You Get What You Tolerate

You get what you tolerate. What do I mean by that? Am I saying that everyone is responsible for everything that happens to them in life? No. History is replete with examples of people in absolutely untenable situations not of their own doing. Having said that, as a basic life lesson or starting point, you could do worse than embracing and operating from the philosophy: you will get what you tolerate. This holds true in life. It also holds true in negotiations.

Let’s start, as always, with your first negotiation: with yourself. What you tolerate of and for yourself is what you’ll get. So often, we stay in our comfort zone, afraid of the unknown; afraid of pushing our limits; afraid to challenge status quo, our own beliefs, the beliefs of those in our life. This is a mistake. Staying in the comfort zone inevitably leads to stagnation in one form or another. You won’t reach your full potential by staying comfortable. You won’t achieve your dreams or fulfill your vision by hanging back in your comfortable space. Few people reach the end of their life and feel relieved at having played it safe. Most end-of-life regrets are for chances not taken, experiences not lived.

The good news is that it’s not too late. It only takes a simple mindset shift. More good news? You control your own thoughts. Simply make a decision that you won’t tolerate mediocrity from yourself anymore. Demand more of yourself. Decide what you want in life and make a pact with yourself that you won’t tolerate anything less. Choose to push yourself outside your comfort zone. I’m not suggesting you need to turn your world upside-down overnight. But start. Take one step outside your comfort zone, towards a larger vision for yourself. And then another. Every journey, big and small, starts with a decision to take a step in that direction.

As you tackle your internal negotiation about what you’ll tolerate of yourself, also start the internal dialogue about what you’re prepared to tolerate of other people. If you want different results, you need to take different action. You set the tone for how you will be treated. Take ownership of that. If you find yourself thinking, “I wish so-and-so wouldn’t keep doing that!” maybe it’s time you turned the lens on yourself. Why have you been tolerating it? What can you do to stop tolerating it?

As women, we so often aspire to be (or at least appear) easy-going. We tend to people-please. Added to that, we suffer from the debilitating belief that it’s selfish to put our needs first. And so we put the needs of our partners, kids, co-workers, parents – the list goes on – ahead of our own needs. And guess what happens? Those people come to expect that you will continue to put their needs first. Maybe at first they’re really appreciative (or not) but invariably at some point it gets taken for granted. Why? Because you tolerated it. And what you tolerate is what you get.

I’m encouraging you to choose to recognize – NOW – that tolerating this pattern does not serve you. It stands in the way of you realizing your own dreams, aspirations, goals, vision, desires. It stands in the way of you becoming the best version of yourself. At some point, this tolerance typically leads to built-up tensions, resentments, anxiety, negativity – all mixed with a healthy dollop of guilt (because we women are so good at doing guilt). But also consider that not only does it not serve you, it doesn’t serve those around you. When you consistently subjugate your own needs to those of others, think of the role model you’re setting for your daughters or other young women – that their needs as women, mothers, etc. are less important. Think of the message you’re sending your sons or other young men – that their needs will be more important than any women in their life as they grow into men. You’re also training those in your life to devalue you. That it’s okay to take advantage of you. In so doing you not only sell yourself short, you turn them into a lesser version of themselves.

For what it’s worth, I’m not preaching from on high here. I come to you with these nuggets of wisdom having learned on the hard road of experience. I spent many decades training people in my life that I cared about to take advantage of me. It caused me much heartache. It cost me many relationships. And it also cost those I thought I was being generous to. They became smaller, uglier versions, unable to achieve their full potential.

So in addition to the tired old analogy about putting on your own oxygen mask in the plane first, next time, instead of playing that same old track in your mind that you’re selfish if you don’t keep giving more than you get, maybe you choose to recognize that it’s actually more selfish to deprive them of the opportunity to be their best self.

How do you change those patterns? After you choose to stop tolerating patterns that don’t serve you, start being clear about your expectations. Don’t assume or expect that people would (or should) know what you want or need, or what’s fair, reasonable or appropriate. Don’t let what you get depend on what others may decide. You need to be clear about what you want and need and communicate those expectations unequivocally. If someone doesn’t meet your expectations, don’t stew or simmer or let it go ‘this time’. Discuss the issue right away and reinforce your expectations. Make sure you’ve determined what the consequences will be when someone doesn’t meet your expectations … and stick to it! Otherwise, you’re on the slippery tolerance slope that, much like an icy ski hill, ends with someone getting hurt.

At the outset, I said that history is full of examples of people who ended up in situations they didn’t deserve and that were not of their making. But it should be a strong lesson to us that even in many extreme examples through history, the vast majority of tyrannies and atrocities didn’t happen overnight. There was typically a long lead up. Many warnings. People tolerated ever-increasing injustices, cruelties and intolerable behavior and in so doing, the tolerances became higher, the bar became lower and the way was paved for unthinkable end results. Don’t allow this to happen in your life – personally or professionally. Be vigilant to your own tolerances. Speak up when behavior doesn’t match your expectations. You get what you tolerate. So monitor your tolerance and don’t wait until a fatal tipping point is reached


fear, guilt, people-please

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