I needed a haircut but couldn’t schedule after work or on weekends because my stylist, Tisha, tries not to work then. She told me I could bring my computer with me to the salon and work there. I’d never done that and I thought it would be rude or would feel obnoxious, and didn’t I want to just relax at the salon?! I did love the idea of not scheduling on the weekend so I took my computer with me to my mid-day appointment.
It was mostly fine but I felt like an over-the-top Type A with my laptop on my legs over my salon cape. Even though Tisha probably enjoyed not having to chatter or to be a salon therapist during my visit, I kept apologizing to her and she kept telling me I wasn’t the only one who did this and that It. Was. Fine.
Her husband, Justin, who is a therapist, came in with a couple of their kids. While Tisha took a minute to talk to one of her little ones, I introduced myself. “Hi, I’m Shannon. Tisha said I could bring my computer with me.” I guess I didn’t really think it was fine, after all. Justin, said, “Well, it’s your experience.”
Whaaaat? Is this dude criticizing me? I knew he wasn’t because of the tone of his voice; it was just a matter-of-fact statement, but since I felt funny, my initial reaction was wrong.
What he said stayed with me though, because he was right–it was my experience. It was anything I wanted it to be and I noticed I repeated this to myself now and then as I went about my business. It seemed simple enough but maybe there was more to it. I wondered if maybe he expressed “It’s your experience” to people in therapy and if so, why . . . ?
A few months later, I asked him about it. It was another day that I’d taken my laptop into the salon and what do you know, Justin had made an appointment with Tisha too.
As I sat in the chair while Tisha pushed my head down for my chin to touch my neck, or flapped wet bangs over my eyes, I talked to Justin. He told me,
I do say that all the time. I’m a counselor and part of that–of me serving in that role–is helping people make that ‘experience’ what they want it to be. Specifically being a marriage counselor, I am always talking to couples about How do you take this thing/this experience called marriage and build it to what you want it to look like? Couples learn What skills/principals/tools do we need to make this thing called marriage the experience we want it to be? I take a pretty proactive approach. I help couples think about What world do I want to live in, in this thing called marriage and then how do my partner and I make that happen? What will it take to make that a reality? Defining the experience, I have found, speaks of a powerful person. Powerlessness or the absence of a powerful person (which we all deal with at some level) will put us in a position of simply reacting to whatever life brings to us. We’ve all had bad things happen to us in life and we’re not completely powerful to create this experience on earth but we do have active decision making and active volition and will and desire to create a life that we want, to create the experiences we want out of life.
Whoa! I was mostly on track, but for Justin, there was a little more to the whole ‘experience’ thing. It was about relationships and building a life. Tisha put her hand on the side of my head and pushed it forward and to the side at a really awkward angle. Snip. Clip. Flip.
Here’s a client scenario: A woman’s experience is that she attracts the same type of man (not a good one). That typically comes from brokenness in her childhood growing up or whatever. She repeatedly finds herself in an experience she doesn’t like so helping her see that she can actually create a different template for relationships is powerful. But she’s got to define what she wants that new experience to look like. What would the ideal relationship look like and what skills, tools, and relationships are missing from her life experience to make that happen? Lo and behold, once that exercise is done, that person has a new template of being attractive to a different type of person.
I heard once, “Don’t be an extra in the movie of your own life.” That means you’re the main actor in your life. You’re the main person making decisions, thinking about what you want and how it’s going to work for you and thinking about the mark you want to leave on this earth and that’s huge! So many people don’t live from that orientation.
We talked about that. I’d heard a similar analogy about being in a car and the different things we pay attention to as the passenger or the driver. Being the passenger, you get to look at the scenery a little more, and you notice the people walking their dogs or you notice things on the side of the road. If you’re the driver, you need to pay attention to different things–the traffic signals, the other cars. If you don’t, well . . . well, you just have to in order to make the experience right. You’re the driver, after all!
I grew up in a terrible home–not as terrible as some, but I went from being powerless to being a powerful person. I started asking, What do I want out of life, marriage, fatherhood? What do I want this to look like and what are the things that are missing to get there? Answering some of those questions was powerful for me because I have the marriage and family life I always wanted and knew I could have but it all started with asking those questions.
I wondered how people can start to ask those questions.
People need to connect with their purpose in life. That’s the core. Why do I exist? What is the purpose of my life? You select what salon you go to based on what you want out of your experience–a hairstyle, ambiance, music, etc. so you’re powerful in that role. You’re deciding what you want and don’t want. If people did that in life and in relationships it would change the dynamic of their life.
So, “It’s your experience” is all encompassing. It’s as simple as deciding what type of salon experience you want (my hair was shaping up nicely because of my choice) and as major as thinking about what type of family life you want. Justin had obviously put some thought into his experience and was passing his learning on to his family. We finished talking and Tisha finished cutting my hair at about the same time.
As I looked up, their sweet daughter was in front of me and she had clearly made her experience what she wanted it to be. Instead of pacing or complaining to her dad to take her home, she was waiting quietly, a lollipop in hand (and mouth) patiently waiting. “Thanks for letting me talk to your dad for a little bit.”
And you know, as long as you know it’s your experience, it can be.