When I am coaching a leader, I talk them through a little exercise. I ask them to imagine themselves walking into in an empty room full of white walls with their mentor and someone they are mentoring by their side. In the middle of this room is a bucket of paint, a roller with an extendable arm, and a ladder. Now, imagine that one of those walls is yours, only one. And the adjacent walls belong to people in your life you are meant to teach or who taught you.
There are two kinds of people: the ones who put off every reason to paint their wall, hoping and expecting someone else will do it for them. This comes from years of upbringing that suggests if we just wait long enough, our teachers and leaders will lose patience with explaining things to us and do it on our behalf. The other kind of person is the one who can’t wait to paint their wall… and everyone else’s. They want to show they are capable; they can do it! And it bothers them to no end when the adjacent walls aren’t up to snuff because they see the ascetic effect it has on their own wall. They see it as an assault against their ability.
The first kind of person is afraid of doing it wrong, the second is afraid of everyone else doing it wrong. The first expresses insecurity through avoidance. The second through control.
My wife is a wall painter. I am not. When we go into a coffee shop, she steps up to order our drinks. When there is a problem with a bill, she makes the call. We both like it that way. She gets the validation of performance and I get the validation of non-failure.
Whether you are of the first or second type, the core issue is the same. We don’t trust ourselves. And because of that, we don’t trust others.
The healthiest person would be one who can receive instructions (we all have to learn to paint at some point), paint their own wall, and then encourage and teach others to paint respective walls.
The issue is that we have a System 1 (learned pattern) that has taught and reinforced victim mentality. Barely veiled in each of our minds is the idea that others will not validate what we do or who we are. Much more deeply veiled within our souls is a distrust of ourselves and our own abilities – our very identity. We live lives in which we are wasting time, waiting for someone to come and answer for us the question that only we can answer for ourselves – Who am I? The answer is a whisper that God has placed deep within each of us. This is why our soul burns with passion and our stomachs sink with longing and our heart rate picks up speed: it is the answer we are so stubbornly expecting from others trying to find its way to our lips.
When Kylie was first teaching me to cook, she would often reach over and do a task for me. She knows how to do it and loves a chance to prove it. Her identity is on the line too often. For my part, the opposite is true. I hide my identity, not willing to refine it through the pain of expression. My identity isn’t on the line often enough.
It is easier to blame others than face this head on – for me to say ‘I never get a chance because others are so aggressive at the paints’ or Kylie to say ‘It’s never going to get done unless I do it!’ We have created a barrier and called it ‘others’. We point at that self-erected wall as the reasons for our behavior, the justification for the way we do things. We point to our parents and our society and all the things that have a legit influence on us, but are not to blame.
Each of us is exactly one identity, one God-created masterpiece. We cannot avoid so by either flooding or starving our personal responsibility.
There is a wall in front of you. A wall made for you. It matches your longings, your gifts, your passions. Its proportions align with the your soul. Paint it. For God’s sake, paint it! Paint it with freedom. Paint it and only it. None of us are victims. Terrible things vie for us, terrible things happen to us. But our wall is never destroyed. It waits patiently for you and only you. The pain and the brokenness jostle the artist, but not the wall. The wall is that sacred part of you that no one can ever touch. The part that only you and God have access to.
What would the world be like if we broke free from the shackles of victim mentality? Who would we be if we stopped avoiding, stopped deflecting, and with joy, peace, and freedom, lived the life of intention we were especially created for by the King of the Universe?
Your wall awaits. And the choice is yours and only yours.