What happens when the situation isn’t as clearly definable as a refrigerator and its current state of cleanliness? Sometimes, we may find ourselves uncomfortable or unsatisfied with our current state or current experience, and yet lack a sufficiently clear idea about what our preferred state might be. Think about how people sometimes respond to their jobs or their personal relationships. Clearly, refrigerators are easier to manage than jobs and relationships!
I have a close friend who changes jobs about as frequently as some people change their towels. OK, a slight exaggeration. She seems to have a pattern of joining a new company with great enthusiasm, quickly becoming disenchanted about something (the reality doesn’t meet her internal image of perfection), and then beginning to complain about and criticize the current job, the people she works with, etc.
This may sound a bit like the earlier section on complaining. If so, well spotted! The general theory suggests that the criticism, whining and complaining are all signs that she prefers something else and is not willing to go after it. The further complication comes when we begin to ask her, “What do you want instead?” So far, she can’t really answer that question, not because she isn’t capable, but because exploring the answer will possibly expose her to another form of self-criticism – what if the problem is her, not them?
Recalling the earlier notion of who can criticize us best, we quickly came to the obvious – no one can criticize me nearly as well as I can. And in her case, she is so full of self-criticism when all by her lonesome, she hardly needs help in finding more things to criticize.
So where does this leave her? She can either explore the source of her frustration or she can seek to change something external (like her job). If she were to look more deeply into the source of her frustration, she might fear that she would uncover something about herself that needs changing and that might be pretty uncomfortable. If she were to discover that her critical approach to life were the source of her unhappiness, coupled with how many years she has spent criticizing and blaming others, it might be a bit too much to handle. She may discover that she has built most of her life on a pretty shaky foundation of blaming others for the woes that have befallen her. And if that were the case, and she also were to discover that it had less to do with “them” and more to do with her own choices, that might be just a bit too much to handle. It might even mean that she would “have to start all over again.” Just keep that inner cycle running for a while and you can imagine how difficult it would be to want to look inward.
So, the apparently easy answer is to change the external circumstances, to either quit or get fired, and move on to something else. This seems like a good choice in the moment, because it allows for the blame cycle to continue and for change to take place.
The only problem with this approach, of course, is that the next job winds up being pretty much like the last one. More stupid people, more stupid processes, more, more, more. And so the cycle continues and pretty soon this job stinks as much as the last one.
What could turn this around for her? One answer might be in helping her discover what it is that she truly wants, in her career and perhaps even in her life. This goes all the way back to the section on Symbols vs. Experience. Which column does “job” belong to – symbols or experience?
In this approach to life, job belongs to the symbol side of the equation. If only she had the “right” job. If only. So what experience is she really looking for in her career, in the jobs she accepts? That’s pretty hard to know right now because she isn’t ready yet to look at the question.
I suspect that if she did, she would find that she is looking for a sense of belonging, of being respected, of being valued and wanted. Part of the problem lies in not being clear on what she wants; if that’s true, then she will have a hard time picking strategies to get there. In her instance, her behavior and personal style are a bit “bristly” and the sharp edges to her critical nature tend to keep people at a distance.
So, if what she really wants is acceptance, respect and being wanted, her behavior works directly against her. Sooner or later, it must be that yet again, she has wound up in a group with a bunch of stupid people – they must be stupid or why else wouldn’t they see her contribution, accept her and make her part of the fold?
But what if she were to discover the “experience” side of the equation? What if she were to become clear that what she wanted was acceptance, belonging, intimacy, etc?
If that were to become clear, she would most likely begin to see choices that she makes that either lead her toward that outcome or away from it. Her “response – ability” parameters would increase, more choices would appear, and she would begin to identify her role in producing her preferred experience in life. At the same time, she would become less likely to become the “victim” of job circumstances and more capable of producing that which she truly desires.