My 20-year high-school reunion is this summer. I was made fun of in high school and fantasized about showing up at the reunion as a huge success. That would have been possible if the economy hadn’t crashed. My business went bust, I lost my house, my wife left me, and I was diagnosed with prostrate cancer. I now live with my parents. I’ve been depressed and am out of shape, but I am obsessed with this damn reunion. I can’t decide if I should go or not. Why?
You want to prove your former classmates wrong. Some part of your brain believes that if you do, it means you are smarter, more capable and talented than your entire graduating class. But the real issue has nothing to do with whether you possess greater insight into an individual’s ability to actualize potential than the class bullies did. My concern is your huge investment in what other people think. If your values are centered in truth, trust, commitment and community, what anyone thinks of you is none of your business.
The economic downturn holds many valuable lessons, here’s one: Most people are two paychecks away from losing everything. Yes, that means middle-class success in the United States is a veneer built on debt, not on wealth. Two or three years before the recession was officially announced, many of the executive-level professionals I coach were downsizing homes and vehicles, pulling back on spending and stockpiling cash. These executives were not interested in appearing successful; they were concerned with being successful. Each one took care to make the disciplined lifestyle changes necessary to secure their family’s needs (not wants). So pen my advice on a Post-it: People who are focused on appearing successful cling to things. People who are invested in being successful take care of people and the planet.
The crises you have endured are having their intended effect—slowing you down, inviting you to reflect, reminding you about what is really important. If you can experience the reunion with an open heart, go. Otherwise, save your money. A reunion is the coming together of what has been separated. You have been cut off from the knowledge that you were born as an intended blessing for this planet (we all are). That’s the reunion you need to attend to.
I was in a four-year relationship until I caught my girlfriend with one of her married co-workers. After months of not speaking to each other, she admitted to me that she had been unfaithful to me for a long time. Now she works in my office. We don’t talk or look at each other. I need help handling this situation.
Stop pretending you know her. Her betrayal is proof that she is not who you thought she was. You dated for four years and she is still a stranger. Treat her accordingly. Say hello politely when your paths cross. If you overhear a rousing conversation between her and a co-worker you like, ignore it. If someone says, “I hear you and (her name here) used to hang out,” answer, “Really? What else are people saying?” Then smile. Instead of confirming details, admit, “That was a different lifetime,” and exit the conversation. Don’t allow anything to distract you from excelling on the job. When your mind floats toward her, rein it back in. Have laserlike focus on tasks that require your attention, especially career-related issues you have been procrastinating on. Eventually, the anxiety of what she might do or say will erode. You will no longer care about her presence at work. The payoff for redirecting energy you formerly spent on your now ex-girlfriend, will be stellar reviews of your work. And that’s an inspiration.