Every coin has two sides. But whether you place it face up or face down the coin’s potential remains the same. The question is, are you a heads up person, or a heads down person?
Every human being you interact with will present various challenges and opportunities. These two things always go hand in hand. Sometimes that reality is easy to see. For instance, if you lose a job you don’t like and are facing a financial crisis, you’re also being presented with an opportunity to find a job you enjoy more. If you get divorced, you now have the chance to build a better relationship. And if a child rebels against certain activities, they are simultaneously pointing toward their nature. So it is important to remember that, not getting what we want might actually be a way of actually getting more.
So Karen Kain wasn’t in fact—as most heads-down people had suggested—an unruly child who had no future because she couldn’t sit still in school. Karen Kain became one of the greatest ballerinas in history because some really aware person noticed that movement was Karen’s place in life. Give her the wrong surroundings and Karen Kain never dances. Instead, she learns to hate herself for simply being a graceful, energetic person. Those clumsy judgments about what defines success is what lead 90% of the world to the uninspired lives they are living. The question is, do you nurture people’s greatness, or do you punish them for not meeting expectations?
Where this will affect your life the most will be in your closest relationships. Your romantic relationships, your parent/child relationships, and your employee/employer relationships are all loaded with opportunities to either expand or choke another person’s spirit. If you’re the sort that has a lot of rules and standards and arrogant ideas about how things should be done, then those around you will always be transgressing and your relations with them will be unnecessarily negative. If on the other hand you’re the sort of person that helps people expand, you will most often be loved and admired by those around you simply because you reflect back to everyone what is great about them. One kind of person helps people grow, the other type makes them shrink.
I know a man who was raised to be responsible. He’s always on time, he responsibly puts things away, and his surroundings have always been very organized and peaceful. Being that sort of person, he was attracted to people who introduced new and exciting ideas to him because they were comfortable with a freedom he didn’t have—the freedom to be random. To be disorganized. To be messy. And so he eventually married an artist.
His artist wife liked his neatness. She aspired to that because her parents had always chided her for being “messy” when in fact they meant “creative.” So his organization was very attractive to her. And yet, if she adopted it she would lose some of what allows her to be successful as an artist. As an organized person, he sees things laying around as a mess. She sees them as potential inspiration. The beauty of the relationship is, he understands that how she is isn’t the same as how he is—and that’s okay with him.
It’s not that he likes the messes. He doesn’t. But he understands and accepts that the seeming chaos is where her art lives. And so rather than asking her to conform to his idea of beauty like her parents did, he accepts his frustrations as the tail of the coin. But he’s okay with that because he knows that on the other side of that coin is the heart of the person he loves. And for his wife’s part—she’s keenly aware that he gives her that space and she shows her gratitude in other areas of life that are important to her husband. A healthy relationship isn’t you being happy all the time with however things are. It’s you being okay with however things are.
You will also see this happen in workplaces too. People imagine a job description and they attempt to place it over everyone equally when that’s as impossible as it is foolish. “Employee” is a word, not a thing. There is work to be done, and there are individual human beings to do it. They will all accomplish it in unique ways.
You will only become frustrated and unsuccessful as a manager if you believe all of your employees should function in the same way. Even if they are doing exactly the same job, you can’t take the slow, detailed, highly organized person and ask them to be bolder and more dynamic. Nor can you sensibly ask a fast-moving free-thinker to function in a stifled, highly organized way. Both of these people can be excellent employees. But not if they are managed by someone who wants them to regularly trade personalities because that’s as silly as it is impossible.
You don’t go to work every day asking water to be more like wood, and wood to be more like water. You apply wood where wood makes sense, and water where water makes sense. That is most of what management is: that simple awareness. But if you ask 95% of managers, they’ll never have even thought of their employees in those terms. They’ll only have a list of what they would have done if they were the employee.
Another place you’ll witness this sort of craziness is in parenting. More than any other group, children constantly hear they are being “wrong.” If they aren’t attracted to, interested in, or good at math or science or language, they are seen as lacking. If they’re not naturally interested in the piano, they’re scolded for not trying hard enough, or not being dedicated enough. How about if they just don’t like playing piano?
I know a guy who loved taking things apart as a child. He was constantly in trouble for disassembling parts of their house. This behaviour was seen as a problem to be fixed. In reality, that kid was in a kind of university for understanding how things work. And so he’s extremely mechanically inclined. In a zombie invasion, he’s the guy we’d all want on our team because he can fix things he’s never even seen before because that’s how his mind works. So if his parents had won and had he not found a teacher that nurtured his natural interests, he well may have grown up to be a guy who would not only hate himself, but he would be entirely useless in a zombie invasion.
You job is not to point out a route for other people. Your role is to be aware of the way they naturally are, and then accept that those qualities will be applied to whatever is being done. So if the husband forces his wife to be clean and organized, he will kill the part of her he fell in love with.
If you ask one employee to act like another one, then you are completely misunderstanding what an individual is and you are surrendering most of their potential. This is why most workplaces are filled with unhappy, uninspired employees. It’s been beaten out of them by clumsy attempts to force them to be someone they’re not.
And if you’re raising a child, you’re not supposed to know which direction they’re supposed to go. You’re supposed to watch for what is naturally them and then nurture that. We don’t benefit from telling lovers, children or employees to be someone else. We benefit by providing them with the resources they need to fully be who they naturally are.
Accept that the way you want things is not the way things should be. Instead watch for success and nurture that. Because it will show up in surprising places, and each time you find some you will grow as a person. And on top of that, your life will be made easier through the love and support of people who appreciate your rare willingness to support who they already are.