Updated: Jul 13, 2021
I used to have this boss that would ask me to come into his office from time to time. He’d say something like this:
“Your work is great! It’s some of the best I’ve seen. But your personality is really crappy. It’s so terrible that no one likes you or wants to be around you. If you’re going to continue to work here, you’re going to have to fix it. Now.”
He was only one of many who told me that I’m broken and messed up for just being me, though his approach was a lot more cruel. Back then I was the type of person to believe what people told me. Why would they lie? Surely if they said it, then it must be true… right?
I knew that my boss was a terrible and vindictive person, but I didn’t realize the effect it had on me until much later. Around this time I was diagnosed with depression and an anxiety disorder. I started looking for any way that I could find to understand what I was going through and make some kind of sense of it.
Look for understanding
This was one of the lowest points of my life. There was a time that I didn’t want to continue on. I couldn’t see past what was right in front of me. I was faced with a choice: give up or find a way out. I chose the latter.
I’m the type of person who fights in situations like these. As soon as I remembered that about myself I got to work. I started looking for ways to understand what I was going through. I wanted to understand everything about depression and everything about anxiety. What was it? Why did I have it? What’s the best way to treat it?
Key to everything
Understanding is the key to every problem you have. You have to understand before you can do anything else. But you can’t just have surface-level understanding. You have to have the kind of understanding that keeps going and going, relentlessly understanding. The more you seek to understand the easier you’ll find the solution.
How do you understand? Well, to understand anything you have to start asking questions. You have to ask questions about everything involved, including yourself. I believe you should start by questioning yourself. That’s where I started.
Understanding yourself is so important
You have to understand you before you can understand anything or anyone else. You have to understand how you process things, how you look at things, how you make decisions and how you view the world. This is why we are all obsessed with MBTI. It answers so many of these questions for us.
Once you know these things, then you have to understand how the people around you, those who are most important to you, answer those questions too. If we could all have this understanding of each other, so much of what we disagree about would be understood and not such a big deal anymore.
I’ll give you an example. When I was diagnosed with depression I called a good friend of mine and she told me that was the worst possible thing that a doctor could say to me and that I needed to find a new doctor. I wanted to believe her, so initially, I put the blame on the doctor for being so mean to me.
But later on, I started to wonder what depression was. I didn’t know. All I knew is that I felt really bad all of the time. I was sad for a reason that I couldn’t name, I wanted to sleep constantly and I didn’t like any of the things that I used to like. I decided to check out what depression was before I wrote the doctor off completely. After one simple Google search, I found the symptoms of depression. Low and behold, I had every single one of them.
Once I understood what it was, I didn’t think the doctor was being mean to me anymore. I knew that she was trying to help me. I could see that my friend had bought into the stigma that surrounds depression and that she didn’t understand what it was. Everything made a lot more sense. Understanding changed my whole perspective.
Ask the right questions
There are two main things that you have to do to understand anything: question what people tell you and question your own beliefs. Both are vital to understanding.
Question what people tell you
There’s a lot of people, even mature adults, who blindly accept what other people tell them. This is especially true when that person has some kind of authority. They just accept what they are told without looking at any other possibilities at all. This is a dangerous game to play.
Last year, in January, I had a really bad cold with a terrible dry cough. I went to the doctor and she said, “It’s just a cold. You’ll be fine with rest. But if it doesn’t go away in a week then call me.” A week later I called her to tell her it was worse. She gave me steroids and said that should fix it. A week later I was still worse again. She didn’t know what to do but was sure that it would go away soon.
Months later, with the same dry cough, I went to another doctor. “Oh, you have Covid-19. You need to get tested right away!” The test comes back negative. “Wow. I really thought that’s what you had. Hmmm.”
Yet another doctor, “You have bronchitis. You need some antibiotics.”
And still another one, “You have Covid. You have all of the symptoms of covid. That has to be what you have regardless of what the test says.”
A whole year later, same cough, another doctor, “You have severe asthma. You need to be on asthma medication. You’ve had this for a whole year without treatment? How are you still alive?”
Thankfully after seeing this doctor, I found the resolution. He gave me two different medications and within a week I stopped coughing, the terrible shortness of breath I had had for a year went away and I finally felt like a normal human again.
If I would have trusted the first doctor completely, just because she was a doctor, I would be dead now.
I can’t express to you how important it is to question the things that you’re told, especially from people in positions of authority. What are they telling you really? What is the motive behind their telling you this? What does the bigger picture look like?
At the end of the day, we’re all human, even those in positions of authority. We all make mistakes. There could also be something bigger going on that you’re not aware of. You’ve got to ask the questions. That’s the only way you’ll understand.
Question your own beliefs
We all have personal beliefs, things that we learned growing up, things that we’ve been through, things that we’ve come to believe, even if we don’t know where those beliefs come from. They present themselves in the stories you tell yourself.
I have quite a few that I’ve had to challenge recently. One is that I can’t be a writer because I’m terrible at spelling. There is so much help available for writing and spelling nowadays. There’s absolutely no reason to let spelling hold you back. I’ve been writing a blog for over 2 years now. I’ve written a book and I’m writing another one. Clearly I can be a writer even if I’m a terrible speller.
Another example: I can’t lose weight. It’s really hard and basically impossible. I’ve told myself this story for just about my whole life. I inherited it from my mom. I’ve studied and tried all different kinds of diets. I’ve spent most of my life on a diet. And the thing that I’ve learned is that it’s not hard to lose weight at all. You just have to be committed to it. But that story creeps up at the worst possible times.
The important thing to remember is that just because you’ve believed this story for your whole life doesn’t mean that it’s true and it doesn’t mean that you can’t change now. You absolutely can change now. It’s as easy as recognizing your mistake (possibly more than once) and choosing to do things differently now. Replace that old story with something new. Losing weight is easy. I can write even if I’m a terrible speller. It’s possible.
It’s not about good and bad, it’s about understanding
So many times in our life we’re taught that things are good or bad, right or wrong. At the end of the day, it’s not about right or wrong. It’s about understanding. The more understanding you can bring to the table, the better off you’ll be. It might literally save your life like it did mine. It might save you from spending a year being sick without looking for more answers. It might save you from the wrong career choice. It might save you from a lot of arguments and hurt.
It’s all about understanding, relentless understanding.