One of my all-time favorite movies is an oldie-but-goodie: It Happened One Night, starring Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable. Claudette is a socialite in distress and Clark is the rake (natch) who gives her a ride cross-country in hopes of selling her story and cementing his success as a journalist. They share hotel rooms along the way but, this being the 30s, they hang a blanket up in between their beds each night, dividing the room into his and hers. It’s the perfect solution, it seems. Until, Claudette yanks it down one night and their romance is born.
What does this have to do with anything, except a great recommendation to add to your Netflix queue? (Seriously, if you love rom-coms, it’s a must-watch!)
I used to have quite a few of those blankets hanging up in my inner environment. I subconsciously spent a lot of time deciding what was safe to reveal to whom. I learned it early—as the only child of divorced parents, I figured out that when I told my Dad about something Mom and I had done together, he’d feel left out, and when I told my Mom about something Dad and I had done together, she’d get angry.
As a young creature, wholly dependent on said parents for survival, I was pretty heavily invested in keeping them happy. I got really good at slicing and dicing my experiences and making sure I only shared with people what wouldn’t upset or overwhelm them.
This compartmentalizing showed up in a lot of ways, for a lot of years. In high school, it was friendships with ‘nerds’ that I hid from my ‘cool’ friends. As a freelance writer, it meant I only talked about work with fellow freelancers. And as a mom, it meant I spent a lot of time trying to keep my work life and my family life separate. Which is particularly hilarious when you consider that I worked from home.
I used to have strict rules against working on the weekend, attending evening events, or even checking emails before the kids went to bed. Now, listen, I am all about setting healthy boundaries around your work, and with your family. But there’s a difference between boundaries – which are there to protect you – and constantly deciding what it’s OK or not OK for you to share or be seen doing, which is what I call “compartmentalizing.”
With compartmentalizing, the only one who suffers is you. It takes a lot of energy to hang that danged blanket up every morning. You are constantly having to re-jigger the clothespins that are holding it in place. Sometimes it falls down and you go into a panic, trying to get it back up.
Like in It Happened One Night, that blanket is probably up for reasons that have a lot more to do with what others will think than with what you really want.
As a working mom, I didn’t want my kids to think I cared about my work more than them, so I essentially hid everything job-related I could from them. Even my desk was an armoire that, when it was open, looked like a desk. But when it was closed, it looked more like a dresser.
What I’ve gotten clear on in the last couple of years is that I also care quite a lot about my kids growing up knowing in their bones that it’s possible to find work that suits their unique talents, serves others, provides a good living, and enables them to spend plenty of quality time with their kids. And the only way to do that is to show them.
So I’ve been de-compartmentalizing all over the place. I’ve opened up a few spots in my coaching calendar for weekend calls, and coached the kids on what it means when I’m on the phone – basically, that I’m unavailable. I’ve taken my daughter with me when I’ve taught at a retreat, and had her in the room when I was teaching. I no longer walk into school events or playdates geared up to only talk about kid stuff, thinking I’ve got to be in “mom mode.”
I gotta tell ya: What a relief it is!
When you are no longer weighing what you can say or do at any given moment – even if you’re not fully aware of how much you’re doing it – it frees up so much energy. Energy you can then use on being in the moment instead of trying to manipulate it.
As Claudette demonstrated in It Happened One Night, when the wall finally comes down, great things happen. =) What faux barriers can you let fall? I’d love to hear about it in the comments section below! Remember, when you share an insight, you give it power. (Click to Tweet!)
2 thoughts on “It Happened One Night”
Thank you Kate for a beautiful written piece. From the get go it resonated with me, especially with issues I am trying to resolve at the moment. I have found I compartmentalize with most people, not only to protect other people but to protect myself. It has come to a head over the past few months, like these things do for a lot of people, because of my upcoming my wedding. I even found myself saying to my mother ‘if you really knew me, this wouldn’t have surprised you so much’.
As you know, it’s exhausting trying to think for other people and constantly ‘manage’ situations. While I have become aware of my behavior, changing is a different story altogether. It’s hard when all you’ve learned is that feeling exposure equals to getting hurt.
Thank you for your piece on your own very personal story, it has been so inspiring.
Hi. Sending you so much love right now. Weddings have a way of bringing stuff right up to the surface! Just remember that awareness is always the first step, and a powerful one at that. Just stay there until you feel ready to start doing things differently. It almost doesn’t matter WHAT you do differently, just that’s it’s not what you typically do. Experiment. Notice how each experiment makes you feel. When all else fails, set an intention to be curious and ask a question instead of clamming up or jumping right to anger. And if you’d like a little more focused support, I always save room in my weekly calendar for one or two no-cost sample sessions a week! Email me at kate at msmindbody dot com if/when that feels right. Love, Kate