Know Your Why, Part I

Know Your Why, Part I
From a recent hike, and where I would rather be than on another Zoom...
If you don't know why you're doing what you're doing—how can you counter someone who says you’re doing it wrong?

My grandma used to say something that drove me, and the rest of the family, nuts:

“You’re right, I can’t.”

That is one of the most deceptively simple sounding, yet incredibly complex— and the more I think about it, maddening—expressions I have ever come up against.

Even more so when I found it coming out of my own mouth.

The first time I recall hearing this sentence, it was in the context of getting my then-already-aged grandma out of the house. She was settled in her routines and unflappable against our attempts to get her to come to a larger family dinner. On the surface, the meaning was clear, she simply couldn’t gather herself enough to get ready and deal with being out in public, let alone meeting up with a larger group than the 2 of us staying with her. And there's no way to counter it, I can't say what she can or can't do, right?

Hey, I’m an introvert, I get it. I’m well acquainted with simply having had enough peopling for one day, or week, and needing alone time to recharge. But I came to find out there was more to it. I came to find out, well after my grandma had passed, that she likely had lifelong, and undiagnosed, depression. Having dealt with what I sometimes call “funks” for the better part of my adult life, this fact completely changed the dynamic.

And thus ends the dive into my and my family’s history for today, I promise. I do want to keep going on that short little sentence though, before bringing it back around and connecting this to why it’s so important to know your why.

Understanding that the sentence was being said from a place of pain, rather than of obstinance or the sheer stubbornness my family is legendary for completely changed how I saw my grandma. It also changed how I understood my own interactions with pretty much everyone else I’ve encountered in my life, right up to today.

Those four little, deceptively simple-sounding words, “You’re right, I can’t,” both acknowledge and dismiss the fact that the person uttering them is in complete control of their destiny. What they are truly saying is, “I know you have the best of intentions, and I know I should do what you’re saying I should do. But I simply can’t. I don’t have the ability to overcome a contravening force that is acting on my mind and body, limiting my ability to do even what I know full well I should be doing.”

It was all of this background that opened my eyes when I heard myself say “You’re right, but I just can’t.”

Then I sat in stunned silence. Had I really just said that!?

I took a couple of deep breaths, I was talking to this person on video chat (it was a coworker at my last job) so they were starting to wonder why my eyes were closed before I remembered to turn off my camera. Funny pandemic moment aside, this is what I came up with:

I was fine with having said it. And that was because I understood WHY I had said it. And that one word is what made the difference.

I’ve been learning to accept, deal with, and work within my abilities and traits. It’s been nearly a decade since I figured out my status as an HSP and an empath, and in those years I’ve worked hard at honing my ability to block other people's FML vibes while allowing in enough of their energy to connect on the level I thrive on.

What that coworker was asking of me was simply more than I could handle. After a day of interspersed meetings and deep work sessions, I was played out. Knackered. Done. They were inviting me, last minute, to a Zoom happy hour for someone whose last day it was with the company. Aside from the last-minute nature of the invite, Zoom small talk is not something I can do, let alone at the end of the day and without any time to prepare.

In that context, saying I couldn’t attend was my only sound option, and that little sentence doesn’t invite probing questions. And importantly, it leaves no room for anyone to question your motivations, as long as you say it with the conviction that comes with knowing yourself well enough to know what you can, and can’t, do in a given situation. It’s final without sounding dire, and my coworker respected that.

Knowing my own why was enough to not only carry me through the interaction but to feel OK about using what was once a phrase that made me as close to stabby as just about anything I can think of.

That makes it a pretty powerful concept to keep in mind if you ask me.

I’ve got more thoughts percolating on this, hence the Part I in the title. Stay tuned while I sort through those thoughts and see how they want to be written.