Joy’s Fragile Flame

I solve problems for a living. I’m a “Change Lead”.  I know how to assess the current environment, design and build a new solution, and then implement for success.  Whether it’s a corporate acquisition to integrate, a technology system to convert, or 150,000 people to train in 6 months, bring it on.  I think I love my job because the goals are usually big and bodacious, but clear and known.  The process to get there is disciplined and proven.  Risks are anticipated and mitigated.  Unexpected stuff happens (usually on the technology side) but in general, we accomplish our goal.  Sure, I’m sometimes stressed, but it’s an energetic stress – the adrenaline rush you get when you take control, spring into action, and make things happen.

But lately I have been laboring under a different kind of stress.  This stress is not the good energetic stress mentioned above.  It is stress caused by worrying about certain loved ones in my life. What will happen if they fail this or that class?  Why can’t they just decide to take better care of themselves and get in shape? What is their PLAN for getting a job after college?  You get the idea. In each case, I perceive they have a “problem” (and the more I think about it, the bigger I can make that problem), but, alas, I am not in charge to drive out the solution.  I can ‘see” the problem clearly, and if given 15 minutes and a whiteboard, could map out a top-notch plan to resolve the problem. But no one is listening.  I mostly just want to scream –  I GET PAID FOR THIS FOLKS!  LISTEN TO ME AND WE WILL TACKLE THIS PROBLEM! ADOPT MY PLAN AND THEN JUST COMMIT TO EXECUTE!

Needless to say, I don’t have too many takers.  And I have learned through some very painful experiences to mostly keep my mouth shut – unless explicitly invited to brainstorm solutions. This is hard – very, very hard.

I purchased this small piece of art a few years ago.  It hangs in my home office. The stubborn looking bull (I am a Capricorn) spoke to me, and the sentiment was one I experienced frequently. While thinking about all this recent familial worry, I was struck by the contrast between my work life and my personal life.  In work, I ALMOST ALWAYS, “imagine it working out perfectly.”  But in my personal life, when it comes to (what I see as) the problems of those I love, I am too often pessimistic about the outcome.  What the heck? Why do I think that?  My boys and my husband are good, smart capable people!  Why can’t I trust that they will figure it out?  Pondering this some more, I was ashamed to say that the reason was that I did not have control.  And my God, I like control.

I’m no psychologist or Buddhist zen master, but I think issues of control stem from fear.  With a healthy dose of pride thrown in.   To banish – or at least tamp down – my penchant for worry and pessimism, I need to meet my fear and my pride head-on, then spend some quality time examining them.  (I almost said “control” my fear and pride….ironic, huh?)

Anne Voskamp in One Thousand Gifts says that pride and the need to control CRUSH joy.  Joy is a fragile flame that can only be held in an open, humble hand. 

 “All these years, these angers, these hardenings, this desire to control, I had thought I had to snap the hand closed to shield joy’s fragile flame from the blasts. In a storm of struggles, I had tried to control the elements, clasp the fist tight so as to protect self and happiness.  But palms curled into protective fists fill with darkness…My own wild desire to protect my joy at all costs is the exact force that kills my joy.” 

Her solution is to humbly let go – to let go of trying to do, of trying to control.  To leave the hand open and be.

That is a tall order for this Change Lead.  I think I need to go build a project plan around it.

2 thoughts on “Joy’s Fragile Flame

  1. Not sure whether to say thank you…or UGGHH! Opening that clenched fist that is trying to protect the joy is an overwhelming challenge sometimes…

    Maybe I will make your picture my laptop wallpaper for a little while as a good reminder 😀

  2. Walking around the neighborhood, enjoying the fall colors, I saw a tree that reminded me of you. It was a gorgeous maple tree with four different colors of leaves – green on the bottom, then bright yellows, oranges and deep reds at the top. A tree undergoing multiple stages of change at the same time. Having young adult children is an unsettling period – never knowing for sure how much to let go or how much to hold on, sorrow at the empty nest, excitement at new relationships with your spouse, the thrill of developing new skills and interests, with all the fears and uncertainties that go along with all of those issues. All at the same time. But like the tree, which will eventually lose all its leaves, and then after a quiet rest, bloom with beautiful new buds, you too will evolve through all the painful changes and burst with new joy and love and adventures. Unfortunately for moms, it can take more than a few months to totally evolve!

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