Life is messy because people are messy. There’s just no way around it. And the messiness of people can cause all sorts of pain and suffering, especially when you have high expectations. Sure, it’s nice when all your colleagues follow through on commitments, work hard, show up on time, communicate effectively, make good decisions and behave like mature adults. But the reality is that life gets in the way and people don’t always “show up” the way you wish they would.
If you are like me, you’ve spent a lot of time frustrated with other people’s messiness, spending countless hours criticizing them because their lives are in disarray. You complain about how this messiness negatively impacts you, your team, your company and your loved ones. But at the same time, it’s a nagging reminder that you have a messy life as well.
What if we gave up this frustration and embraced the messiness of life instead, accepting others for who they are rather than judging them for what we perceive as deficiencies? I would contend that life would be more enjoyable for everyone. Here are some ways to embrace the messiness:
Look for the positive. It’s easy to pick other people apart and judge their actions and behaviors. But when you constantly point out these negative traits, you create drama, perpetuate negativity and waste time. Instead, switch your mindset and look for the positive. For example, rather than complain about a colleague who is always running late, point out and appreciate the positive contributions he or she makes in meetings.
Avoid dichotomies. It’s easy to look at the world in terms of right vs. wrong, black vs. white, yes vs. no, etc. Yet none of these exists; the world is filled with shades of gray, and there is no “one way” of being or doing. Forcing situations into dichotomy boxes is your ego’s attempt to exert control and maintain a positive self-image. It’s easy to say, “At least I do things the right way.” But instead, check your ego and recognize there are “many ways to skin a cat.” Your way may be right, but many other ways are, too.
Remember, you don’t know everything. It’s impossible for you to know and understand everything going on in a person’s life, but it’s easy to assume you do. Stop making assumptions; you are most likely telling yourself a story and making prejudgments that aren’t true. Instead, ask questions and seek to understand. You will learn a lot about others, which will help you judge less and accept more.
Swap shoes for a while. Imagine being the person you are complaining about. How do you feel when you are judged? How would you deal with the curveballs being thrown at you? Would you handle everything perfectly? Being empathetic is more effective; it fuels connection, creates accountability to solve problems and helps you be more understanding.
Focus on what you can control. No matter how much influence you try to exercise, pressure you exert or time you try to argue, you can’t change someone who doesn’t want to change. You can spend an inordinate amount of time and emotional capital being upset and frustrated by other people’s actions, but to what end? Focus on what you can control: your mindset, attitude, thoughts and behaviors. Communicate your expectations, manage emotions and work on improving yourself. You’ll find that you appreciate others more and live a happier life.
Consider letting go of your expectations. It’s natural to expect a lot from people. Unfortunately, doing so can result in feeling disappointed because you set yourself — and others — up for failure. Stop holding people to your high standards, especially if you haven’t communicated them clearly or if the standards are unattainable. You are not in control of what other people do, and you can’t force them to care about or live up to your expectations. Quit trying to define “perfect” in an imperfect world. Let others be who they are. When they don’t deliver, be honest about the impact, but also be compassionate.
Yes, life is messy. Yes, it’s supposed to be that way. Humans are uniquely able to solve problems, and we would be bored without problems to solve. So, change your mindset and look at interpersonal dynamics with compassion, curiosity and a hint of humor. You’ll be much happier for it.