Turning a Liability into an Asset

My son called me a few days ago from college a bit giddy with excitement. Was it a class? Was it new and exciting information? Was it a (gulp!) girl? The answer is… well, it was kinda all of em. Huh? Let me explain.

When my son went to college he was able to reconnect with a childhood friend; a friend he had not had much contact with since he was basically a toddler.

When they DID reconnect it was prior to them hitting the campus and his friend (it just so happens) has parents that both attended the same college and helped her – and subsequently, Alek – learn the ins-and-outs of getting in and getting situated for campus life, and they were even able to get some classes together. His friend was very helpful in getting him all set up for college life.

However, once they got on campus and in class Alek come to a realization. This girl, a sweet enough (and very importantly to him, attractive girl) was a bit, well, whiney. Let’s say, for instance, she had an assignment due sooner than she’d like. It was not unusual for her to exclaim. “I think I’m gonna cry.” Or let’s say she had to do something she didn’t want to do at all. She’d often say in a whiny way, “I don’t think I can get all this done. I don’t have the time. What am I gonna do?”

Needless to say, internally, this didn’t go over too well with Alek since Alek was working at a job that was 5 miles away from campus (and riding his bike to and from each day) putting in 20 hours a week simply to pay his own way through college – and watching as the only bike his friend was riding was the “parents paying all bills so she could hit all the games and parties” bike.

But because Alek has a Mom… and has learned well that “sometimes it’s better to keep your mouth shut” he was simply enduring the incessant whining. Alek didn’t want to be a bad friend and “ditch” the girl (that’s what I was recommending) but surely knew that the more he hung out with her, the more annoyed he became, and heaven forbid she starts to rub off on him – which is usually what happens when you spend a lot of time with someone.

So, why did my son call so giddy, you may ask? Nope, he didn’t ditch her. He created a plan – a plan I might add that lead to his giddiness.

When he called me he told me he had decided to do (with her) what he does with Erik and Ricky, his two little brothers affected by autism which was this. When THEY melt down or flip out, he’s not surprised by it, because that’s who they are and that’s what they do. He manages HIMSELF more effectively and does the most productive things he can FOR THEM, instead of getting agitated and frustrated. THAT’S what he decided to do with her.

The next time she said, “I think I’m gonna cry” instead of getting a bit annoyed, he smiled, because that’s who she is and that’s what she does. He wasn’t frustrated or agitated. That, in itself made it easier for him to stop being so internally irritated.

THEN he decided to take it one step further and allow the things she did, to trigger a more positive response – kind of like he did with Erik and Ricky. It wasn’t enough to just accept who she is and manage himself, rather, he decided to also try and do what was best FOR HER. In this case, he decided that maybe – what would be best for her – was to help her RE-FOCUS on something more positive.

The example he gave me of this was great. As they were walking across campus one day, frustrated, she said, “I just have too much to do. I think I’m gonna cry.” He replied by stopping, looking up at the mountains and saying, “Look at the mountains and how beautiful they are. It’s so beautiful it doesn’t even look real, huh? Can you believe how lucky we are to be here right now having all the fun we’re having at college?” Then he started walking again.

Alek said she stopped walking, listened to him, and then ran to catch up with him again after he started walking and starting smiling and laughing and immediately snapped herself out of her whiney state.

Since then, every time she lapses in to a whiney state, Alek replies with a statement that identifies a specific example of happiness and joy. The real cool part for Alek is that now – he says – that every time she fusses, he is reminded of how GREAT his life is because he’s forced to find something good to say and smile about. Her complaining has changed from a LIABILITY to an ASSET. And he is reaping the benefits of spending time with her.

Whether or not SHE ever gets ANY benefit from Alek’s new strategy, HE had become happier, less frustrated and more cheerful than ever to spend time with her. Of course, we all know that Alek will, at some point, rub off on her whether she likes it or not. It’s what happens when you spend a lot of time with someone.

When Alek was at home before he went off to college, because of Erik and Ricky and the dynamic THEY brought to our family, we frequently discussed how we couldn’t necessarily change them and the way they did things, but WE COULD change the way we thought and acted and responded to them. We could REFRAME our experiences so that we could BENEFIT from even difficult happenings.

It seems the message stuck.

Well, what do you know?

You know, sometimes I hesitate to share these types of experiences because I worry that others will see me as arrogant or braggadocios. But then I have to say, “I don’t care because that’s not the point.” Yes, I am proud of my kids, yes, I am excited when I see their success, but believe me when I say, “This is not about me or them, rather it’s about the experience and applying techniques that lead to happier, more fulfilling more productive lives.”

No matter what circumstances you find yourself in, you can help yourself and help others by deciding to change the way you react and view you situation. Just ask Alek.

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