Dealing with the “Stuff” of Life

One of the greatest gifts and greatest challenges in life is being in relationship with others.

I remember, back a million years ago, when I was a young adult, I was nursing a heartache and feeling a bit sorry for myself and had mentioned to a mentor that, “I was better off alone.” Her words have stayed with me ever since.

She said, “You know, it’s easier being alone in many ways because you don’t have to work out your stuff. Your stuff mostly comes out in relationship with other people.”

Of course I hated hearing that at the time. But she was right. In relationship we get to work out all of our stuff in full color. We have our needs, they have their needs and, funny thing, they’re often different. This is true in marriage. This is true in friendship. This is true with our children as much as it is our colleagues. Being in relationship with others takes work.

My husband and I have been married for almost twenty years and this is still true and I expect it always will be. Early on, this truth caused quite a bit of strife. We approached life as a zero-sum game. While there were quite a number of things we agreed on and both wanted, where we diverted, there was strife.

“…Your stuff mostly comes out in relationship with other people.”

So I started to do what women in my family have done since the dark ages, I would subjugate my needs in order to keep the peace. And resent it.

Crazy thing. That didn’t work so well for me! LOL!

As you know, I’m a bit of an opinionated creature, so I could only hold things in for so long before they started seeping out. Like a molting volcano.

What I’ve learned, and continue to learn on a daily basis, is that it’s perfectly okay to have needs. That’s what it means to be human. The challenge is to honor and own our own needs while, at the same time, honoring others’, which is no easy feat.

But that is where both the work and the richness are to be found.

So, like fledglings just out of the nest, not knowing how to navigate, we sought (and continue to seek) ways to get both of our needs met. Instead of mine vs his, we look at them as problems to solve.

How can he have what he wants AND make it possible for me to have what I want? What are the core needs we’re trying to satisfy? (Because, trust me, there are some big fat red herrings that come up!) Where can we compromise? What is negotiable? What are the non-negotiables? When we can step back and look at the differing needs as a puzzle, without requiring one person to sacrifice his/her piece, we’re always much more likely to get a positive outcome.

When we’re committed to ensuring both of our needs are met instead of fighting for our own.

Imagine if this were to happen in politics! Ha!

You don’t need to sacrifice your dreams in order to allow the other person/people in your life to have theirs. That won’t serve either of you in the long run. But you do need to be able to fully understand and represent your needs responsibly. To enter into the conversation as a detective, looking to solve the puzzle of life, not as a prosecuting attorney looking to make the biggest gain at the sacrifice of the other.

To look for the hidden answer in the thick of the stuff.

Because one thing is for sure, in relationship, your stuff will come out. Because you’re human.

It’s how we approach the stuff of life that makes all the difference.

©A Thoughtful Company, LLC


Kimberly Davis
Kimberly Davis
An expert on authentic leadership, Kimberly Davis shares her inspirational message of personal power, responsibility, and impact with organizations across the country and teaches leadership programs world-wide; most notably, her program “OnStage Leadership” which runs in NYC and Dallas, TX. Additionally, Kimberly teaches for Southern Methodist University’s (SMU) Cox School of Business’s Executive Education Program's Transformational Leadership Program and their Latino Leadership Initiative. She is also privileged to teach for the Bush Institute’s WE Lead Program (empowering female leaders from the Middle East). Kimberly is a TEDx speaker and her book, Brave Leadership: Unleash Your Most Confident, Authentic, and Powerful Self to Get the Results You Need, is the 2019 winner of the Benjamin Franklin Silver Award for Business and Career; an Amazon Bestseller in Business Leadership, Business Motivation, and Self-Improvement, and Motivational Business Management; and was named as the number one book to read in Inc. Magazine’s “The 12 Most Impactful Books to Read in 2018,” with a cover-endorsement by best-selling author Daniel Pink.

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  1. Thanks, Kimberly.
    I took German literature for three years in college and got to read Rilke in German. I won’t say it was better or worse, but equally amazing, like cake v. pie.
    We all have baggage about “selfishness,” right? I think that word comes across very different to boys and girls, at least in my time.

    What my wife and I have learned (painfully, through crash-and-burn) is the perils of keeping score. We have a secret grin that says, “Shit! I started keeping score again.” We hold on to each other rather than holding out on each other.


    • Oh! The keeping score thing! Yes. That could be a book in of itself, couldn’t it?! I can’t imagine Rilke in German. I’m doing good to remember Entschuldigung bitte (and there you have the bulk of my German!) Tschüss!

  2. Kimberly, my brave friend, you do like get to the marrow, don’t you?! I laughed out loud at this: “To enter into the conversation as a detective, looking to solve the puzzle of life, not as a prosecuting attorney looking to make the biggest gain at the sacrifice of the other.” I often tease my wife that she should have been a prosecuting attorney. She has one of the quickest minds I’ve ever encountered.

    In all seriousness, we’re facing one of those “How do we meet both our needs?” decisions, and without diving into the deep end of the pool, it has to do with our physical location: NYC is noisy, crowded, dirty, vibrating, and noisy. Did I mention “noisy”? And crowded…. Yeah, I recognize all of its cultural benefits – none of which exist under COViD – but it is the antithesis of my mountain / forest / stream constitution. To her, NYC is heaven. Mountains, forests and streams to my wife? Bugs! Ugh! Ha!

    We’ll figure it out somehow!

  3. Kimberly, your post put me in mind of this:

    “A good marriage is one in which each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of his solitude, and thus they show each other the greatest possible trust. A merging of two people is an impossibility, and where it seems to exist, it is a hemming-in, a mutual consent that robs one party or both parties of their fullest freedom and development. But once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.” (Rainer Maria Rilke)

    The stuff of life, indeed.

    Thank you.