• Leslie Merrell

Change, and the Parable of the Red Drapes

You know what it’s like when there’s something that you want to be different, and yet you don’t take action to change it? Maybe it’s because you don’t really know what you want instead, only that you want it to be different. Maybe you worry that you might like the change even less than the undesirable present. Maybe you just don’t know how to go about making the change. Maybe you’re waiting for permission. Maybe it seems overwhelming -- too hard, or too much work. Maybe the convenience of the status quo is just so much easier and more comfortable than the inconvenience and discomfort of change.

Though I have experienced this in many areas of my life, let me share one example. We moved into our current house in the beginning of December, and hosted -- in our new home -- my husband’s Christmas office party a week later. Our spacious dining area is blessed with seven -- yes, S E V E N -- windows. I hastily purchased and put up some sheer red drapes. They worked. I even liked them. That was in December of 2012.

In the last few years, I have grown tired of the red drapes. I no longer liked them. In fact, I was developing a strong dislike of the red drapes. So, why didn’t I change them? Well, for so many logical reasons. I didn’t really know what I wanted instead. I believed that the shape of the room, and the placement of the many windows made it very difficult to find window treatments that would really look good. I thought that, if I was changing the window treatments, then I probably needed to repaint, and change the whole color scheme. If I was going to repaint the kitchen, I probably should just get the great room, office, and front entry repainted at the same time. With our vaulted ceilings in the great room, I would definitely need to hire out this job. Hiring out this job meant a big price tag, and selling my husband on the idea.

This was becoming the adult version of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. It was too big a task to tackle. And so, the red drapes remained. And my dislike of the red drapes also remained, simmering on the back burner. But, like a slow leak in a tire, the desire for change battling with the logical reasons to stay the same, was a slow drain on my mental and emotional energy.

Robert Brault has said, “We are kept from our goal, not by obstacles, but by a clearer path to lesser goals.”

In this example, the clearer path was to stay the same in order to reach the lesser goal of not “rocking the boat”, or of maintaining the status quo. I felt stuck. Knowing that “the way we do one thing is the way we do everything”, I decided to take this issue to my coaching session, even though it was just a decorating issue. ... Or was it? My coach helped me to understand both the “problem” and the “obstacles” were created by my brain. No one -- literally NO ONE -- cared about the red drapes but me. I was able to more clearly see that I could choose to keep the red drapes, or I could choose to remove them, but the surrounding brain drama was completely optional. I didn’t have to know what type of window treatments I wanted instead before I could remove the existing drapes. I didn’t have to know what color I wanted instead. As an adult, I really didn’t need permission to change the drapes -- afterall, I don’t recall getting permission to put them up in the first place. My mind was opening to the possibility that I could take action, without knowing the details of how things would turn out in the end. I ended that session determined to take down the red drapes. Period.

Yet, at my next session, when my coach asked about the drapes, I had not taken any action. When she asked why, I told her that I would have to track down the ladder and bring it in from the garage. Even as the words came out of my mouth, I knew it was just a lame excuse. She lovingly, and with humor, pointed out how my brain was again creating obstacles and drama. Our brains are wired to, and motivated by, conserving energy. How hard is it, really, to find a ladder in a garage? I knew she was right. It would likely take less than five minutes to find and bring in the ladder. I committed to taking this step.

I found and brought in the ladder.

And there the ladder stayed. ... For about a week. What? You’ve done something similar too, admit it. Baby steps are still steps.

After a week or so, the physical obstacle of walking around the ladder became more bothersome than actually climbing the ladder and taking down the drapes. And so, down they came. (Side note: it turns out that drapes can get really dusty and gross after nearly eight years!)

And guess what?!? My dining area looked naked.

Interestingly, by removing the drapes, it was as if I had created space for possibility. It was a clean slate, a blank canvas. It is said that nature abhors a vacuum. Perhaps I couldn’t figure out what I wanted instead because that space in my brain was occupied by the red drapes. By simply removing the drapes, the vacuum left behind was flooded with ideas. I was able to begin imagining what could be.

So many possibilities. “But, wait!!” my brain screamed. “What if you make THE WRONG CHOICE??” And now I was frozen. What if I chose something, and it looked terrible? What if I picked colors and ended up hating them? What if I picked something that I thought looked good, but other people thought was tacky, or ugly, or not suited to the space? Great. Now I was stuck and I had a naked dining area.

So, again to my coaching session. In coaching, we don’t allow unanswered questions. If you ask a question, such as the ones above, you get to answer them. What if I make the wrong choice? Well, since there’s not (as far as I know) home decorating police, I would be the one deciding the rightness and wrongness of my choice. And, I would only consider it wrong if I thought it looked terrible, if I disliked the design or colors. But wait, that’s not likely since I’M the one choosing. But,... let’s say I do end up not liking my choice. The truth is sometimes this happens with choices. I am reminded that I can always change my mind, and make a different choice later. Does that mean I made a mistake? No, it means that I received new information, and can now make a more informed choice. So... what about what other people think? That is not something I have control over. There will, for sure, be people who like and people who dislike me, my style, my choices, etc. So, pleasing the masses is neither my responsibility, nor my goal.

It is so freeing to know that there’s no right or wrong choice in most situations, and to know that I can change my mind later. There are certainly choices in life where there is an actual right and wrong from an eternal and moral perspective. But, they are in the minority, and I trust myself to recognize them. With the majority of choices I am presented with on a day-to-day basis, there is no right or wrong. There’s just a choice. With every choice, I gain more experience and more information. Thinking that there was a “right” and a “wrong” way to decorate my dining area was not serving me.

Letting go of that belief, freed me to decide on colors (I chose to touch up current wall paint), order the valences and blinds, and move forward. And guess what?? … I LOVE IT!

… At least for now. ... I reserve the right to change my mind in the future.


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