One of the things I really enjoy about working with business leaders and organizations is the ability to grow by focusing on something outside oneself.
As a therapist, my focus was internal and naturally, always directed towards my clients. As we talked, we focused on the emerging stories, and intensely on each other. In that sacred space, much about relating in general is revealed. It is a binary process.
In my work with businesses, our focus is on growing the initiative. Even if I am meeting with a client face-to-face, discussing his or her behavior, the stance is as if we are side-by-side, facing outward towards the mission or business, tracking what is being set into motion. There is still personal growth, but somehow it’s all way less personal. It occurs in the service of growing something else: The third thing.
This third thing creates a triangle: The two of us partnering to develop something outside ourselves. Triangles are incredibly stable. (Can you believe those pyramids have lasted THIS many years???)
The triangle is the ideal geometric configuration of parents towards children — two standing side-by-side, focused on the task of raising the other(s). Single parents often triangulate with grandparents or other caregiving figures to create a stable environment for their children. Disfunction is obvious when a parent and child make up the stable ends of the triangle.
In relationships without children, finding a third thing — like a shared hobby or vision — is incredibly useful in getting out of the weeds. In early dating, when we rush into romantic dinners, all there is to focus on across the table is the other person. That binary set up leaves each party vulnerable to pressure and weakens the task of gathering valuable information about the other.
By choosing activities that place the focus on a third thing, you can learn a great deal about a person. How a potential partner responds to a painting, or an activity they’ve never tried, will tell you as much or more about who they are than their stated answer to a personal question.
When you feel trapped inside your head with your thoughts and feelings, polarized between the big and small self, searching for the outcomes you wish to create will guide you to a third focal point and create perspective. Desired outcomes force you to own your impact.
The third thing offers us space and perspective when the inner work has come to a momentary standstill.