I grew up with the French fable Le Chêne et le Roseau by Jean de la Fontaine, an adaptation of Aesop’s The Oak and the Reed. In a nutshell, the mighty oak looks pityingly on the lowly reed, until a big gale arises and the oak ends up uprooted, whereas the reed springs back and keeps on living.
It recently occurred to me that I held onto annoyance about the fact that, ultimately, the oak would finish its existence broken.
Undoubtedly, I was able to intellectually grasp the idea that the reed’s suppleness was what helped it whether the storm—quite literally—but it still felt a little bit unfair.
Oaks are majestic; they have a mystical aura. Whispers of magic have been surrounding oaks for millennia. Besides, if any tree has principles, it has to be the oak, right? And since *I* have principles, it makes sense that I would identify with an oak, doesn’t it?
It took me countless tempestuous seasons—which left me feeling depleted and, well, broken!—to come to the realization that I too had spent a lot of self-righteous time being inflexible in my ways, and that what I thought I did to serve others wasn’t serving *me* at all.
CONTROL DISGUISED AS ORGANIZATION
I’m naturally a pretty organized person which means that, over time, other people have deferred to me as such. In the long run, this lead to me taking the organizing part of everything a little too seriously.
In the guise of making life easier—because it was always shielded in a hefty coat of “let me take care of the boring organization part so others don’t have to and then I can feel like a selfless martyr and resent them if they don’t recognize my work”—I would try to exert control over schedules, plans, etc., in a very detailed fashion.
Because if everything went according to plan, then everything would be better, right?
I ended up so attached to outcomes that I stopped leaving space for surprises and spontaneity and—even more sadly—I forgot their value.
Unforeseen circumstances or, even worse, people’s unwillingness to comply to my carefully crafted plans, had me balk and sulk, and I could never quite gracefully give way to the unscripted.
Yielding isn’t an easy thing, is it?
It certainly has never come easy to me. While I certainly did give way to others’ desires—and often at that!—it was always deeply rooted in my desperately wanting to be accepted. Inside, I was still fighting an unpleasant battle, and whatever the consequence of my yielding became in my eyes the worst thing ever.
I found myself eagerly waiting for any non-crafted-by-me scenario to go awry, with an ostentatious eye roll and an I told you so! at the ready.
IN PRAISE OF STRUGGLE
Ultimately, my attempts at dominance over details—as are most attempts at control, I would imagine—were cemented in a deep desire to avoid struggle. Struggle is uncomfortable, after all.
But struggle, ultimately, is also the path to growth.
Only when we stop actively avoiding the struggle can we discover what we’re made of—the good, the bad, and the ugly. And also the astonishing, the I-didn’t-even-know-I-was-capable-of-this, the incandescent vulnerability which gives us much more power than we’re often willing to recognize.
One of my recent go-to mantras is Appreciate the Struggle. The way I see this is twofold:
- Look at the struggle for what it is, open our eyes to its breadth, but also to its hidden lessons;
- Go all in, trust that we’re able to handle it, and be confident that making it to the other side will add value to our being.
I’m still learning to do this. But I do know that storms, seen from the supple reed’s point of view, aren’t quite as scary anymore.
Uncomfortable? Sure. But you know what? I will not break.
I will prevail.
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