I’ve been reading a lot about obstacles. Obstacles in relationships, work, family…which all comes back to relationships.
A key uniting idea has been that growth–and ultimate progress–is found by pressing through obstacles. Sitting with them. Wrestling them until you’ve dislocated a shoulder and that old hip pain is flaring up and what the hell, admit it, you didn’t train enough, you’re not up to it. Mercy!
This resonates personally. In every major personal growth spurt of my life (not counting the four and a half feet of verticality I tacked on from ages 0-14), I’ve followed my old ways through a booby-trapped cavern of sharks and landmines into what David Schnarch calls the crucible. As I sat there, cooking at unfathomable temperatures, eyeballs peeling and my skull stewing and pawing feebly at the copper walls but slipping back into the painful nucleus where, after a healthy interval of avoidance and distraction, I leveled my faded blue eyes into the foggy mirror and at last confronted myself.
That’s when I saw what was really going on. My own mistakes and weaknesses, what needed to change.
Inertia finally cracked, and I’m eternally grateful for it. It’s an excruciating, miraculous experience that feels like the greatest stuff of life.
This level of self-confrontation and asking tough questions about our role in causing our own obstacles is easy to avoid. As easy to avoid as lima beans and middle seats and dental surgery. Because it’s brutal, painful work, and time-consuming, and there are so many wonderfully creative ways to pretend that we don’t have a problem or offload ownership to our enemies rather than take a clear-eyed look at our subsumed mama issues or our learned disposition to rage or–the root of many things–a primal fear or shame about who we really are.
The User Manual isn’t a cheat sheet to go around this immensely valuable process. The transformative outcomes are from going through obstacles–and slipping into the crucible now and then foster those critical growth spurts.
Instead, the User Manual is a communications tool to share what you learn in the crucible. Memorialize your breakthroughs in plain English (or whatever your idiom of choice) and share with your partner in a way they can’t claim to misunderstand. More importantly, write it down them for yourself. You earned it.
And yes, as part of the journey of writing the User Manual, you might just slip back into the crucible for another wrestling match with your demons. Take a deep breath, let the pain burn around you, and feel the magic of growing somewhere new. It’s a terrific gift and one I’m thankful for every day.