How I Learned To Get Out Of My Own Way

After a relentless push for the last six months, I finally found myself sitting on the couch last night, happily watching re-runs of House of Lies, and basking in the air conditioning.

Then the phone rang.

“Aren’t you going to answer it?” my husband asked.

“No,” I said. “I’m watching television.”

After a blissful twenty minutes of escape into TV-land, it happened again.

“Aren’t you going to answer the phone now?” he asked. “I think it’s your sister.”

“No.” I said it more firmly this time. “I am finally relaxing. Leave me alone.”

And then, alas, before we got anywhere near the end of Season One. The ringing phone.

“I really think you should answer it,” he said.

And that was the last straw.

“YOU ARE RUINING MY EVENING,” I snarled. “WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?”

By then I was already off the couch and marching upstairs. By myself.

As I climbed the staircase I could hear his voice calling to me.

“Really? I am the one ruining your evening? Because I said you should answer the phone?”

And then, to sound all psychological, he added, “maybe you should look at your relationship with accountability.”

Uh-huh.

We slept in the same bed, but on opposite sides.

Let Peace Begin With You

As I lay in bed wide awake, wondering why I was fighting with the man I adore most in the world, I recalled a song often sung around Christmastime. The well-known lyrics begin, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” Here I was, crossing my arms with my back to my beloved. Because he told me to answer the phone.

Let peace begin with me?

As a leadership advisor with nearly 20 years in the conflict resolution business, I had to laugh. These words are so much easier to sing about under the Christmas tree than to practice in real life. Let peace begin with me. Not just in December when it’s snowing, but tonight, during the heat wave, with my own spouse. Let peace begin with me, day-in and day-out, with the people I live with, lead with, and love in my daily life.

Let peace begin with you.

Hard as it is to do, letting peace begin with us is one way to get out of our own way.

Yes, I could’ve kept my arms crossed and sulked until I fell asleep. But my husband and I spend most of our time in two different countries. That would’ve been a shame, since he’s leaving tomorrow for a few weeks.

So instead I reached across the Grand Canyon between us, and touched his hand. “I don’t like you right now, but I do love you,” I said.

And then I tried a bit harder.

“I need you to let me unplug sometimes and shut the world out, or I’ll go crazy. But of course, I love you very much. No matter what.”

He accepted my olive branch and came closer. “I love you, too,” he said.

We were back.

Let peace begin with you.

It’s not about writing a check at the end of the year. Or leaving your job to volunteer at an ashram. It’s about what you choose to say and do in those small moments that happen all day long. When your associate fails to deliver his report on time. When your business partner blows the budget on things you find worthless. When your colleague tries to “pitch” a potential new client and you know it’s way too early in the relationship. When your teenager comes home far past curfew. Or your husband interrupts an otherwise perfectly lovely evening of brainless television by telling you to answer the phone. Three times.

Yes, it’s easy to blame other people for making us miserable. Sometimes they do.

But much of the time, we get in our own way, by giving up our own peace for stupid reasons. We can change that. Any time we want.

3 Questions to Ask Yourself in Those Moments of Truth

I’ve found three questions that help a lot to get out of your own way in these testy situations. It takes three seconds to ask them to yourself, and you get a lot of perspective, quickly.

1) Is it worth giving up my peace for this?

It’s true that this annoying driver in her fancy Ferrari just cut in front of me. But is it worth giving up my peace for that? Should I give up the next hour of my life stewing about how evil she is, or just take a deep breath and make a choice to protect my peace instead? I recommend the second one.

2) Would this matter if this person were in the hospital?

I really wish my husband didn’t bug me about answering the phone. That’s irritating. But God Forbid he got in an accident, and I waited in the emergency room to get word about his condition, would this matter to me AT ALL? In a word, no. It wouldn’t. Not the slightest, tiniest, most infinitesimal amount. So actually, it doesn’t need to matter that much now, either.

3) Is this who I want to be?

We can’t be at our best all the time. But it helps in these moments to ask the simple question to ourselves, “is this who I want to be?” The pouting spouse in the bed with her arms crossed? The sarcastic business partner who demeans my colleague in front of other people? Actually, I want to be a loving wife, and a supportive business partner. If people let me down, or I feel angry, I can still step back and ask myself how I choose to behave. That’s up to me. It’s the choices we make in those day-to-day moments that, over a lifetime, create who we turn out to be.

Tonight is the last evening my husband and I will have together for a while. I’ve got my three questions ready at the tip of my tongue in case things take a wrong turn. But I’m no fool. I’ve also unplugged the phone.

Let peace begin with you.