I had coffee with a new acquaintance and she used the words “hard” and “difficult” at least three dozen times in a 30-minute period. I know because I started counting after the first few.
Holding up a mirror
Now, before you think I’m mean-spirited, I started counting because I wanted to give her constructive feedback. With compassion, but also with a kick in the pants, I wanted to hold up a mirror for her.
Sometimes that’s the greatest gift we can give someone: To hold up a mirror and reflect back what we hear them saying.
A “hard” and “difficult” career change
In this particular instance, the woman—let’s call her Jan—is in the midst of a self-described “hard” and “difficult” career change that’s turning out to be, well…hard and difficult. Jan had asked me to help her get unstuck and move forward with her career change.
I’ve learned four important truths when making a big change:
- Language matters. Our words can be a self-fulfilling prophecy, so we have to be careful and intentional about how we characterize our circumstances.
- When we’re only focused on what’s hard and difficult, we easily miss out on what’s easy and simple. In other words: When we look for what’s right, we see more and more of it. When we focus on what’s wrong, it becomes all we can see.
- We have a choice about where we are on the continuum of energy. On one end is flow, serendipity, and motivated, engaged focus. On the other end of the energy continuum is stuck, stalled, and stagnant. Where do you want to be energy-wise when making a significant life change?
- We’re not at our most creative and resourceful when we’re telling our story of woe. Trying to do something new or outside our comfort zone, like making a drastic career change, needs us firing on all cylinders. We can’t afford to cut ourselves off from our inherent creativity and resourcefulness.
Jan initially bristled, felt defensive, and held tight to her characterization: Her career transition was, indeed, hard and difficult.
After a couple minutes rooted in that conviction, Jan sat back in her chair, took a deep breath, slowly smiled, and said: This all would be so much easier if I stopped focusing on how hard it is!
Before you roll your eyes and think I live in fantasy land: I don’t believe simply thinking things will be easy makes them easy. But I know for certain thinking they’ll be hard doesn’t make them easier either.
Holding up the mirror brought into focus for Jan how characterizing her career change as “hard” and “difficult” wasn’t serving her. This begged the question what would serve her better—which is always a great question to ask.
What would become apparent if someone held a mirror up and reflected back what they hear you saying?