Family Reunions: A Waste of Time if You Aren’t Family?

Dear Vicki: My partner Cam and I have been together for five years. We’ve seen each other through college graduations, lost jobs, new jobs, multiple apartment moves, you name it. We both take our careers seriously (me as an investment banker, Cam as a sous chef), but I think I drive myself more than he does. Anyway, his family is having a first-ever extended family reunion next month (probably 100 people or so) and he’s excited to go. I, on the other hand, would rather take a pass. It will involve out of state travel, a day away from work, and spending lots of time with people I’ve never met. Of course, I know the right thing to do is to go with Cam, and that’s what he wants, but it seems like a colossal waste of time for me. Work is particularly busy right now and I can think of a dozen things I’d rather do with free time, especially catch up on projects at work. I wouldn’t expect him to go to my family reunion (if we even had one), so how can I explain to him that I think he should go enjoy his family on his own? Signed: Busy in Bentonville

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Dear Busy: Unless they have a lot of Fire energy, few people look forward to spending time with a crowd of strangers. Fire energy loves the excitement of connecting with new people, especially in a fun surrounding, and you clearly are not a primary Fire personality. Given that you mention some aspect of work five times in your letter, I suspect you are a Wood personality; career success and getting ahead really matter to Wood people. Also, Woods like predictability in their life and environments, so a large gathering of strangers will seem chaotic to a Wood. It’s no surprise you would rather take a pass. However, being in a committed relationship means that sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to do for the sake of your partner, so let’s see if this might be one of those times.

Given that the family reunion is important to Cam, and his profession involves a love of food, it’s a pretty easy guess that he has a lot of Earth energy. Earth people not only love food, they love family and deep, long-term connections. In fact, weaving people together in a web of strong connection brings great joy to Earths. His family is important to him, and you are important to him, so sharing the reunion with you will likely be pretty important to Cam. But I think there’s more to consider here than just whether you go to the reunion or not. I think it’s important to step back and take stock of the dynamics in your relationship with Cam and how your refusal to go with him might impact your connection.

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Work Sucks: It’s Like Herding Cats!

Dear Vicki: I work for a large advertising firm and have been very successful at making good things happen for my company. I was recently promoted, but now things aren’t going so well. My responsibilities include managing a department of what we call “creatives” (the people who actually develop and produce the ads) and it’s a nightmare. They are excellent at what they do (we have won many awards), but they miss deadlines, skip conference calls, dress in an extremely casual manner even around our corporate clients, show up late, you name it. And no amount of chastising from me seems to work. I like my work and up until now have done an extremely good job for my firm, but managing this group is like herding cats and Im clearly failing. What can I do to get them to tow the line? Signed: Hates Cats

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Dear Hates Cats: I had to chuckle at your sign off.  In truth, I suspect you don’t really hate cats. Rather, you hate situations that are “out of control,” and that gives us a good idea of your primary personality. Both Wood people and Metal people have a strong relationship with the concept of control, but their needs are quite different. Metals need to feel that they are in control and Woods need to avoid the chaotic feeling of being out of control. The fact that you are good at making things happen at work suggests that you are a Wood personality; Metals are usually better at understanding why things happen than making them happen. As a Wood, you bring a great deal of structure to everything you do. In fact, of all the Five Elements personalities, only Metal has more structure. And that structure will usually stand you in good stead in any corporate environment. Unfortunately, you have landed in one of the few places where that isn’t necessarily true. When managing overly creative people, artificially imposed structure often doesn’t work. Let’s see how we can help.

Highly creative people usually have a lot of Water energy in their personality make-up. The two reasons for this are that imagination sits in the Water element and the Water element has very little structure. Think of water in nature: it has no structure of its own but will conform to any structure offered, be that water glass or riverbed. This is both the bad and good news for you. Left to their own devises, Water people will usually go with the flow wherever that flow might take them, which allows them to follow their creative muses as need be. However, it does make managing them a bit like herding cats. But just like in nature, Water people will usually take any reasonable structure offered them, so you should be able to impose some managerial structure. The key point here is that the structure must be reasonable from the perspective of a Water, not a Wood. We’ll come back to this later.

Another issue you need to consider if you are going to successfully manage a department of Water people is how you and your “creatives” relate to each other because this will set the tone for your every interaction. In the Five Elements model, Water and Wood relate via the Nurturing Cycle with Water feeding Wood, so in theory, managing these Waters should be heaven for you. In nature, wood absolutely needs water to survive. An advertising agency is nothing without good ads, so in business, you do need your creatives. But going back to nature, too much water will rot wood every time and therein lies part of your problem. Rotting wood loses structure. Even though your creatives feed you with what you need to produce good ads, too much Water will weaken you (rot you, so to speak), overwhelm your structure, and create chaos. Because Woods need to avoid chaos, their response to this perceived lack of structure is usually to impose even more structure, which rarely goes over well with Waters. So what can you do?

First and foremost, I encourage you to build on the fact that you and your creatives absolutely can have a mutually beneficial relationship; it’s part of everyone’s wiring. So instead of coming on strong and demanding they “tow the line,” try approaching them as partners in a process that really does benefit everyone. It truly can be a win-win: you need their creativity and they need to be creative. Yes, the corporate world demands a certain degree of structure – deadlines must be met, budgets adhered to, etc. – but there is usually wiggle room in everything. Meet with your creatives and find out what they like about their jobs, and what they don’t. Create a team environment where they feel like they belong. Remember that Waters need outside structure, they can’t do it for themselves, but it needs to be reasonable to them. The Water personality is often compared to the innocence and wonder of a child, and children do well with reasonable structure. Find out what your group of Waters thinks is reasonable and try to make that happen for them. Just like children, Waters are usually appreciative of the people who create a structure that gives them space to play in the world of imagination. Plus, your Waters get paid for it!

Bottom line, if you insist on seeing yourself as their boss and implementing strict guidelines that must be followed, it will be like herding cats and you will fail. But if you can build an environment where they can work and create in a playful way, they will be happy and productive. Accomplish that and you will continue to be very successful at making good things happen for your company. Blessings to you!

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Does Her Mother HAVE to Move In With Her?

Dear Vicki: My father passed away a decade ago and since then my mother, who is in her early 80s, has lived on her own. We had to take the car keys away from her last year due to poor eyesight and this has really been hard. She used to go out with friends all the time – she was quite the social animal – and complains regularly now about loneliness and boredom. Yet when my two brothers or I encourage her to join senor clubs – many of which provide transportation in our area – she says she’s not interested in spending time with a bunch of tired old people. More concerning is that she has had several falls over the past months, so we have to do something. I’ve spoken with my brothers and they both insist that, as the only daughter, it’s my job to have Mom move in with me. My children are grown, so we have room in the house, but the idea makes me angry. I don’t want to give up my space and freedom. I run a well-respected marketing consulting business from home, so if she lived here, my work might suffer. Plus, we would be together 24/7, and just thinking about that makes me tired. My brothers are really turning up the pressure and trying to guilt me. The whole thing makes me so mad I don’t want to see or talk to Mom now. This feels like a lose/lose for me, which seems really unfair. Am I stuck? Is it just the way of the world that she has to move in? Signed: Angry in Arlington

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Dear Angry: This is a very common issue. We all age and our abilities change as we do. Back in older times, people lived together in extended families or tribes, which meant the task of caring for older generations was spread more evenly across the younger generations. This is still the norm in many places, but in the Western world we have embraced the idea of individual homes, which creates a dilemma when someone is no longer capable of taking care of themselves and their home. The good news for you and your brothers is that a multitude of options exist for seniors these days, so you should be able to find something that works for your family. However, the discussions you will need to have with your mom regarding this issue will likely be hampered by your anger, so let’s help you understand what’s going on so you can better help your mom.

Based on the fact that when you get stressed you get angry or mad, it seems likely that your primary elemental personality is Wood. The need for success, space, freedom to “do their own thing,” and an organized environment are all key aspects of the Wood personality. Woods also do well in marketing, which involves creating and manifesting a plan for the future, all strengths of Woods. What Woods don’t do very well is give up their own dreams and comforts for someone else. But, this isn’t just anyone else, this is your mother, so it’s not surprising that you feel guilty. You probably think you should want to do this for her. Maybe you’re even slightly surprised at how strongly you don’t want her living with you. But I think there is a good reason why.

I’d like to suggest you feel this way because you are a Wood and your mom is likely a Fire personality. Fire people like to be busy and are indeed “social animals.” Connections matter to Fires, especially with friends at fun events. Fires don’t do well with boundaries, so the loss of freedom your mother experienced when her car was taken away would have been especially hard for her. Movement matters to Fires and a lack of movement can put out Fire. Her response that she doesn’t want to spend time with “tired, old people” also sounds like a Fire. Fun, upbeat, exciting connections feed Fire. Slowness and lethargy kill it. And while knowing she has a lot of Fire energy may help you better interact with your mother, it’s the relationship between her Fire and your Wood that is most important for you to understand.

Fire and Wood relate via the Nurturing Cycle, so one would think you two should have a congenial relationship. However, it is your Wood that feeds her Fire, so too much of your mother (or any Fire energy) could indeed feel draining to you. Also, the child feeding the parent seems backwards to our view of family, so this might be another reason you feel a slight bit of resentment around the idea of your mother moving in with you. In truth, you have launched your own children and have been enjoying the ability to focus on your own needs, so it’s not surprising that the idea of taking on responsibility for someone else again isn’t appealing. Wood energy likes to focus on personal success and accomplishment, not nurturing or feeding others, so it really might not be a good match to have your mom living with you. Fortunately, there are other options.

You don’t indicate whether anyone has run the ideal of moving in with you past your mom, but I suspect she might not like the idea, either. As a Fire, being busy and active as long as she can will be really important. Hanging out by herself in a large home with little or no company is not a Fire’s idea of a good time. So instead of trying to assuage your guilt and manage your anger at the situation as you and your brothers see it, I encourage all three of you to sit down with your mother and express your concerns. It might well be the right time for her to give up living alone, but there are a number of ways to accomplish that. For example, you could hire someone to stay with her, which will help keep her safe. But it also means that unless you hire a comedian or another Fire, she will probably be unhappy, so a different approach might be warranted.

Fortunately for you, as our population has aged, we have acknowledged that seniors will need assistance and a veritable cornucopia of residential options are now available in most metropolitan areas.  With a little bit of research, you and your brothers will probably find a place that will be perfect for your Fire mother. It will need to be geared toward “active seniors” so that she will have others like her with whom she can engage. Facilities like this usually have movies nights, regular parties, lots of activities (from shopping trips to theater excursions), as well as counselors and an abundance of staff people to keep an eye on the residents. A place like this will be perfect for a senior Fire personality, certainly better than being cooped up alone with an angry, unhappy Wood.

More importantly, I think you will find that if your mother is someplace where she can use and express her Fire energy with others, there will be less of it when you spend time with her. This will not only feel less threatening and agitating for you, it can actually feel good. In an odd turnabout, few people appreciate Fires more than Woods because Fires remind Woods that all work and no play just isn’t a good thing. Finding a place for your mother that will keep her safe and happy can turn your lose/lose into a win/win. More importantly, you will be happy to be with your mother again. Blessings to you all!

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Did She Share Too Much, Too Soon?

Dear Vicki: I’m in my mid-twenties and have been dating Aaron for almost six months. We really click and our time together has been a blast. We’ve been to lots of amazing restaurants – I’m a real foodie – and also spent time in places he enjoys like museums and science lectures. Things were going really well and I assumed we were headed for a permanent relationship. So two weeks ago, I shared with him that I got pregnant at 18 and put the baby girl up for adoption. Letting her go (especially to a closed adoption) was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I knew she needed more than I could give her at that point in my life. Especially because my parents and the father wanted nothing to do with her. Since I told Aaron this, he hasn’t exactly dumped me, but he has definitely pulled back. I asked if what I shared bothered him, but he says it’s just really busy at the engineering firm where he works. What can I do to make things right? I really love him. Signed: Iced Out in Inglewood

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Dear Iced Out: Your desire for honestly is commendable, and there was probably no perfect time to share that kind of information with Aaron. It is true that someone contemplating spending the rest of their life with you needs to know about your baby, but for a number of reasons, it appears Aaron wasn’t quite ready. Let’s take a quick look at the dynamics of your relationship and see what we can do to help you through this.

Putting someone else’s needs over your own as you did when you allowed a couple to adopt your baby says that you probably have a lot of Earth energy in your personality. Foodies usually have a lot of Earth, too. The fact that you perceived you and Aaron heading for a permanent relationship also supports the likelihood that you are an Earth personality because Earths see every relationship through the lens of possible permanence. Aaron, on the other hand, sounds like he could be a Metal personality. Metals love the past and exploring history in museums. They also love understanding how things work (hence the science lectures). The fact that he’s an engineer also supports the idea that Aaron is a Metal person. Engineering is all about developing the best possible way to do something, and Metals strive for perfection.

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Retired Husband Encroaching On Her Turf

Dear Vicki: My husband recently retired from running his own construction business and has gone off the deep end DOING things, including landscaping our yard. He is obsessed with envisioning, planning, shopping, building, completing. We have new decks, new gardens, a new trellis, you name it. He creates deadlines for himself, too, as if this is his job now. He has no other topics of conversation other than his ideas for the yard and I feel like he’s really overdoing it. The other thing that bothers me is that before he retired, I was in charge of the gardening; it was my world. But now he has taken over. He even waters my plants! I get the feeling that he’s laying a claim: now that he’s retired, his world will be outside and mine will be inside. But I love my garden! I don’t want to stay inside! What can I do? Signed, Desperate

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Dear Desperate: Retirement often changes a great deal in a couple’s dynamic. Roles can change, timing of meals can change, even where they live can change. The goal is to approach the changes in a balanced way, and that may not be happening for your husband right now. From a Five Elements perspective, it sounds like he may have too much Wood energy. All that you say he’s doing (envisioning, planning, building, completing) are wonderful aspects of Wood and were probably very important when he had his construction business. You don’t mention what you think his primary element is, but he’s probably a Wood personality; it’s a good element for running a business. And now that he’s retired, he probably doesn’t have the same outlets for his Wood that he used to, so it makes sense that he might seek out new ways of expressing it, including building things in your garden. However, while balanced Woods are definitely focused, they’re usually not obsessed. This makes me rather certain that he’s out of balance with too much Wood energy. So let’s see what we can do.

In the Five Element model, it is Metal’s job to keep Wood energy in check because Wood and Metal relate to each other via the Controlling Cycle with Metal controlling Wood. This means to address his excess Wood energy he needs more Metal energy. You can try to help him build his own Metal by wearing: 1) the color white; 2) a hematite pendant; and/or 3) lemon essential oil on his skin. Or you can use your Metal to moderate his Wood. Since you understand how to work with the elements and he may not, it’s probably going to be easier for you to use your Metal to help balance his Wood. It will also be an important part of your relationship dynamic going forward, and it won’t be that hard for you to do.

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