Don’t Let Them Make You Crazy


By Marshall Goldsmith

Think of that one person who drives you crazy — who upsets you, makes you feel guilty or sad. Does someone come to mind? You may have spent many hours reliving events when this person was unfair, unappreciative, or inconsiderate.

You may have thought, “What a jerk!” Even remembering this person may make your blood pressure rise, your pulse race and your mind fill with grief.

Try not to let this person — or other people — make you feel so miserable.

Their problems are their problems. Try not to make them your problems. Letting other people “get to us” is seldom a good idea for two reasons: 1) it does not help the situation and 2) life is too short to spend your time feeling bad.

An old Buddhist parable may help.

A young farmer was covered with sweat as he paddled his boat up the river. He was going upstream to deliver his produce to the village. It was a hot day, and he wanted to make his delivery and get home before dark. As he looked ahead, he spied another vessel, heading rapidly downstream toward his boat. He rowed furiously to get out of the way, but it didn’t seem to help.

He yelled, “Change direction, you idiot! You are going to hit me!” His screaming was to no avail. The other vessel hit his boat with a sickening thud. He was enraged as he cried out, “You moron! How could you manage to hit my boat in the middle of this wide river? What is wrong with you?” He then realized that he was screaming at an empty boat that had broken free of its moorings and was floating downstream with the current.

The point of this story is simple.

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There is never anyone in the other boat. We are always screaming at an empty vessel.

The person who is making you so angry can’t help but be who he is, and getting mad at him makes no sense.

You don’t have to like the other person, respect him, or agree with him. Just accept that he is who he is and decide not to let his craziness become yours.

Often, the cause of our anger is not the other person. We are usually mad at ourselves. For example, on a recent flight, I talked to an investor who had bought a small business. He was livid about how the original owner had let him down. In spite of the owner’s positive initial impression, he consistently missed commitments. The investor told me how the owner had induced him to make a poor investment. The investor was a multi-millionaire who lived in a beautiful home in Switzerland and had a lovely wife and child.

I asked how long this had upset him.

He angrily grunted, “Many months!” I suggested that the real cause of his anger might be that he was incensed with himself for being a poor judge of character and not conducting adequate due diligence in the purchase.

He reflected, “You’re right. In hindsight, I was dumb for making this purchase. I’m usually a good judge of character and have a great sense for these deals. I just screwed this one up! I’m really mad at me for missing this one!” I suggested that getting upset with himself for making one mistake was even crazier than getting upset at the other person. He was successful in spite of this mistake. Besides, in the future, he could learn from what he did wrong. By the end of the flight, he decided to sell the business, cut his losses, and enjoy life with his family! The next time you feel like another person is making you crazy, just smile and say, “There is no one in the other boat.” Accept him for who he is and make the best of it.

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Also, look in the mirror. The person you are angry with may be staring back at you. Forgive yourself for making a mistake in judgment. Cut your losses, get on with life, and enjoy your family! PE

ACTION: Forgive and forget.

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