The Big C - the importance of acceptance
Hello all, well here is my second Big C blog and, as promised, I am again focusing upon reflections and learning from my experiences that I hope will be useful for anyone and everyone.
Selfishly, it also allows me to carry on coaching at some level. Something I loved to do as a job and know brought great benefit to many of my clients over the years.
As per the first blog, I’m including some more sketches that express the huge emotions I am experiencing. While it is REALLY tempting to give them titles I am just leaving them without. Instead I’m inviting you to put your own emotional descriptions and story to each of them.
Apparently it was the Greek philosopher Heraclitus who said “change is the only constant in life”. Living with my very recent Big C diagnosis I thought “Phew! That was change enough”.
At least for a while.
However, Heraclitus turned out to be spot on as after a further meeting with my Consultant Oncologist, another significant change was confirmed:
My cancer (advanced Stage 4) is not curable
My chemo treatment has the simple aim of improving the quality of my life expectancy
My life expectancy will be hard to estimate until I start the chemo
If I’m honest, I pushed for this information. I was adamant I needed to understand more about whether my treatment fell into curative or palliative pathways.
Thankfully, my experienced and straight-talking consultant didn’t let me down. In many ways it was a relief to me.
While well-meaning family and friends were shouting words of encouragement… “you can do this”, “fight it”, “smash it” or “if anyone can, you can”, my body was quietly and consistently telling me “Are you seriously going to try and run this as a competitive race?!"
"If you are, I’m telling you now as the body you’ve inhabited for 61 years, you’re 10 miles behind the start line with a rucksack of bricks on your back.”
My body was right. (I REALLY DO need to start listening to it don’t I?!)
So this got me thinking about the wider challenge of social norms. How it seems to me that society at large is more comfortable with people who demonstrate the behaviours and use the language associated with competition and winning in life. A norm I have been reflecting upon because let’s face it the winners = a VERY small minority!
Where individuals already feel very vulnerable, we can unhelpfully be drawn to seek the approval of others by creating an inauthentic persona reflecting the desired behavioural social norms rather than pausing to consider alternatives. Alternatives that might provide benefits and opportunities of higher learning by swapping a black and white win or lose competitive stance with a rich yet simple choice of acceptance.
Society, of course, includes the workplace. When coaching I would often ask clients who were high achievers about how they experienced acceptance. Their first description often being “well that feels like failing.” Fuelled by their internal self-critic spitting phrases back at them like “is that IT? Are you giving up already? Jeez you really are lazy underneath it all.”
However, in truth acceptance can be a valuable pause button. A moment of reflective freedom that can allow us to explore our choices with a rational and logical mind rather than a fearful or anxious mind.
This is before we even start to add the perfectionist tendencies that ‘winners’ may often carry with them. To this group maybe even winning is something that can only be fleetingly enjoyed before they crank up that bar again to a scale that feels more credible. Telling that to themselves and those they seek approval from.
For me acceptance is something that I would encourage anyone to take time to explore when faced with situations that trigger emotions of fear, anger and anxiety – it is the primitive responsibility of these emotions to get you away from danger and in the modern world it’s likely to come in the form of immediately accepting a limited choice of feel good competitive actions.
For example, the way I will win my cancer journey won’t (although I won’t say no to a miracle) be visioning my finish line as being cured.
However by using my acceptance and adaptability pause button wisely my winning strategy is now to: show compassion to my vulnerable self. Take time to understand the reasons for my vulnerability. To remain calm and focused. To build my resilience of mind. And most importantly to fearlessly love, the really important people in my life.
I believe that if I can do this I’ll still win, just in a different way than I originally hoped with a greater sense of continuing to personally grow as my body dies.
WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO TODAY?
Another regular subject in coaching is the attraction of doing. Doing is a fulfilling thing. It’s also a great diversion from feeling and can often jump into the driving seat of our brains without a second thought.
After a few weeks of living this new version of life, my husband Stewart and I realised just how much his preference for ‘doing’ was going to work against us if we didn’t talk about it despite him only wanting his actions to serve as a useful way to make himself feel he could ‘show’ how much he loved me.
In practice however, he was becoming very tired. We decided that when we had breakfast each morning, rather than talking about what we were going to ‘do’ that day we would ask each other how we ‘felt’ about the day. We agreed to start with describing how we felt with three words.
At first Stew found it really hard to even find three words that described his feelings. It was an emotional exercise just to explore and hear ourselves say them. The two he found on the first day said it all. Worried and weary. Mine were loved, hopeful and calm.
My words helped him reduce his worry and weariness and see a positive that I hadn’t articulated before (I do sleep a lot!). His words helped me find ways to share my feelings with him more openly.
I have spent months of time in meetings in a wide variety of businesses when they talk endlessly about what they are going to do, who is going to do it and if they have the capability to deliver.
If just one week of those months was given to discussion on how people felt about the tasks, what concerns they have and the team leader had the inner strength to admit they don’t have all the answers and are up for listening and not responding with ridicule or criticism. Only then can teams really perform.
For those who don’t know the scientific research that supports this; well it’s called psychological safety, so go look up Amy Edmondson and buy the book The Fearless Organisation. Be assured that everything around psychological safety (and emotional intelligence) is worth a read if you value egalitarian and long-lasting relationships based on respect.
ON A FINAL NOTE...
As I chatted to my darling Stew this morning. I watched his posture, the shape of him and reflected on how well I know him. I stroked his back and said he was sitting just like he might have sat while gazing out to sea, sitting on our favourite beach in Kefalonia.
We talked about how life partners – with a dash of luck and a big spoonful of bravery – can become a beautiful extension of one another. Complementing, supporting and cherishing the differences shared even when it means relinquishing power or competitive advantage.
Working together to achieve the highest ground through mutual kindness and love. Not just for us but our gorgeous children and grandchildren.