Picasso was known to be the kind of person who literally sucked the energy out of everyone who spent time with him. Austin Kleon shares this story in his book Show Your Work! (see the book review). Kleon says:
“Picasso's granddaughter Marina claimed that he [Picasso] squeezed people like one of his tubes of oil paint.”
In what some might call the pre-Facebook version of “unfriending,” Romanian Sculptor Constantin Brancusi said he would no longer be around Picasso. After a day in Picasso's presence, Brancusi said he had nothing left with which he could create his own works. Meanwhile, Picasso would paint late into the night while everyone he interacted with that day was exhausted. Picasso was a human vampire: he sucked the life out of others. (He was also a creative genius, so interpret this as you will.)
I think it is helpful to reflect if we have vampires in our own lives. Do you have someone who is squeezing the life out of you? Here are some questions I ask myself as I reflect upon my relationships.
7 Ways to Know if Someone is Squeezing the Life Out of You
- How do you feel after you hang out with someone — energized or listless?
- Do you find yourself upset and unable to concentrate after spending time with them?
- Does this person constantly tell you upsetting gossip or other things that make it hard to do your job or function?
- Does this person listen to you? When they do are they encouraging and positive or do they prod you to go deeper into your negativity?
- Does this person ever have anything positive or invigorating to say?
- Are you a better person for having this person in your life?
- Do you look forward to talking to this person or find yourself dreading them?
Aren't We All Vampires Sometimes?
OK, I know what some of you are thinking — you can't avoid colleagues who are vampires and if your boss is one — then watch out. But I hope you'll consider this in addition to how you already think about your relationships.
Some people thrive on drama. Others thrive on taking their baggage and asking you to carry it around. Others are just negative Nellie's who forget that you seem to find what you look for in the world. We're all mistake makers but some people stew in the mistakes of others.
At the risk of mixing metaphors – let me mix up some sulphuric acid. Listening to some people for very long is like drinking sulphuric acid – it will eat you from the inside out.
We all get negative sometimes. I totally do it too.
But some people major in minor annoyances. If whining deserved a gold medal, they'd be Michael Phelps. They live it. Stew in it. Wear it between their eyebrows and on their face. If you love that person and can help them turn around, then great. But if they are vampires — look out!!! They will suck the life out of you –(and likely your love of teaching with it).
The Case for Necessary Endings
I really do believe as Henry Cloud says in his book Necessary Endings that there are times we must make necessary endings in relationships. Surely, there are relationships you cannot easily sever. I don't want you to use this post as an excuse to walk away from parents, spouses, or siblings. Those are typically relationships worth nurturing and improving.
But there are some vampires you can leave.
While it is excruciatingly hard and can be ridiculously expensive if you've intertwined yourself financially with someone, life is too short to have close relationships with vampires. You can work with them. You can be around them — but do you want to have them as one of your closest friends?
What Do You Do with Vampires?
First, acknowledge there's a problem. Can you go for 24 or 48 hours without interacting with this person? Is your life better or worse?
If this is a person who you have to work with — how can you guard yourself? If you think this is a person you need to get away from read Necessary Endings – Dr. Henry Cloud gives great advice in this book.
If you think you're the vampire (who hasn't been at some point) then acknowledge that you want to change. There are books, videos, and resources to help you with your thinking. Because thinking leads to what you say and how you live. If the classic book The Power of Positive Thinking is too Pollyanna for you, then try The Traveler's Gift: Seven Decisions that Determine Personal Success by Andy Andrews.
Lessons Learned on the USS Petri Dish
One last example I'll give you is a cruise my family went on this past year. We were so excited to be on the cruise – but by the third day of the cruise everyone (but me) was in their stateroom sick. In two cabins we had cases of strep, flu, pink eye, and mono — and my husband had three of them at once!
This cruise ship is just like a toxic person or work environment. Can you live in it ? Yes. Can you possibly stay healthy in it? Yes. Is it hard to stay healthy when surrounded by disease? Absolutely!
You are more likely to get negative yourself if you are around the disease of negativity all the time. Anything can go viral: vision, joy, and especially hopelessness.
You can be a colleague but you don't have to be a best friend. If I have a wish for you in 2015, it would be to avoid the vampires.
They'll suck the life out of you. There will be nothing left for you to live on yourself.
And if the vampire is you — you can change that too!
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