Someone once told me a joke that some people could find offensive; but like so many jokes imply very powerful lessons.

This person wakes up in the middle of the night, the night before their 20th anniversary, and finds her spouse is not in bed where he always sleeps. Concerned she gets up to look for him and finds him in the kitchen with a warm mug of Rooibos tea, distraught and in tears. “What’s wrong honey!?”, she pleads. “Do you remember 20 years ago how your Dad caught us under the trampoline in the backyard, and how he pulled out his shotgun, and forced me to marry you?” he asked. “Yes?” she replied. “Remember how he threatened to send me to jail for 20 years if I refuse to marry you?” I do…, why?!” she asked. “I could have come out tomorrow!” he sobbed.

I am very fortunate to be happily married (My wife always tells me to say so), and I sincerely hope that you are also lucky enough to be in a happy, healthy relationship with someone special; but there are quite a few things to consider when we look at this ‘bad’ joke.

To be in a formal, long-term relationship with another, especially having a family, and possibly a few children is no easy feat. And when we consider the process that mostly leads to this situation, you most probably started out considering the pros and cons of being single, or sharing your life with another ‘forever, until death do us part!’ You’d consider who you are, and what you believe to be of importance, like your personal values, your passions and your plans. You would have started to pay attention to the people you thought ticked those blocks, did your homework, and eventually would have gone on a few dates, before finally making the big decision to commit fully. The fact of the matter is that, regardless of the detail of your personal journey, one ONLY GET TO KNOW the other person fully AFTER this big decision. One is always confronted with a few surprises – some pleasant, and others not so enjoyable. It’s when you stay together, eat together, sleep together, make decisions together, go to bed together, and wake up together, make mistakes together, experience trauma and hurt together when the sickness comes… that’s when certain things, one never knew, show themselves, sometimes leading to situations where one wonders: “Was this the right decision…?”

This is not so different to choosing a career, joining a company full-time, accepting a position as a leader/manager, receiving a promotion or starting a project. We can do our homework as thoroughly as possible and tick all the boxes. It’s only after the decision was made that we really get to find out exactly what we got ourselves into. I often hear people complain:” This is not what I signed up for! This isn’t part of my job description. I didn’t expect this, the scope creep is unacceptable, they keep on shifting the goalposts!”

If things really get bad, we often will consider making a change – divorcing, resigning or sometimes just absconding – imagining ourselves ‘out’ of the situation. Look at others thinking how ‘lucky’ they are with whom they married, or who they work with, the team they have, the manager they are reporting to, or the project they are lucky to work on. Be that as it may; you will, in both relationships and work, always be faced with one of two choices:

  1. Find a way to deal with the realities and be happy! Or
  2. Leave the situation and start the same process explained above, all over again…

When people with relationship challenges – like we all face from time to time, ask me whether they should stay together for the sake of the kids or separate; I always have the same answer. Don’t stay together for the sake of the kids, find a way to be happy, to the benefit of everyone involved. The same applies when you are unhappy in your work situation…

I once had the opportunity to work with leaders in a big South African parastatal. A man in his early fifties was extremely negative and actively disengaged. During one of our breaks, I made a point of speaking to him in private, trying to establish why he was so angry. When I gave him the chance he shared his disgust with the top leadership, and the ‘unfairness’ he experienced. The fact that he had no hope of ever being promoted, and the fact that he was ‘stuck’ in the situation because he had five years until early retirement… He couldn’t afford to resign, and if he had to leave, he’d lose a whole lot of money, a lifetime of savings… He gave his life to them and experienced no appreciation. He felt that he had no choice.

My advice to him was that he had one of two choices:

  1. Remain disengaged, unhappy, and focussed on the ‘unfairness’, at the risk of losing it all… Or
  2. Accept the reality and find a way to make the last 5 years of his life, THE BEST EVER.

He looked at me as if I have lost my ‘marbles’. I explained that he needed to accept that the way things were, was the way it was. That he couldn’t change and shouldn’t wish for it to be different. He had a chance to express himself by pouring a lifetime of experience into a bunch of inexperienced previously disadvantaged staff members who were out of their depth and needed mentoring and coaching. To play his part in making the company successful even if he didn’t get the acknowledgement (at least not in financial terms) for what he did. Besides the fact that he’d be a happier human being, and experience the joy of giving, this was the only chance he’d give himself, of being noticed for positive reasons… and who knows, even be promoted.

Just a side note. If you are unhappy at work – please don’t go home early. You are most probably not fun to be around …

If we look for reasons to be miserable – we will find them. Luckily, if we look for reasons to be happy, they will present themselves like precious stones to enrich our lives – moment by moment.

Find JOY in what you do WHERE you ARE!

Love and respect.
Stefan Lessing
Tru-Heart Coaching