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By 邰秉宥 from Changhua, Taiwan (Cockroach) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsI’m currently in the midst of one of the more challenging situations I’ve had to work through in recent memory. But this blog post is not about that – it’s about how I am responding; how I CHOOSE to respond. Choose is an important word here, and it’s one that was reinforced by two folks while I first started to face this situation. I had the good fortune of chatting up Julie Payne-Kirchmeir at NASPA, who shared with me some of her progress on living her #oneword2013, which was, of course “CHOOSE”. My second interaction was one with Joe Ginese, who offered me the inspiration for the blog title (a little teaser, but I do promise to explain the cockroach). Before I get to that lesson, here are a few lessons I’ve learned along the way…

Own your stuff – when impacted by forces outside of your control , it can be an opportunity to take stock of what still IS in your control. Your actions, your responses, your projects, your responsibilities – there’s always something that is still within your own grasp. Hold onto those strongly and resolutely. It’s also an important moment to let go of the forces that are outside of your control. You don’t own the actions of others or the choices they have made. Take the time to do an inventory of what’s yours, and then take the time to care for them.

Forfeit the blame game – as the computer said to Matthew Broderick towards the end of “War Games”, the only winning move is not to play. Again, when impacted by those pesky forces outside of our control, the easiest reaction is to start blaming – blame others, blame systems, even blame a higher power. That’s all wasted energy that can be put towards more productive ends. Out of my top 5 strengths, the two I normally play to the most often are futuristic and ideation. However, this time I’m focusing on two of my other strengths – adaptability and positivity. In fact, recent events have allowed me to rediscover why those are also in my top five. Letting go of the blame and anger has made it a little easier to adapt and be positive. Understanding that there are others relying on me to be both has made it even more important that this be where I place my energy.

When served humble pie, grab a fork – an ounce of humility can go a long way. As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m much better at helping than at being helped. This time around, I’ve point blank asked for it, and I have been both reinforced and pleasantly surprised by the help I have received. The people who have always been in my corner have stepped up, and I’ve discovered other supporters where I didn’t know I had them. I don’t have all the answers and I can’t always do things alone.

Perception is SOMEONE’s reality – in counseling we’re taught to recognize that a person’s perception helps to shape their reality. It may be misguided, it may not be fair, and, logically, it may not even be right. But the fact is that a perception is quite real for an individual, and the sooner we accept it instead of trying to fight it, the sooner we can start working towards reshaping it. Discover why a perception exists and how it might have developed. Invite, listen to, and process feedback instead of putting your hands on your ears and crying “I’m not listening”. Perceptions can change, but to create that change, it is important to approach it deliberatively, recognizing that a perception will not change overnight.

Grace, gratitude, and growth – “This too shall pass” and it’s many variations have been uttered by friends quite a bit. While it is difficult to see that whenever we’re in a moment of stress, I do believe it is the truth. Time will pass and the memories will fade, but what will be your legacy is how you responded. Demonstrating grace can serve as the foundation of that legacy. The temptation might be to burn bridges but keeping them intact will allow you to easily pass back over once the dust settles on the other side. It’s also important to find the instances where you can be grateful – for the people who have offered you support, for the skills and strengths you’ve developed that you are leaning on in the moment, and even for the new opportunities that might present themselves in the current situation. Ultimately, anything we make it through results in growth – we do emerge older and wiser. No matter how wacky a situation might seem, the fact is you will never face that situation for the first time again. Take mental notes, journal, reflect, do whatever it takes to recognize the learning that’s happening. In the end, you will emerge stronger and more adept.

So, now for the cockroach. My friend, Joe Ginese, shared a variation of this story with me, and I will close with it below. It is once again a great reminder that we choose our responses.

Cockroach Theory: Response vs Reaction
(original source unknown)

At a restaurant, a cockroach suddenly flew from somewhere and sat on a lady. She started screaming out of fear. With a panic stricken face and trembling voice, she started jumping, with both her hands desperately trying to get rid of the cockroach.
Her reaction was contagious, as everyone in her group also got panicky.

The lady finally managed to push the cockroach away but …it landed on another lady in the group.Now, it was the turn of the other lady in the group to continue the drama.

The waiter rushed forward to their rescue.In the relay of throwing, the cockroach next fell upon the waiter.
The waiter stood firm, composed himself and observed the behavior of the cockroach on his shirt.When he was confident enough, he grabbed it with his fingers and threw it out of the restaurant.

Sipping my coffee and watching the amusement, the antenna of my mind picked up a few thoughts and started wondering,

Was the cockroach responsible for their histrionic behavior? If so, then why was the waiter not disturbed? He handled it near to perfection, without any chaos. It is not the cockroach, but the inability of the ladies to handle the disturbance caused by the cockroach that disturbed the ladies.

I  realized that, it is not the shouting of my father or my boss or my wife that disturbs me, but its my inability to handle the disturbances caused by their shouting that disturbs me.Its not the traffic jams on the road that disturbs me, but my inability to handle the disturbance caused by the  traffic jam that disturbs me.

More than the problem, its my reaction to the problem that creates chaos in my life.