It is so easy and so human to get twisted up with this idea, but the more you can stay in your own lane, the better. Any time I find myself thinking I know what someone else ought to feel, say or do, I realize I’m avoiding my own work. I have yet to meet another human being who has their own stuff so dialed in, they’re in a position to start weighing in on anyone else’s behavior, choices or way of being.
But it’s so appealing, isn’t it? Don’t we love to think we have all the answers when we stand on the sidelines of someone else’s life? If only they would do this (insert your opinion here), everything would get better for them! A lot of the time, our tendency to want to manage another person’s path is coming out of love. We want to help someone avoid pain or steer around a pothole we can see in the road that they don’t seem to see coming. It’s natural to find it excruciating to watch someone we love suffer, but sometimes we all need to struggle in order to strengthen. I know there have been times in my own life during the gnarlier moments of my healing process when I knew full well I was getting on a train that was going to crash into a brick wall, but I didn’t have the strength yet to not get on the train. We learn the lessons when we’re ready, and not a moment sooner. No one else can do that work for us, and even if you drag someone off the train, the minute you turn your back, they’re gonna jump back on unless they are ready to choose a different road themselves. See also: you can’t save anyone. This is particularly tough to swallow if we’re talking about our children or our partners, but there are times when the most loving thing we can do is just be there to listen, to help pick up the pieces, to offer our hugs and our hearts and our belief in them.
Have you ever tried to manage someone’s reaction to something you desperately need to say or do for your own well-being, sanity, or ability to survive? Maybe you’ve swallowed your own feelings to avoid hurting someone else? That’s also not staying in your own lane. I have found that most people want to be dealing with the truth, even if it’s heartbreaking. Most people would choose dignity and respect over pity or avoidance. That doesn’t mean compassion and sensitivity aren’t key when you need to share something you know is painful or disappointing with someone you care for, but most people would rather have full-on love instead of half-measures. And everyone deserves full-on love.
When I find myself trying to manage another person’s path, I remind myself I don’t drive the big bus with the LIFE license plate, I drive a tiny little car with the Ally license plate. That’s the car I get to drive, and even then it isn’t easy. That alone is plenty of work, especially if I want to show up in the world with compassion, patience, empathy, understanding and a sense of humor. And I do want to do that! Even if I stay focused on that work, I still don’t control the road ahead of me. I still might find myself in a falling rock zone, or a sudden storm, I still might get blown off the road by a tornado I failed to see on the horizon, or I might get a flat or my AC might break on a really hot day. All I get to work on is how I respond to whatever happens. I get to check my oil, make sure my tires have enough air, clean my windshield, pick a speed that’s safe for me and other travelers on the road, use my turn signals, pay attention to the signs, use a map or find my own way…but I don’t control the rest (and neither do you).
Sending you lots of love on the windy road,
Ally Hamilton Hewitt