Taking a Deeper Dive into The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz
Rev. Dr. Kitty Boitnott, NBCT, RScP
Heart-Centered Career Transition and Job Search Coach | Life Strategies and Stress Management Coach
In last week's message, I started a new series based on the recent webinar I offered on "The Four Agreements of Authentic Leadership." In that message, I touched on the first agreement which was about the importance of being "impeccable in your word." In summarizing the message, I wrote...
"..powerful words [are] meant to inspire, console, and challenge."
"...my challenge to you is for you to ponder the importance of being 'impeccable' in your thoughts and words in your own life. Being impeccable in your thoughts and words will lead to your behaving in integrity, and that is as good a starting point for a leader to begin as I can imagine."
This week's focus will be on the second agreement from Don Miguel Ruiz's classic, The Four Agreements: "Don't take anything personally."
If you thought last week's challenge was tough, here's news for you. This one is even more difficult to practice consistently. I know because I have struggled with this one in the past. And I continue to have to practice it every day.
The point Ruiz makes with this agreement is that we are all so self-centered, seeing the world from our own narrow point of view that we mistakenly think everyone in the world is concerned with us in some significant way. We live in fear of other people's disapproval, judgment, and criticism.
The truth is no one is paying attention to us at all.
They are caught up in their own lives and all its accompanying drama.
Unfortunately, that doesn't keep us from making the mistake of thinking that everyone else is somehow concerned with what we are up to. And the tragedy is we allow our fear of other peoples' opinions to hold us back in life. We play small so we won't attract attention. We avoid doing anything important because we fear other people's negative reaction to it.
According to Ruiz, "When we take something personally, we make the assumption that they know what is in our world, and we try to impose our world on their world."
That is not only a waste of time, but it is foolish.
"Nothing people do is because of you. It is all because of themselves." ~ Don Miguel Ruiz
When you begin to grasp just how little attention people are paying to you, it is a huge relief. Suddenly, you can take a lot of pressure off yourself. Remember that even when someone does have the nerve to criticize something you have done or are doing, it's still not about you. It's about them.
When you can grasp this concept, you will feel free to be you, for a change. You won't be so concerned about what other people think.
Now, here is the kicker that you might not have seen coming. Ruiz says that just as we can't take criticism personally, we can't take compliments and accolades personally either. The compliments and accolades are just as meaningless the criticism.
I know we all like to hear compliments. Who doesn't? But if you are going to live by the Four Agreements, you have to realize that no one else's opinion about you matters one way or the other
The only opinion that matters is YOURS.
Ruiz says that you don't need anyone else to tell you how wonderful you are. You need to know how wonderful you are. You don't need anyone else's approval. But you do need to appreciate your own "wonderfulness." (My word, not Ruiz's.)
After all, in truth, you are perfect, whole, and complete just as you are.
Nothing anyone says can possibly deny that fact or contradict its truth.
Now, I said before that these agreements are "simple" concepts, but they are not necessarily "easy" to adopt or implement and practice 100% every day.
Truthfully, if you get called out at work for making a mistake and your boss or supervisor criticizes your work, you are going to feel like taking it personally. And if you made a mistake, you need to own responsibility for it and promise to fix whatever the fallout may be.
But that is different from your boss or supervisor, or your husband, wife, sister, brother, mother, father, etc. telling you that you are a miserable excuse for a human being or that there is something wrong with YOU instead of there being something wrong with some action you took.
We must learn to separate behavior from essence. You may make mistakes. But YOU are not a mistake. As a human being, YOU are awesome!
It may feel like a subtle distinction. But it is an important one.
If you are criticized for some action you have taken, and you were wrong to take that action, or you hurt someone in the process, that's different from you being criticized because of your appearance or a personality trait.
If you accept that you are perfect, whole and complete just as you are, you don't need anyone to tell you how marvelous you are and at the same time, criticism or judgment of any kind will roll off you like water off a duck's back.
Most of us have to work on loving ourselves enough to accept our innate perfection, however.
And I am not suggesting that you or anyone else should take the mantra about being perfect, whole, and complete so literally that they become intolerably arrogant. That is not what that is about at all.
What I am suggesting is that we spend way too much time and energy worrying about what others think of us.
And in truth, no one is as concerned about what we are doing as we may think they are.
I recall one Saturday evening when I got a rather desperate text message from someone I didn't know and had never met. She offered that she knew of me through my website, and she was a teacher who needed to make a change. In that particular moment, she was in such despair that she was thinking of committing suicide.
Now, I am not an expert in this area, but since she reached out to me through a text, I figured she was looking for help. I texted her back and told her to call me.
Thankfully, she did.
During our conversation, she shared that on the day before, her principal had called her to her office. The principal raked her over the coals about her kids' test scores from over the last three years. The principal advised her that she knew she was a good teacher, but she was responsible for those lousy test scores, and something needed to change.
The teacher was devastated. She had always gotten good evaluations. She always thought the principal thought highly of her. This "attack" felt like it had come out of nowhere.
She had been curled up in a fetal position ever since she got home from work on that Friday, and by Saturday night, her thoughts had taken a dark turn. Thus her text message to me about contemplating suicide.
I reminded her that that conversation had nothing to do with her. That conversation was about her principal.
I asked her if she thought the principal had given the conversation another thought once she left the office.
She agreed that she probably hadn't.
I suggested that the principal had her own stuff going on. She needed someone that she could unload on, and this teacher happened to be a convenient target.
As the young woman on the phone contemplated it, I could hear the relief in her voice. "Oh, gosh, you're probably right."
If she had already learned not to take anything personally, she could have salvaged her weekend.
She would have known that what the principal said wasn't even true. The principal had suggested that this teacher was somehow responsible for test scores from years when she wasn't even those kids' teacher.
And the principal had said, "You know that as their teacher, you are the most important influence on those children's lives, don't you?"
I pointed out the absurdity of that statement. That teacher has a limited influence on her children's lives. Their parents are the most important influence on any child's life, and in the absence of caring parents, there are grandparents, aunts, uncles, foster parents, and loads of other people who have a more significant influence on the children's lives than the teacher.
The teacher may be the most critical influence on the child while he's at school, but that is still limited. Out of any 24 hours, the teacher may get six hours a day with her students, and that time is interrupted with dozens of disruptions including lunch, recess, PE, art, music, and library time. The other 18 hours are outside the control of the teacher.
But that principal had that teacher convinced that she was a crappy teacher because of some lousy test scores from before she even got those kids. How ridiculous is that?
Before you let someone upset you with their criticism, think about what it is they are saying.
Recognize that it is always about them and rarely about you.
And move on.
If you live in need of someone's approval for you to be happy, let me suggest that it is time to change your attitude. You don't need anyone else's approval. You just need your own.
You are perfect, whole, and complete just as you are.
Don't forget it.
Until next time.
I offered at the end of the webinar workshop last week that I am working on a leadership course that will be released soon. If you are interested in developing your own leadership skills, stay tuned. I am calling the course, "Leadership in Today's Complex World."
I will share more details soon.
If you would like to be notified when the course is ready for release, please simply respond to this message and let me know.