Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Shoulders, Weight, and Metaphors

Last summer I gave some business advice to one of the contractors working on the Civic Mirror. I couldn't have predicted how much my advice to him would have helped me.  

He was just starting a business, I was contracting his services, and while we were talking about the delays in his work, I heard him sigh several times. Big sighs. Defeated sighs. 

I inquired, "Why the sighs?" and he explained (very honestly) how overwhelmed he felt by everything involved in starting a business. I got it. Oh man could I relate. Like 100%. The challenges involved in growing Action-Ed in my part-time for the 4 years leading up to last summer had consumed all of my energies (not to mention parenthood). It had been anything but easy.

So, being the guy I am, I wanted him to get excited about his business and the work involved. My advice was unsolicited. But I saw his potential and wanted to help. I wanted to reframe things for him. Inspired, I started thinking out loud:
"You know, most of us view work and stress as weight on our shoulders. And we think the weight's bad. We need to get it off in order for things to be better. When the weight's gone we think things will be back to normal, which is good, because that's what we're comfortable carrying.
"But I think the trick is to not focus on the weight, and how it makes our shoulders feel. I think when you embark on this path, the trick is to focus on your legs, and back, and neck, and getting your whole self stronger and stronger.
"I think if you view the weight starting a business brings as good weight – as a force that you can use to make you stronger – then you'll be able to carry it effortlessly. You'll become one of those people who'll continually grow and grow and carry heavier loads.
"Sure there's weight. But if you want to go down this path and enjoy yourself, you can't be viewing the weight as a thing that needs to be avoided. I think the people who do well at this are the people who welcome it. Who say, 'Bring it!'  Really, it's a matter of perspective."
Now for all I know he could have been playing solitaire on his computer while I blathered away. Or maybe he put me on speaker phone and made funny faces to his friends while I talked. He likely hasn't thought of what I said since. I mean, it's not like I'm a millionaire or a magazine-cover-worthy entrepreneur. What do I know?  

But the image I described has stuck with me since. It's helped.

Thinking about how I changed the picture around in my mind's eye has helped me to remember that we are in control. I simply pictured someone with weights on their shoulders and – instead of wanting to get the weights off – I pictured the guy wanting to add more and more weight because he knew they would make his whole body stronger. It's a silly image really. But so are all the images our thoughts make. 

Like what are they, really? 

But by changing the image, I changed the rules. And the different rules created a different reality, for me at least (i.e. welcome responsibility, don't eschew it).

And while I don't mean to say we should all carry as much stress and assume as much responsibility as we possibly can (the Japanese know the end result isn't a good one, to the point that there's funny commercials like this one), 

And while I don't mean to say that Gabrielle's situation is a good one simply because it's an opportunity for Amy and I to grow stronger (because the situation really does suck and we'd rather her be normal and healthy), 

What I am saying is that my advice to the contractor has since reminded me that our thoughts and 'mental metaphors' can have wonderful and devastating effects ... depending on what they are and what realities they make. 

I guess I'm writing this because lately quite a few people have asked us "How do you do it?" It's kind of a weird question because ... well ... if the tables were turned, you'd just do it too.

But maybe we're "doing it" because we're aware of the metaphors we use on a day-to-day basis. We know how slippery the slope can be. Thoughts attract like thoughts. For example, if we referred to the day Gabrielle was diagnosed with I-Cell disease as "the day the world came crashing down," ... well ... what kind of reality would that create? Yeah, exactly: a sucky one. 

We're doing our best to pick our words and metaphors very, very carefully. 

We know they'll make worlds of difference.


  1. well-said. Hope Gabrielle is having a good night...xoxo

  2. Thanks Regan! I love all your insights, they are great reminders.

  3. Regan,

    Your philosophic response to life is always captivating and intellectually stimulating and inspiring. Thank you and hope Gabrielle's little lungs are continuing to 'carry the weight'.