Stop Consulting the Committee

Committee
Photo credit: Vincent F

I have a terrible habit that has lately become the subject of several conversations, which have forced me to stop and think about whether or not I’m ready to let go of it. I have a very strong tendency, when wanting to ask someone a question – particularly a personal or perhaps difficult question -to preface that I’m going to ask the question before I ask it.

I’ll say something like, “Hey, so I have a question I want to ask but don’t feel pressured to answer it ” or “Hey, so this is really nosy but I’m wondering….” or “Hey, I may be totally wrong about this, but….” or some other variation of a lead up to what I want to talk about. I”m excessively generous in trying to give people “outs”.

It drives me crazy when other people preface everything they want to say or give a ton of background detail to lay out a scene, and yet I do the very same thing.  Because someone has told me recently to stop doing this, I have been thinking more about why I feel the need to preface these kinds of things and where this compulsion might be coming from.

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For the majority of my life, I could not make any significant decisions without getting the input of others. I would ask tons of people their opinions about what I planned to or wanted to do, or simply did what a person I respected in my life told me to do. It took me until my mid-twenties to gain a little awareness about this.  Turns out, I didn’t trust myself to make good decisions.  I doubted my own logic and intuition and didn’t think my good intentions could cover over the sins of making a decision that resulted in failure, or humiliation, or inadvertently hurt someone else.  If I deferred to someone else, there was a safety net, if you will…if it turned out that I made a bad decision I could simply point to another person and say I was just following their advice.  Basically, it felt like a safe way to keep me out of the hot seat, and because usually, I trusted other people more than I trusted myself.

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Last year I was listening to Rob Bell on one of his podcast episodes, where if I remember correctly, they were discussing something along these lines.  I remember him using the phrase: “Stop consulting the committee”, and it really resonated with me because I knew that that is what I have the tendency to do and did for so much of my life. I struggled to get the go-ahead’s and OK’s from all the important people in my life before I stepped out on anything.  And on the few occasions that I made big decisions without consulting those people, I would constantly second guess myself and worry that I would be found out as an imposter who thought she could do life but really couldn’t, and maybe she should in fact just do what others wanted and expected. In the times where I made bad decisions, I also couldn’t handle the shame doled out to me by those who seemed to relish in showing how I’d failed.

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I remember a big change in my life that helped me stop consulting the committee about everything I did.  About 8 years ago, when we were living in New York, my theological and worldview scaffolding began to crumble.  I started allowing myself to ask hard questions that had previously been taboo. The biggest two were 1) Is there really a hell, and is God sending people there, and 2) Was God ever angry?

I finally came to the firm conclusion, after alot of theological deconstruction and soul searching, that nope…I do not believe in hell, and nope, I do not believe God has ever been angry.  And amazingly…letting go of those limiting beliefs absolutely changed everything for me.  Because – if the universe isn’t angry at you, and you’re not going to be punished for your mistakes in an eternal damnation sort of way – then there is alot of space and freedom to launch out, try new things, fail miserably, and possibly, succeed fantastically.

Suddenly I had the liberty to start doing what I wanted to do, listening to what my heart and mind were telling me, and moving forward without the obsessive compulsion to get everyone’s permission or opinions about everything.  I could start asking other hard questions and critique things without being paranoid that I was wrong.

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Something I’ve discovered over the last few years is that I actually have pretty good intuition about people and things.  I used to have people tell me that I was extremely naive and gullible.  That may have been true, but I’ve since decided that it was because I was listening to them and their opinions of how life works instead of trusting myself.

I’ve had bizarre things happen that have helped prove the worth of my own intuition, and I’ve had some pretty practical things fall into place really well as a result of me trusting myself at my core.  Here are a few:

1) . I started paying attention to my dreams: I’ve always had a very active dream life, and in some cases, I’ve experienced recurrent dream themes.  One recurring theme that I think is funny is dreaming that I was a runner…in the dreams I would feel compelled to get out and go for a run and I would wake up feeling an almost physical urge to go run, out of shape as I was.  Ironic thing is, when I finally started running in real life, those dreams went away.

A second dream theme was a consistent one that played throughout the length of my marriage…I would dream that I would be taking off and moving to a new town, getting a new job or starting school, by myself.  I would always wake up from these dreams so disappointed to discover they weren’t real and I was still stuck back in my unhappy situation.  Again, funny thing….once I jumped ship and did these things in real life….getting out of my marriage and going back to school….those dreams abruptly stopped.  I no longer have dreams related to feeling trapped.

Finally, I’ve also dreamed about things that then happened, or woke up with a sense of foreboding about something bad that was about to happen. I knew a week before my grandmother died that she was going to die soon, from a dream I had.  I knew from a dream that something was wrong with a good friend in West Africa when he, in fact, was hanging between life and death one night.  Another time, I woke up once in the middle of the night to a horrible sense of dread where I felt I needed to pray, and found out the next morning that a coworker had killed himself.

So, suffice it to say, I have learned to pay attention to my dreams and not just blow them off as mere brain defragging, as many others would.

2.  I’ve been discovering that I can read people better than what I once thought.  I always try to give people the benefit of the doubt and not force any expectations on them.  But, there are some people in my life where I can predict with great accuracy ahead of time how they’re going to act or respond to something. I also have noticed that I can pretty much get along with everybody.  We might not all have super warm fuzzies in our stomachs about each other, but I can carry on a conversation and find a commonality with just about everybody.

3. One of my friends tells me on almost every phone call that I’m making really good decisions and she’s really proud of me.  I agree with her sometimes, but then occasionally I think she tells me this as a way of encouragement to up my game. But when I think about it, I have been making good decisions for a long time and I’m capable of making more in the future.  I planned and executed about as smooth a divorce as I think possible in this day and age, I’m putting myself through school and multiple degrees as a single parent who was out of the workforce for a long time, I’m not just maintaining the status quo but constantly trying to learn and grow as a person and get braver… and the more that I do, the more I believe in myself that I’ll be able to do a whole hell of alot more.

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There is definitely a place for good mentors and wise community in our lives.  I have certain friends that I talk to about different specific things because I appreciate their intuition and wisdom.  One friend is basically my “relationship with the other gender” guru, because when I tell her what I’m thinking or struggling with or just gobsmacked about, she knows EXACTLY what I’m talking about without having to explain in great detail what I mean.  She just gets it.  Another friend is my “let’s work together to get over our childhood traumas and wounds” guru….she’s got amazing wisdom on learning to wake up to ourselves and practically heal the broken areas of our lives. Then there are people I turn to for pragmatic things, like money matters, or how to fix “this broken thing in my house”, or a myriad of other decisions that I’m facing.

But, I no longer rely on each of these people to make my decisions for me.  I no longer want them to.  I want and value their opinions, but I’m much more willing these days to fail, and fail splendidly, than to outsource my life as I once did.

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When I stopped consulting the committee, this is what I discovered: I’m living MY life instead of living one imagined by a bunch of random people that might not even know each other.  The more I trust myself, the deeper I go and discover there’s a bigger, expansive, more interesting “me” than I had ever imagined.  I’m the only one ultimately and completely invested in me, and I’m the one who has to live with myself forever, so it’s way better for me to make the choices that are right for me than to let other people steer the ship.

Finally, a life of nothing but consulting the committee is often a life of playing it safe, of adhering to the conventional wisdom that might not really be so wise, of staying small and close-minded, of not really ever knowing what you could be if you just started listening to that little, quiet gut voice inside you…

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So, going back to my tendency to preface questions I ask of people….this is a lingering area where I still consult the committee.  Is it OK for me to ask this question?  Is it OK for me to say how I feel without trying to lay a ton of groundwork to make sure you’ll understand my motivations? Do I need to get permission to offer this opinion?

I know this is where my 2 on the Enneagram gets me into trouble.  I’m a people pleaser, and unfortunately, I often sacrifice myself so that other people are comfortable.  I’m almost always very transparent about myself with people, but then apologize for asking them to be transparent. I allow others to ask probing questions of me and I do my best to consider them with an open mind, but then I wonder if I overstep for asking hard questions of other people.  These days, my committee consulting is much less about asking for opinions about making big decisions, but more like asking if it’s OK for me to have certain feelings or to have specific concerns or to be curious about different things.

I’ve since decided that just as making hard decisions without completely relying on others is a practice, so it must be a practice to let go of all of my prefacing.  I need to stop asking permission to say things…and just say them.  I need to stop asking if I’m making everyone uncomfortable, or I’m too much for them, or whatever….and just be.  My right to be comfortable, and to have feelings, and to ask tough questions hoping for good answers is just as legitimate as those rights I try so hard to honor in others.

2 thoughts on “Stop Consulting the Committee

  1. Excellent, This is apt and right……, I’ve since decided that just as making hard decisions without completely relying on others is a practice, so it must be a practice to let go of all of my prefacing. I need to stop asking permission to say things…and just say them. I need to stop asking if I’m making everyone uncomfortable, or I’m too much for them, or whatever….and just be. My right to be comfortable, and to have feelings, and to ask tough questions hoping for good answers is just as legitimate as those rights.

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