I talk to a lot of dentists and I listen carefully to what they say. Here is a visual for you that has come to my mind so many times when I’m talking with you about your happiness in relation to other people.
I want you to imagine that there’s a fountain flowing with water. You’re thirsty. You’re holding a bucket that you want to fill with the crystal clear liquid coming out of that fountain.
Instead of getting right underneath the fountain, instead of positioning yourself with direct access to the liquid you want you’re holding your bucket underneath the bucket of someone else who is thirsty. Someone else who wants water, someone who you want to have water, too.
So you hold your bucket out, right underneath theirs, and you watch their face with anticipation as their bucket begins to fill.
So you stand there, watching the fountain pouring out water, your bucket underneath someone else’s, and you wait. Sometimes you wait patiently, enjoying the company of the person you’re waiting on, and sometimes your thirst becomes uncomfortable and you have to dig deep to keep smiling. You find yourself tapping your foot, hoping that any minute now it’ll be your turn.
And as nice and kind of you as it is to want someone else to have water. As caring and giving as you’re trying to be, I want to offer you a completely different approach to being kind, meeting needs, and sharing water. So to speak.
So often, with good intentions, we make decisions that we’re hoping will fill other people’s “buckets” that will take care of other people’s needs and make them happy. Wanting the people you love to have the things they want and need is good. What isn’t good, and what’s tripping a lot of you up, is supposing that you’re in control of their outcomes, their satisfaction, their happiness!!
Good thing, right? Go back to the fountain and bucket visual!! Did you consider that where they’re standing may not be the best place for them to get water? Yet, you’ve decided that your bucket depends on the filling of theirs! Have you considered that their bucket may have holes in it? And as quickly as water is being poured into the bucket, it’s also escaping out of the holes?
People are ever changing. They’re hard to predict and they’re impossible to control. When you’re telling yourself that you’re doing or not doing something in an attempt to make someone else happy, and you’re putting that above what your wants and needs, you are trying to control another human. You’re trying to control, with good intentions, how they respond, how they react, how they feel.
But here’s the really meta part. The reason you want them to respond well, be satisfied, and feel happy is because of a decision you made. You decided that once someone else is content, then you will give yourself permission to relax, then you will be satisfied, then you’ll be happy. Which is a terrible deal!!
You might wait your whole life for someone else to learn to find satisfaction and happiness. For some people, it’s a lifelong journey! And meanwhile, you’re holding yourself back. You’re restricting yourself from being allowed, right now, to feel the way you want to feel and do the things you want to do. You’ve decided that someone else, an external thing, gets to have the power to direct you internally. If that’s what you’re doing, I recommend that you stop doing that!
If you have been making your decisions to feel happiness or taking action based on somebody else’s happiness, somebody else’s “bucket” you’re on to something. You’re onto the idea that there is a person that you should attempt to jive with. Someone that you should be checking in with on the regular. A person that you can much more easily influence than anyone. That person is YOU!!
You are so powerful!! You are literally the director of your own life. The only reason you think that you’ll feel better if your spouse, your children, your patients, or whoever is pleased with you is because you’ve decided that. You’ve decided that they get that power. You’ve chosen that. This means you’re the person with the real power. You get to decide who gets it and who doesn’t. The choice is yours, right now, to take it all back.
You can choose to take care of your needs, go after your goals, and choose happiness as often as you want to. There is also still hope that the people around you choose the same. It’s not one or the other, or one before the other. It can be simultaneous. Just choose it to be. If other people don’t join, if they don’t choose to think and feel and be the way they really want to, then at least you’ve ensured your own well-being!
Sometimes a little shift in positioning gives everyone a new perspective and an added dose of hope.
Stand next to your spouse, stand next to your kids, stand next to your patients, stand next to your friend. And fill your bucket at the same time. You’re going to be much more compelling. You’ll be able to help them so much more if you’re an example. If your bucket is full!
Now, I know what it’s like to find yourself focusing on someone else. To want someone else to feel good and be happy with the way things work out. Making a conscious effort to do things in a way that will be most favorable to someone else.
A while back I was in a phase of my business where things seemed to be going really fast!! I was doing a ton of coaching, I was meeting with a ton of people, hosting a bunch of webinars, and I’d just started my podcast. Just a lot of irons in the fire!! It was all good stuff, and I was pumped about what I was doing. I was and still am incredibly passionate about my reason for doing what I do. Then something came up. Something came up that allowed me the opportunity to reach for my own coaching tools and put them to use.
One of my best friends and favorite people in the world let me know that she was itching for a trip and wanted to come see me. She had the dates and ideas on what we’d do and all of the details. She was excited and I got excited. I got off the phone and it hit me. As much as I wanted to see my friend, I already had other things going on during the dates she could travel. Things that were also important to me.
Here’s what my brain did, and I noticed it happen. I had the thought, “The things I have scheduled aren’t more important than my friend.” Think about that for a minute. “The things I have scheduled, aren’t more important than my friend.” That thought, and thoughts like those, often have an underlying comparison going on. On the one hand, I have my business and on the other hand, I have my friend. My mind just randomly fires out the prospect of making a choice of creating an order of importance scale.
I noticed that thought and kind of shrugged my shoulders and dismissed it, because that’s not how I do my life. That’s not how I think about things. It’s not my happiness, or yours. The business is important or the friend is. The family is important or the hobbies are.
So I paused and really got to the bottom of what I was thinking and why. What I realized was that I am always really, really excited to see the people I love! And from a scheduling perspective, the dates that would work for her for this trip weren’t ones that I was available to spend much time with her. But knowing how much fun we have, and having heard her excitement over the phone, I didn’t want to squash that by saying no. I didn’t want her to think I didn’t want to see her.
If I said yes, I knew that I would be putting off a lot of things. I’d enjoy my time with her, but that I’d also need to figure out where to reschedule my stuff. Those things would probably impact other things that were in the works. All of that could be done. But the reality was, and it’s a theme that shows up a lot in our lives, that just because something can be done doesn’t mean that it needs to be done. One of the beauties of our lives is that we get to design them however we want to. Most of you know that I do my planning in advance. I know what I’m after. I know what I’m designing.
A part of my design, and I recommend that a part of your design is making a lot of room for your preferences!! The things you like! The things you enjoy!!
I hear you. I’ve had the same thoughts, too. You’re saying that what makes you happy is making other people happy. But that’s a lie!! Because you can’t “make” someone else happy. You just can’t. If you think you make a lot of people happy in your life, then I commend you for choosing to surround yourself with people who choose happiness. But don’t overstep and take credit for their happiness, even if you’ve hoped to contribute to it.
What I’m offering you here, is insurance. Because the second that you start taking credit for “making other people happy,” you also get to take credit for “not making them happy,” or even “making them unhappy.” That’s beyond the scope of your practice, my friends. You may be the most incredibly skilled and uniquely talented doctor in the world. But you’re still not the director of someone else’s mind and feelings. Neither am I.
So when my mind offered me thoughts, which felt a little bit like warnings, that I didn’t want to squash my friend’s excitement and that my work wasn’t more important than my friend, I countered. With empowering thoughts. More reasonable perspectives. Ones that uplifted both of us.
I realized that I love my friend and I love my business. The idea of scheduling a trip with her soon sounds amazing. I realized that sticking with the complex schedule of events and action items that I already had planned would be best for my business, best for the people I serve. Once those were taken care of I’d be much more available both with my time and emotionally.
I decided that I’d deliver my decision to her with love and excitement for a future trip that works well for us both. We were side by side, metaphorically, at the fountain. I took care of what I had going on, what I needed to do, and how I felt things would be best for my situation. At the same time, I connected with her. There was the same connection that we’d talked about this proposed trip. We started dreaming up another, future trip. We laughed, and all was well.
I get that it isn’t always that way. Sometimes the story ends less pleasantly. Sometimes you say no, or you make a decision that isn’t the other person’s favorite, and they pull back, they become upset, or they get angry. Those things happen. But let that be theirs. Be in charge of your thoughts about how they respond. If someone gets upset about a decision you make you have a ton of options. You can get upset, too, you can become defensive, you can become insecure and back down on your decision, or you can choose to let that person have their thoughts and feelings and accept that for them, at that moment, that is how they are thinking and feeling. Let that be okay.
Can you be okay with someone else’s discomfort? Can you stand next to them and not try to fix it in a way that isn’t true to what you want and need?
Hopefully, their bucket will fill right alongside you. And, even more hopefully, if either of you have holes in your buckets, you’ll notice them and repair them. Take responsibility for your own needs. Take back the reins on your own emotional life. You can choose to let other people feel and experience life the way that they choose to. And you can decide to love them no matter what they choose. At the same time you can separate their choices and their feelings from deciding factors on how you live and run your life.
Especially your emotional life.