I was feeling like a rock star! I had provided two workshops in the past week, to rave reviews from those who had attended. I’d had several other schools reach out to begin talks with me about setting up workshops with them. I was in contract negotiations to present at a university. My confidence was riding high!
So, to capitalize on that success, I headed over to the coffee shop to get some work done. I stepped up to order my coffee. But, before I could get a word out, the attendant said in a snarky tone, “I appreciate you want a coffee, but there are other people waiting.” I looked behind me and saw the line I unknowingly stepped in front of.
I felt embarrassment flood my body, blood heating my face. I felt this guy smirking at me. At least my outrage told me that’s what the coffee attendant was doing. My shame decided to make no eye contact as we walked to the back of the line. My irritation tightened my fists, and my throat (that might have been my embarrassment).
As the line moved forward my anger seethed with all of the things it was going to say when I got up there after that public embarrassment. Another person was served. “Who the hell does he think he is?!” The list of emotional discharge grew (without my knowledge… I wasn’t identifying anything). I was now one person away from letting this guy have it. My frontal lobe was ‘out to lunch’ and my emotions were having a field day, going back and forth between ripping this guy a new one, and being ‘monkishly’ quiet (repression) denying him the satisfaction of seeing that he ‘got to me!’ As the person in front of me got their coffee and was about to leave, Lucifer, the coffee attendant was relieved by another person.
“Can I help you?” With what, I thought. Right. I was getting a coffee.
I had just spent the past five minutes overrun by my emotions – caught up in the whirlwind of embarrassment, humiliation, and anger. Five minutes where I had completely forgotten about all of my earlier ‘wins’ with my workshop. Forgotten even that all I really wanted was to grab a coffee and settle in to get some work done. My frontal lobe had been completely highjacked by my knee-jerk emotional reaction to a perceived public humiliation and personal attack by a clerk with less-than-stellar customer service skills!
If I am completely honest, it took me a good while to re-center myself after this incident because, on top of my initial reaction, I then proceeded to stew about how I had allowed myself to get emotionally blind-sided like that. I mean, here I am blogging and coaching others about building mental emotional tools, and I can get worked up by a small mistake and poor response from a clerk… Talk about a field day for self-doubt gremlins!
It took more than a few moments before my frontal lobe was able to ‘hear’ the emotional beating I was giving myself. I had to acknowledge that I had gotten caught — overrun by embarrassment and anger that was completely out of proportion with the actual thing that happened. I re-engaged my brain and was able to apply my well-earned mental emotional tools and re-center myself. Then I got back to being productive.
As I sipped my coffee, I thought back over the incident with the clerk. Emotional resilience isn’t about never getting caught in the energy of another, or in a circumstance that is unpleasant and coming off the rails and blowing up, feeling overwhelmed, or humiliated to the point you where you just want to run in another direction. It’s about allowing for those feelings fully, forgiving yourself for the times when you might get ‘caught,’ and re-center yourself back into your own sacred space. Yourself.
No one, and no thing holds the key to your actions but you. It’s not about holding your breath, acting like everything is fine (repressing), and then going on a drinking binge, fighting with loved ones, or venting your emotions all over. I’ll cut to the chase. Will this happen from time to time? Sure. Will you slip up, allow for another’s energy to pull you off of your center, blow up, point that judgmental finger at that so and so, and then feel the incriminating shame that you are not an emotional Jedi? Yes… and welcome to the club. None of us are.
I’m sure Martin Luther King Jr. may have felt a bit of anger every once in a while at the cops whose dogs were attacking innocent marchers in Selma. The Dali Lama’s compassion and forgiveness may wane and turn to contempt every so often for China. We are all in good company, because we are all human.
Letting go of self-judgement and shame is step one. Remembering that you can take responsibility for your thoughts, your actions, and your emotions. If you get tripped up, you can acknowledge why you felt or reacted the way you did. Then you can forgive yourself and use your tools to get back to your own center – your authentic self. You don’t need to allow whatever it was outside of yourself that ‘caught’ you to have one more moment’s sway over how your emotions. Forgive yourself, re-center, and then act in your own best interest. It’s the best Jedi trick I know.