“If we don’t change direction soon, we’ll end up where we’re going.”
– Professor Irwin Corey, American comic, film actor and political activist
It had been a long day at the newspaper office and Jerry was tired, ready for a little TV and an early evening.
He was a reporter, new to the business, and on this particular day there had been a lot to report.
When his father called after five and told him to come out to the farm for dinner, Jerry was reticent to do so. Especially when his father announced that he had a chore for him.
Having grown up on a farm, Jerry knew a chore could be anything from tilling the garden to cleaning the hog barn.
Jerry agreed then cursed himself after hanging up the phone. Why couldn’t he say no to his father? He just couldn’t seem to slip the irrational need for his father’s approval.
After a home-cooked meal, Jerry sat back on the couch sipping a hot coffee, wondering what his father’s chore might be. After a silent cigarette, his father left the room, returning with Jerry’s old blue Smith Corona typewriter, which he plunked down on the kitchen table.
“You want me to type something?”
“Nope,” replied his father. “You’re going to teach your mother how to type.”
“You’ve got to be kidding.”
“Mother!” Jerry’s father yelled. “The boy is ready to teach you typing!”
Jerry’s mother emerged from the kitchen with a towel in hand.
“I’m sorry, Jerry,” she said. “I mentioned to your father how I regretted not learning how to type in college and ….”
“The boy can type, so it can’t be that hard to learn. Let him show you how!”
Jerry felt his face turning red. He spent the next hour explaining to his mother about home row, showing her how to place her fingers gently on the keys and instructing her to type a series of j’s and f’s. All the while, Jerry’s father watched the hockey game on television.
“So I should spend the next few days practicing my j’s and f’s,” said his mother, carefully restating her son’s instructions. “Then I should practice typing whole pages of j, f, j, f.”
“What’s this f and j crap?” bellowed Jerry’s father. The hockey game had ended. “Quit fooling around and show your mother how it’s done and don’t take all night doing it either!”
Jerry’s father may have been out of line but not alone in his thinking.
Many people are ignorant to the processes involved in learning a new skill. When it comes to self-esteem, sometimes we are Jerry’s father, figuratively speaking: our cruel and unreasonable inner critic demanding change and condemning us when it doesn’t happen as quickly as we would like.
Recognizing that change is necessary is one thing — initiating and sustaining change is another. Unrealistic expectations around the learning and mastering of new skills have hobbled the best students on the path to empowerment. The first question is, “Why?” Why have you chosen a new path or to learn new skills? In reference to self-esteem, the answer is probably pain relief.
It is simply too painful to continue along the path you’ve been travelling. From my experience working with clients in a clinical setting, the same story surfaces time and again: “I just couldn’t keep doing what I was doing.”
The second question is, “How will the future look like once new skills have been mastered?”
Do you have a clear picture or only a vague notion? Get clear about how change will look and how it will feel. This will help you to monitor your progress.
Keep focused on the benefits derived from change, not what you’re trying to avoid. Most people are skilled at describing what they don’t want but not so at verbalizing or envisioning what they want a new life to be.
Let your difficulties become a source of strength. Acceptance of your difficulties brought you to the starting line. Let overcoming those same difficulties propel you to the finish line.
Accept that there will be temporary setbacks. No matter how far you’ve travelled and how much you’ve learned, there will be times when you stumble or fall. Treat these events as a natural part of the process. A time to rest, reflect and steel yourself for the journey ahead. Realize that for one thing to be embraced, another must be released. We cannot serve two masters at the same time. No matter how comfortable they might be, old and negative ways of thinking and being must be relinquished so that we may free up the necessary energy to move forward.
Ask yourself who the boss is? Who is in charge of your life? If you feel that the boss is all the outside influences, perceived failures, cruel critics, obligations, job pressures, relationships issues, and overdue bills, do yourself a favour: stop, stand up and take charge of your life!
And what about that nasty critic – do you really need his approval? The best way to quiet the critic is with a clear and grounded commitment to learning. Without such, this rude and cruel bully will continue to feed back to you every fear and insecurity you have ever written onto the pages of your psyche. Don’t allow yourself to become derailed by others or
“Some people change when they see the light,” wrote American author and educator, Caroline Schroeder. “Others when they feel the heat.”
Someone told me once, “If change were easy, we’d have a lot more people keeping New Year’s resolutions!” Change may not be easy, but it’s certainly easier with the right outlook.
“Stand back non-believers because I’m going to make it rain!”
Murray Fuhrer can be reached at www.theselfesteemguy.com