Last week Emma was “fussing out” about a writing assignment.* So I said, “then don’t do it.”

“But I H A A A A A V E to…” she moaned.

I pointed out that she did not, in fact, have to: She had choice and each choice had consequences.

She cried harder.


Emma was caught in a classic emotional trap: wishing it were not so (but knowing it’s not).

Many of us squander buckets of energy spiraling around as we avoid directly facing the facts of our current reality, for example:

Frequently leaders I work with will tell me they have an employee that they KNOW isn’t working out, but they pretend (at some level) that it will change. Months and a lot of pain later, they finally pull the trigger and make a change (sometimes still avoiding the real issue by moving the person to be a poor performer for someone else).**

Some of my younger friends tell me about someone they’re dating, “He’d be perfect if only…” KNOWING it won’t happen, yet they hold onto this hopeless hope.

I want to write another book and KNOW that all I have to do is start writing, but I tell myself I don’t have time right now… in three months I’ll have less time, but I may finally become so frustrated with myself I take action.

Yes – change is possible, but denial is sweeter.

When something feels tough, we often defend ourselves by avoiding the truth of the situation. At the extreme, it’s like a scared 3-year-old: “If I cover my eyes you can’t see me!” While it’s “obvious” this doesn’t work, most of us do it regularly!

The paradox is that while we’re “protecting” ourselves and others from the “brutal” truth, while we stay in the trap we continue to feel frustration, fear, and sorrow. Those feelings push us to narrow our focus to dig into a problem:

Frustration – something’s wrong

Fear – something important may be at risk

Sorrow – I’m losing something I care about

While we stay in the mix of the problem, those feelings continue and usually escalate until we finally get serious. Once we confront the situation and make a commitment to deal with the current reality, then the feelings shift.

So the moral is: fire everyone we’re frustrated with, split up with everyone who disappoints us, and forget about projects that stress us out – right?

Er… maybe not. But those feelings are signals – like indicator lights on the dashboard – saying, “Hey – check it out. Maybe it’s time to get real.”


* Emma is now 10, and an amazing student. She’s also a perfectionist and when something is hard and the “right answer” is not clear, she stresses herself out. Familiar to any of you?

** To be clear: Often a poor performer would be GREAT somewhere else because the problem is frequently the match. But then there are people you just know in your heart will not do well anywhere in this organization, and it takes chutzpah to stand up and take the right action.

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