In conversation with my friend last week about work and how I was running into personality and style clashes more than I had been, I mentioned the Tarot. In the tarot, you have 2 major arcana cards dealing with control: The Chariot and Strength.
Their numbers come one after the other, the Chariot first, with its image of a military man atop a sphinx-drawn chariot, scepter, gauntlets, determination, coat of arms. According to my Tarot-for-Beginners book;) this card represents Victory, Will, Self-Assertion, and Hard Control.
The card of Strength depicts a soft-faced woman in a flowing dress and laurel headdress gently, but firmly closing the gaping jaws of a lion beneath her. This card carries the qualities of Strength, Patience, Compassion, and Soft Control.
Which is better? Which works most effectively? Which is the one to use?
I told my friend that I felt like the Chariot, barreling through others’ softer manners with impatience and certainty of the way forward. That I’d contemplated that perhaps I needed to use the softer control of Strength, gently but firmly guiding others to my will.
I did have enough insight to next say: But what if control is just not needed here at all?
I was holding up these two archetypes as if they were the only options for how to proceed at work—and in life. But, what if there was “a third way,” as there always always is.
The third way is the Hanged Man.
I told my friend that this week at work I was going to “step back,” that I needed to stop attempting to control anything and just see what on earth was going on. That my agida was actually causing pain in my liver, as happens when I’m repeatedly brimful with crackly emotions.
Who were my coworkers? How were meetings being led? What results were happening? What was an objective manner of seeing the situation?
So, this week, I did. I sat in several faculty meetings, with the letters “SB” inked on my hand and wrist (“Step Back. Step Back. For chrissake, remember to STEP BACK!!”).
So, what happened? Well, at two of three meetings, I simply observed, watched. What was necessary, what were the dynamics, how were others behaving? I was able to take that step back and, wouldn’t you know, the meetings came off well enough. Sure there were places where my voice could have been added, but mostly what I saw was a clear division between the stepping backs and the stepping forwards, and logged my opinions about all their behaviors (judgement being the next character defect I’ll address!).
At the third and smallest meeting, I took the step-back role allowing the person whose meeting it was to set the tone and pace. Internally, I was screaming to jump in, and then not screaming, as I clicked back in to simply observing.
However, in this situation, it was actually needed that I “step in.” While there were several ways the meeting wasn’t at all going how I would have wanted it to (and there was behavior I deemed atrocious for adult communication) that is not what I addressed as I stepped forward.
I addressed what we were there to do: plan a shared lesson.
I put forth my ideas—didn’t barrel them through—and a plan was written, enacted, and completed. And the students had a positive experience.
I have so many opinions about how that meeting could have gone differently (ahem, better!), but in the end none of those opinions were relevant, necessary, or useful. My experience and ideas as a teacher were what was needed, so that’s what I brought to the table.
The Hanged Man is a place of strength of itself. It is the card of pausing, of stepping back, of “surrendering to win” — by suspending our (er, my) ideas, I can move forward in the world more easily. And not least of all, I discovered that my liver hurts less when I’m not trying to steer the chariot or the lion or anything at all.