Welcome back! I hope that you were able to complete the homework from my last post! Why? Because I truly believe that little exercise is about to open up a can…whether of worms, magical unicorn rainbow dust or TNT is entirely up to you.
If you’ll recall, in my last post I discussed a couple of very painful and very inconvenient truths. First, that many people are suffering Overwhelm of one form or another because of toxic work environments, and second, that everything starts and ends with fear. I’d like to illustrate this second point more clearly through the use of some examples.
To demonstrate that things we come across every single day both at work and at home are motivated by a fear of some sort, I’ll start out with the (more than likely) obvious ones, and work our way into slightly more complex and then ones which may take you by surprise, that I say fear is at the root of them!
- When my daughter was 6 weeks away from turning 8 years old, her father died of cardiac arrest right in front of her. The sound he made resembled a normal, everyday burp, and now whenever I burp she exudes fear and asks me why I burped. She is fearful of losing the only parent she has left, so the sound sets off that fear.
- If you hit or kick your dog frequently, at some point every time you raise your hand, your dog will flinch or, depending on how bad of an abuser you are, cower and possibly whimper…even if you don’t follow through that time. The dog has learned to fear a raised hand, a threatening stance or a foot headed his or her way, thanks to repeated abuse.
- If you speak up at a work meeting, and are told by the management at the table that you’re not invited to offer your opinion, you may react in a myriad of ways, but more than likely you will not speak up at another meeting for fear of public embarrassment, of feeling worthless or of other potential consequences such as a lower annual review rating or formal reprimands.
- My daughter ate two hot dogs from a package that clearly had some sort of yuck in it which gave her food poisoning. For less than 24 hours she had a 102 degree fever and lethargy. Ever since that day, she demands to know for certain if the hot dogs I’m giving her are free of those germs, because she doesn’t ever want to experience the horrible shivers/shakes and fever that brought on. The fear of death is heightened in her because of watching her father die, so she has transferred the hot dogs making her ill to being something potentially deadly and now she’s struggling to believe that all food she consumes isn’t going to make her sick again (or kill her).
- In mid-December of 2017, we adopted a stray cat (who adopted us first). He’d been living on the street for about 14 months (we later deduced after identifying him via his microchip) and now, some 7 or so months later, he still gobbles food like he’s worried it’ll be the last meal he can find for a while. He’s afraid, still, of not having enough food to survive, which you’ll often find is the case with strays long after adoption.
- I once worked with someone who went from being a peer to being in an acting management position I then reported to. It turned out that during the time she was “just a coworker,” she had developed a concern that I was more qualified than she for the position she’d been put into the “acting” role of, and though I wasn’t in any way desirous of that role, she concluded that I was a threat to her, and she wanted that position more than anything. She therefore happily participated in a smear campaign meant to get rid of me because she saw that as the only way to protect her ability to obtain that position. I, of course, hadn’t a clue what was going on, but her fears and Overwhelm at the situation she found herself in helped cost me that position.
I just want to make certain we’re all working from the same definition of ‘compound.’ Having Googled it, this is the definition: “a thing that is composed of two or more separate elements; a mixture.” So when I say Compound Fear, I mean precisely this definition, as applied to what a person displays as a fear-based behavior, illustrated through the following three examples.
- A woman I’ll call Claudine grew up in the American Midwest in an era when boys were taught to do boy things and girls were taught to do girl things. She preferred to spend all of her time reading, but was forced into ‘female’ roles like cleaning house, cooking, washing dishes and doing everyone’s laundry, while her brothers were doing what she considered more fun stuff, including running around and playing (I know the feeling). This woman, now around retirement age, has a habit of watching you while you’re doing something, and then after a bit, poking in to tell you you’re doing it wrong (although she’s more subtle than that). She will even do this to people she doesn’t know very well. After much discussion surrounding why she thinks she has a right to tell everyone else what to do, several truths came to light: 1) she was criticized as a child when she did not a) “act like a girl,” or b) do things to her mother’s satisfaction because she was doing them quickly to get them over with. 2) she is embarrassed for the person who “does something wrong” because she is scarred by being told she was doing things wrong as a child. 3) if her siblings did something “wrong,” she was often blamed for it even if she was nowhere near it, and 4) if someone else is doing something, or does something when she’s not around to supervise, then she has no control over the outcome. So if it comes out wrong, she risks 1 , 2 and/or 3 coming to pass. It turns out, Claudine’s a control freak…but it’s for good reason, as when things were out of her control or she did not complete tasks to perfection, she suffered for it.
- If you watch the news enough, or read enough internet-based news, you will begin to notice a pattern within yourself (usually). You’ll start worrying about things over which you have absolutely no influence or control because you see so many negative stories. Take it a step further. What kind of TV do you watch? A lot of true crime shows? Mystery shows that often contain murders? Suddenly you’ll find you start thinking every weird sound in your neighborhood is someone’s house being broken into, or one spouse killing another. We see a bruise on a child’s leg, we call to report child abuse because so many shows are about that. We see enough blood, guts and gore in the movies, we become desensitized to seeing it in real life so people in other countries brutalizing their own populations becomes nothing more than seeing photos of a horror movie we’ve already looked at a hundred times. We hear others speak against races, countries, gender identity, sexual identity or traditions different from their own enough, and it becomes acceptable to behave reprehensibly toward our fellow homo sapiens. We expose ourselves to only one religion, one way of life, one little tiny corner of the globe, one single news channel or program, and we only know what we’re told in those tiny, narrow viewpoints, leading us into being very easily controllable and often very brainwashed sheeple who spout the same ten lines over and over again like an old-school vinyl record with a scratch. The fears that we have in all of these cases aren’t unfounded. Our homes could get broken into. Our kids could be kidnapped and murdered. We could be the victim of a hate crime. A child in our niece’s class at school could be getting abused. The man next door could be beating his wife. There may be a student shooter at our nephew’s school someday. We may find ourselves in another war on American soil. We are frightened that we would have no frame of reference for how to act if we discover that our entire worldview is wrong because of whatever religion was forced upon us from birth. These are things that, if they came to pass, would definitely be valid fears in the moment, whether physically, mentally or emotionally. But worrying about them happening day in and day out paralyzes us from actually living. We can do everything in our power to take precautions, but life is Garbage-In/Garbage-Out. The more you consume of any one thing, the more Compound Fears you develop until BOOM!…something gives.
- There is a senior executive I’m acquainted with, I’ll call her Brooke. She’d been at her employer for twenty-five years at the time I met her, and was one of those folks you hear about who literally worked her way up from the lowest position to where she was only two steps down from the Chief Executive Officer (CEO). The position she was in at the time I knew her was the director of a Project Office within the organization. The Powers That Be had not only put her in charge of developing a project management framework, they had also put her in charge of the budgets for all projects that the company undertook. The catch? The Project Managers on her team weren’t the only ones managing projects. People all over the company were acting as Project Managers even though they used no methodology, had no experience doing it and no one to teach them a process or provide guidance in any way. So they were managing project budgets with no oversight, yet it was Brooke whose butt was on the line for how that budget all shook out year after year. As a result, she swung her pendulum completely in the direction of Control Freak, whereby she created such a strict and stringent process, and forced everyone to go through so many hoops, that the whole company wound up at odds with her, even though she was only trying to keep herself from getting into trouble for things she had no control over. She had seen people get thrown under the bus, she felt she’d been set up to fail because she was a strong, confident, knowledgeable woman and the men above her didn’t like that, and she had seen things during her career that had proven to her that long tenure at a company didn’t get in the way of that company turning its back on you if they wanted you gone. Unfortunately, her reflexive control freakness got her removed from being in charge of the Project Office and into a position that had been made up to move her out of the way. A position with absolutely no power and zero influence, and an end date, to boot. In trying to save her hide, she’d wound up in a very precarious position. Fear of losing her job, her tenure, her retirement, her pension and the place she’d dedicated nearly her entire adult working life to, led her to a series of missteps that may yet wind up costing her all of those things anyway.
Back in 2012, Karl Albrecht Ph.D. published an article in Psychology Today entitled “The (Only) 5 Fears We All Share.” You can read it here for more detail, but it’s worth noting what those five fears are:
- Loss of Autonomy
Take a look at those five fears. We all have them, whether we want to admit it or not. Now look at the Simple, Complex and Compound Fears I gave examples of above. I would argue that many of those fit into one or more of these five categories, and then of course there are many other categories of fears that fill in the gaps these don’t cover.
The Simple Fears I outlined are actual, real, physical and emotional fears based on primal responses to threats. The Complex Fears are a mixture of real and projected fears. Just because something happens once, for example, does not mean it will happen again. But try convincing yourself of that when it happens 100 times in a row. And finally, Compound Fears are those which are born purely of your conjecture, which is why I didn’t include an animal example…because animals, as smart as some of them might be, do not have the capacity for the kind of ‘future worry’ that us humans are capable of.
But believe it or not, I’m not here to give you a sermon about fear. I’m going to go back, now, to the homework I asked you to do at the end of my previous blog post. As you were reading it, what situation in your life were you thinking about, and what did you think were the causes of that situation? Now, here’s where we get into the title of today’s article because I’m about to debunk any case in which you laid the blame for the situation on someone other than yourself…and you needed to understand these concepts of fear to put us on common ground.
Whatever your problem, issue, pain point or situation was…did anything that you wrote down sound like or come close to any of these words or phrases?
- He/she/it/they did or said this xyz thing to/about/against me
- I had to because they/he/she/it did/said this, that or the other thing
- I wouldn’t have done it if he/she/it/they hadn’t done this abc thing first
- He/she/it/they made me do it
- He/she/it/they started it
- I blame him/her/it/them for what happened
- He/she/it/they didn’t do what he/she/it/they said they/it would
- I can’t because of this person or that thing
- It’s someone else job, not mine
- He/she/they didn’t give me permission
- He/she/they said it wouldn’t work
- It isn’t my fault
There may be more, but that’ll get us started and make my point, which is this: For each and every one of these excuses, there is behind it, one single person who’s responsible for what happened no matter how much you fear ego-death or how certain you are of your rightitude (another word I gleefully made up to describe those who are so convinced they’re correct that it becomes a whole new kind of attitude nobody can combat, even with cold, hard, provable facts). But no matter what you think, experience or believe, the one single person who’s responsible isn’t someone else. It’s you.
None of us, me included, wants to hear that every single thing which has gone wrong in our lives, happened to us or otherwise that we’ve been the victims of, ultimately happened because of us.
But it’s true. Whether on a cosmic level (karma, the Universe, God, etc.) or on an earthly level (butterfly effect, what goes around comes around, etc.), it is provable that if you used any of the above-type words or phrases to describe why you’re in the situation that you were focusing on, you need to dig deeper.
Let me go through those bullets one more time, only with the questions to help you deduce the debunk.
- He/she/it/they did or said this xyz thing to/about/against me | Have you done anything like that to anyone else in your (current) life? Did you do, say or act in any way that may have provoked the occurrence? Did you have any inside thoughts or feelings that would have evoked said action or words from the other person?
- I had to because they/he/she/it did/said this, that or the other thing | You are the only person who can choose to do something. Regardless if you felt provoked into it, it was YOU who made the choice to do it, unless you were literally under the complete control of mind-altering make-me-into-a-mindless-zombie drug.
- I wouldn’t have done it if he/she/it/they hadn’t done this abc thing first | Same as previous
- He/she/it/they made me do it | Same as previous
- He/she/it/they started it | Same as previous
- I blame him/her/it/them for what happened | You may very well blame another person for what happened, but what actually happened, and did you have a choice at any point in the proceedings as per the “same as previous” scenarios above? What led up to the situation? Where in the process did things start veering off into the path they eventually took?
- He/she/it/they didn’t do what he/she/it/they said they/it would | This one is highly dependent upon the individual scenario to really pinpoint where your responsibility lies, but you can began the retrospective by asking yourself, did you have any reason to suspect the person would not follow through? Because very often in our lives we will sabotage ourselves by knowingly (either consciously or subconsciously) placing ourselves in a position that gives a person or organization the ability to do whatever they ultimately do, so that we can point at them and blame them rather than blaming ourselves for failing.
- I can’t because of this person or that thing | Same as previous
- It’s someone else job, not mine | While it is true that we are often asked to do things that aren’t technically in our job descriptions, or which have not been previously agreed upon if outside the work environment (who in the house takes out the trash, for example), examine very closely why you’re saying this. Because nearly always, a job description includes the words “and other duties as assigned” which means if they’re giving you a paycheck, then you do what they tell you. And in the non-work world, just because something is assigned to another person doesn’t mean you can’t step in to help if you notice a problem. Did you even talk to whomever to find out if there is a problem before dismissing the thing as not your job?
- He/she/they didn’t give me permission | The obvious question is, did you actually specifically ask for permission, or did you just sit back and wait and when they didn’t say anything you let it go because you didn’t want to do it anyway? Or did you ask for permission and it was denied? If so, then unless you have the power and authority to override them saying no, you would have no reason to get into a bad situation if you tell whomever’s asking that no, Jackson said I couldn’t do this, so if you want it done, then I think you may want to talk to him first.
- He/she/they said it wouldn’t work | Somewhat along the lines of the preceding bullet…if someone said something wouldn’t work, are you in a bad situation because you believed them and didn’t bother to ask or talk to anyone else about it? Or because you didn’t inform whoever was in charge that Paige over in Whozeewhatsit Dept. said it wouldn’t work? If this is a legitimate naysay, then it’s your responsibility to go to whomever else is relevant to let them know what was said, not allow that person’s opinion to stop you in your tracks.
- It isn’t my fault | This final debunk is the culmination of all of the above. My mantra? “Everything is my fault.” And I don’t mean that in a condescending or self-effacing way. I have yet to run into any situation…be it a bad relationship with an ex, the attitude of a child toward me, problems with roommates or coworkers or bad events I’ve gone through that didn’t, eventually, all boil down to my actions, words, deeds, behaviors, thoughts, feelings, or lack thereof. Not one single thing.
There are a great many examples I could give of all of these, but this article’s long enough as it is. If you’d like to learn more, understand more, about the concepts I’m trying to briefly present in this blog post and the one before it, please let me know. You have many ways to express your interest, including leaving a comment below, tweeting me @OahuPM, emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org or using the contact form on this website. I truly believe I could tack several more books onto my current series, including one all about debunking the “It isn’t my fault” excuse and explaining how you can dive deeply enough to root out how and why you ultimately have the responsibility for anything you go through.
Intelligent conversation is welcomed. Flames, hate speech and fakeguments (fake arguments derived from fake news) are not tolerated. Much obliged.