What Would You Do If You Were a Grown-Up?

Oct 18, 2013

I know this seems like a very odd question because, well, you’re probably thinking, I am a grown-up.  But, are you really?  All of the time?

Being a grown-up has nothing to do with age.  It has everything to do with mindsets, and, let’s face it, sometimes we behave like children fighting our way through multiple tantrums.  Simply stated, we know we are right, and we want our own way.

This very question was one of those put to me by my favorite mentor, the renowned Charlie Seashore.  Charlie was one of those rare individuals who could ask you one question, and suddenly your whole world was demystified.

I was blessed to have Charlie on my dissertation committee over the past few years; he passed away in January, 2013, and I miss him terribly.  As someone who touched the lives of thousands throughout his illustrious career, Charlie was committed to helping you be the best you could be.

So, I reached out to him one afternoon in great frustration. One of my professors had viciously attacked my work.  Charlie quickly discerned that I was emotionally distraught.

In the moment of confrontation, I had thought, How dare she suggest that I hadn’t put the effort into the project. I pride myself on excellence;I’m a model student.  How was this possible?

Charlie listened, and then he hit me with an even stronger comment.  Your response to her remark says more about you than it does about her, he said.


Okay, that was like a bullet to the chest.  But, I got it.  Charlie was right again.  This professor had hit a nerve alright, a nerve called pride.  My over-achiever self had reared her ugly head and inwardly screamed, how dare you!

What would you do if you were a grown-up, Charlie asked again.

Darned if I knew.  I was too busy being a child.  It was the old transactional analysis scenario that I had taught for years.  My professor was the parent speaking to me like I was a child, and I fell right into the trap with my emotional response.  I didn’t cry.  I didn’t yell.  I just shut down and let her punish me.

 Use of Self:

The underlying premise of Charlie’s questions were based on his Use of Self work.  It’s a fairly simplistic model that emphasizes the importance of our focusing on what we can control, our use of self.  Out tendency to blame, control or fix others is of no consequence.  We can’t control the other guy or often the situation, but we can control our own response.

I believe deeply in this model of thought and response.  I’ve taught it for years, yet, somehow, all my wisdom and understanding had dissipated under the threat of what felt like a personal attack.

In that moment of confrontation, I was shocked, hurt, confused, paralyzed.

Thanks, Charlie, for, well, just being Charlie.  And, for reminding me that I really do know how to think and act like a group-up.  At least some of the time.

What Grown-Ups Do: 

1.  Pay Attention to  Emotions:  As Charlie so wisely stated, your reaction says more about you than it does the other person.  This person has hit a nerve. What specifically triggered your deepest emotion? Why has this remark hurt or upset you?  What can you learn about yourself through this experience?

2.  Focus on the Outcome: What is it that you are trying to accomplish?  Whatever it is, chances are that emotional, childlike retaliation won’t get you there.  Think about the pointed responses or questions you can offer the other person.  The object is to to disarm any negativity or resistance between you so that you can move forward to positive resolution.

3.  Engage in Assertive Tactics:  There is so much to be said for assertiveness it requires several blogs.  Let me just say for now that assertiveness is based on facts not emotion.  If you’re focusing on being right or being the wounded child, you will communicate from emotion.  A grown-up has the facts, and he strategically communicates those facts with clarity and purposeful intention.

4.  Shift Your Attitude:  Theoretically, grown-ups should be able to see beyond their own ego-centric needs to the needs of others.  Maybe the person who wounded you is wounded herself.  You may need to open your heart and mind to the fact that the confrontation has nothing to do with you.  Or, you may have to accept the possibility that maybe you do have some changes to make.

Whatever the scenario, it’s always better to take the high ground.  Develop awareness of your own thinking and how you respond to people and situations based on that thinking.  Ask yourself that simple question, what would I do if I were a grown-up?  Step into it.  It’s an interesting journey, one worthy of exploration.

Charlie reminded me that I’m in control of every situation.  Maybe not in terms of the practical elements of every scenario, but clearly in terms of how I think and respond in the moment.

Question:  Think of a recent challenge, how could you have turned it around by being a grown-up?   

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