Difficult Questions: We’ve all had the experience of sending an email, or leaving a phone message, then not hearing anything back from the intended recipient. Some of us just shrug it off, send another message or find another way to get in touch, which would be the normal, healthy choice. Not me though, why be healthy when you can use my favorite approach, to sit and wonder why the person hasn’t responded, then make up all sorts of horrible reasons they wouldn’t want to speak to you. At times, I have created so much dread I never made a second attempt to get in touch.
In addition to lost emails and unanswered phone messages, I also struggled similarly with certain face to face interactions, like not asking directly for information or answers to important questions, having necessary conversations and hearing, really hearing, the answers. Dr. Jo, my therapist used to say “JUST ASK THE QUESTION, ALREADY!!! You need the answer.” Only, I didn’t really want the answer. Not knowing meant I didn’t have to make an important decision nor have an uncomfortable confrontation. It had been my experience that sometimes those difficult conversations didn’t “solve or change” anything—which is to say that the other person in the equation wasn’t willing to discuss, apologize, compromise or help make the situation better, thereby leaving me with the option of accepting the situation or actually using my power by making my own set of changes, and because I generally felt powerless, and didn’t see potential options, nothing was changed.
Asking the important questions can be akin to the query, which is better, tearing of the bandage in one painful go, or slowly removing the bandage, minimizing the pain but drawing the inevitable out over a longer period of time. I guess, though the suffering was longer, I reasoned that maybe things would change…improve…or something. The truth is, my failure to confront issues was paralyzing me. It was allowing me to tell myself stories that weren’t necessarily true, limit my options, endure untenable situations and relationships, and cause fear and dread to grow like wild weeds in my mind.
I’ve written about having been stuck, and of how I became “unstuck” but I haven’t written much about fear, and how I’ve come to learn to work with it. I learned that a direct, head on approach is better, when dealing with fear, and ultimately healthier than averting one’s eyes, or trying to “manage” potential pain. So, of late, I have made it a point to put on my big girl pants, muster a little courage, and confront my fears head on. I’ve learned a few important lessons.
Sometimes, fear is nothing more than a fleeting feeling. It perches there taunting you, but when you actually sit with the sensation, it dissipates, laying bare the fact that nothing is really there—no monster under the bed—just a feeling or thought that floats in and then back out.
The feared response is not always bad news. Recently, I sent out a few emails that didn’t receive responses. For several days (o.k., almost a month) I sat wringing my hands running my usual scenarios. Because the emails had to do with work, I told myself that my clients, to whom I had written but had not received replies, didn’t want to work with me any more, and if I called, I’d receive the news I’d been fired.
Finally, I decided to pick up the phone and call the first client, whom I discovered had gone on vacation. I left a cheery message and within days, he returned my call, saying he had not received my email and would happily address the matter I had written him about. At the end, he said “I just wanted to let you know, we love your brand, and look forward to working with you again, soon.” The same happened days later with the second client. (I don’t know what was going on with my e-mail account. ) Not only did the clients say they were enjoying working with me, but initiated further projects as a result of my following up by leaving a friendly, upbeat message. Which left me wondering why I didn’t just call them in the first place.
When the answer to your question actually is bad news. This is where putting on the big girl pants gets a little tough. The realization, for example, that my marriage was not working and likely never would was a hard, slow, dawning for me. I didn’t want to ask the questions, I didn’t want to know the answers, even though the handwriting had long been on the wall. It was a difficult situation to face, in general. Knowing the answer meant I had to make decisions and big changes in my life and the life of my daughter. It meant moving house, making new friends and finding a new hair dresser.
As I look back on all those difficult questions and their equally difficult answers, I have come to see that within them was always a blessing. An opportunity to make my life better, to end suffering, to get a “do-better” (as opposed to a do over) and in every single instance my life improved immeasurably when I conjured the courage to confront the difficult questions, difficult answers and the decisions that followed, embracing the change of course or course correction.
Looking back, I have come to see that the revelation of a former love’s infidelity, a best friend’s betrayal or the imminent layoff falls into the “good to know” category. Knowing what I’m dealing with puts me back in control, allows me to be in the decision making chair, and helps me set my course. These moments teach me the traits, red flags and characteristics to avoid in future relationships and situations. So after a little handwringing, I muster the courage to ask the question, make the call, and see what happens. I breathe a sigh of relief when I discover I’ve made a mountain out of a mole hill, and take joy in correcting my course and learning from life’s difficult moments (after a little time passes, of course) Then, work toward making the best of what comes my way.