You Ran Out of People

I have been advocating people to live true to themselves, to not settle to a situation that doesn’t work. A relationship, or even a workplace, affects so many aspects of your life that settling into one that doesn’t feel right has felt impossible to me. I’ve made some difficult decisions in the past, and in general, I’ve been happy to have that strength within me. People often don’t realize how difficult it is to end a relationship that seems to have all the essential blocks in place.

Responsibility Process book by Cristopher Avery has been a somewhat brutal reading to me, both considering my work and personal life. The book talks about how people tend to process thoughts about taking or avoiding responsibility. Avery argues that true personal growth and power come from mastering the process and thus exhibiting responsibility.

Avery’s Responsibility Process consists of several mental stages we move through when faced with challenges:

  • Lay Blame,
  • Justify,
  • Shame,
  • Obligation, and ultimately,
  • Responsibility.

Avery argues, that when people are aware of these stages, they can intentionally choose to take responsibility.

When I have been in a relationship that has not felt healthy, and both of us were unhappy, I’ve had the tendency to take the initiative and end it. I would like to see this as an act of taking Responsibility. Isolated, this interpretation of the event could be defendable.

Avery also describes how people seem to perceive their roles in the workplace:

individuals do not feel responsible for the quality of their experience at work. They feel “at effect” rather than “at cause.”

And about a shared responsibility situation:

So the precondition for finding yourself in more and more situations where people step up to the opportunity presented by a shared responsibility is to take 100 percent responsibility for the quality and productivity of every relationship in life and work.

When you begin thinking about taking 100 percent responsibility for the quality and productivity of every relationship, something else happens. You also begin demanding to be in great relationships, on great teams, and in great communities. And when you do that, you challenge yourself to be worthy of a great team, friendships or family.

Reflecting on myself, I realize I haven’t always challenged myself to be worthy of a great relationship, team or family. I do put in full effort at work, and I can be quite a good partner in a relationship too. But when faced with difficulties, I might stay in Lay blame and Justify / Shame states, and operate from Obligation: doing what I have to do, not what I choose to do by taking the responsibility of the situation and owning the quality of the relationship.

It could be there is a behavioral pattern in action here. It has also happened with my “original” family: I felt they were being judgemental of my life choices and had a negative effect in my life, so I have limited interaction with them to minimum. This started already when I was a child: I felt like a second class citizen in my own home. As a kitchen psychologist, I think this is where I have learned my problem solving technique of withdrawing from unpleasant situations. In childhood I withdrew to reading, gaming and coding, and tried to stay out of sight so I could control my environment.

After moving out, it took years to get to a state of Responsibility (where I hope I am right now regarding this matter). I spent my fair share of time in Laying blame and Justify, and only did what I had to do (Obligation).

But once again I decided not to play the game and instead quit. I didn’t try to take full responsibility of the quality of the relationship: I could have made it more clear what I want in my life and what I need from my family. Instead I took a look at what I was getting (and had been getting for years) and decided it has a negative effect in my life, and more or less ended it.

As Avery explains in his book, if we stay in Obligation state, it builds anxiety as you are not living true to yourself. Quitting is an escape valve to get rid of the pain and pressure. That reflects my experiences quite well; many times I’ve struggled until I run out of steam left feeling burned out, and then I’ve decided to end the situation (Quit).

It is one way of “solving” the issue, but not always the best one. Defendable, but sometimes not the best one could get.

You ran out of people

This is the text you get on Tinder when you have swiped all the people and there is nobody left.

Approaching 40 (slowly still, but approaching), that message bears a bit more weight than it might have 20 years ago. After my first real relationship, my objective has not been to find a relationship for the rest of my life, but a person I can share my life right now, to become my partner in this phase of my life. The price of breaking up and being single has gone up during the last 10 years, as I’ve written here (Breakups Can Feel Like Small Deaths).

It’s not healthy to be a single person with no active family connections and too small of a friend network. I have also realised what a muse means in life: internal motivation is not always enough. If I don’t have anyone in mind, I sometimes fail to see the point of everything. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think “life” has a “meaning” (I like how Camus approaches the absurdism) - but I have been successful at finding my own meaning in the past.

Being alone changes things and motivation you have thought to be “internal” may reveal to have been something else.

For now it feels like I have run out of people, but I intend to (more often) get to the Responsibility state of mind and act from there owning and building the experience of my life.