Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Value of Emotional Independence

The other day I was driving, and Brad Paisley's "Letter To Me" came on the radio, and I got to thinking some deep thoughts....

I have many young people in my life; family members, friend's kids, and riding students.  Occasionally, I get to have those important conversations where you have the opportunity to impart advice on their young minds, and hopefully, represent a positive influence in their lives.  This song made me think of a recent situation with a family member of mine who is struggling right now.  What would I tell a younger version of myself?  What important advice do you wish that you could give to the young people in your life that would save them some misery in the growing pains of life?

The thing that immediately came to mind is: be emotionally independent.  No one can "make you" happy, sad, angry, depressed, secure, insecure, nor is it anyone's responsibility to do so.   You are completely in charge of your own emotions.  Nor are you responsible for anyone else emotions either.  Someone cuts you off in traffic?  Doesn't mean you get to be a jerk when you walk into the office.  Someone criticizes a project of yours? Doesn't mean you are allowed to blow up.  Life a little tough lately?  Not an excuse to throw a temper tantrum.  Yes, there certainly are 'safe' places and situations in which you can vent, scream and yell in frustration, throw yourself on the floor and act like a total baby.  That is what close friends and therapists are for.  But even then, care must be taken so that when you are finished getting it all off your chest, you stand up, move on, and realize that you put yourself in whatever situation you are in.  You got yourself there, through action or inaction, and the only person who can change it is you.

How does this apply to horses?  A good horse trainer maintains control and responsibility for what happens when working with their horses.  If the horse makes a mistake, a good trainer doesn't get angry - unless it is at him/herself, for not being clear enough, not being prepared enough, for missing a step.  A good trainer isn't reactive, but proactive.  A good trainer recognizes their mistake, acknowledges it and corrects themselves.  You can't correct anything if you are always 100% sure that you are in the right. You never grow when you are always right.

This advice may resonate with some adults too. I am quite sure that the most successful business people are those that know how to maintain their composure and their emotional independence.  No one wants to invest in people who refuse to filter themselves, don't have any impulse control and have big emotional responses to everything that happens to them.  It reeks of instability, immaturity and self-centeredness.

Like anyone else, as a teenager I was dramatically emotional, but through several life experiences, came to this knowledge after getting repeatedly hit in the head with it.  We either figure it out, or we don't.  I feel like I have, or at least, I am conscientiously working toward it.  So that is what I would put in my letter to me...."get to that point sooner, so you can begin living YOUR life."