Tom was undeniably smart, and the knowledge he had accumulated in his field was quite impressive. He’d been at the organization from its beginning and had brought in a large number of clients. Unfortunately, as a result, he was basically given the right to do whatever he wanted, and he often showed little to no thought as to how his actions affected those around him. When I began working at this organization, I addressed some of these concerns. Although the management made an attempt to establish some new order, Tom defiantly resisted like a spoiled child.
I was completely appalled by Tom’s arrogant behavior and he knew it. This 33-year-old know-it-all had a masterful way of getting under my skin. He was rude, unkind, and blatantly unprofessional. Tom was a bully, and I would often hear him shaming and belittling others to get what he wanted.
Now I must admit, although I could often see through Tom’s behavior, it didn’t always serve me well. As I mentioned, Tom was a bully. I happen to be a child-abuse survivor who was raised by a bully. Although I’ve completed years of life-altering therapy, Tom still triggered me.
Over time, I found myself falling into the same pattern I recognized in others: shutting down and not being myself when Tom was around. My smile became nothing more than a front to prop up my strongly held belief that I should remain professional at all times. However, there was no denying the measurable effect this was having on my level of performance. The worst part of this whole experience? My awareness that I was allowing someone else to have that kind of power over me.
A friend of mine once shared how she often heard her yoga instructor using the phrase “stay your own mat” as a gentle admonition to avoid comparison and judgement. I’ve adopted that phrase as a constant reminder that the only person I have control over is ME.
In a moment of clarity, I realized I had an important decision to make. Would I lean in to my discomfort—the place where the greatest growth comes—or run from it? I wanted the growth!
From that moment on, I made a conscious decision to stay on my own mat and stop looking at anything Tom did. I tried my best to allow him to be who he was and accept it. If he didn’t care about good people skills and professionalism as I did, I accepted it. If he chose to look the other way when I was talking, that was his choice. I made it my goal to stay completely indifferent toward him, but at the same time continuing to be myself with others.
Now let me tell you, this was not an easy task. There were many times on many days when I had to say, “Shawn, stay on your own mat.” Surprisingly enough, after I made this shift and stuck to it, things did change. But most importantly for my own growth, I changed.
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