My daughter was having a bad day.
Rainy weather interrupted her soccer game. Her brother snubbed her by choosing his buddies over hanging out with her. Our well-intentioned toddler decided to help “organize” her room by pulling everything off her shelves. She was late for her flute lesson.
To add insult to injury, the family was headed to an event where there would be lots of adults and little kids, but no one her age.
The compounding effect of these little annoyances grew into honest frustration that bordered on anger. These emotions placed her on the precipice of a decision.
How would she respond?
With clinched fists and a stern expression my daughter told me that her brothers were annoying and she was so irritated that she did not want to go anywhere. Then she asked me the critical question:
“Do you have any idea what I am feeling?”
She meant it as a rhetorical question, but it presented an invitation I could not resist. I said, “Yes!” Then I went on to tell her about my frustrating week.
As she listened to my tale of woe, her focus shifted away from her frustrations and toward my situation. Empathy and self-pity cannot co-exist, so I knew good things were ahead.
I invited her into my world and asked her advice on how I should handle the things that had gone wrong during my week.
Her counsel was brilliant.
In her own way, she asked me to look at things with more perspective and be grateful for the things that were going well. She even suggested I extend forgiveness to others and bring in additional workers to help on a project.
This wasn’t some sort of parental Jedi-mind trick. Her wisdom was actually helpful to me. She essentially gave me a choice:
I could either act consistent with my temporary emotions or my long-held principles.
She reminded me of one of our family’s rules:
Feelings are not actions.
The idea behind this rule is that feelings are valuable and important, but we retain the choice to decide what actions we take.
Turning the conversation back to her frustration, I asked if she were directing a play about her life, how would she want the actress to handle the rest of her day. She liked the idea of being a Director.
By participating in this imaginary game, her focus shifted from the frustration she was experiencing to how the day would unfold. The goal was not for her to pretend to be someone else but to direct how she could live through the challenges as the truest form of herself.
She thought about what it would look like if she allowed her frustration to ferment versus rising above it to rescue the remainder of the day. The imagined scenarios were clear in her mind.
And the best choice became obvious.
Without a single one of the offending circumstances having changed, this simple shift in perspective offered her hope for the rest of the day.
If only I had the presence of mind to engage in this exercise at each major decision point in the day, I think I would make better choices.
We may not get to choose our circumstances, the behavior of others, or even our emotions, but we possess agency to determine our responses.
What would it look like for you to view your life from a Director’s perspective? How would you want your character to handle the relationships, work, and challenges of today?