Today, an ex-boyfriend story. Juicy! 

Like many of you, I have an ex.

I haven't dated that many people, since I've been with the same person since I was 20, so whereas many people have accrued at least a respectable number of exes by this time in life (let's say, a sports team's worth), I have a paltry few (all of whom are lovely people, and I'm not just saying that in case they read this), and mainly just have the big one. You know, The Ex.

What I lack in number, I more than make up for in drama, don't worry. Or at least I used to. We don't really talk any more.

We don't really talk anymore because whenever we were around each for years (I mean almost a decade) after we broke up, it would start off well, if bizarrely awkward enough, but quickly devolve into some kind of intense stand-off with the two of us sequestered in a corner, while the rest of the party kept a side-eye out for any fireworks–fireworks that inevitably arrived.

It took me about…10 to 15? years to figure out what I was doing wrong. (No one ever said I was a quick learner.) Oh, I was doing a lot of things wrong (like you do, when you're just kind of stumbling your way through things).

The main wrong thing I was doing though, was that I was waiting until he was okay with me to be okay with him. (If you've been reading a while, you will notice a pattern here–this is similar to hedging what you want based on what you think you can get.)

One of the most annoying things they teach you in life coach school (it's a real thing, don't laugh), is that your feelings are your responsibility. This is hard for those of us who want to see ourselves as completely reasonable people reacting to an unreasonable world. 

"It's the world you see! The world has gone insane! I am having a perfectly normal reaction! It's my ex, you see–I am completely normal, he just acts weird and then I act weird!"

This is also known as the "it's not my fault, really!" dance. 

The first problem with the "it's not my fault" dance is that it is usually at least partially true. It's true enough to be seductive and convincing. Everything is not entirely your fault. There are things beyond your control. Exes be acting a fool! There are big systemic things at work in this world that put you in positions where your power or choices are limited! I don't just mean logistically (i.e. you have to choose one thing over another), I mean politically, too.* 

The second problem with the "it's not my fault" dance is that tends to put you in this reactive place–

where you are just reacting to what's going on, instead of creating what you want.

It's so easy to get stuck in this place, where it seems like you are just making the most of the  feelings, thoughts, and choices that present themselves to you.

It's also easy, when you're in this reactive place to swing to the other direction, and starting taking responsibility for everything (even stuff that is not yours to take). 

I call that the "you're an asshole? no I'm an asshole!" dance.

It's where you want so badly to not be the person who doesn't take responsibility that you start taking all of the responsibility and blaming yourself when others behave badly.

Needless to say, neither of these dance positions leave you feeling full of power, creativity, or energy. It's not a place to do great creative work from, or build solid relationships upon.  

That's why the second thing they teach you in life coach school about feelings and agency, after "your feelings are your responsibility," is that other people's feelings are not your responsibility.

So, basically, by the end of these two lessons, you're left feeling like they have both taken away one of your favorite things–reacting to other people's feelings like it's your job–and given you a whole new job that kind of sucks–managing your own. 

How is this helpful? And what does this have to do with being an artist, or starting a business, or doing your best creative work? 

Feelings like white hot anger, searing jealousy, bottomless despair–it is rare to find a person who feels like they are courting these feelings.

And yet. 

I can say, with all honestly, that I enjoy feeling angry sometimes. And I court it. I do. It feels easier than being sad. Or being happy. Or being confused. Or doing my damn work. Anger is my go-to emotion (this is not news, if you know me or have been reading me for a while), but yours might be something different. It might be ambivalence. Or disappointment. Or "who cares." Or maybe you go the Pollyanna through gritted teeth route–"what, me? everything is great! I can make it work!" 

So, when I finally realized that I don't have to tailor my feelings based off of someone else's–"Wait, I can be glad to see my ex-boyfriend, because I like him, because he's funny, because I don't need him to be glad to see me to enjoy seeing him???"–it was a big revelation. It honestly changed how I feel about him, without ever seeing or talking to him about it. (I don't think he's secretly subscribed to this list, but if he is, "Hi!")

This is the value of being in charge of your feelings, you reactions, your thoughts: You get to choose. It's freedom. It's power.

When I talk to my clients about this, I use idiomatic expressions like "keeping your eye on the ball" or reminding them that they've got "bigger fish to fry."

It's really hard to remember the fish you're supposed to be frying, when you are in reactive mode. It's really hard to build a successful creative portfolio, business, or body of work when you are caught doing the Blame Tango. Or the Reactive Two-Step. Or whatever non-corny name you want to call it. 

I know I started this off talking about exes, and it's a little silly, yes, but it's also applicable anywhere in your life. If you're not crazy about the results you're getting in your life and work, focus on what you can control, where you do have leverage, where you can move the needle, instead of focusing on all the places where you're stuck having to choose between less than ideal choices.

Try to choose to feel good when you can, and notice there are lot more places to make that choice than you initially thought. 


*This is one of the things that drives me the most crazy about the "personal growth" industry-when we tell certain people to "stop acting like victims" or to change individual behaviors to be more civil or influential, or to "lean in" when really we should be looking at the big systems at work that privilege certain people over others over and over again. Don't get me started on the Law of Attraction folks who want to tell you when bad things happen to you, that you attracted it. F that noise. Thus ends the rant portion of my note today.

PS–if you know someone who sometimes gets caught in the Blame Tango or Reactive Two-Step, please send this to them

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