How To Resist Saying, “It shouldn’t Be this Way”

“We begin and end our days as stories.”

spray-painted on the side of house as seen from LA’s Metro Rail, the Expo line.


My friend Melanie (names changed) works for one of LA County’s supervisors. She is good at what she does because how she does what she does is so common sense to her that she doesn’t fully appreciate just how remarkable she is. Recently, though, a constituent helped remind her.

Melanie returned the call of a constituent who needed help. Part of her job is to handle the requests, complaints and needs of the Supervisor’s constituents. When Melanie got hold of the person and told him that she was calling from the Supervisor’s office, the man thought she was pranking him! Stunned that someone actually was responding to the message he left, he assured Melanie that he’d vote for the Supervisor in the next election.

That is customer service. That is Melanie.

For Melanie, that’s her job. Why wouldn’t she have gotten back to the man? Why wouldn’t she try to help him?

That’s also why Melanie is frustrated with her co-workers – whose standards for customer service significantly differ from hers.

“Everyone” knows Melanie is holding the office together. Everyone knows the guys are good ole boys who know how to work the system. They’re not backstabbing or malicious. They’re guys who have learned how to charm people into tolerating their not always professional ways.

Throughout a recent dinner Melanie peppered the conversation with the phrases:

  • I shouldn’t have to
  • We’re all adults
  • I resent having to.
  • The older you get the easier life should be
  • I’m tired of playing games

These are phrases I hear from too many of my clients.

In our last session, Steve reminded me that he is:

  • All used up
  • Running on empty
  • Tired of being treated like sh*t

Gretchen, a university professor, told me that she is “so angry with them (administrators), at their pettiness and meanness,” that she is going to use her anger to “fuel what I do in the classroom – I’ll show them!”

All three people are worn down by colleagues who get away with outrageous behavior and are rewarded in spite of that unprofessional behavior.

Melanie, Steve and Gretchen keep intoning like a mantra, “It shouldn’t be this way.”

And they are right– it shouldn’t be this way.

BUT loudly proclaiming that “It shouldn’t be this way” changes NOTHING.



Most of us work alongside some people who are wonderfully creative and diligent at what they do. Most of us also work alongside some people who are damaged, who are startlingly spoiled, emotionally unbalanced, scarred and scared. The behavior of those undisciplined people can make life seem unbearable for us.

I’m reminded of a quote from Morris West’s “Shoes Of The Fisherman”

It costs so much to be fully human that there are very few who have the enlightenment or the courage to pay the price. One has to abandon altogether the search for security and reach out to the risk of living with both arms open. One has to embrace the world like a lover. One has to accept pain as a condition of existence. One has to count doubt and darkness as the cost of knowing. One needs a will stubborn in conflict but apt always to total acceptance of every consequence of living and dying.

Morris West

I know – it is a dramatic statement.

I’m convinced, though, that in order to succeed and thrive and stay sane in the workplace we need to practice Emotional Courage.

To be emotionally courageous means you practice being brave and smart and strategic.

7 Strategies For Managing Colleagues Sapping Your Energy

  1. Recognize what you’re feeling. At the end of the meal I asked Melanie how she felt. She began by saying, “I think. . .” I interrupted her, again asking, “No – how do you feel?” She paused and then said, “I feel incompetent.” Battered tears followed. Feel what you feel because you can’t choose what to do with your feelings until you feel them.
  2. Understand that saying “should” is not like saying “Abracadabra.” There is no magic in the word “should.” The list goes on and on in terms of how life “should” be. Clinging to “should” paralyzes us. There is a difference between being “right” and being “effective.” Figure out how to be more effective.
  3. Do you know what you’re willing to tolerate? Can you tolerate it without it taking a toll on you and your personal relationships?
  4. What would you like to see happen differently? What have you done to bring about that change? Dismissing the validity of tactics before trying them out is not being proactive!
  5. We all do what we do and say what we say for a reason. Can you gain any insight into why the other person is doing or saying whatever it is they’re doing and saying that triggers you?
  6. We train people how to treat us. We give people permission to treat us in a certain way. How have you trained colleagues to treat you? Tom is an assistant editor with a TV show. His boss, Lucy, is quick-tempered and likes to fire off demanding emails. Actually, she likes telling Tom to fire off demanding emails. At first he did because she’s his boss. He got tired, though, of taking the heat. He’s now learned to counter her order by suggesting she run the complaint by the director first. The director can deal with Lucy in a way Tom can’t and Tom’s life is less stressful.
  7. What do you want? What is your ultimate goal professionally? Do not let the dysfunctionality of your current position cause you to lose sight of your goal. Double your efforts. Who can help you reach that goal? Ask. Ask for their help. Wishing makes nothing happen.

Melanie had her fair share of “Yes, but” moments in our conversation. I’m going to presume that you do, too! But what are your options?

  • Play martyr at work and at home. Richly satisfying but will reduce the number of loved ones willing to hang out with you.
  • Practice new ways of interacting with colleagues. Change the dance steps. Not all will have an impact. That’s okay. What’s important is that you resist relying on your default setting.
  • Plan for a new position within the company. Is there a place where your talents can be better utilized and recognized?
  • Quit your job. If conditions are toxic this may be the best option.

Practicing Emotional Courage means you –

  • Embrace who you are
  • Learn how to protect yourself
  • Practice new strategies
  • Pursue goals with laser focus

Is that exhausting? At times, sure!

But what is the alternative?

No, really – what is the alternative?








10 Ways To Escape The Curse Of Perfectionism

At the beginning of a recent workshop I asked the twenty participants to jot down on an index card the thing they are most afraid of. Here is a sampling of their fears:

  • “My greatest fear is to be a failure. I’m scared to start something and not be the best at it.”


  • “I often contemplate the many poor decisions and actions I’ve made in my life. With my negative history omnipresent in my mind I do not consider myself a success. “


  • “I fear failure and I avoid the discussion of failure at all costs.”


  • “My greatest fear is the fear of failure. I have been afraid to fail in many different contexts, such as at school, work and in my personal life. If I didn’t have such a strong fear of failing, I would be more open to learning from my mistakes instead of trying to forget about them, thereby causing me to eventually make the same mistakes again.”


  • “One of my greatest fears is the fear of failure. I have a certain picture of my future, and I deeply want it to become true. If things do not work out as I want them to that means I have to change my plans. And change means that I have to re-think my strategy. That is something I am afraid of.”


  • “I want to achieve my goals and cannot imagine failing. Failing triggers feelings of disappointment, anger, frustration and sadness all at the same time. “


  • “Failure makes me worry that people will lose interest in me.”


  • “My greatest fear is the thought that I can never gain enough achievements to feel satisfied with myself.“


With the passing of each workshop, each coaching session, I’m stunned by how many of us are emotionally strangled by the all-consuming need to be perfect.

What to do?

10 Ways To Escape The Curse Of Perfectionism

  1. Recognize the difference between “striving for excellence” and demanding you be “perfect.” Perfection is rigid and unchanging while Excellence is fluid and adaptable.


  1. Assess what you’ve done right and why. Determine if you can apply those techniques to other areas of your life.


  1. Examine what was a misfire and what you did that made it a misstep. Can you apply this understanding to other areas of your life?


  1. Take responsibility for your less than perfect actions. Do not often whiny excuses. When my bathroom contractor failed the inspection he became defensive and said, “Haven’t you ever made a mistake?” I have and I did – when I did not fire him on the spot!


  1. If there is some skill – interpersonal or technical – you want to improve then come to terms with the fact that you will not gain proficiency without making mistakes. A client told me that when he realized he’d mishandled a crucial conversation with a co-worker, he went back to the person and corrected himself. When he told me that now all is good with their relationship, my immediate response was, “Perfect!”


  1. If someone is willing to love you only if you’re perfect, then most likely they have an unrealistic expectation of what an adult relationship looks like. As poet Sam Keen observed, “We come to love not by finding a perfect person, but by learning to see an imperfect person perfectly.”


  1. Accept compliments. Don’t dismiss them. Don’t say, “Thanks, but I think I could have done a better job.” Compliments highlight what you’re doing right.


  1. Give thanks for what you have accomplished. Recognize it. See it. Own it. Without comparing it to anything or anyone.


  1. Figure out why you want to be perfect at something. Do you want to be perfect for the sake of being perfect OR is it your passion and love that drives you? If you commit to being faithful to the passion and love then that will be an energizing drive to excellence.


  1. Choose a perfect person you personally know and ask that person to share with you their secret to their perfection. And then just do what they do.*


Bonus: If you choose not to do something because you are afraid you will not be able to perfectly accomplish it – then do not play the martyr or victim. You are choosing to live with the consequences. Live with them and get on with your life!


And the irony to this post –

I’ve struggled writing this because I wanted it to be “perfect.”

Doctor, heal thyself!


* Yes, this is a trick suggestion since I’m virtually certain that the person will tell you they are NOT perfect!

10 Questions To Help You Work Around and Re-frame FEAR!


I collect and frame menus that hang on my dining room walls. Last Christmas friends gave me a framed menu from a long-gone New York establishment. I loved the menu but not the frame, so I decided to get it reframed. Well, here it is July and I’ve yet to get the menu reframed. I haven’t forgotten about it – it’s on a table near my bedroom closet. Every day for seven months I’ve walked by it!

Why haven’t I gotten it reframed? Am I lazy? Kind of. Am I cheap? Sort of. I want to get it reframed but I don’t necessarily see the value of spending money when there’s other “stuff” I value more. Besides, there’s no dire consequence if I don’t get it reframed. Though I’ll admit, I’ve not had my friends over for dinner!

I marvel that several times a day I’ve gone past this frame and have never made a decision as to what to do with it. It can’t stay on that table forever. Or can it? Most days, I don’t even see it.

I shouldn’t be surprised because the reality is that if we don’t see value in something or someone we most likely will ignore it – or them. How often do you say, “we have to do lunch” and then never do. Why? You know as well as I that if we saw value in having lunch with a person, we would!

We keep at bay people and obligations for which we see little or no value. BUT, what determines if I “see” value?

The answer to that question varies widely among us. However, business guru Peter Bregman challenges his clients with the flip side to that question – “what do you not want to see?” Hmm. Ignoring a menu is easy but what are the areas of my life I don’t want to rummage around in and “see” what’s there?

It can be scary to see aspects of life that we prefer to walk by because once you see something, you can’t un-see it. And if you can’t un-see it then you have to change and change can be uncomfortable.

I work with clients who stay in dysfunctional “romances” or emotionally abusive jobs, who stay in a mindset of doom and gloom because they have trained themselves to no longer see the price their fear-laden complacency exacts from them.

Why do we stay in a relationship or job that has so little value? Fear. Fear that the place of higher value will demand we become braver than we now are.


After writing the above, I took a break and met my goddaughter, Maddie, for lunch. As soon as we sat down she announced that she had some news she wasn’t sure I’d be happy about. Yes, that got my attention and my mind began racing in all sorts of weird directions!

Turns out, her boyfriend received an offer at his job to relocate to Austin, Texas – more responsibility and more money. It’s an offer he can’t refuse. He told her that he understands if she doesn’t want to relocate and that they’d make a long-distance relationship work.

Since graduating college two years ago Maddie has struggled to find satisfying work in the entertainment industry. She’s always wanted to live outside southern California and she senses that she’s ready for that big adventure. She wants to make the move, BUT. . .

She doesn’t know if she should and the “what if’s” are swarming around her. She has a nagging sense that she’s not supposed to move away from family and friends. Why? Because no one else has ever made such a move.

She’s afraid and yet she recognizes that her desire to TRY is not going to easily fade away. She’s even more afraid of giving in to her fears. “How do I know with certainty that I’m doing the right thing?” she asked me.

Ah, you don’t ever have certainty – that’s the catch! The real issue, though is how do you focus your attention on what could expand your well-being?

10 Questions To Help You Focus On What You’d Rather Not See!

  1. Where in your life are you feeling uneasy or anxious?
  2. What are the “should’s” and “supposed to’s” that are making you feel uneasy?
  3. Who told you that you’re supposed to be or do a certain way?
  4. What would happen to your relationship with that person(s) if you did not do as they thought you should?
  5. If you act on your instinct and desire, what are the potentially life-giving aspects of that decision?
  6. How would that decision be detrimental to your well-being?
  7. By whose assessment are you labeling the potential decision life giving or detrimental?
  8. What would you have to do in order to be satisfied in your current state of life?
  9. Is the price for that satisfaction reasonable?
  10. What is it that you’re really seeking?

Maddie worries that because no one else in her extended family has moved to another state that she’s wrong in her desire to experience another region of the country. Because LA is the entertainment capital, she worries that she committing career suicide.

As we talked, she came to terms with the fact that she is not obligated to stay in southern California simply because no one in her family had ever left California. Austin doesn’t have to be a permanent move.

She also acknowledged that in order to commit career suicide, you have to have a career to kill. Since she’s in the early stages of figuring out how best to use her abilities, she doesn’t have a career to kill off!

By the time we finished dessert Maddie recognized that the only thing her fears did was to distract her from seeing the value of embracing this opportunity.

At the risk of sounding cheesy, Maddie “reframed” the challenge and so with a clear eye is ready to create a relocation strategy with her boyfriend.

The bravest act is an act of one’s own.

What menu do you need to get reframed?!

12 Most Assured Ways Confident People Telegraph Confidence


I teach an eleven-week course at UCLA Extension on “Interpersonal Communication.” The final assignment is simple – rather than have the students jump through the hoop of an exam, I ask them to tell me in five hundred words or less what they have learned. Last Quarter, one answer in particular stood out. Pablo wrote: “While I was discussing with some fellow students what we learned in this class, I realized that all of us reached the same goal, though in different ways: we all now feel more confident in ourselves.”

I think confidence goes to the heart of successful living and that’s why I named my website “the business of confidence.” Confidence, though, is a feeling, an experience that means different things to different people. Throughout my coaching and teaching I’ve observed that there are twelve things confident people consistently do that set them apart from the “maddening crowd.” And while an argument can be made for more than twelve markers, here are what I consider to be the 12 Most Assured Ways Confident People Telegraph Confidence.


  1. Confident people don’t whine, blame, sulk or make excuses.

It never occurs to them to make someone into a scapegoat for their mistakes. They resist the urge to feel like a victim because playing the martyr hands over power to persons who really shouldn’t have that kind of power. A client of mine once mused, “my life has been plagued by bad luck.” She then commenced to tell me why life is unfair and how “confidence” doesn’t help her. She quit after the third session!


  1. Confident people’s pursuit of perfection is not hindered by an obsessive need to be perfect.

The need to be perfectly perfect often paralyzes a person, inhibiting them from speaking-up or taking action. Confident people understand, though, that the pursuit of perfection involves trial and error. They’re willing to float new ideas and engage in the rough and tumble of conversation. They’re smart enough to acknowledge that, yes, judging is a part of social intercourse, but they don’t obsess over being judged “perfect.” They unmask “perfectionism” for the lie that it is.


  1. Confident people have a sense of humor that they shrewdly manage and display.

They have a playful side, yet know humor is a tricky thing. They can compassionately see the whackadoness of people and situations, never using someone for cheap humor. A friend of mine maintains that life is a never-ending series of moments of small humiliations. If this is true, then confident people are not easily humiliated because they’re able to laugh at themselves as they refuse to take themselves too seriously.


  1. Confident people understand that there is no such thing as “the” real world.

They are not trapped in a fearfully limited knowledge of life. They know the world is a big place – bigger than cable news and reality TV. And whether they physically travel or not, confident people have learned to comfortably navigate a series of “real” worlds.


  1. Confident people are not afraid of those who are different from them.

This is simply another way of saying that confident people enjoy a good story. Knowing that every person they meet has loved, lost and been afraid, they engage them with inquisitiveness. Other points of view just don’t threaten their peace of mind.


  1. Confident people know what they know and recognize what they don’t know.

They strive to establish clarity and mutual understanding and so b.s. is kept to a minimum. They’re not about impressing others with their knowledge.


  1. Confident people are not insistent that people, and life, “should” be a certain way.

While respecting protocol and procedures, confident people are not constricted by the phrase, “that’s how it’s always been done.” They put a premium on being effective rather than right. And so they delight in cheering and astonishing others with risky thinking and deciding.


  1. Confident people know their particular biases and are able to sidestep them.

They are familiar with why they see what they see and don’t see what they don’t see. They know what they like and don’t like; what they will tolerate and what is a deal breaker – and they know the “why” for all of this. You’ll never hear a confident person sneer, “That’s just how I am.”


  1. Confident people understand that the unexpected is unexpected because it’s not expected.

They meet challenges head on with the phrase, “I’ll handle it.” No melodrama. No panic. They take a curve ball in stride because they can think on their feet and are able to improvise with courtesy and sureness.


  1. Confident people have a spirit of “sprezzatura.”

Okay, so I happen to love this Italian word because it’s says so much more than the English “nonchalance” ever can. It references confident people’s disdain for melodramatic pretentiousness. They are not snobbishly judging, smugly condemning, slavishly analytical or humorlessly practical. Why? Because they have a deep enjoyment of people and projects


  1. Confident people are not easily swayed by emotional blackmail.

They understand that many people treat passive-aggressiveness as a hobby. However, just because they don’t give in to operatic fits (a confident person doesn’t scream at colleagues and clients), they know “the game” and will take on the attention seekers in all their wily ways with care and professionalism.


  1. Confident people embrace poet Mary Oliver’s advice, “you must not, ever, give anyone else the responsibility for your life.”

They understand that if they don’t take care of their life, no one else will. They take responsibility because they relish the idea that they have something to offer the world. What they offer may not be of value or use to everyone, yet it will be of value to many. So why wouldn’t they take responsibility?


Read over these twelve marks of the confident and you will glean that perhaps self-confidence is actually self-compassion. And maybe that’s why confidence is scary and elusive. Confidence is really about being kind to your own self and to others. Clean. Neat. No safety net other than one’s own sense of honor.


So, what about you? How confident are you?

How confident do you want to be – with yourself and with others?