Ask Meagan!

Meagan M. O’Nan is a trained and experienced Life Coach, award-winning author of ‘Creating Your Heaven on Earth’, blogger, poet, and supporter of the underdog. She has a life coaching practice in Columbus, MS.(Meaganonan.org)

Do you have a question pertaining to life, career, relationships, etc.? You do? Then, Ask Meagan! Submit your questions to meagan@realstorypublishing.com. Personal information, such as your name, will NOT be published.

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Topic: Owing Money to Friends

Question

Dear Meagan,

I have a friend who’s also in my professional circle that I owe money to. I don’t have the money to pay him back, but I have told him that, a couple of times before, so now I’m just avoiding him. That’s uncomfortable enough, but now it’s starting to affect my professional life, because I find myself avoiding business meetings, since I might run into him. I don’t have the money to pay him back, but I don’t want to sound like a “broken record”, either. What should I do?

Answer

These types of situations are tough, and very common. It sounds to me like it is important to you to feel comfortable in business settings, in order to increase your own exposure and the exposure of your business.  If that’s the case, then you have to take some sort of action. In addition to this, whenever we start avoiding people, we typically start feeling some sort of guilt as a result, which in turn leads to lower self-confidence and ultimately affects both your business and your personal life.

There are many different actions you can take, to help you through this situation.  The first questions that I would ask are, do you want to pay your friend back, and will you regret not paying him back, at some point? I will assume the answer to both questions is yes, otherwise you probably wouldn’t have written to me.  Assuming that, I would consider following the steps below.

1)  As uncomfortable as it may be (remember, the focus is on building your confidence), ask your friend to meet with you (you choose the most comfortable setting).

2)  Before your meeting, look at your budget and decide where you can cut back in any other area, and how much you can cut back, so that you can present a solid plan to your friend.

3)  At the meeting, state the obvious. Tell your friend that you are sorry for sounding like a broken record (it’s important to admit how you really feel) and that you would like to work with him on making a plan to pay him back.

4)  Ask your friend how soon he needs the money from you (remember, you borrowed from him).

5)  Realistically decide how much you can pay per month (depending on his answer and depending on what you already know your budget is), until you are all paid up, and communicate that to him, clearly. Your friend might be open to $5 a month (which would mean one less coffee date or social drink for the month). If your friend needs more than you think you can handle, be honest by saying that you don’t think you can do that and state what you know you can do. *This is where we typically mess up: we make a promise that we can’t keep (because we want the other person’s acceptance and love), and then we end up back at “square one” (and it will be even harder to start over, if so).

6)  Follow your plan. Staying true to your word is important, in moving forward. If an unexpected, yet very important expense comes up (like your car dies and you can’t get to work anymore), then communicate with your friend and tell him exactly what is going on and what he can expect from you, as far as what you need to do to alter your plan to pay him back. The important thing is to stick to what you said and, if you can’t stick to it, to communicate clearly and make another plan.

7)  If, for whatever reason, you sincerely cannot afford a penny to pay your friend back, right now, then offer to mow his yard or work for him, or consider taking a part-time gig to get you through. There are many solutions to every problem; the key is always communication.

How important is maintaining the friendship to you? If the relationship is important to you and you avoid all that I have suggested, the feeling of guilt will not disappear. Even if your friend sloughs off your offer and says, “Don’t worry about paying me back,” you will have to decide if your values will allow you to really let it go and accept his gift, or if you feel the need pay him back, regardless (only you know that answer). The key to knowing the answer to that is in observing how confident you feel when you are around him. If you don’t feel like you can be yourself, completely – chances are high that you need to take action in order to stop avoiding future business opportunities, not to mention saving the friendship.

We put ourselves in positions like these (and stay there) because we are used to feeling “bad” about ourselves. It often takes a bit of courage to make the first move to start feeling “good” again, but, after the first step, it gets easier and easier to move forward, and your self-confidence in all areas of your life will continue to rise, too.

Originally Published in the June 6, 2012 Print Edition

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Topic: Bi-Racial Relationship and Unsupportive Family

Question

Dear Meagan,

I was raised in a good Christian family, taught to believe that, in and above all things, God is love.  I love my parents, and I have always considered us a close-knit family. I have been dating someone for quite a while now, and I have asked her to marry me.  My family has never supported this relationship because she is black (I am white); they have never even met her and haven’t wanted to, in spite of my trying many times.  We have been dating for almost a year, and I know this woman is the love of my life.

I was in another very painful and unhealthy relationship before this, and I don’t understand, first, how my parents, who taught me that God is love, can’t see past my fiancée’s skin color; and, second, how they can’t see how happy I am with this woman.  I really want them there for the wedding, but at this point it looks like their narrow-minded principles are more important to them than my happiness.

How can I make them see that what they are doing is the antithesis of what they taught me?

Answer:

I wish I had the perfect answer that would solve everything for you, but I am afraid I don’t. However, I can give you some things to think about and a few tools to use while you are going through this tough time.

Unfortunately, you cannot change your parents. No one can change anyone else. The first and best thing you can do for yourself is to identify whatever hurt (rejected) feelings you might have, so that you can work with those, rather than trying to change your parents.  At that point, you can, then, release your parents’ choice and let it be their choice – not your choice – their choice.

We cannot live our lives waiting for others to accept our choices…even if it is unjust or unfair, which I feel this situation is. Moments, like these, in life are opportunities to embrace who we are, further, so that we can become stronger, more compassionate, and better human beings. I know it isn’t easy, and I am not making light of your situation, but, in my experience, I have found that most people who reject others, without getting to know them, often have unresolved hurts from their own life and it is difficult for them to embrace change and embrace new types of love.

If you carry the weight of trying to figure out how to feel accepted and how to make your family accept your fiancée, you may end up fighting a losing battle. Turning your attentioninward, and accepting the situation for what it is will lessen the tension and help you let your parents be where they are. This is no easy task for anyone to overcome, but, in due time, you can do it. It may mean that you will not be able to be around your parents for a while, and only associate and spend time with people who you absolutely know support you. The key is to build yourself up, so that when you are presented with an opportunity (if you are) to speak with your parents, you can come from a space of confidence and love, rather than resentment and anger.

The truth is, your parents may never come around. Working through what is yours (i.e., your feelings, your responses) is the only way you will be able to move past a situation like this.  Dealing with your feelings in regard to the worst possible scenario will often help you to move on and feel less like you need to change who your parents are (a personal coach and/or counselor can help with this, if it’s too hard to do on your own). And, you can always hope for the best and pray for opportunities for baby steps to happen. Act when you can act with a clear mind, and let the rest go.

For whatever reason, we, as human beings, are more content with staying in our comfort zones, and until someone pushes us out of our comfort zone…we don’t realize our ability to adjust and our true capability to love more deeply. Often, we don’t take risks because we do not love who we are and are not confident in ourselves.

Your parents’ decision not to give your fiancée a chance has nothing to do with you. It has everything to do with who they are choosing to be. Now, you have been given an opportunity to choose who you want to be, in this situation. If you can rise above their choice and see them for the loving part that you know might be there; continue to be who you are; set clear boundaries (this involves you knowing how far you can go without letting your parents’ opinion completely destroy who you are); and surround yourself with a supportive and loving community, then, although this situation might still sadden you, it will not overtake you.

Originally Published in the May 23, 2012 Print Edition

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Topic: Honesty and Friendship

Question

Dear Meagan:

I’m in a pretty awkward position, and I hope you can help me.  I am pretty close with the owner of a local company that my best friend wants to work for.  She has asked me to put in a good word for her, because she wants to apply for a certain position with that company.  The problem is that I think – well, actually, I know – that she would be terrible at the job.  Really terrible, I mean.  I don’t want to tell her that, because her heart is really set on doing this particular thing and she thinks she’s really good at it.  She’s so excited about the prospect of this job.  I don’t want to hurt her feelings, but I also don’t want to tell my other friend (the head of the company) that she would be good at it, when she wouldn’t.  What should I do???

Answer:

Thank you for your question! This is a tough situation to be in, but you certainly aren’t stuck.

The first question you have to ask yourself is, what is most important to you – your integrity, your honesty, your friendship, or how you want to appear to others? In every situation, there are numerous solutions. Let me pose a few solutions to you for this particular circumstance:

1.) You could support your best friend in her endeavor, (because you have decided that your friendship is more important to you than anything) but tell your friend that you don’t feel comfortable putting in a good word, because you feel that would be a conflict of interest, on your part. Plus, if your best friend hasn’t worked for you before, then you cannot fairly represent her skill set (of course, this is only true if being fair is important to you).

2.) Tell your best friend that you would be happy to put in a good word (because you just can’t say, “no”). When you do this, remember that you are uncomfortable with representing your friend for this particular job, so you are likely to not speak authentically to the employer. Is authenticity important to you? If you do, however, choose to speak to the employer, one way to avoid swaying the employer in one direction or another is to talk about the skills that you KNOW are strong and positive characteristics that your best friend does, in fact, have. The employer can then make up their own mind about whether your best friend is a good fit or not.

3.) Tell your best friend to go for the job, and tell the employer that your best friend would be great at that job. Some issues that might arise for you if you choose to do this are: a. You find yourself shying away from the employer when they confide in you about why your friend isn’t what you said they were, hence, keeping yourself from building a stronger relationship, b. If your best friend gets fired, down the road, this could be potentially awkward, because you were dishonest, not because your friend got fired. Small “white lies” (or stretching the truth,) with good intentions, often dig the biggest holes.

4.) Encourage your friend to go for the job and that you will put in a good word for her, when you have no intention of actually doing so. I am pretty positive that if you do this, you might not feel great about yourself in the end, and you could potentially keep yourself from being your best you.

5.) Lastly, you could tell your friend that you don’t think they would be a good fit for the job, because you value honesty more than friendship. Only you can make that choice and we all have different values. If you choose this option, just make sure that you find a way to tell your friend in a loving way and be sure to highlight all of their great qualities (and maybe even suggest other employment options).

All in all, it is important to identify your values and act on what you will feel best about, at the end of the day. The cleaner and clearer you are in your communication and intention (think and check in with yourself, before you speak) the better you will sleep at night. If you feel like you made a mistake and spoke too soon, correct your mistake by apologizing, and then take a different route – it is never too late to change your course of action.

One way to know if you are making the right choice for you, is to let go of what everyone might think of you (because you don’t really know what they are thinking, anyway). Once you let that go, choose what is an absolute “YES” for you (not a half-hearted “yes”) and then do it…the rest will work itself out.

 Originally Published in the May 16, 2012 Print Edition

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Topic: Discrimination in the Workplace

Question

My boss can be an extremely bigoted person and I often wonder if my approach is correct.  Normally, I just say nothing in return, or if it is political/news-related, I just say, “I haven’t had time to read up on all that stuff.”

Sometimes, I feel like my saying nothing is an acknowledgement that what they are saying is ok.  But, if I openly disagree, then I risk alienating my boss.  I feel like I am in a no-win situation.  My employer supplied a carpool, which a few of us used, so that we could save money on gas. I had to stop using the carpool, after a few months, because I couldn’t handle hearing all of the hateful things she was saying. 

Am I contributing to the problem by not standing up?

Answer

First of all, congratulate yourself for choosing not to take the carpool because of the negativity. That is, at least in my book, standing up for yourself and doing what is right for you! You identified what was making you uncomfortable and you found a solution.

There is no right way or wrong way to deal with the issue you have presented. What I would ask yourself is, what is most important to you, at the end of the day? If it is more important to you to keep your job and not, potentially, “rock the boat”, then you should remain silent – in which case, you will have to find a way to repress your emotions and make peace with yourself.

If it is more important to you to not have to worry about those awkward moments, then let me suggest how you can approach your boss, the next time she says something negative about someone. Whatever you do, don’t respond with a quivering anger in your voice; no one responds well to that. Since you already know what to expect from your boss, perhaps you can prepare yourself, mentally, for the next moment. If you don’t feel like you can respond “in the moment” (which is how I am), ask your boss for a meeting to chat.

You can tell your boss that you are most effective and focused when everyone is positive and supportive. Tell her that you are uncomfortable when people are talked about in a negative way, because it distracts from the purpose of your work and it brings you down.

If you are clear that you don’t want that kind of negativity around you, then you have every right to ask those around you not to talk about others while you are around. Things will be uncomfortable at first, and maybe a little awkward for a while, but they will come around. Plus, you will, at least, get to go home at night feeling good about yourself. Eventually, if things don’t change in your work environment, and you feel that you have done everything in your power, then you can explore other opportunities. You are never stuck.

All in all, I believe that people are good, and we all want to do good in the world. If we get caught up in negativity, it becomes contagious, until someone gently reminds us who we are and who we can become. It is difficult to be the person that does the reminding to support one another, but you can do it in a loving, respectful manner, so that you feel good about you.

I have no doubt you are doing the best you can, and I admire you for reaching out. Best of luck!

Originally Published in the May 9, 2012 Print Edition

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