Note: This is from my 35 Lessons in 35 Years. There are links, on that post, to all of the lessons that I have written about so far.
“You gotta watch your back.”
“Be careful who you trust.”
“People around here…you gotta be careful…some of them are backstabbers.”
We spend a lot of time and energy making sure that we don’t get stabbed in the back. We’re careful who we trust, and we’re always looking over our shoulder. When we do say what might be interpreted as “too much,” to someone, we immediately agonize over whether that person was trustworthy.
Life is unpredictable, and we don’t like to face the reality that there might be an “et tu Brute” moment in our future. We want to control our experiences, especially those that involve the unpredictability of other people and other people’s actions.
So we put on the armor. For the past 10 years, in my career, I was “smart.” I knew who I could trust, and I always held more cards that I would show. I had the upper hand–I was cool and in control. Nobody could possibly sneak up on me or turn on me.
Wearing and maintaining this armor took a lot of energy. I was focused on my own protection, and covering my own backside. I felt like I was bulletproof, but at what cost? What more could I have accomplished, if I had not been spending all this energy in this way?
I should say, what more could I have accomplished, if I had not been wasting all this energy in this way?
Because you know how the story goes. After all that effort, I was stabbed in the back. I do not want to share the details here, but it was a series of incidents, that spanned over multiple years. It was gruesome, and it shook me to the core.
All of my preparations, all of my concern over my own protection, was for naught. It was a complete waste of energy. I wasn’t able to prevent what happened. And I wasn’t even able to prepare for it.
But do you know what else? It didn’t kill me. Instead, it led me to realize that I was only going to get through that rough time by becoming vulnerable of leaning on (and learning from) caring friends, who just seemed to come out of the woodwork. It then led me to trust myself and question all of my self-imposed limitations. Ultimately, it led me to create the wonderful life that my family enjoys right now.
The challenge that I now face, is to continue to face the world without any armor. It is a waste, nothing but a waste. I don’t need to know everything that is going on, everything that is said about me. I don’t need to try to figure out who I can and can’t trust. I just need to be me–vulnerable and authentic–and do the things that I am here to do. If I am stabbed in the back again, I will not die. I need to trust that I still have the strength within me to get through any unexpected turns that life may take. And I need to trust that I have friends who will remind me that I have this strength, in the times when I doubt it.
So, my lesson for you is to forget about protecting yourself. You can’t control the uncontrollable. Save your energy for doing helpful, productive things; don’t waste it on maintaining your armor.