Looking Back: A Reader Asks, “What Element Am I?”

Dear Vicki: I find it interesting to read about the elements, but how do I know for sure what element I am? Wants to Know

Dear Wants to Know: The short answer is that you are all of them: We each have all of the elements in us. The real question is what is your primary element? What element determines the filter you use when you’re stressed, reacting instinctively, or just living? This filter affects almost everything in your life: the people you like, the jobs you hate, what you’re good at, and even the physical challenges you might have.

There are many ways to determine your elemental affinity, including questionnaires, comparing yourself to people whose affinity you know (Robin Williams was a Fire, bless him, and Hillary Clinton is a Wood), studying the elements, and even energy tests. And while all of these are excellent tools, because you are the best expert about yourself anywhere on the planet, I personally think that the best way to determine your affinity is to study the elements and recognize yourself in them.

To begin the process of determining your elemental affinity, a quick question I always ask people is how they act when they’re stressed. Take a moment and think about how you react when something doesn’t go well for you. Do you get angry (Wood) or panicked (Fire)? Do you detach from the problematic situation and people (Metal) or quietly go in a different direction to get what you want (Water)? Or do you try to understand why things aren’t going well and look compassionately on anyone involved in the problem (Earth)? Social training aside, since we automatically revert to our “true self” when really stressed, we can usually determine our elemental affinity easiest when in that state. And if you’re not sure how you act when stressed, ask a friend or family member. I guarantee, they will know.

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Spotlight: Exhausted Accountant Seeks Peace with Water

Dear Readers: July marks the third anniversary of the Ask Vicki blog! Where has the time gone? To honor the occasion, this month we’re going to spotlight several “oldie but goodie” posts from the start of the blog. Enjoy this trip down Memory Lane, and thank you for your ongoing support! Happy July! Vicki

Dear Vicki: I’m a Water element and am trained as an accountant. The learning was easy and I make a good living, but my relationship with my career has not been good. In truth, being an accountant drains me dry and I want a change. Over the years, I have experienced the loss of several family members and have faced my own concerns regarding death, so am wondering if a career in the field of hospice work might be more suitable for my Water. If my heart was in my work, I think I would be so much happier. Am I crazy? Signed, Exhausted Accountant

Dear Exhausted: Accounting requires a profound amount of detail work and following of rules, so is rarely a natural fit for a Water. Minutia and structure do exhaust Waters and disrupt their joy of going with the flow. The only place that your primary Water would stand you in good stead as an accountant is that it’s usually a rather solitary profession and Waters enjoy alone time. Bravo to you for making a go of it all these years!

In truth, Metals are usually the best accountants and the fact that you made it through the training and perform your job well (even though your heart isn’t in it) suggests that you have learned to draw on your Metal. You don’t mention why you chose to become an accountant in the first place, but you surely stepped into Metal to make it through the training and then have been required to hang out in Metal frequently while dealing with the loss of family and processing your feelings toward death. It seems you have probably been an honorary Metal for a long time.

As you consider whether a career change might be a wise course of action, it would help to know what your secondary element is because that’s a strength you’ll bring to anything you do. Our primary and secondary elements usually work together to create the personality we show to the world. Looking at your life, spending so much time in a place of Metal wouldn’t have been particularly difficult for someone with a strong secondary Metal. And your Water would certainly enjoy having the Metal energy around because Metal feeds Water on the Nurturing Cycle. However, since you find your career as an accountant sucking the life out of you, I suspect that even though you hang out there a lot, Metal isn’t your secondary element.

That leaves Fire, Earth, and Wood as possibilities for your secondary element. There is nothing in your letter that describes a desire for fun or a need to connect with people instead of numbers, so I think that rules out Fire. Also, a strong presence of Fire would have made maintaining your Metal activities more difficult because Fire melts Metal via the Controlling Cycle. Wood isn’t a likely secondary for you either because Wood would have found time spent in Metal difficult because Wood and Metal also relate on the Controlling Cycle. And while it is Metal that chops Wood, meaning your Metal would still be in place to perform your job, that Wood energy would have become frustrated and angered by the control. But since you don’t mention anger or a need to get ahead, I suspect Wood isn’t your secondary element, either.

Earth remains as a possible secondary, which given your interest in hospice work, seems like a good fit. Earths need to have their heart in what they do, they love helping people, and many find hospice work rewarding. Your primary Water would also be helpful in hospice work; it’s usually a one-on-one approach that’s well suited for them. And while making peace with death certainly draws on the Metal energy of letting go, it also draws on the philosophic underpinnings of Water. But if you are a secondary Earth, where has your Earth been all this time? I’m guessing that the years of elevated Metal energy sucked the life out of your Earth because Earth feeds Metal on the Nurturing Cycle. If you can step away from a profession that requires so much Metal, your Earth secondary will probably come back in full force.

Bottom line, I think hospice work might well be a great next step in your life path given all you’ve been through. The wisdom and experience you have gained regarding loss and death from your Metal time will bring a deeper understanding and connection to hospice work. Earth rules the compassion so necessary in hospice work, and the philosophic focus of your Water will help keep things balanced. So if you feel called to some form of hospice work, it could well be a perfect fit. And it will certainly remove you from the accounting job that threatens to overwhelm you. Good luck!

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Fire and Grief: Like a Cloud Over the Sun

Dear Vicki: My teenage daughter Stacy’s best friend Rachel was killed in a car accident last winter. Stacy and Rachel were very close and it has been a horrible time for Stacy. I’ve been as supportive with her process as possible, but there’s been no laughing, giggling, or joy in the house since the accident. A cloud has covered the sun of our family life and I think it’s time for things to get back to normal. Our family has a big vacation planned for the end of summer, something that’s been in the works for over a year, but Stacy still isn’t herself. She’s functional, but doesn’t laugh, isn’t very interested in the trip, stays in her room a lot, and is still withdrawn from the family. This is such a change from how she used to be: She was funny, outgoing, loved parties, and laughed all the time. I know she’s a Fire, but there’s no Fire in her now. I understand the need to grieve, but I’m losing patience. As her mother, is it appropriate for me to step in more firmly and demand that she snap out of it? This is affecting our whole family. Signed: Running Out of Patience

Dear Running: It’s always hard when someone we love passes over. The joy goes out of life. We feel empty, alone, and shaken. Grief takes up residence in our hearts and appears to settle in for a permanent stay. How long this lasts will vary greatly. You don’t mention if Stacy has ever experienced the loss of someone close to her, but if this is the first time, it’s important to support her and allow her the time she needs to process the loss. It’s also important to answer any and all questions she may have and offer wisdom from whatever religious or philosophic traditions your family embraces. And I believe there are ways that the Five Elements can help with the process, too.

The element that holds grief and letting go is Metal and no matter what our primary element is, we all usually become temporary members of the Metal Club when dealing with loss. The goal, of course, is that we use the solitude and synthesizing aspects of Metal as a safe haven while we process the grief, then return to our normal, balanced self. However, sometimes we can get stuck in that Metal place. With too much Metal energy, we find it hard to let go of the past and move forward.

When this happens, we need Fire energy because Fire melts Metal (Fire relates to Metal on the Controlling Cycle). The good news for you and Stacy is that as a primary Fire element, it will be easier for Stacy to tap into Fire energy and when it’s time, move out of Metal back to Fire. But the timing matters. It’s unwise to rush grief; it needs to be fully processed for the healing to be complete. And on this topic, I want to offer you a word of caution.

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Wood Friend Green with Envy

Dear Vicki: I’m writing because my good friend Jessie has recently started complaining a lot about her sister. The sister has a new job and according to Jessie, she never calls her anymore, won’t do her share at family gatherings, seems snobby, etc. I know her sister and she’s a kind and very logical person, so suspect this isn’t true. I also know that Jessie lost her job a few years ago and while she’s told me she loves the free time, I’m wondering if Jessie is jealous of her sister’s new job. I’m pretty sure Jessie is a Wood (she managed a big box store), and I have no idea what her sister is. Maybe a Metal? Her new job is with a financial firm. Is there a specific element that gets jealous? And how can I help Jessie? Signed, The Sounding Board

Dear Sounding Board: First, Jessie is very lucky to have you in her life. We all need people to listen to us and I think what’s happening for Jessie is that she’s processing how she feels about the fact that she doesn’t have a job anymore and now her sister does. This is sure to cause Jessie to re-live the loss of her own job and probably re-evaluate whether the free time has been the great opportunity she thinks it is. And if Jessie is a Wood, this won’t be a pleasant experience for her because Woods don’t like looking back; life is all about the future and moving forward for them. As Jessie ponders her sister’s new job, she is likely to see it as an indication that her sister is successfully moving forward while she is not. Personal accomplishment matters a great deal to Woods and in our culture accomplishment is usually tied to our occupation. This is especially true for Woods.

Further, if Jessie’s sister is a Metal, it will make the whole dynamic even more unpleasant for Jessie because Metal relates to Wood on the Controlling Cycle. Even without words, Jessie will feel a subtle sense of being controlled by her sister because that’s what Metal does to Wood. Because anything that causes a Wood to feel held back or stuck is viewed as a problem, this could be the dynamic prompting Jessie’s inaccurate criticism of her sister. We’ve all had times when we feel unhappy and projecting the blame onto something other than ourselves, be that another person, a situation, a lost opportunity, etc.

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Metal Employee and Motherhood

Dear Vicki: I’m writing because I’m having trouble with a woman who works for me. I run a small accounting firm where Greta has been a valued employee for eight years. I don’t know as much about the Five Elements as I do about accounting, but I suspect Greta is a Metal. She has been on time, thorough, precise, and steady the whole time she has worked for us. She also remembers birthdays and listens when people have problems, so is well liked in the firm. However, earlier this year Greta had her first child and since returning from maternity leave, she has made several minor mistakes in her work, seems preoccupied, and has allowed her desk to become more messy than usual. She has a major thing for sugar now, too, and actually brings cookies for the office. I’m concerned about this change as it has required me to be much more hands on than I used to be and I don’t like the distraction. I want to focus on innovations for our business. Is this a motherhood thing for Greta or something else? More importantly, will she ever get back to the stellar employee she once was? I’d hate to fire her, but it may come to that. Signed: Responsible in Rochester

Dear Responsible: You are facing a situation that many employers face when an employee becomes a mother: Things change. Greta has a new top priority now, which is her child. She also has hormones flooding her body that reinforce this shift in priorities. She is bound to be different, but that doesn’t mean she won’t remain a valuable employee. You don’t mention how long Greta has been back from maternity leave. If it’s only a few weeks, I suggest you cut her some slack a while longer. She is most likely running on fewer hours sleep than usual since babies wake often during the night. She is also trying to juggle the numerous demands associated with her changed family and still do an excellent job.

Excellence matters to Metals, as you have seen over the past eight years with Greta. And that hasn’t changed for her; she will still do her best for you. But you will need to give her time to make order out of the wonderful chaos her baby has added to her life. As a Metal, Greta will find the process and structure necessary to juggle her work and family life successfully because that’s what Metals do. They excel at creating a hierarchy that allows everything to work smoothly. However, right now Greta isn’t just a pure Metal. She is a Metal with a strong secondary Earth. Let me explain.

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