Have you ever seen a Lemon tree? When the tree is in full bloom becomes overgrown with Lemons. The branches bend and sag under their weight, but never snap. Sometimes, the lemons fall off the tree before they are ripe enough to pick; fragrant little balls are scattered all over the ground as if placed there intentionally as decoration.
Every year for the last three years or so, I have harvested my parents’ lemon tree. I’ve picked hundreds of lemons, suffered countless cuts by the tiny thorns on the branches, and juiced so many lemons I could probably fill a bathtub. We’re coming to the end of the lemon season here in the southwest, and as I was searching for the last few lemons still clinging to the tree, it got me thinking about my own life and how much life can be like the lemon tree and the fruit it bears.
Take the tree. It’s pretty. Before lemons ever start to emerge, it is full of bright green leaves. The leaves have tiny green buds that slowly grow into little green balls and finally, the bright yellow lemon emerges. The fragrance of the tree is crisp, fresh, and sweet. Not just the lemons, but even the leaves of the tree are soaked with the sweet smell. Sometimes, before I start picking the fruit, I press my nose directly to a leaf and take in the fragrance with one slow, giant breath.
I’ve gotten so lost in the fresh scent and the pretty bright lemons that thorns have caught me by surprise. Every branch of the tree is covered with thorns so tiny that they can’t even be seen as if protecting the lemon. Although they are tiny, they prick you with the might of a giant needle. Is life unlike that? So full of beauty but not without its thorns.
Now, take the lemon. To me, the lemon is an uplifting fruit to look at, with its smooth round shape and fun yellow color. The lemon makes me think of all things bright and clean. Don’t be fooled by its cheery appearance and sweet smell, though! We all know the sourness hiding inside. But, here’s the best part: the lemon can be made sweet.
Having picked lemons for the last three years, I’ve turned the sourest lemon into the sweetest candy. I’ve made marmalades, butter, jams, and pies. I’ve even used the juice of the lemon to make homemade cleaning solutions and air fresheners. There may not be another fruit as versatile as the lemon! For all its sourness, it can be changed into almost anything. Wouldn’t it be great if we could learn how to do that with our own lives?
Life, like the lemon tree, must be tended to or it can get out of control. Just as branches sag and buckle under the weight of too many lemons, so our lives will get bogged down if we don’t tend to the things which need tending. No matter how beautiful or perfect life looks there will always be thorns, but despite its thorns, our life should always be bearing fruit. Sure, some fruit will fall off the tree and other fruit will harden and stick before it can be picked… but the majority of the fruit will ripen to its peak. Here’s the thing though: you have to do something with the lemon once it’s picked or it will not mature beyond its natural bitter state. So many possibilities the lemon has, but it’s up to us to use it.
I strive to bear fruit like a lemon. How do you look at life? Do you see just a lemon, bitter and sour? Or do you see a lemon for all its possibilities?
Patricia Bodry at Vertikal Life Magazine
If you want to put your relationships onto a more assertive footing, and earn more respect from others (while at the same time, showing your respect for them also), there’s no better way to do it than with the following techniques: 1. “I” Messages, Not “You” Messages
When we use “You” messages, as in “You make me angry” or “You made me do that”, we disown our feelings, make others responsible for how we feel, and, for good measure, pass judgment on their behaviour. It’s no surprise that “you” messages are called “poison phrases”. In Assertiveness, “you” messages are replaced by “I” messages. “I” messages dispassionately describe the feelings we have and the event that caused these feelings. We own them and don’t blame others.
Not: “You make me so angry when you turn up late.”But: “I feel angry when you turn up late.” 2. Describe, don’t evealuate
When we talk about ourselves and others, we often use evaluations without thinking: “She’s so clever!”; “He’s so rude!”; “I’m such a fool!” Evaluations are value judgments. They unwittingly praise or condemn at a stroke. Assertive people avoid evaluative words and phrases. They know the difference between who people are and what they do. They may condemn what people do, but they never condemn who people are.
Not: “He’s so absent-minded!”But: “He turns up late to our meetings about twice a week.” 3. Specific, not generalized words
When we want to make a strong point to others, we often exaggerate or generalize. “You’re always leaving the lid off the toothpaste” is not likely to be factually true, but it expresses how strongly we feel. A more honest approach is to use specific statements. These are accurate, less likely to lead to arguments and, because they specify the problem, make it easier to find solutions.Instead of the universal and generalized statement: “You don’t love me,” be specific and say what you want: “When you come home from work, I’d love it if we could stop and have a cuddle now and again.” 4. “Just” and “only”
We often allow the words “just” and “only” to slip into our everyday language to show how little we think of someone or something eg “He’s only a waiter” or “It’s just a scratch”. This can sometimes be interpreted as a put-down. Instead, avoid the words altogether and see the difference you make. 5. Fogging
“Fogging” is an assertive way of dealing with dishonest or indirect put-downs from others. In “fogging”, you treat the put-down as serious, pick out and agree with any truth in what is said and at the same time show the other person your refusal to rise to the bait of their sarcasm.
Boss: (as you arrive late for the second time this week): “I see the train’s running late again, then!”You: “Yes, that’s twice this week and it’s made me late on both occasions. I’m going to have to re-think my travel arrangements if this continues.” 6. Broken record
“Broken record” takes its name from a stuck gramophone record. It is a technique for repeating over and over what you want when someone refuses to listen. It can be used when someone is making a demand on you that you don’t want to accept, or you are trying to make a point to someone else that they don’t want to accept. Because broken record depends on a repetition of your point, it is easy for your words and actions to become heated and possibly aggressive. Because of this, make sure that you let others know that you are listening to them, that you accept their right to an opinion, but that you are not going to be deflected from what you want. 7. Constructive feedback
Giving people feedback is one of the defining functions of managers. You can give two kinds of feedback: complimentary or critical. The danger in being too complimentary is that the receivers become complacent; the danger in being too critical is that the receivers take offence. You can avoid both these traps by using Constructive Feedback.
Constructive Feedback tells people what you liked about something they did as well as what you didn’t like. It is essentially an assertive way of paying a compliment while also offering a view on how someone might change. Constructive Feedback only gives your views about someone’s behaviour, not about them as individuals. When delivered successfully, it makes people feel good and helps them move forward.
Many of the arguments between people arise through the inappropriate or incorrect use of language. By checking what we say, and finding more honest means of expression, we can move in one leap from rubbing people up the wrong way to stroking them with respect and care.
You are asked to join a committee that meets over lunch every Friday. You promised yourself you would refrain from any additional committee work. This also means you need to tell Jane you can no longer join her for power walks. “We need you to finish the outline for the project team. John was supposed to finish it but he says he is too busy. Have it done by tomorrow, ok?” Do you feel as though people seem to single you out for extra work? Do you often feel like a dumping ground? Do you feel resentful, wondering why you seem to find yourself in these situations – overwhelmed and overextended?
You have more power here than you realize. People don’t know what’s on your plate. And while it may be flattering that they think you’ll be good for the task, that doesn’t make it fit into your schedule any easier. Just because people ask doesn’t mean you have to comply. It’s not what other people do or ask of you but rather how you respond that causes your angst and happiness.
Why are you being ‘nice’?
What does it mean to be ‘nice’? Usually, when we think about someone who is ‘nice’, we describe him as thoughtful, kind, considerate, warm, and welcoming. He is genuine, perhaps compassionate. A ‘nice’ person possesses certain qualities that make him someone we regard in a positive way
But, is being ‘nice’ always positive? Can your focus on being ‘nice’ get in the way of your success?
‘Nice’ is one of those catch-all words that means a lot of different things. If you focus on being ‘nice’, you might find that you are not achieving the results you want, that people aren’t treating you with the respect you want. You seem to get passed over for the promotions. People just don’t seem to take you seriously.
Being ‘nice’ is not the best way for a leader to lead. ‘Nice’ has to do with the delivery, not the essence of what you say or do. ‘Nice’ describes how you do what you do. Leaders lead by doing the right thing and they do it in a ‘nice’ way.
When you focus on being nice, you often say “yes” to things you don’t want to do, saying “no” to yourself and dismissing your own values and responsibilities. Perhaps you simply don’t know how to say “no” or you may be habituated to answer “yes”.
Perhaps you simply don’t want people to feel bad, so you say “yes” whenever possible. You want to be liked. It scares you to consider that someone may not think fondly of you.
It takes a lot of energy to concern yourself with what other people think about you. Meanwhile, you become a dumping ground. This has the opposite effect to the happiness and respect you want.
As you say “yes” to everything and everyone, you have more and more to do, become more and more stressed, have less time to focus on your own work and responsibilities, and become more and more resentful and angry. Your evaluations may even suffer because you have less time to focus on your own stuff and are more focused on looking good for others.
However, resentment is more about you than others; resentment is anger at yourself for not asserting yourself and for not taking care of yourself. There is always a toll when you put other people before your own well-being.
What do you value?
Consider this: What is it costing you to not honor yourself and your values? What do you lose by spending your time, energy, and effort on pleasing others by being ‘nice’? How are your relationships suffering? Your health? Your work?
The reality is that our lives are a reflection of the expression of our values. Whatever you do is what you value most in this moment.
If you are busy doing things for other people and not asking yourself the hard questions about what you want and learning to turn down requests that are incongruent with your values, then you are not living true to yourself and you are hurting – even if you don’t know it!
So how do you recover from being ‘nice’? Here are three steps to doing the right thing:
1. Stop to consider what you gain by being ‘nice’
What is your motive for saying “yes” to this request? How will it serve you? Is there fear here? What are you afraid of? Is your fear taking away your power to choose?
So what if the person doesn’t like you? It’s more important for YOU to like you. YOU are the most important person in your life because at the end of the day you have no one else to answer to but YOU. YOU are responsible for the quality of your life.
2. Define ‘nice’ for yourself in other terms
Come up with meaningful words that better express how you want people to feel about you. ‘Nice’ is not a power word. ‘Compassionate’, ‘thoughtful’, ‘genuine’ – these are more powerful and appropriate words to describe how you want to be experienced by others.
3. Learn to say “no” to things that are not in you best interest
This can be very challenging for people; however, in order for you to bring more happiness and joy into your life, you must become willing to turn down those things that are not of value to you and that are not the best use of your time.
It can be challenging to shift your focus away from being ‘nice’. Focus on simply doing what is RIGHT. Is it the right thing to do right now? Is it the best use of your time? Are you the best person for this job or task? What do you want to do?
This comes up in your home life as well as your work life. Sometimes it can be difficult to say “no” to family or friends when they ask for your company or your assistance. When you learn to put yourself first and check in with your Inner Self to see what you want, then you can respond with what works best for you and do so in a way that is respectful and considerate.
If you want to go to the party and cook all of the hors d’oeuvres, that’s fine. But if you are already have commitments and you don’t want to get up at four in the morning to cook, then you need to say “no” without guilt, without feeling bad. It is the right thing to do – for you.
You cannot be everything to everybody. Focus on being your best and on making yourself happy. When you honor yourself, you find that others learn to respect you and honor you.
And when you assert yourself appropriately, you will be respectful of others.