To a certain extent, we all have to compromise and abide by the rules and expectations set by others.
Living according to these expectations has some merit, as it gets us by and perhaps helps us succeed. However, when we compromise our own beliefs, feelings or happiness to meet the expectations, needs or rules made by others, we, in the process, become robots, as we disengage from our own desires, passions and drives.
It is often necessary to follow rules or the expectations of others for survival and maintaining of relationships.
You have to do as you are told at work, to receive your pay. A child needs to do their homework, in order to pass through school. You have to stop at a red light to avoid a possible accident. You have a responsibility to be home for your family rather than going out with your friends every night.
But when following rules or expectations becomes routine, without thought or passion, or worse, with resentment, it can feel like a part of you has died. And perhaps a part of you has died, or is at least asleep, as you no longer are engaged with or in your life, and are not living authentically as you wish.
I remember the day I decided to quit my job as a primary care physician. I recall driving into work, dreading being bombarded with 30 patient visits with barely enough time to see them, let alone write my notes, and even more so, having to do it again and again and again for the rest of my life.
I hated not having control over how much time I could have with my patients, how often I could see them, what medication I could prescribe, and the hours that I kept. I hated feeling that I had no choice and no control. I started resenting my patients. Then I felt guilty. I couldn’t do it anymore.
So, in that moment, I chose to stop complaining. I thought to myself, if I had a choice, what kind of job would I have? What would make me happy and allow me to feel or be more engaged?
I imagined being able to spend an hour with each patient, friendly staff, nice music in the background and flexibility in my schedule. Just thinking about it made me smile and relax. I knew that it would be possible.
I resigned that same day. I picked up a side job to make ends meet, and started my consulting practice in what I now call, resiliency medicine, in November 2002. I made a choice back then to have a choice about how I worked and who I worked for.
But most importantly, I vowed that if I couldn’t feel engaged, if my heart wasn’t in it — be it a person or a project — then it was likely that I needed to walk away, or find a way to enhance my creative nature so that I could be engaged.
Of course, this is easier done when you work for yourself and/or you don’t depend on the income or approval of said project or boss respectively. But you still have a choice: Change your attitude and stay, or change your attitude and leave.
Find a way to stay engaged and be more creative in whatever you do. Keep your brain open and your heart happy. When you are under stress, experiencing fear, or any other negative emotion, working by rote instead of passion and engagement, your brain shuts down.
Nerve cells in your brain that could be used for creativity and innovative thinking, turn off.
Here are five simple exercises for you to help engage those nerve cells, calm the body, and open the mind.
1. Observe how situations and people make you feel, positively or negatively, and write about it as you can. Notice the common theme that brings up negative feelings or thoughts, or what causes you to disengage. Does it seem to be related to not feeling valued? Taken for granted? Being disappointed or overwhelmed? Insecure?
2. Identify what you would rather feel, and what you really want. Do you want to feel valued, at peace, joyful, strong, or confident? Do you want to have more or less responsibility? Manage more or less people? Have more flexibility? What do you want?
3. Empty your mind of its negativity by breathing out, imagining that you are releasing all of your tension, negative thoughts, feelings, fears, worries, doubts, or expectations into the wind, down a river, or down into the earth. Let go.
4. Breathe in the calm and peace of the universe,while saying to yourself, “I am peace. I am calm. I am confident. I am curious. And all is well.” You can use as many adjectives as you wish.
Do this for five to ten cycles of breath.
5. Write down your thoughts, perceptions, feelings and doodles, maintaining curiosity, humor and openness. Perhaps you can imagine your situation upside down or as a film going backwards. What do you notice? Where is the opportunity.
This five step process is easy and useful for any situation. For instance, if you tend to feel nervous when dealing with your boss in your weekly meetings, you can practice steps two through four above, so that you get yourself into the feeling you want to have, then write about how the situation can be used as an opportunity for you — either personal or professional growth.
In this way, every situation, even those that are stressful, can be turned into an opportunity for growth and learning, for staying engaged and curious.