I was sitting at the gym the other day when I looked over and saw someone using the dumbbells directly in front of the rack, blocking everyone else from using them. Annoyed, I thought, “Oh, I guess you’re the only person here that needs to use the gym, huh!?” I noticed that I was having these kinds of thoughts about a great many things - the person taking too long on a machine, someone doing an exercise wrong, or even some guy’s t-shirt (This was the “God, Guns, Gains” variety). My thoughts were not kind or generous. They were actually quite judgy, impatient and mean. I’m not sure why this day was different from any other day, but it was clear that my mind was set to “petty.”
We all have the capacity to be a little petty, I think. Sometimes we can be a little (or a lot) judgmental. And occasionally we even think things about other people that surprise us or make us uncomfortable. All people do - and that, of course, includes me.
There was a time when these thoughts made me uncomfortable - they actually brought up a lot of shame and guilt. They made me feel like something was wrong with me and that I wasn’t a good person (at the time I would have described this as not being Christlike). I believed my thoughts were a reflection of me, and that if I were transformed or pure enough, I wouldn’t experience this.
I’m happy to say I don’t do that to myself anymore. In fact, I sort of celebrate my petty side. I know, I know - that sounds very problematic - but let me explain why.
When I couldn’t be with my own negative or judgmental thoughts and feelings, I suppressed them. I resisted them and didn’t actually deal with them - so they never actually became resolved. We have a phrase in the coaching biz that captures this idea: “What you resist, persists.” Not knowing what else to do, I just kept avoiding them like they were bad and wrong.
There are a few clear problems with this thinking. One is that humans are actually remarkably poor at controlling which thoughts or feelings enter their body/minds. Much of what happens inside of us is an automatic process, outside of our control.
Another problem with this practice is that our resistance to the parts of us we judge to be “bad” actually enlivens it and makes it disproportionately present. By interacting with it (i.e. resisting it, adding judgment to it, etc.), we bring it even more powerfully into existence. I know - paradoxical. It’s like me saying “don’t think of an elephant.” What did you just think of? What just came into being?
It was 2020 during the pandemic that I realized just how much this practice was costing me. I actually had another coach in a cohort call me out, saying “I see you, Carson. Underneath that flute-playin’, cookie bakin’ Carson is a queeny, petty b*tch.” Their actual words. And the reason they called me out was because they could sense that I had all sorts of undistinguished judgments and pettiness that were getting in the way of both my coaching and my life.
At first, I was understandably defensive. This called into question the good, innocent Mormon boy persona I had created over the last 30 years. But deep down, I knew they were right. I knew that I had judgments, opinions, or feelings that I couldn’t vocalize because I feared what they meant about me.
So, I spent that year making friends with what I have heard others call the “shadow self.” For the first time, I started to own what I really thought about issues and people. This made me very uncomfortable. Whenever I was having a disruptive thought or feeling, instead of believing it was a reflection of me, I just watched it like one watches a cloud pass through the sky. I started saying, “Hmm, interesting.” I let myself witness and sometimes laugh at the absurdity, irrationality, or intensity.
By doing this, something exciting started happening - I started to experience more freedom - like the thoughts and feelings were less sticky, or I was less stickable. They simply left far more quickly than before. It was a double win - I stopped feeling guilty and started finding loads more freedom to choose who to be. After the “Hmm, interesting,” there was a space for “Now what?” This gave me the room to then choose who to be and how to act. This was revolutionary to me.
I am still practicing this. A lot. I still have a strong tendency toward presenting myself as flute-playin’, cookie bakin’ Carson, but I am working on owning all of the parts of me because I know if I can’t own those parts, they’ll own me.
Perhaps the most interesting part of all of this is that I am a far more genuinely loving, kind and generous human being than I was. I am more deeply in integrity with my values and who I want to be. It all just starts with letting all the parts of us show up and pass through unencumbered - even all the petty ones.