Mapping a Course with Positive Influences
I love being outdoors!
Take my phone, watch, and everything else with a plug and replace it with a trail map, my backpack, and set me loose in the mountains for a few days. That is my happy place. While backpacking opens access to beautiful places I’d never see otherwise and solitude, the potential dangers include a list of Things That Could Go Wrong.
Experienced backpackers plan for the what ifs and generally arm themselves with knowledge before landing in a tricky situation. I even pack a snake bite kit along with my water purifier, an emergency beacon, moleskin for blisters, dry socks, warm layers even if I don’t think I’ll need them. The Boy Scouts have it right–Always Be Prepared.
The Post Divorce Minefield
Before my divorce was even filed, people volunteered their opinions on every topic from finance to parenting, dating and changing the locks. The unsolicited advice didn’t align with the way I wanted to carry myself through what I was sure would be one of the most difficult experiences of my life. Some people truly believed they were being helpful and supportive, but in the end their negativity and encouragement of truly spiteful and in some cases reprehensible behavior became just one more thing I had to deal with and sucked energy away from more positive endeavors.
I learned to keep things to myself, to walk through my daily life operating as if, meaning I acted how I would behave if this situation was a simple walk in the park. When anyone brought up my soon-to-be ex-husband, I immediately shut down the conversation. People quickly learned that I was not going to listen to anything negative about him. After all, the injury wasn’t theirs; it was mine. And I was going to manage it on my terms.
In the years following and now a decade later, I still work to avoid toxic situations and influences that don’t align with the mindset I work to cultivate. I’m hesitant to label a person as toxic because I hope I give people the benefit of the doubt. Are they 100 percent toxic or are they making a decision or engaging in an action that brings toxicity to the situation? In all honesty, I probably give people too much rope here and have suffered from negative influencers in my quest to be fair.
Brittney Got It Right – Toxic People Are Dangerous
People who create the greatest success in their lives kick toxic people off the island and never even consider a life preserver as a consolation prize. Done. Moving on. Anyone or anything that pulls them away from their goals, consistently discourages the pursuit, or generally pulls down the morale of those headed in that direction simply isn’t welcome.
I think there’s a difference between a person who injects toxicity into my life and well-meaning friends who lovingly intervene out of genuine concern, pointing out what I’ll call blind spots in my life. Sometimes it takes a friend to ask a hard question. Those people are important, and in my experience those people have earned the right to speak into my life because we have built a high level of trust over time.
But a toxic person negotiates situations and manipulates people to achieve chaos.
I’ve never understood this, and I’m grateful for that. I don’t understand why anyone would purposefully cause any other person sadness, harm, pain, or discordance. I mean, life is hard enough!
In my experience, I’ve run into my share of toxic people. I’m not talking about someone who’s in a rough patch or just having a bad day. You know the type–this is the person who consistently points out the down side, how any situation could potentially go wrong. They bad-mouth others and looks for ways to create conflict. In my early single days, I had my fill of conflict, so inviting more unnecessarily seemed completely insane. When someone asked me if I was having a divorce party, I am pretty sure my mouth fell open because who does that? OK, if you’re having a girls’ weekend to get away after a divorce, that’s one thing. An alcohol-induced frenzy involving a life-size pinata ex-husband look-a-like and a blow torch, not so much. In the end, what does that accomplish?
Know When to Hold Em, Know When to Fold Em, Know When to Walk Away, Know When to Run – Kenny Rogers
In the beginning, I worked hard to become the kind of single-parent and single person I could lock eyes with in the morning when I approach the bathroom mirror. Aligning myself with like-minded people made that a lot easier. These days, I still keep the radar on when meeting new people, in a crowd, and within my relationships. I find that regardless of my intentions, I am absolutely influenced by the people I am around, so I invest my time connecting with those who challenge me to take positive risks in stretching myself, who have my very best interest at heart, and who are the kind of people I want to be like. Does this mean I keep a list, and if someone tips to the naughty side I cut them out? Not at all, but it does mean that I am mindful of how much time I spend with them, and I am diligent about what topics might be off limits. With those guardrails in mind, my hope lies in growing my own confidence and leadership by modeling a healthier example. I’m not always successful, but I can’t quite get to a place where I am comfortable with leaving people out or cutting them off, unless it’s an extreme situation.
My litmus test for making hard decisions lands on communication. Adults should be able to have adult conversations with the end goal being ironing out miscommunication and looking for understanding of another’s perspective, views, or needs. Sometimes I can’t be what someone else wants me to be. Other times I don’t want to be what someone else wants me to be. Sometimes I wasn’t aware of what someone else needed or wanted from me. With gentle but productive conversations where the goal is to understand and learn, 99% of the time everyone leaves feeling like they have a better handle on what’s going on and what isn’t. I’m not bothered by difficult conversations because I’m typically a better informed person on the other side of them. I generally feel less confused and more at peace because the conflict or rough spot is smoothed out or at least I know I gave it my best shot. If a person can’t have a hard conversation, listen or contribute to finding a solution, or sees this as a fight to be won, that’s a very clear message to me that I need to take a large step back and rethink my investment in this relationship.
This happened not too long ago with a friend who was kind of in and out of my life for a handful of years. Some strange behavior that didn’t add up over time led me to reach out just to have a conversation in my effort to understand where this person was coming from. I reached out and asked her to meet me for coffee. No response. I called and left a message asking if she had a minute to talk. No response. I left it for a few days then called again and said I really needed to just talk with her and asked her to please call me when she could, that it was important to me, and I assured her that I just wanted to get her take on a situation.
After a week, she called me back. And right out of the gate, it was an attack. She was angry before I’d said a word. I hadn’t made accusations. I hadn’t even told her what I wanted to discuss or understand. She knew. My guess from the reaction was that she knew she was in the wrong. I never got more than a few words in edgewise before she yelled the emphatic suggestion that I visit a fiery place with lots of brimstone…. In the end, this wasn’t a relationship I could salvage, not for a lack of trying on my part but because it’s impossible to have a healthy relationship with someone who isn’t capable of engaging in a productive conversation over seemingly little things.
Recalibrating: Treading Lightly But Carrying a Big Stick
When I head out to spend a few days in the woods, I plan ahead. I plan for what I hope to experience–peace, solitude, taking in the beauty of the experience and the views–and also for the potential challenges like running low on water, raccoons getting into the food supply, an unforeseen change in the weather, and a potentially dangerous emergency. I emulate the same walking through the winding path that is life, hoping for breathtaking vistas but treading carefully because I remember that I am in the wild where all living things are doing their best to survive their circumstances. Bears don’t really want to kill people. They are generally protecting their cubs from perceived dangers. They might be hungry, and I look like a snack. People who aren’t living as their best versions of themselves operate in much the same way.
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