Lately, I’ve noticed that there are many people who would rather live quietly and comfortably miserable in their dissatisfaction than muster up the courage to get out of it. And getting out of it is probably as simple as having a conversation.
The older I get and the more work on myself I’ve done, the easier it is for me to have those conversations. But I do remember a time when my heart would be beating louder than I could bear and the words would come out shaky whenever I’d start to broach a sensitive subject. Like any exercise, it gets easier the more you do it. And as with exercise, it’s essential to your health to speak up and have real conversations about the things that matter most—whether it’s at work, at home, or regarding your own health. It may be difficult at first, but luckily, the thrill of having a successful conversation gets even greater with time, too!
Conversations at Work
At least 80 percent of my time at work is spent talking with people. And I’ve noticed you can have a lot of conversations and never really get to the truth. Getting to the truth takes work. It takes questioning and listening. And even then, the truth is different for each person and each perspective. But I often notice that when someone comes to me with a problem—especially a management problem—and wants me to fix it, people having hard but meaningful conversations with each other can more genuinely and permanently resolve it.
When those conversations don’t go well, it’s natural to “shut down” and retreat. It’s much harder and more important to take a moment (even if you have to come back later) and continue the conversation. Ask for clarification if you’re unclear. Let the other person understand how you feel and why you might disagree. Work it out together! The results are often transformative and so much better than staying frustrated and angry or hurt. Or expecting “the boss” to fix it.
Conversations at Home
It’s so easy to get swept up in the day-to-day routines at home—with kids, with partners, with yourself—that then you wake up one day and a decade or two has passed and you realize you’re not really happy or living a life that feels right. This is the moment when a lot of people either get sick, self-medicate through alcohol or painkillers, or just resign themselves to a life of chronic unhappiness. Often, people stay in an unhappy situation for financial reasons, for “the children,” or simply because they’re too scared to have the conversation. It is scary to have those conversations. Trust me. And most importantly, trust your gut.
I’ve learned the hard way that people lie. A lot! Like kids who lie to avoid punishment, partners can lie to avoid feeling vulnerable, ashamed, or responsible. You can feel like it’s all your fault—until you have the conversation and find out that something else altogether is going on. Something you had no idea of and never even imagined! Maybe it’s an affair. Maybe it’s a secret addiction. Maybe it’s a longstanding resentment. But you will never know until you have those conversations. And even then, sometimes, you may never know. But again, trust me, knowing something is so much better than not knowing anything. Hard, but better.
Conversations about your Health
About eight years ago I had high blood pressure. I was under tons of stress at work; my mother was in the long, slow, and horrible process of dying of cancer; I was beginning to question my relationship with my husband; and I was not as fit as I would have liked to be. And I had a baby at age 44! I could have simply freaked out or gone on medication. But I used it as an opportunity to have a conversation with myself about my health: Why this? Why now? What is the answer?
It was around that time that I stumbled on Louise Hay’s Heal Your Body A–Z: The Mental Causes for Physical Illness and the Way to Overcome Them. She attributes high blood pressure to a “longstanding emotional problem not solved.” Ha! I had a long list of those! And so I tackled them one by one. I went back to therapy. I had hard conversations with my mother. I had hard conversations with my (now-ex) husband. As a result, even though work became even more stressful (remember the Great Recession and Disruption?) and I went through a long and painful divorce, my blood pressure went back down to normal.
Obviously, I didn’t do all those things just to lower my blood pressure, but it’s important to realize your body often knows things before your brain does. And if you listen to your body, you will be both healthier and happier—as long as you find the courage to do the work that your body is pleading to you to do, whether it’s through an injury or a chronic disease or just a nagging pain.
I realize that not everyone is up for the kind of full-on, intense, and super-real life that I lead. And there are times when I look at others who are staying in their very comfortably miserable lives with a bit of admiration and longing. But I also have learned that you can never really know what another person is experiencing; you can only know yourself. And you can’t change others; you can only change yourself. But the breakthroughs that happen through having the conversations are what create growth. And the joy of growing far outshines the pain of the slow, long death.
There is a saying I love by Cynthia Occelli: “For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.”
It’s time to have the conversations. Have them in the office. Have them on the couch. Have them in your bedroom. Have them on a walk outside. Have them face-to-face, heart-to-heart. Have them in the kitchen. It’s so worth it because there is joy and happiness on the other side of it (even though it might take a while to get to that other side).