Space to Choose, Room to Grow


journal page – 2/11/08

Every year about this time, I begin to sense a lightening of spirit as I anticipate Spring. The days are noticeably longer, and although it’s bitterly cold in New England, the slant of light mitigates the discomfort of wind chill factors and icy roads. It becomes easy to imagine the return of green, and I feel the urge to clean my inner house, sweeping out stale ideas and behaviors to renew and redefine my goals, as if the Vernal Equinox were my New Year’s Day.

Just as it takes energy and the right combination of elements to coax the buds back from their winter’s sleep, it takes energy and nurturing to foster personal growth. Yet often we find ourselves up against a variety of obstacles that keep us from steadily moving forward, much like rush hour traffic on a highway with a closed lane. We’ve all experienced that feeling of trying to get quickly from one place to another, but having to constantly put on the brakes and slow down to a crawl every few yards. We get edgy, we feel irritable; we may even lose our temper. And how does it feel by the time we finally reach our destination? Does it ever seem as if it weren’t worth the trouble of the trip? The same idea applies to the tolerations in our lives that function as speed bumps on our own personal highways.

Although we often associate the development of tolerance as a behavior with positive attributes such as patience, acceptance of others’ differences, and selflessness, it can also become an insidious drain on our time, energy, and spirit. Think of all the things we “put up with” in the course of a day, things that annoy or anger us, things that divert our attention away from what we want to do, things that cause us to react in ways that are contrary to how we would like to see ourselves. Each of these tolerations in some way prevents us from moving forward, ultimately leaving us feeling depleted.

According to Thomas J.Leonard, a pioneer in the life coaching profession, there are logical reasons why we accept tolerations in our lives. Perhaps we’ve been raised to practice the virtue of selfless patience so we can get along with others. While that is often a necessary skill for peaceful social interactions, what does it mean when we are doing no more than allowing others to take advantage of our “good nature”? What we’ve been taught to view as a commendable quality actually puts us in the position of feeling anger and resentment, two emotions that tremendously sap our energy. Perhaps we’re afraid of the consequences we imagine will result if we eliminate negative behaviors and relationships, or take a stand to self-advocate and say “no.” We feel safer with what we know – even if it’s dragging us down – and ultimately we become mired in stagnation.

This year, my “spring cleaning” will be to identify and eliminate those things I tolerate that are really no more than speed bumps on my journey. I’ll start small with things I can easily tackle, clearing the decks for the bigger things that require more work. I want to give myself more space to choose, more room to grow. Anyone care to join me? You can start by making a list of ten or more things that consistently bother you, or you might want to start by looking at Thomas Leonard’s list of The Top 10 Tolerations that People Put Up With as Normal/Acceptable to see if any of them sound familiar. And feel free to share what you come up with, if you’d like!

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