At a peak point of frustration in my corporate career, I was struggling to find the energy and commitment for the demands of my job, my travel schedule, running a household, and raising two small children. I had just come to the unfortunate realization that I had made a mistake in moving to a new company and a new job, and my pride wasn’t allowing me to admit it to myself, let alone to others. Each time I thought of being honest about the challenge I was faced with in figuring out how to be happy in the situation I found myself in, I told myself “Nope, no one will understand.” In doing so, I thought I was protecting myself and my pride, but the longer I told that story to myself, the more isolated I became.
One evening after work I was sitting in the dance studio observation area with a fellow working mom and friend, watching our daughters complete their class. When she asked me “How do you like your new job?”, pure exhaustion led me to the authentic response “I actually don’t like it very much. I think I made a mistake and I don’t know what to do about it.” My honesty surprised me, and her response was a turning point in my life. “I understand,” she said, “You know, you might want to talk to someone who can help, maybe a career coach.” That suggestion led me to consider options I had not thought about, but were the perfect fit to get me back on a path in which I could truly thrive, in all aspects of my life.
Now, as a coach myself, I sometimes hear the phrase “You just wouldn’t understand” from clients and friends when they are working to navigate through a particularly challenging time in their life or career. It can be a frustrating response to receive, especially when you have extended a genuine offer to help, or to at least be a listening ear. Having myself said, or at least thought, that phrase before, I have realized how much of an unfortunate self-fulfilling prophecy using that statement can be.
When we are faced with challenges, we often don’t think others will “get it”, and that any advice they might have to offer will not be informed with a genuine understanding of the emotions and frustrations we are experiencing. This might be true if, for example, there is not a point of reference that they can effectively use. I often tell people that I do know what it is like to raise children, but having raised two daughters, I am cautious about feeling fully informed to give advice to someone who is raising two boys. While this might be true, isn’t it also true that there is a human understanding of the core emotions that we all experience? We all have points of reference to sadness, fear, frustration or elation because we have felt them ourselves! Maybe people have not gone through the exact situation that you have, but might a friend, family member, or professional adviser be able to understand some of the dynamics of the relationships and life or work circumstances you are challenged by?
This is especially true if someone has reached out to help you. Always use discernment about who you choose to share and confide in. But, if they have met your standard of trust, then with the fact that they have asked you if they can be of help, they have already demonstrated that to some extent they do “get it”, or at least that they want to try! If you continue to feel increasingly isolated in your present situation, consider if you have set the bar so high that you have actually prevented anyone from helping you. What do you need someone to do to demonstrate to you that they are trying to understand and help? If you don’t at some point stop and ask yourself this question, you will only be confirming your self-created philosophy that “no one will understand”, and moving yourself further and further from putting the situation that is creating so much discomfort for you in the past by pushing away a possible solution. I had certainly done that myself, until I finally decided I needed to work to trust that I was with someone who would in fact likely understand.
Consider that when you have a moment of victory or joy, you share that with others. Though those you share that with may not in fact have had that exact experience that you are celebrating the elation about, they can relate to the feeling of being proud and happy with an event or other life celebration or accomplishment. They care about you, and the fact that you are happy! With this in mind, why then do we so often assume others will understand our joy and not our sadness or our fear? The dynamics of experiencing those emotions is shared by all humans; they too have known disappointment and sadness, and are biologically wired to feel empathy toward your experience of those same emotions. This is a consideration to take into account as you start to reflect on the idea of confiding in another, and assisting them in understanding the challenge you are facing. If you aren’t comfortable that there are friends, family or co-workers whom you can share with, consider a therapist, coach, or clergy. Regardless the choice of who that might be, do choose to seek out guidance when you are truly feeling stuck, or even trapped, in the situation in which you find yourself.
In the past, I often assumed others would not understand my challenges, and it kept me isolated and unhappy for longer than was necessary. For your own mental and emotional health, seek out people whom you know have shared experiences that you can look to, and that you trust will do their best to truly understand. They care about you and want to help you when you are stuck or struggling. Isolating yourself with the phrase “you wouldn’t understand” might be part of your past, but strive now to not make it part of your future.