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  • Dr. Dug

Mountaintop Why

Several years ago, I was at one of these coffee shops where they rotate the works of local artists. This particular day, one painting caught my eye. (Side note: This was one of many instances where my slow deliberation and forgetfulness came together in an unfortunate way, causing me to never know the artist’s name and to never again set my eyes on this painting.)


The painting depicted a distant figure standing on top of a mountain where both are backlit and, thus, in shadow. It appears to be windy, based on the figure’s clothes, and the figure has wide-spread arms and is looking upward. The name of this piece is: “Why?”.


This would have been a perfect painting for my office.




Don’t get me wrong, clients don’t (usually) come in asking “Why?” and especially not asking “Why?” in an alone-on-a-windy-mountain-top sort of way. But many clients, many people, and I often have Why? moments when changes are occurring outside of our control that seemingly lack origin, meaning, and purpose. Unfortunately, the one thing they are not lacking is impact.


For example, take a situation where your boss moves you onto a new project, taking you away from comfort, competence, and camaraderie. Apparently you were so competent and great to work with that you would be a great addition to another team. One may ask Why? in a situation like this that seems to come out of the blue, seems to lack logic, and seems to be highly non-beneficial for you.


Another example may be when your partner proclaims that they cannot be happy unless the family buys an RV. Your partner can’t really verbalize why or how this idea came to be, but they are locked in on this plan and it is clear that the rest of the family is either with them or against them. You, of course, agree, even though you may be internally screaming Why? given that this change seems to have no origin, meaning, or purpose.


Possible Responses to Unwanted Change


What are we supposed to do when uninvited changes like these enter our lives? For most of us, we may experience one or more of these stages:


Cold Shoulder. Think about when you’re at a party and in an undesirable conversation. You may partially turn your body away, give sparse eye contact, and give little-to-no verbal responses, hoping that person will catch your drift and leave you alone.


When we initially give a cold shoulder to unwanted change, we’re signaling that we’re not happy about what has happened and hope that our unhappiness stops change from happening.


Confrontation. When it becomes clear that our coldness has not swayed the situation, some of us might put up a fight. This looks different for each person. The “fight” may be to tell your boss that you’ll quit if you have to go to the new team or to tell your partner that they are clearly going through a mid-life crisis.


The Scream. What happens when the person at the party continues to talk with you, even though you have attempted to walk away and even told them that you don’t want to talk with them? Or your partner buys the RV anyway? Or your boss calls your bluff and still moves you to the other project? These are all good scenarios for a wailing Why?. You might question how you brought this misery onto yourself or what you may have done to deserve this.


Acceptance. Clients often ask me, “What’s the difference between acceptance and submission? Am I supposed to just let life happen?” The difference between acceptance and submission is that submission suggests that one is just a puppet lacking any self-determination, whereas acceptance is when one acknowledges the choice to accept or deny what is in front of them (and accept the associated consequences of that choice). 


Rewriting the Future. Although I encourage people to stay in the present, the way our brains work is that they are always playing a deduction game and mapping out what is likely going to happen in the future. When an unexpected change happens that is big enough, this requires us to rewrite the future that we had assumed was going to happen. In my opinion, this is the most difficult of all the stages and can bring with it a lot of grief and sorrow. Many of us take comfort in our faith that we’ve planned sufficiently well to have a desirable future (e.g., future job, friends, family, etc.), but when that future is erased, it can be very unsettling.


Just as every season brings change, not every change is welcome. Right now, life for many feels like it is in a constant flux - no wonder that many of us are experiencing change fatigue.


Curl Up and Hide


Is the solution to curl up and wait for the madness to pass? Unfortunately, discomfort is an inescapable part of any life that has love, passion, and value. Another version of hiding is to go even deeper into the "Why" and distract yourself with an overextended exploration of how this came to be.

Rather than trying to escape the inescapable, choose to embrace the people, events, and aspects in your life that give value to every day and make a commitment to what happens next.


My Missed Opportunity

I punished myself with Why-ing for a while after missing that painting and artist. However, although I still have regret and miss what-could-have-been, that experience also taught me to not let opportunities pass me on by or to assume that opportunities will wait around for me.

Coming Back Down


So as you stand on top of that windy and wild mountaintop, remember that there will be many more Why?’s in your future. Re-orient yourself to what actually matters and that will help guide you back down to reconnect to a meaningful life. 


Wishing everyone well! #DoctorDug #LittleThingsFromDrDug

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