Who’s on your board?

Kari Swanson

Businesses have a board of directors. A group of selected people that sit around a table and discuss the pros and cons of the business, what has worked for and/or against the business in question as well as the future of that business and what steps to take to ensure a productive and prosperous future.

There are times that the people on said board disagree about what is being discussed and there are times that board members are asked to no longer be on the board, leave the board and new people come on the board.

Take a minute to answer this, “who is on YOUR board of directors”? (And I don’t mean for work).

This is a question I have asked many clients over the years and it always amazes me the number of people who can’t answer this question or who rattle off a list of people who are or have been in their life. Guess who they ALWAYS leave out? Themselves! Did you list yourself as being on your own board of directors when I just asked the question? It tells me a lot if the person does not even see themselves around their own table of the board of directors of their life.

I am a very visual person so when I do this exercise with people I like to literally draw a table and chairs and label each chair with the person’s name given to me by the person with whom I’m speaking. There are times that this exercise needs to stop so that I can explain to the person why this is important and what this really means in the big picture.

Knowing the influences in your life is important. Who are the people whose opinion matters the most to you? The people who you may actually change your opinion because you so value their honesty and viewpoint? The people who keep your confidences and don’t gossip about you? Those people are around the table. Who are the people that you like to get their opinion but may not allow it to have a drastic input in your final decision? You enjoy their company. Those people may be in the board room but not necessarily at the table. Who are the people you are casually around but know not to share too much personal to unless you want everyone to know about it? These people are not in the room. Finally, who has the absolute final say about the decisions and choices in your life and your future? I hope you said to yourself. You sit at the head of the board table.

There are many times when talking with people that they are so concerned and upset about someone’s view of them or what someone is saying about them to other people. This is when I will say “where is this person on your board of directors”? Most likely this particular person shouldn’t even be in the board room and this becomes apparent to the person getting upset. This helps to de-escalate the situation and allows the person to ask him or herself “why am I so concerned with this person’s words or actions about me”? It is true we do not like to be disliked or talked badly about but guess what? We are going to be disliked and probably talked about. How much power are you going to give this person is the real question.

Family members are not guaranteed a chair around your board table. People you casually hang out with are not guaranteed a chair. People you are around all the time are not necessarily guaranteed a chair either. Chairs need to be earned.

The people in these chairs are the people who you absolutely trust. They are not the wishy-washy here today, not tomorrow influences in your life. You may only have a couple of chairs occupied around your board table. That is fine. As long as the people you are allowing, permitting, giving the honor of sitting at your table have your best interests at heart.

This is an exercise I love to do with youth. They initially will have everyone around their table so much so there is really no sitting room left and people are milling around the board room. It is when I start talking to them about each chair and listening to them describe the person they have given a chair to do they start to wonder why this person is in their board room. The look on their face is sometimes puzzling with an AHA moment tied into it. I have had many youths say to me “geez, this person is cool to be around but I guess not so good with having my back”. People in your chairs have your back.

This is an important thing for everyone to recognize. Not everyone you like and enjoy being around will have your back. Not everyone will have your best interest at heart. This includes family members, friends, and co-workers. You may laugh and have a good time with these people but when it comes down to serious decisions, needing someone to keep something confidential or needing sound advice these may not be your people.

Once I did this exercise for myself, years ago, it really had an impact on who I chose to get upset with and what matters I chose to carry with me. People who are not around my table in my board room who upset me or do things behind my back that I find out about do not get the best of me. I do not give my energy and/or time to those people because, although, maybe I casually hang around those people, I do not entrust personal things to them nor do I go to them in times of good or bad. It was a long time coming to learn this but once I engaged in this visual analogy I had the tools to get myself out of feeling bad when mistreated by simply asking myself “is this person on your board of directors”? If the answer was no, I moved on and if the answer was yes, then I dealt with it with that individual because they were/are an important part of my life.

I see and hear of so many people who struggle with anxiety and depression due to relationship/friend issues. Many of these issues can be remedied by deciding how important things and people are that you are reacting to. When you are constantly going over something said to you or done to you and it is making you angry, sad, anxious please think about this exercise and engage in it. You may be surprised how easy it is to make the decision yourself that it is not worth your time and energy to invest in being upset, sad or anxious. Sometimes we truly choose to stir up our own anxieties and sadness by hanging on to hurts and disappointments by people that really do not have a big part in our lives. We need to recognize this, determine where this person sits in our life (at our board table, in the room, outside the door, down the block) and then move accordingly. Once we relinquish the power we allow others to have over us and put the power back in our own hands, we choose to have control over our emotions.

Kari Swanson is a Master’s level clinician with 25 years of working in the mental health field. She is the founder of CORE–Choosing Openness Regarding Experiences which is a non-profit organization with the mission to provide mental health awareness and suicide prevention education to Warren County.


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