I love a good challenge. One of my favorites, a challenge I strive to meet on a daily basis, is to ferret out my assumptions. Once exposed to the light of day, my assumptions often melt away like the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz, toward the end, when Dorothy douses her with water. My assumption-busting “hobby” sometimes takes the form of figuring out what I have been telling myself I can’t do and then taking the necessary steps in order to do it. In this manner, I enjoy proving myself—my assumptions—wrong.
Attending law school solidified my assumption-busting propensities. After all, legal analysis is, in large part, about examining assumptions and using evidence to either support or disprove those assumptions. Much of my mediation training and experience has been about becoming aware of assumptions, both my own and those of my clients, learning to see beyond them, and helping my clients to do the same.
As mediators well know, being fully present for someone who is going through a difficult time is often transformative. It is, however, impossible for me to be fully present when a symphony of judgments and conclusions, borne of assumptions, is taking place inside my head. Lately, due to result of a series of misunderstandings and miscommunications, I have been stepping back and quietly observing how my thoughts tend to be noisily ruled by assumptions, and, even worse, how those assumptions have a destructive impact on my personal and professional life. This is the story of one such miscommunication; a tale of how one mediator’s assumption met another mediator’s assumption, and as a result, both mediators ended up 40 miles apart (literally).
In my “former life” as a certified divorce financial analyst, I would often work alongside divorce mediators. At the time of this incident, my office was in a small town near Burlington, Vermont, but I would regularly travel to attend mediations in other parts of this relatively small state. A couple of summers ago, I met a mediator who practices primarily in the capital city of Montpelier, which is about 45 minutes from Burlington. She contacted me because she was coming to Burlington to check out a part-time office rental so that her clients who live or work near Burlington wouldn’t have to travel to Montpelier. We had lunch in Burlington that day and talked about our practices. A few weeks (and many thoughts and assumptions) later, she contacted me to see if I would be interested in working on the financial aspects of a divorce mediation involving new clients. I unhesitatingly said yes, and she gave me the date, time and location—110 Main Street, second floor. On the appointed day, I arrived in Montpelier 15 minutes early, having driven 45 minutes from my office, only to find there was no second floor at 110 Main Street. I called her cell phone and explained the situation. She said, “Where are you?” “I’m in Montpelier,” I said, to which she replied, “I’m in Burlington.” I turned around and headed straight back to 110 Main Street in Burlington. In the weeks since we had first met, I had completely forgotten about her office space in Burlington, so I assumed we were meeting at her office in Montpelier. She, on the other hand, assumed that, because we had first connected in Burlington, where she had told me she was looking at an office space……well, you get the picture.
On the ride back, I contemplated (and laughed at) the folly of it all. I had some fleeting negative self-talk, such as: “I’m going to be late; I wasted time and gas; I could have just driven 15 minutes from my office.” I realized how easy it would be to give those thoughts life-draining power and energy. While it was true that I was going to be late and that I had wasted time and gas, it didn’t really matter, as there was nothing I could do about it anyway. I decided to let go of the self-defeating brain chatter before it got a hold of me. And once again, I was reminded that, in the end, letting go is truly a decision. As a result of that decision, I was left with an inner smile instead of an inner frown. I laughed at my own folly and at the irony of how I, who had been working so hard at becoming aware of assumptions, had succumbed to yet another assumption. I thought to myself, surely there must be a great cosmic humorist in the sky who enjoys creating custom challenges designed to make him or her—and me—laugh.
I arrived at the mediation a half hour late. It was already in progress, so I slipped in quietly and seamlessly. After the mediation, the mediator and I apologized to each other for our mutual assumptions and shared a good laugh over the situation.
I have thought a lot about that day and how I got to experience first-hand that, as a tool, the mind can serve either the master of negativity or the master of the spirit and heart. By questioning my assumptions, I can make space for presence. By seeing how blame, judgment and negative thinking are parasites, constantly seeking an opportunity to fester, I can choose to ignore those demons and put my focus instead on learning, growing, and making space for love, laughter and forgiveness.
I do indeed love a good challenge.