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To Color in The Lines, You Need The Lines

I am terrible at coloring in the lines.

"But David, " you say, "that's a skill you learn in kindergarten."

So is following directions and I still don't do that well.

This is not about following directions, or why I still haven't learned kindergarten lessons. It's about fear...and coloring books.

A few days ago, I got sick. My mother - because she's the best mom in the world - called me to check-in. When I woke up from nap seven, out of seemingly 20. I noticed she called and called her back.

My mother is a problem-solver.

"Well, did you get a booster?”

“Do you know Walgreens has free delivery?”

“Are you going to the place your sister told you about?"

Those questions come from the most loving of places. But at that time, all I wanted was to talk with my mom. I didn't have a problem to solve, it was being solved. As a result, the call made me anxious.

What does this have to do with coloring?

I didn't create the lines for my mom to color in.

Instead, I was questioning why I was responding this way to someone who loves me so much? Why is this getting to me? Why am I stressing out about this call? What am I so afraid of?

My therapist, (shout-out to Dr. Mike), had told me that emotions are chemical reactions, and his words were coming into the foreground of my thoughts as I was trying to understand why my mom's call bothered me.

I realized that the reaction was a stress reaction. Biologically, my brain perceived a threat that sent cortisol piping through my veins. And this was all because I failed to set an expectation for my mom.

All I wanted from her was a "Hey, how are you?”

“I loved your last blog post.”

“Okay... now drink plenty of fluids and call me tomorrow."

As a result of failing to set an expectation to create the border for my mom to color in, I didn't set up my mom (or myself for that matter) for success. Instead, she was coloring blind.

Know where the lines are.

My fear exists when I want to feel the safety of my expectations, and they are not met by others.

If I would have drew an outline of what I was hoping for when my mom started to problem-solve, I would have given my mom the instruction book she needed to be the best and most effective she could be. She colored blind - she didn't know where the borders were.

Part of leveraging fear is defining it.

“Remind yourself to see the causes of things stripped bare. Always to define whatever it is we perceive- to trace its outline- so we can see what it really is: its substance,” former Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius once said.

When you trace an outline of the things that keep you up at night, a mild annoyance, a careless neighbor, or yourself you enable yourself (and others) to come alive and be their most effective selves.

Want to read more from David Brady? Check out his blog at


About the Author

David Brady

David is a customer success and human leader, a DEI consultant, and blog Writer for Brady Helps. He started his blog in April of 2019 for people who believe there's got to be something more and want to get better at doing life.

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