Line in the Sand
Line in the Sand
By Justin Wright
Every person you interact with, every conversation you have, every piece of body language exchanged helps shape you into the person you become. We are fluid beings, and the stimuli we encounter in our daily lives all have a compounding effect. In the past, we have discussed the importance of winning the day with our decision-making, but what about winning the day with our interactions, with who we decided to let influence us?
Often on our life’s journey we are faced with hard choices and difficult decisions. There are none harder than taking a firm stand with those we care about. Sometimes we must minimize our interaction with negative influences, or, in some cases, remove those influences entirely. It is our responsibility to draw a line in the sand and be forceful with these decisions. We owe it to our happiness and our sanity to take stock of the company we keep and hold this company to a high standard.
We become our life experience
Our life experience shapes us in many ways. The stories we see become the stories we tell, and the reality that we experience often creates walls which confine our aspirations. If you grow up knowing nothing but pain, suffering, sadness, and loneliness, then these traits will influence how you perceive the world as you grow older. If your home is filled with love, support, companionship, and positivity, then your worldview will tend to also have these traits.
Many studies have been done to link our environment with our behavior; while there are devotees on both sides of the “nature vs nurture” discussion, one cannot deny that environmental factors do contribute to how we behave and act. While we cannot control the environment we are born into, it is possible to control the experiences we have later in life.
It becomes critical for us to take responsibility for our own destiny, and to place ourselves in the environment best suited to our development. Peer pressure is a powerful phenomenon, but it can be positive just as easily as it can be negative. If your friend group is primarily drug users and addicts, the likelihood of you going down the same path becomes higher, especially if you spend a great deal of time with them. What happens, instead, if your friend group consists of successful entrepreneurs, star athletes, or volunteers making a difference in the world?
There is often some level of guilt associated with putting our needs above the needs of others. If we spend so much time thinking about how to make ourselves happy, or set ourselves up best for success, aren’t we being selfish? This word has such a negative context because it is misunderstood. Being selfish is not a bad thing, as long as we don’t take things too far: putting ourselves first is fine, as long as we don’t prevent anyone else from doing the same in the process.
Simon Sinek is a motivational speaker and leadership coach who has successfully worked with a number of high-profile business executives. He gave a talk centered around going after what you want in life and not allowing obstacles to become excuses. Part of this talk sheds a great deal of light on the dichotomy of being selfish as he tells a story about waiting in line to get bagels after a road race:
“That’s when I realized that there’s two ways to see the world. Some people see the thing that they want, and some people see the thing that prevents them from getting the thing that they want. I could only see the bagels. He could only see the line. I walked up to the line. I leaned in between two people, put my hand in the box and pulled out two bagels and no one got mad at me because the rule is you can go after whatever you want. You just cannot deny anyone else to go after whatever they want.” – Sinek
Let’s take this concept a step further: not only should you not feel bad about putting your needs first, it isn’t your responsibility to take care of other people’s needs in most instances. There are times when this statement becomes false, like when we are raising children. Children cannot fend for themselves and it becomes your job as a parent to provide for them. Outside of a direct dependent, however, it is not our duty to provide for those around us.
If someone is unhappy, for example, it is their responsibility to work on their happiness. They may turn to you for help, but there is often not much you can actually do to make their situation better. How many times, out of guilt, do you get dragged down with them? How many times does someone else’s negative mood make you feel bad about your day and about your life? Just like extremely sick people are quarantined in hospitals so as not to infect other patients, we must quarantine ourselves from negativity. It is amazing how quickly this contagion can spread and cause us to question our path and even our own happiness.
I have made this point on a podcast before, but there is a quote that I often share with clients. On every airline since the advent of modern air transit there is a PSA before takeoff. The flight attendants, at some point, discuss what happens in the event of an emergency. How many times have you been told to secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others? This is applicable in our everyday lives as well. How do we expect to help others if we do not first secure our own oxygen mask? We must prioritize our own mental health before we can be of any use to anyone else. Being selfish in this regard is actually a prerequisite to helping others!
So how do we secure our own oxygen mask first? We must purge our environment of negativity and chronically negative people. We must take a stand and prioritize our own mental health and our own happiness. If someone is constantly dragging you down and affecting your mood, take a stance with them and create boundaries. Maybe you have to pull that coworker aside and let them know that you don’t want to discuss their unhappy private life at the workplace.
Unfortunately, these people will often be members of our own families. It is frequently said that we cannot choose our families and, while that is certainly true, we can create boundaries and expectations. If your aunt brings up family drama and negativity every time she calls you, kindly let her know that future calls will not follow this pattern. If your parents are constantly putting pressure on you to pursue something you disagree with, simply inform them that you appreciate their perspective but have made up your mind. They can choose to support you or not, but they will not speak negatively about your choices.
While it is uncomfortable to do, drawing a firm line in the sand is often enough to take care of these situations before they fester and intensify. Many of these people are so used to being negative and pessimistic that they actually don’t realize the effect it has on others. By bringing it to their attention, you may be helping them just as much as you are helping yourself. Furthermore, it takes a good deal of inner strength and resolve to stand up for yourself. Regardless of the outcome, this behavior consistently earns respect and admiration from the people in your life who will continue to be positive influences.
Cherish your time
In some situations, this hard line will not be enough to deter people from bringing their baggage into your life. In extreme cases, narcissists thrive off the feeling of control they get by manipulating the emotions of others. In these extremes, it becomes your responsibility to cut these people out of your life entirely. While it is often painful and difficult, realize that these people are draining your energy and your time. Time is our most valuable resource, and something we cannot get back once we spend it. Cherish your time, and don’t allow negative people in your life to steal it from you. It is our responsibility to secure our oxygen masks and ensure our own happiness. Being selfish, in these instances, is warranted. I challenge you, moving forward, to stand firm behind your proverbial line in the sand.