Distance versus Denial

Last week I was struck by a quick comment made by Joyce, a mid-forties marketing czar and parent.  She’d lost her job just prior to year-end 2014.   A mutual friend asked if I would have coffee with her.  “I’m ready,” she said as we settled into our seats at roast, our local Starbucks alternative.  She wanted to initiate a job search.  There was something else I heard – her tone and demeanor didn’t quite match.  “I put all that stuff behind me,” she said.  As if saying, ‘isn’t that what I’m supposed to do?’  

9257_5440_runningJoyce’s remark offered me a lens into the difference between denial and distance – a very important distinction in transition.

As we got acquainted Joyce talked about being fatigued by all the negativity that surrounded her exit from her prior employer.  The year leading up to her departure was demanding.  Her boss took on an enormous project.  Her entire team was overtaxed and under, what seemed like, a constant state of re-organization.   She asked hard questions.  She felt targeted as a result.

She was angry.  Embarrassed.  And afraid.  Afraid that being unemployed would reflect poorly on her as she initiated a job search.

She was working hard to adopt society’s short hand for managing these types of feelings.  ‘Get over it,’ is one of many phrases that come to mind.  Joyce was trying – desperately trying – to move on.  Pack them away.   The downside to all of this, of course, is that even though we’ve moved on these feelings can continue to overburden our energy and our beliefs about what might be possible.

My transition introduced me to a useful alternative approach, distance.   Distance introduces space between ourselves and those feelings.  Distance says I am not going to let these feelings define me – even if they are present.   Instead of saying, ‘I’m sad.’ and letting the sadness rule, distance would challenge me to ask myself, “how long has the sadness been influencing me?”   It lends an element of objectivity to it all…..

Distance rescued me just recently.  I interviewed but lost out on a cool part-time role.  It was all me – I blew the interview.  I had too much else going on – a looming due date for my book, a serious illness in my family, and all manner of other day-to-day chaos.   I was pissed at myself for such a performance.  While angry I was able to conjure distance almost immediately upon exiting the interview.  Don’t get me wrong – the negative feelings were there.  I didn’t avoid experiencing those.   Even with their presence, distance’s objectivity helped me refocus quickly.

For a long time I’ve reminded colleagues and friends to keep negative feelings in check, ever mindful of not letting them become a proxy for our self-worth.  Distance has helped me add even more structure to this sentiment.

Transition or not, none of us will avoid the occasional negative thought or feeling. In the face of that truth, let’s just say that I hope distance becomes a little personal luxury that you won’t deny….

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