I was recently given the chance to pick out furniture for my new office. A colleague of mine walked me over to an enormous warehouse on campus that was filled with every piece of beautiful (but old) furniture imaginable: Queen Anne sofas, Hitchcock chairs, antique coffee tables, etc. When two gorgeous velvet armchairs caught my eye, I was told: “Those came from the president’s office…but you can have them.” Awesome.
The next morning, the men from the warehouse delivered the chairs. Much to my chagrin, my new supervisor stopped the men in the hallway and told them to put one of the armchairs in her office and the other one in mine. “We’ll share,” she told me. ‘But I don’t want to share!’ I thought. I’m not going to lie…her audacity really bothered me. At first. I even approached her and said, “I think the chairs should stay together, don’t you?” (admittedly a slightly passive aggressive way to say, “Hey, that’s not fair!”). I was met with a smile that indicated the chair would stay exactly where it was. In her office.
My awareness surrounding the situation allowed me to think about what the chairs really represented for me. It took me a good 24 hours to realize that it’s not about them at all. It’s not about my attachment to them (let’s be honest…I can’t be very attached to these chairs when I didn’t even know they existed two days earlier) and it’s definitely not about having a perfectly decorated office either. Rather, I realized that I was bothered by my supervisor’s entitlement to the chair and her gesture of taking something that I had wanted (side note: she was also given the job for which I originally applied). Ah ha. So it makes total sense that the chairs represented my desperate need to control a situation in which I really had no control. The residual “stuff” that I had buried –my resentment at the fact that she was given the managerial position– was coming back up in this interesting “chair scenario.” And I desperately wanted to draw a definitive line between what was mine and what was hers.
When we take a moment to look at a situation from all angles, we realize that sometimes it’s not just about a chair. (And yet so many of us get into bitter arguments over material possessions. Why is that?) Often, these items are just placeholders for our emotions: our fear, resentment, attachment, or anger. Simply identifying this –and looking at the situation through a different lens– makes life so much easier, clearer, and more peaceful.
As I look at the chair now, I no longer think, ‘Where is its other half?!’ but rather, ‘This chair is pretty damn nice all on its own.’ And I’m definitely grateful for what it taught me.