05/31/2010 08:17 am ET Updated Mar 20, 2015

Are You Fighting Against Your Own Upliftment?

As you will know if you have been following these columns, I am of the mind that just about anyone can improve both their life circumstances as well as the quality of how they experience their life. I have taken numerous approaches, attempting to share ideas that I have found useful in my own life and that others seem to have found beneficial as well.

A common theme running through these articles includes the notion that how you frame the problem is the problem coupled with it's not what happens to you but what you choose to do about it.

The dialogue has been rich, comical, supportive, derogatory and sometimes just downright spiteful. I appreciate the exchanges, even the most vitriolic, because no matter the point of view, at least the commenter is engaged.

Many years ago, I was leading a self awareness seminar (Insight) and found myself pretty frustrated with one of the participants who seemed to be pretty much universally contradictory. As I kept trying to convince him that he needed to try a different approach, my mentor shared with me an interesting observation. He said, "Russell you seem to have misunderstood your role. You act as though you are here to harvest something when perhaps what you are really doing is planting seeds. Plant the seeds and let the harvest take care of itself."

The particular individual with whom I was so frustrated, continued to be "resistant" throughout the seminar. However, a good 10 years later, I received a letter from this person, thanking me for the seminar and my persistence. He let me know that while he had not been ready to move on the principles back then, they had stuck with him and he had used much of what had been taught to make a significant difference in his life.

In something of a parallel universe, this past Friday, I received a series of three emails from one of my readers, one who has been commenting in the negative for quite some time. What "Qwerpa" has to share is quite profound and I thought I would pass it along to you.

What follows is an abbreviated version of what Qwerpa wrote:

Hi Russell,

This is qwerpa, one of your "fans" that you had noted in one of your posts - one of the ones appending cutting remarks to all your blog entries.

I haven't for the last few entries, because I lost my job and have been busy with other things. But rest assured I would have probably been seething in anger over your new posts and doing my best to slam you (kudos, you have been remarkably consistent!).

But I would like to report that I have overcome my difficulties, or at least cleared the major obstacles and am now on a different trajectory.

Personally, from my experience, it was extremely important to me to discover the answers for myself. I intuitively knew the answers, the "what" and the "how" as it were, but not the why. What I mean by that is I understood what you were saying even before I read your posts - you are correct by the way - but I was still resistant. I didn't know why I was resistant though, and I didn't appreciate having the method "to get better" shoved under my nose.

It turns out that I didn't want to get better. What was actually bugging me about your posts is you start with an unspoken supposition that people all want to get "better," and you are merely showing them how. It all seems so light and easy, when that is the opposite of what I was feeling.

So there are three problems I have with your methodology, I suppose:
  1. You assume you know where people should go or want to go
  2. You assume they are ready to go there
  3. You assume they want advice on how to get there instead of going through the learning process themselves

(RB note: a minor addition here. While it is true that I do think most people would prefer to improve if they can, I don't profess to know what "better" is for anyone. It has definitely been my experience that many people feel stuck in life, unsure of how they might improve, or even if improvement would be allowed. I write these posts for those who might be interested, not knowing where these seeds may land, or even if they are to be planted, let alone harvested. However, I do know that anyone who is going to make any kind of improvement will wind up doing the work necessary themselves.)

Qwerpa continues:

Another reason a person may actually want to remain (stuck), is of course because they like being able to claim the mantle of victim. If you are a victim you are not responsible. Personally I know I had a goal of reducing my number and level of responsibility (at least in part because I knew I was a walking wrecking machine, and I wanted to reduce the damage I inflicted. If I was perceived as less responsible, people would give me less responsibility, and I would/could do less damage). Being a victim played well into this overarching strategy. It gave me a sense of identity, and also prevented me from doing additional damage which I was feeling terrible about.

Let's be gentle with people each struggling to find their way. Coming down like a curmudgeon will only provoke resistance and prolong healing.

Thanks for listening Russell, and keep up the good work as it is what you feel you should do.

As you can imagine, Qwerpa wrote a lot more than I have shared here. Hopefully, you can see something in Qwerpa's sharing, something that can be encouraging and supportive for any struggles you may have of your own, or for those you know who may themselves be struggling.

I'd love to hear from you. Please do leave a comment here or drop me an email at Russell (at)


If you want more information on how you can apply this kind of reframing to your life and to your job, about a few simple steps that may wind up transforming your life, please download a free chapter from my book, Workarounds That Work. You'll be glad you did.

You can buy Workarounds That Work here.

Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can learn more about my work by visiting my website at You can contact me by e-mail at Russell (at)