seek counsel.
As I grew, both professional and personally, I relied on her less and less for the daily management decisions I needed to make. But, when the bigger issues arose, she was the first person I ran to for advice. However, I wasn’t as moldable as I’d been previously. Sometimes I bristled as her feedback, thinking that my track record must mean that I had figured something out. But, even when I couldn’t immediately accept the gift of feedback she provided me, her training kicked in and I would reply, “Thank you for the feedback” and then go away to wrestle with it awhile.
I realized this week that, when I struggle against accepting Debby’s feedback, it’s a very good indicator that I’ve slipped back into a fixed mindset. When I feel the need to justify my actions and deflect blame, it’s a good sign that my struggle switch is flipped and I’m not owning my behavior. Fortunately, Debby also gives me the grace to struggle with the feedback before accepting it. In doing so, I’m able to humbly surrender and acknowledge that she has given me the gift of information to help me grow.
There’s such amazing peace that comes from accepting responsibility and recognizing when your thoughts and behavior in a given situation are causing you pain. In another workplace relationship, I caused myself years of heartache by perceiving a coworker’s actions as antagonistic and then acting out in response. A few years ago, we both decided that we wanted to move forward with a different kind of relationship. It wasn’t easy and there were several missteps as we tried to overcome years of distrust and build trust with one another.
This process of growth has brought me indescribable peace and hope. This week, I went to lunch with this coworker for the first time! We had a delightful conversation and she gave me a most treasured compliment. She said that she truly feels heard and understood when she talks to me. That moment was so special and provided such healing.
I have a reminder that pops up on my phone each day. It helps me be mindful to stay in a growth mindset through acceptance: “How I perceive a situation dictates my emotional state, which dictates my behavior.” Given my experience with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (“ACT”), I think of my perception as the thoughts I fuse with about that situation. So, if I tell myself that a piece of feedback is a challenge to my abilities or a threat, then I respond by defending myself. Whereas, if I fuse with the thought that feedback is a gift to help me grow, then I can accept and learn more quickly. Likewise, if I tell myself that another person is “out to get me” or has negative intentions toward me, then I’m likely to act aggressively based on that perception. Whereas, if I assume positive intent and seek to understand another person’s actions, I can remain calm, learn, and grow from the experience.
There are times when I consider my employment options in life and wonder if something would be a better fit for me. But, then weeks like this occur and I realize that God has put me in this particular vocation with these particular people in my life, for a reason. Growing, learning, accepting, and understanding are happening to me every day.
I’m so grateful for the relationships that challenge me and help me grow.