Don’t Take It Personally

I have a friend and business colleague. His name is Steve. Even though he lives in New Jersey and I in Colorado, we stay in touch. About nine months ago Steve dropped off the radar. He didn’t respond to my emails or phone calls. I didn’t worry about this at first. We’re both pretty busy and can let things get away from us sometime. But as one month stretched into two and two to three, and he didn’t respond to my emails and calls, I began to wonder if Steve was cutting me out of his life.

I called him in December and left a voice mail. I heard nothing from him – not even holiday wishes. I was about ready to write off our friendship. His birthday was last week. I decided to try one more time. I sent him an e birthday card.

That day I got an email from Steve. It said…

Bud, the card, and just remembering, is really thoughtful. And I am indeed savoring every minute today. Here’s what’s been up: I was in a very bad auto accident last May 10 and the injuries to my back and neck were serious. In the meantime, the ongoing pain finally got to me–even with meds–and I had a mild stroke earlier in January. So, I have been attempting to stay under the conversational radar because it drains my energy.

I will give you a shout out either over the weekend or next week. I just had a procedure on my back on Monday and am still under the effects of the anesthesia and other “stuff”.

Other than that, I feel great!!!!

All the best, and thanks again.


Steve wasn’t cutting me out of his life. He was dealing with some pretty serious health issues. I was really glad I sent those birthday greetings.

This whole situation reminds me of some of the career advice I regularly give to my coaching clients – don’t take it personally.

I was taking Steve’s non responsiveness personally. I was wondering what I did wrong. Was he angry at me? And, for that matter, shouldn’t I be angry at him for not replying to my phone calls and emails? As it turns out, his lack of response had nothing at all to do with me, and everything to do with what was happening in his life.

I was being self-centered. I was taking things personally. I should have known better. I should have taken my own advice. If you think about it, taking things personally is a bit narcissistic. It’s assuming that other people’s behavior is guided by how you’ll react.

My mom was good at this. When I was a kid and did something that she didn’t like, she would say, “You did that just to make me mad.” When she said this, I can remember thinking, “Mom, I wasn’t thinking about you when I did…I just did it.”

When you take things personally, you give up a lot of your power. You cede it to other people. You assume their actions were driven by something you did – or didn’t do. As the story about Steve shows, this is seldom true.

The second agreement in Don Miguel Ruiz’ great book The Four Agreements is “Don’t Take Anything Personally”. Here’s what Mr. Ruiz has to say about taking things personally:

“Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves. All people live in their own dream, in their own mind; they are in a completely different world from the one we live in. When we take something personally, we make the assumption that they know what is in our world, and we try to impose our world on their world.

“Even when a situation seems so personal, even if others insult you directly, it has nothing to do with you. What they say, what they do, and the opinions they give are according to the agreements they have in their own minds. Their point of view comes from all the programming they received during domestication…

“When you take things personally…you make something big out of something so little, because you have the need to be right and make everybody else wrong. You also try hard to be right by giving them your own opinions.”

Taking things personally is narcissistic. When you take things personally, you are assuming that that what another person does or says is because of what he or she thinks of you. In my experience, in 99.999% of cases, most people do not do things because they think they will upset me, make me angry, make me happy or sad. They do what they do for their own reasons.

The common sense career success point here is simple. Don’t take things personally – even if they seem very personal to you. You’ll build stronger, more lasting relationships and become known as an interpersonally competent person.

Your career mentor,



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