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How much time have you wasted worrying about why someone was seemingly curt or rude to you? Ruminating about what you might have said or done that offended them? If you are like me, probably too much!
I recently ran into an acquaintance who I hadn’t seen in several years. My husband and I were leaving a movie theatre and she was waiting in the lobby for her friend. I tapped her on the shoulder to say ‘Hello’. I asked her how she was doing and if she was still working at the same company. We chatted for a minute or two and she asked what I was doing. I said I was still doing some administration work and trying to do more writing. She said something about me being a good writer and I asked if she still followed my blog. She said she used to but not anymore – change of email or something. I paused to think where my business cards were so I could give her one. But before I could say anything she curtly cut off our chat by saying, “Well it was really good seeing you again”. I agreed and we parted ways. It felt weird.
The incident kept popping into my head and nagging at me. I felt like I had done or said something wrong to make her want to stop talking to me so abruptly. I was so wrapped up in trying to figure out what I had done that I actually thought she cut me off so that I wouldn’t give her a card and encourage her to follow my blog. In reality, unless she was a mind reader, she didn’t know I was about to do either of those things. It didn’t occur to me that maybe the reason she ended our interaction so abruptly had nothing to do with me.
In The Myths of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky suggests the reader think about the last time they had a conversation with a group of people. She asks, “Would you be surprised to learn that the different members of your group were focusing on entirely different things? One may have been so distraught by recent heart-breaking news that it was all she could think about. Another’s heart was racing because his crush had just walked in. A third may have had difficulty focusing on anything but the fact that his shoulder was in tremendous pain. And another person may have been having intrusive thoughts about her next day’s appointment.” Lyubomirsky points out that even though these individuals were “essentially in the same situation at that moment, each of them was residing in a separate subjective social world.”
Fortunately for me, my acquaintance took the time to drop me a note later the next day that put an end to my ruminating:
Hi Lisa, I feel bad about my quick exit from our conversation at the movie. My most sincere apologies as it was great to see you. But, I had sobbed at the end of the movie and had not yet come back to reality, so to speak. I couldn’t be myself for some reason. Hope to run into you again.
Her illuminating note reminded me that I had forgotten the second of Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements – Don’t Take Anything Personally – “Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream.” I was taking it personally.
I hope I remember this incident the next time I start wasting time and energy fretting over what I may have said or done to offend someone. Instead of blaming myself for some imagined slight, perhaps I will stop and consider that other people have stuff going on in their worlds that I am not privy to and that their behaviour may have nothing at all to do with me.
(I will be speaking on my blog Are You Holding Back? at the Business Professional Women Kitchener Waterloo dinner meeting on Monday, May 15 in St. Jacobs. Hope to see you there.)