If you caught my last post, you heard me talk about my pursuit to be more accepting of perfection in my life, which I ponder as the primary ingredient in experiencing joy. On the flip side of that same coin is incompatibility [noun] – the condition of two things being so different in nature as to be incapable of coexisting. The irony is that even though incompatible situations and incompatible relationships come with negative emotions for you and/or the people you care about, for some strange reason, we are often incapable – or more accurately: unwilling – of letting them go.

Personally, when I inch towards an incompatible situation or person, to label it as such often feels like I’m giving up. And I don’t like giving up. It’s as if perhaps I should just try a little harder, or adjust my perspective, and then I can make this conflicting or inappropriate or incongruous situation flip from being incompatible to appropriateAnd if it is appropriate, because of the shift in perspective, then I no longer have to deal with the consequences that come with ending a situation or relationship. It’s like that first taste of hard alcohol, or that first cigarette – it’s terrible – but with time I can learn to appreciate this thing that’s bad for me. The art is discerning what is a challenge/hurdle/resistance (something that with time will naturally go away) and what is incompatible (something that will not naturally go away – and therefore continue the negative emotions that it’s causing) – perhaps the perfect litmus test.

If I’ve ever seen a master at this, it’s Dr. Dre. One example of this is when he left N.W.A. just after they hit #1 on the Billboard Charts. Dre and N.W.A. were literally on top, but he had the audacity to recognize his situation as incompatible, and left the group. Can you imagine the pressure he was under when thinking through that decision – how many people he was going to piss off, let down, the money on the line, etc etc? And leaving any group of people – especially one that you built something with – can challenge us to our most primitive core. Of course, Dre’s tough, but in a clip from HBO’s The Defiant Ones, Dr. Dre said he felt “out on my own” and that he’s “gotta start over.” Nooooo!!!!!! Who fuckin wants to do that?! But that decision led him to the SSL board, which would ultimately turbocharge his path towards true greatness.

Making a decision to leave a musical group when it’s #1 on the Billboard charts has to be more of gutsy move than 99.99999999% of us will ever make – most of us would ride that wave into death and despair before jumping ship. But then Dre goes and does it again. In 1996, with 50% ownership in the company (which had revenues over $150 million per year), Dr. Dre decided to walk away from Death Row Records without asking for a single cent. And this time the pressure was way higher than previously with N.W.A. As Snoop’s assessment of the situation was: “No n**** you can’t leave. And if you do leave n****, you gonna leave in a box. That’s Death Row.” But Snoop was wrong – Dre left Death Row Records and his business partner Suge Night, while 2Pac stuck around, riding shotgun in Suge’s BMW 750iL. 2Pac ended up dead and Dr. Dre ended up a billionaire. Why? Because he recognized incompatible relationships and an incompatible situation – and most importantly: acted.

Dr. Dre’s set of circumstances was unique, but we all face instances in our relationships, in our profession, in our family, and in our community that will test our ability to recognize situations that would ultimately serve us to stay away from, get out of, or say no to. Personally, I’m getting much better at identifying incompatibility, however, if I have history in a relationship or there’s money or glamour involved, actually having the courage to act on what I recognize is still a real challenge. Here’s what I’m going to try:

  1. Take note when I, or the people I care about, show a pattern of feeling a negative emotion or that something’s not quite right.
  2. Identify what’s causing that negative feeling and qualify it as a red flag.
  3. Use my imagination to see what that red flag looks like in the future – if it’s a situation, imagine that situation being bigger and more ingrained in your life; and if it’s in a relationship, image those red flags developing.
  4. Ask myself if it’s more likely for those red flags to naturally go away? Or will they continue on and possibly even grow?
  5. If they will naturally go away, it’s a hurdle that I should perhaps persevere through. But if the red flags continue, that means that the negative emotions continue as well, and it’s time to identify that situation as incompatible.
  6. If I proceed because I believe that the red flags will go away, I should take action to communicate or personally note how things will change – and make sure that the red flags do actually go away with time – don’t learn to cope. And if the situation or relationship is deemed incompatible, I have to have the courage to end it.

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Activity for shits and giggles

Situation: You have a new job that’s more demanding of your time than you originally expected. There are parts of it that you love so much, but there are also some outside consequences that you didn’t anticipate. The primary one is that, because of training and onboarding, you’re logging way more hours than you expected and that’s making you drained and causing some discord in your relationships. These long hours seem like they will most likely last for three months.

Using the steps above:

  1. I’m physically and emotionally drained and the people I care about aren’t feeling like they’re getting enough quality time.
  2. Red flag: if I work too many hours, I’m drained and my relationships are strained.
  3. If I imagine the future, I will have more control over my schedule. After all, this time-intensive training has a definitive end date.
  4. This red flag should go away naturally.
  5. This is a hurdle. There are many aspects I love about this job and once I have more control over my schedule, I will make sure to create the work/life balance that I want – after all, this control is one of the original things that attracted me to the job.
  6. I’m going to take action now by connecting with my colleges to ensure that in fact, my expectation for a less demanding schedule is realistic. And I will also get a clear timeline for when I will have the schedule I desire. Once I know this information, I will take a deep breath and will also communicate it to those affected.

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Situation: You have a friend that no longer brings you up. You met them through circumstance and because you helped each other out through good times and bad, they became one of your closest friends – after all, you had a lot of fun together. You two always talked about traveling to South America and they just emailed you a travel agenda that they’ve been working on for a month. The email subject line is: “It’s time! LET’S GO!!!!” But after opening the email, which you’ve been avoiding for days, you’re thinking I really don’t want to do this.

  1. I’m not feeling excitement at all, and I’m actually feeling like this is one of the last ways that I want to spend my time and money.
  2. Red flag: My friendship has shifted with this person and I don’t think I’m capable of being there for them in the same way that I used to be – particularly when it requires a lot of time. If they ever needed anything, I’d be there for them, but things have simply changed.
  3. If I go on this trip, there is a very high probability that I will have an ok time at best. And if I imagine this relationship beyond this trip, there is a good chance that they will continue to ask me to be there for them in this kind of way again and again.
  4. This red flag will not go away naturally.
  5. This relationship is incompatible.
  6. Tell them that you will not be able to make the trip as soon as possible, which will allow them to A) not continue planning what you two will be doing B) allow them to potentially find someone else to join or C) give up on the trip and spend their time working on something more productive. The hardest part here is to not create an excuse like “I don’t have the money” or any of the other popular ones. Perhaps you could explain to them how your relationship has changed, or perhaps you could just tell them that you won’t be able to make it – hoping that they will leave it that. But if they want to have that conversation, the clarity will be helpful (though painful) for everyone. On the other hand, if you simply create an excuse, then that communicates that you do want to go, which isn’t fair to them and exposes a lack of courage in yourself.

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