It's (Still) Not Personal

Artist: Brendan Ryan

Artist: Brendan Ryan

Don’t take it personally.

It's not personal.

Even when it feels like it, it's never personal. This is your friendly reminder. Mine, too.

“It” = anything and everything that lands in your mind and heart with a scrape.

Some things we take personally

That stinging statement someone says to you that hurts your feelings. How dare they! What do they really know about being you? Screw their projection.

The way a friend or family member doesn't show enough interest in what you're doing or going through. How insensitive! Should you reward them with your friendship, your precious time? Let's have meetings in our mind for days on end to evaluate.

How about the co-worker who "threw you under the bus" as we like to say while kissing our scabs. The team member (who spelled "team" with an "i") who blamed a project gone awry on your misjudgment. Or--this, this one is the pits: a boss who puts you to work overtime then takes credit for the results that were all your doing. ACK. What a *$(&*&!!.

There are so many opportunities to take life personally, if you choose to. I could write this blog for six months nonstop listing all the ways: The look he gave you; the invitation you didn't receive; the way someone chortled at you when you were feeling sensitive; the jobs you applied for and kept not getting. The chronic injuries that kept you from your favorite sport. The chronic illness. The car that broke down during rush hour. The cupboard that sprung open and hit you in the forehead.  The parents who made comments that felt fraught with back-handed something--from, "You have so much potential" to "Remember when you had long hair?" People leaving. Bad weather. Loss. The significant other who dared to utter anything from, "Are you really going out in that?" to "I don't love you anymore."


It's not personal, it's data

All of these examples are straight up content; circumstances that are in and of themselves neutral. Just hard core data that we give meaning through our thoughts.

I know, if you want to slap me, I get it. It doesn't always feel like it. I allow myself to take things personally all the time. I've been deeply angry at a door frame for being in my way and bruising my cheek. I've spent a chunk of my life nursing resentments because I've waged a mini-war of taking something personally and I can't let it go. How NOT GOOD does that feel?

An example of how it's all in our head

I can take a similar circumstance and tell you about how I experienced it differently in two separate instances. My mom has a history of criticizing my hair cuts, especially when they're shorter than shoulder length. On one occasion, after talking to her excitedly about a new job, she asked: "Why did you cut your hair that way?" My reaction was to look at her, go WTF?, and laugh it off because I was feeling happy and invincible. But there have been other occasions where she's nitpicked me about my hair and I wanted to grab her by her heels and throw her into the next galaxy. (Sorry Mom, I do love you!)

There’s nothing wrong with experiencing anything personally—it’s innocent and human. What’s great about “it’s not personal” is how, when you do have that fast hit of taking it personally, you can consider that you don’t HAVE to. You can know it's your thinking, which is powerful and makes that look, those words, the person walking away feel so real. You can feel it all and just know you're having a human experience; but you don't have to make a giant story and bring it to life and take it to bed with you night after night.

So just tuck  the idea that"It's Not Personal" into your back pocket and orient yourself toward the Not Personal.

Check your orientation

We all have non-stop thinking taking place day in day out. But how you orient yourself to your thinking is what makes a difference. I can have a downer thought and go into a state of panic that I'm stuck with this black-cloud idea/mood/feeling for the rest of my life. Consequently, I talk and talk and f-ing talk about it until I bring everyone down with me. My husband, on the other hand, orients himself to the fact it will pass, doesn't do a thing about it, and keeps his eye on the vast field of good mood weather beyond the horizon.

I heard an interview with Jerry Seinfeld, where he talked about getting started as a comedian. When asked how he felt when people didn't like his act, he said, "I didn't care." All he wanted was to do comedy. Whether someone liked him or not was immaterial (which is even harder to take in when you think of an aspiring performer). Whether he was able to get on stage and do comedy and keep doing comedy--that was where he was oriented. For me, it's a stunning sense of purpose, grounding and orientation.  

Here's an example from the physical world. Some days, the sky is filled with all kinds of weather. Think back to a day where, if you look in one direction there's sun and blue sky. Then you look in another direction and there are thick grey clouds, maybe even those streak marks that suggest rain in the distance. How we orient ourselves to our thoughts works the same way. You can be inside with a storm waging outside, and stare out the window, wondering if it will get worse, knitting eyebrows about a tree that could fall over, the run you can't go on; or you can turn your attention to a cozy afternoon reading, or playing games with your family, building a Lego tower with a precious toddler.

TRY THIS: The next time you experience an event that trips the "personal" button, resist the temptation to DO anything about it. You might want to hold a grudge and tell the person off or yack to a friend about it. All totally reasonable--you'll get no judgment here. You might want to go to town managing your mood and re-arranging your thinking (forced positive thinking can be exhausting), transcend your bad self, and so on.

Instead, shift your body ever so slightly in a different direction until you're seeing something new. Instead of looking out at a landscape of "how dare he?" and felling pain and frustration, see a beautiful green shiny world with some cool creative opportunity, or just a lapping ocean and blue sky. Orient yourself in another direction and let yourself see something different. It's not a magic wand, but a new way of experiencing your thoughts and moving away from the personal. Every time you get socked with an experience that falls into the personal, know you can reorient yourself in a new direction.

Then, go for a walk, count the hydrangeas and rhododendron bushes in full bloom and listen for the mating call of the chickadee--it sounds like "Cheeseburger." I also hear it as "Hey sweetie."


Related post:

What We Mean When We Say It's Not Personal