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Difficult Lessons: How to Learn What You Need to and Move On

“Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.” ~Pema Chodron

I’ve been self-employed for many years now. This is no accident. I’ve always liked to do things my own way. I like to arrange my diary in exactly the way I want to, and make my own mind up about how I do things. I like to work without having to justify anything to a manager.

I’m not always comfortable in working relationships where the other person is “higher up” than me—when they’re in authority. You could say that I’m a teensy bit of a control-freak.

I used to work for a big corporation, and my relationships with my managers weren’t always easy. I was very critical of the way they did things, and if they criticized me I sometimes got very defensive. I learned a great deal from a couple of good managers, but I also spent a lot of time resenting being “told what to do.”

Recently, I decided to embark upon training to become a Buddhist minister. This involves having a “supervisor” who is responsible for my spiritual training, and who will ultimately be responsible for deciding whether or not I “make the grade” and ordain.

Last month, my supervisor asked me a question in an email and I felt immediately attacked and defensive. I felt annoyed. I complained to my friend. I sent her a long and rambling reply, outlining all the reasons why she shouldn’t be asking the question. We exchanged a few emails, and the situation got more and more confused.

I thought I’d managed to avoid conflict with people senior to me when I became self-employed. I didn’t have a manager anymore, so what was the problem?

The problem is that, as Pema Chodron says, nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.

This difficult situation arose with my supervisor because I had avoided dealing with my control issues by becoming self-employed. It was only a matter of time before these issues might have appeared in a different place in my life—with a colleague, perhaps, or in a disguised form in a relationship with a friend.

After trying to sort things out by email, eventually my supervisor phoned me and we had a conversation about what had happened. I was still feeling very defensive, and quite angry. We spoke for a while. She was patient and encouraged me to be open.

Eventually, I admitted that I sometimes found it difficult to be in relationships with people who hold authority over me. This was a turning point. Once this was “out in the open,” it was more possible to look objectively at what had happened between us.

By the end of the phone call I felt a huge sense of relief. I had challenged my supervisor, and she had survived. She could see my point of view, and I could see her point of view. She did have a good point with her question!

I haven’t suddenly become the ideal employee, but I do feel that I’ve begun to make progress in how I deal with authority. I can now feel grateful for this incident, however uncomfortable it was at the time.

If you feel trapped by a difficult situation that keeps re-appearing, no matter what you do, the following suggestions might help:

Be kind to yourself.

We can often end up in similar situations with different people, after promising ourselves that we won’t. This is because we are human! It can be easy to beat ourselves up, but it isn’t helpful, and it only adds misery to an already-miserable situation.

Be honest.

Once you’ve been kind to yourself, it’s helpful to be as honest with yourself as you can. It’s natural to want to blame the other person when we’re in conflict. Begin to take some responsibility for your part in what has happened. If you can do this, then change is possible.

Be curious.

Do you recognize this pattern from your history? From elsewhere in your life? What happens? How does it start? What hooks you in? It might help to discuss this with a good friend, or to write some notes.

Be aware.

Try and catch yourself when you find yourself in a similar situation. When something starts hooking you in, notice, “Ah, here I am again!”

Be experimental.

This is where you can try behaving differently from the way you usually behave.

This might be holding your tongue, or it might be being more honest with the person you’re speaking with. It might be feeling things you’ve been avoiding, like sadness or anger. It might be taking some time away from the situation to consider what you’d like to do, rather than diving in feet first. Keep being curious, keep talking to your friends, and keep experimenting.

Be grateful.

If you can find a way to learn something from what is happening, then you will change for the better. You are also likely to feel the same relief I did when I “came clean” with my supervisor. Pause and feel grateful for what happened, and for the lesson you learned.

None of us like learning lessons about ourselves. None of us like to be wrong, or to acknowledge a part of ourselves that is flawed or frightened. This is why our lessons have to keep coming back over and over again.

Rumi says, “Until you’ve found pain, you won’t reach the cure.” When I look back over my life, I realize the most important lessons I’ve learned have often been a result of some kind of pain—whether the pain manifested as disappointment, or anger, or fear. I would never think so at the time, but I can feel grateful for that pain now.

Without this pain, I wouldn’t be the person I am now—a teensy bit less of a control freak! More humble. Hopefully, more loving. And definitely more grateful for life and all that it gives me.

Photo by zappowbang

Avatar of Fiona Robyn

About Fiona Robyn

Fiona Robyn is also on a mission to help other people to connect with the world through writing. Read about Lorrie in her free e-book, How to Write Your Way Home, or visit her free community where all are welcome.

Announcement: Wish you could change your past? Learn to let go and create a life you love with the Tiny Buddha course!
  • http://twitter.com/BeadLavada Erica Rodman

    I can definitely relate to this post! I have always found it very difficult to engage in relationships where I am not in control, especially when it is evident to me that the person who IS in control is not as capable or as competent as I am. This struggle has been compounded by my own medical challenges because I have encountered my fair share of doctors who are less-than familiar with my diagnosis. It takes so much energy to be resentful and closed to the relationship, but it is a relief when I can finally embrace the relationship for what it is and accept that I do not need to micro-analyze everything.

  • CozychairReader

    This is me!  Exactly!  Thank you for the suggestions.

  • http://zeroto60andbeyond.com Barbara Hammond

    This definitely could have been me you were describing.  I have worked on this over the years and made some progress.  I will keep your tips in mind.
    Thanks!

  • Dshort2010

    You and I must be on the same cosmic wave…I wrote about this very same thing just yesterday and addressed our with a friends this morning.

    I have been telling my friends for years…the same ” lesson” will come up again and again until out is addressed.

    I appreciate your message as my own personal affirmation!

  • ToonForever

    Excellent article!  So much learned wisdom here.  We often end relationships without dealing with the root problems within ourselves.  We run away instead.  But the problem always comes back in every subsequent relationship, one way or another, until we grow up and deal with it.  Thank you so much for sharing this!

  • Anonymous

    Extremely timely and needed. I know too many people who are upset but have no idea how to sort through and process the issue. 

  • Jim

    Damn  people never stay where I put them !

    Congrats on working through this all too common problem. Imagine the damage we can create if we advance to the next thing, in this case becoming a minister, without having learned the lessons of the present level. Thank you !

  • http://twitter.com/RachelEGamburd Rachel Eva Gamburd

    Was having a conversation similar to this today with a friend. Couldn’t have come at a better time. Thank you :)

  • http://losing-civ.blogspot.com Sarai

    Thanks for being brave enough to share your story – weaknesses, warts and all – for the rest of us to learn from. It’s really inspirational

  • Lutz

    I am fairly new to Tiny Buddha but have enjoyed and benefited from everything I have read until now. Reading Fiona’s story all I could hear was ” ME ME ME.” Towards the end she grudgingly admits that her superviser has a point, but at what cost? She is training to be a minister though I wonder why.
    Even the people on the street know that “if you can’t take it you shouldn’t dish it out” and in her own words, Fiona resents suggestions yet she would instruct others.

  • Erin Lanahan

    Thank you Fiona…beautiful way to deliver such an important and much needed reminder, to continue to process, feel, and that moving through our resistances rather than avoiding them, is exactly what will bring us the freedom we seek. I always love the saying “What’s in the wasy IS the way.” :-) Love to you! 

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Hi Lutz,

    My name is Lori and I run this site. Welcome to Tiny Buddha. =) I realize this comment is not directed to me, but I feel compelled to respond.

    You mentioned that Fiona talks about herself a great deal in this post. This is actually precisely the type of writing I look for in submissions. In order to change our choices, we need to be self-aware and understand what’s going on with us internally. I love Fiona’s writing because she does this so thoughtfully and beautifully.

    Of course, I realize we all value different things in writing, and I respect that. I just wanted to present a different way of looking at this post, especially since I have the utmost respect and admiration for Fiona.

    Much love,
    Lori

  • Celine Noel

    so timely…thank you :)

  • Peter G Kimble

    I cant believe more people belive there is no such thing as right or wrong. Is it right to rape, murder or steal from them, nope its neither right or wrong, well they can sit on the fence whilst I protect those who do not want to be violated. Peace and love to all beings, Brother Peter G Kimble

  • http://www.writingourwayhome.com Fiona Robyn

    Thank you all for reading and responding, it’s good to hear about your experiences and to hear that what I’ve written struck a chord. 
    And Lutz – yup, I certainly did resent her suggestions to begin with… I hold my hand up to being a human being : ) 
    Lori – thank you – you do such great work here, it’s always an honour to appear.Have lovely weekends, all…

  • Sasalool

    Thank you for such an insightful post

  • Janice

    Thank you.

  • Natalie

    I recommend you check out The Gabriel Institute and your Role Based Assessment.  There is nothing at all wrong with the way that you are wired, and their assessments help you understand yourself and how people are perceiving you.  

    I used to get very frustrated with, essentially people I thought were idiots, and their ideas not only minimized my stress with these folks, but also forced me to take a hard look at how I was wired.  

    I hope this helps!

  • Suehole

    So simple when you can see through the veil.

  • Rob

    This certainly rings a few bells with me, nice to have some affirmation that however painful things may be, this is an indication that we can learn and move on to a higher conciousness. Thanks for a great post.

  • molaya

    thanks is a very small word for all the help u are giving. may god bless u.

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  • LadyTamborine

    Fiona,
    Thank you for reminding us of this valuable life lesson.  Indeed “Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know” (Pema Chodron).  I can’t tell you how many times I see people who just don’t get that and continually wonder why the same things keep happening to them.
    Like the famous saying goes-keep doing what you always did…and you’ll keep getting what you always got (paraphrased).
    Surely, teaching an old dog new tricks is difficult and being a “control freak” and learning to let go (fundamental lessons of Buddhism) appear to be polar opposites, a great challenge indeed! Kudos to you.
     In fact, Lori (of Tiny Buddha) mentions how we “replay mistakes over and over” and the need to let go in her article titled “40 Ways to Let for and Feel Less Pain”.
    How is your ministerial calling coming along?
     I truly hope you’ve been successful!

  • Yasmin

    Amazing posts