Owning it has been on my mind a lot lately, and, after a really thoughtful e-mail from a reader last week with some questions for further discussion, I realized it’s time for a follow-up rule.
Or, “Let others own it as you would own it unto yourself.”
See, owning it is great and all, but how is this whole thing going to work if all we do is own our lives and keep guilt tripping our friends when they want to own theirs? I mean, it’s not like we all just need to own it for no reason. We need to own it because other people have been keeping us from owning it. So consider this rule a reminder that even if you’ve been owning it like crazy, perhaps you’re still part of the problem.
Letting your friends own it takes practice, but it’s totally doable!
Let’s say your friend comes to you and says she is not going to go to Harvard Business School as she had planned to do her entire life.
First, remember the Don’t Be Ridiculous Clause in the original rule.
It shall be noted: If what you are owning qualifies as ridiculous, then the first rule takes precedence over the fourth rule. So don’t even try to get all, “He hits me because he loves me and I’ve owned it! You’re a bad friend for saying I should leave him!” Um, the fourth rule does apply here. As in, “Sorry I’m not sorry, but that guy’s batshit and I’m calling the cops. If that makes me a bad friend — I’ve owned it.”
So if your friend says, “I’ve decided I’m not going to go to Harvard Business School. I’m moving in with my new 18-year-old boyfriend. You know, the one who has three illegitimate children, lost his job for failing a drug test, and is probably going to get evicted before too long. Sorry I’m not sorry!”…then you have a bit more ground to stand on.
Not that it really matters, because what I’m going to say next is the same whether or not your friend is being ridiculous.
The most important thing is that you have to own your response to your friend.
Let’s say your friend isn’t forgoing school to be with a baby daddy. Let’s say she comes to you and says, “I’ve decided I’m not going to Harvard Business School. I don’t want to go and then go to work for some big company; I just want to open my own bakery and I don’t want to wait. I’ve owned it.” But you think she should go to grad school because you saw how hard she worked to get there and [insert any number of reasons here you think you’re right, reasons that ultimately just mean that you think you know better than she does].
Let me be clear: you have the right to speak up. You have the right to disapprove. But you have to own it. Don’t ask her, “Have you considered just deferring for a year?” and “Are you sure you can afford to start a bakery?” and “Really? You want to give up your power suits and make cupcakes all day?”
The problem is that these questions make it seem like your friend hasn’t considered the most obvious things. And I bet she has. Seriously, you don’t think she thought about deferring? You don’t think she thought about whether or not she can afford it? You’re friends with someone who…doesn’t have the basic intelligence of an adult? (Even though she got into Harvard Business School?!)
Remember, the original rule says, “Don’t ask. Do tell.” That applies to both owning it and letting your friend own it. Don’t ask if she’s considered other options. Just tell her why you think there is a better option.
As in, “Dude, I think it’s crazy that you’re going to give up everything you’ve worked so hard at for years to go start your own business. Starting a business is so expensive and I’m worried you won’t be able to afford it.”
It’s totally OK to disagree with your friend. You’re owning that you disagree.
So you say your piece once. And then you know what you do next?
YOU MOVE THE FUCK ON.
And this is where most of us fail.
Because typically, when our friend comes back with, “This is my dream. I’m not asking you, I’m telling you — I can feel that this is the right thing to do,” we don’t trust her. We don’t let her go and try and find out for herself. We don’t stop and think that it’s her life and not ours. We think we know what is best for her.
To let your friends own it, you sort of have one shot to make your case. And if your friend still doesn’t agree, then fine. At least you know you spoke up and said something. This isn’t so you can say, “I told you so,” if it doesn’t work out. (And if you would say that…I don’t want to be friends with you.) It’s so that if it doesn’t work out, she doesn’t look back and say, “Why didn’t anyone try to stop me?” No one wants to wake up in five years, realize they’ve made a terrible decision, and then find out that everyone in their life thought it was doomed from the start but didn’t bother to say something. Your job as a friend is to say something…and then move on. Let it go. Don’t get yourself all worked up. It’s her life.
Once your friend says “I’ve owned it” or “Sorry I’m not sorry,” take that as a cue that she’s over it. She’s over the conversation. From that point on, your only job is to say, “I know you know what’s best for you and I support your decision 100 percent. I can’t wait to see how this works out for you. And you better make me lots of cupcakes.”