The Rule of 10-10-10
Using 10-10-10 in a divorce situation is at the extreme end of the spectrum, but over the past few years, my friends and family have borrowed it to wrestle with dilemmas of all sizes.
A woman I know, for instance, used 10-10-10 to help her resolve a difficult situation with an old friend. Lori and Sarah (let's call them) roomed together in college and, soon after, married men who got along so well that the couples came to spend many Saturdays together. Eventually, however, Sarah divorced and remarried a man that Lori and her husband found unbearably sarcastic.
A year of awkwardness ensued, as Lori made every kind of excuse to avoid get-togethers. When Sarah finally stopped calling, Lori wondered if it was time to let the relationship go. She turned to 10-10-10 to determine what to do next.
Lori predicted that the 10-minute and 10-month consequences of ending the relationship would feel something like the death of a friend who had been very ill. There would be sorrow—but also a mitigating portion of relief. In 10 years, though, those feelings would be gone, replaced by regret. That was an outcome she couldn't accept. The only option, then, was to tell Sarah the truth and ask her to consider returning to the one-on-one friendship of their college days.
She knew that the immediate consequences of that conversation could be irreparable harm: no more friendship and an ugly wound, too. But if they could survive one tough talk, Lori figured, they had decades of good times ahead of them.
The conversation was not easy, but the friendship's history carried them through it. Today, Lori says, "We both feel grateful that we didn't lose it all."
Another friend of mine finds herself using 10-10-10 to get through the patches of second-guessing that occasionally interrupt a life she loves but never planned on. Fifteen years ago, she was a sales representative for a pharmaceutical company. She loved the job, and the job loved her. The first in her family to attend college, she was looking forward to a long and successful corporate career.
Then came marriage and two children. My friend tried to keep working, but one day, when she returned from a week on the road, the nanny put her son in her arms, and he didn't recognize her. She quit, telling herself she would go back the minute she could.
That minute never came. She has three children now, the youngest a baby.
"The other day, I was cleaning the refrigerator and Sammy was crying his head off, and inside I was screaming, "What have I done?" she told me recently. "10-10-10 reminded me."
Both the 10-minute and 10-year scenarios made her shudder. "Short term, I'm looking at a lot of diapers and spit up," she said, "and long term, I'm seeing a big black hole. Kids gone, but so is my career."
But, she says, "for me it's all about the time in between. When Sammy catches a ball, and Emma has her first flute recital, and Alex starts to shave, I'll be there. I gave up one dream, but I got a reality I couldn't walk away from."
Incidentally, this friend introduced her sister to 10-10-10, and she recently wrote me about her own twist to the method. It's important, she said, to make sure you're not basing too many decisions on any particular time frame. "If I'm responding to the 10-minute consequences, I'm probably living too impulsively," she explained.
A graduate student who heard me speak about 10-10-10 at Harvard not long ago questioned how much the process could help her. "I think your method works," she said, "only if you already know what you want from life." She said that 10-10-10 helped me realize I should go to my son's karate test because I valued being a good mother more than career success.
I told her that knowing your priorities may help you with the 10-10-10 process, but it can also help you discover them. Using 10-10-10 to sort out my divorce, for example, helped me learn that I valued living authentically more than living the "perfect picture" for all to see.
Speaking of pictures, I recently came across one of myself in an old photo album, taken just about the time of my conversation with that kindly man at the dinner party. Baby on hip, phone to ear—I look distracted, to say the least.
My face is different now. It's aged more than a little, that's for sure. But the anxiety is gone. Without a doubt, there are a couple of good reasons for that (no more babies on hips, for one). Still, I know that the three questions of 10-10-10 played a large part over the years. They had the uncanny ability to help me slow my life down and make it my own. Today, at least most of the time, my face wears a look of, well, I guess it is a happy calm. It's a look, in fact, that might even say something old-fashioned like "Don't worry. Everything will sort itself out in the end."
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