Get a Life

Yup. I heard someone say that to a girl who looked really resigned and defeated the other day. Clearly the comment was not made to buck her up.

If I were inclined to butt into other people’s business, I’d have had quite a bit to say to that girl. Too much, probably. Maybe I should have. I don’t know.

First of all, I would have said, you have a life. You’re breathing, right? So clearly your “friend” doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He said that to you because the life you have does not meet his specifications. And nothing says you have to meet his specifications. Your life is your own to do with what you will.

Often people will say “Get a life” when someone is intruding upon theirs, though. Just to be on the safe side, you might want to examine your behavior to make sure you aren’t trying to push unsolicited advice onto him. Because he, too, has a right to do with his life whatever he wants.

But expressing concern about someone’s behavior because you care is not a crime. Empathy is a good trait to have. Don’t let anyone quash that in you.

Just be sure you can distinguish between expressing concern and trying to solve someone else’s problem. Give advice if asked. Otherwise just tell the person what is worrying you, in a calm and factual way, and let the cards fall where they may. After all, you’d want the same treatment, wouldn’t you?

But if allowed to butt in even further, I’d suggest that perhaps that girl might want to find a different friend. Because if someone is inclined to be that rude, and wants to shut you down so thoroughly, then you’re not being valued at all. You deserve better, girl.

If, on the other hand, you are reading this because you find yourself saying “Get a life” to others on a regular basis, you might want to a) stop and listen to what people are trying to tell you, and/or b) figure out that you are not the life police. Advising others that they have no life is rude, arrogant, insulting and unproductive. Maybe you should get a life. (See what I did there?)

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Coping Mechanisms

We are all a product of our past. The way we cope with things in the present is greatly influenced by what we’ve experienced in our lives. Our psyches do not always know best. All they know is that it’s important to survive, and if something has worked, however twisted it may be, then, hey, let’s go with that.

Case in point, I was sexually abused as a child, and the adults around me who should have been protecting me were either oblivious or in deep denial. So now, when someone in a position of authority over me is acting irrationally and/or clearly does not have my best interests at heart, it tends to freak me out. That’s putting it mildly. I go straight into “Danger, Will Robinson!” mode.

Because of this, my coping mechanism is to speak up, and continue to speak up until SOMEBODY LISTENS! Cockroaches do not like to have light shined upon them. So I give them the spotlight, by God.

This doesn’t always serve me well. For a start, it makes me look crazy and/or hysterical and/or like a trouble maker. Most people really don’t want to hear about injustice. They’d rather let bullies do their thing, as long as that thing is being done to someone else.

I can’t do that. I just can’t. It’s not in me.

On the other hand, I have a friend who grew up with an abusive alcoholic, and the way he learned to cope was to pull his little turtle head into its shell until the storm had passed. He will do or say whatever it takes to appease his abuser, even at the risk of his own dignity. And to my shock, this actually seems to work rather well for him, self-pride notwithstanding. People in the vicinity of a confrontation absolutely love it when the situation is “fixed” quickly. Even if it isn’t really fixed.

I could never be like that. Not in a million years. Clearly, we are at opposite extremes of the coping spectrum. I set great store by integrity. He sets great store by peace. But does that mean one of our strategies is better or worse than the other? Not really. We are who we are. We do what works for each of us. We are both wounded, and doing our best to keep those wounds from further infection.

I guess my point is that when you see someone reacting in a way that confuses you, try to remember that the war that person is waging (or choosing not to wage) is one that he or she has been fighting (or not fighting) for many years. There’s history there. There may be wounds that you can’t see at first glance. And while change may be possible, it can’t be counted upon. Look deeper. Understanding is a step in the right direction for all concerned.


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On Leading Horses to Water

I have this unique gift. I know what’s best for everybody except, perhaps, myself. At least, that’s the reality I choose to live in much of the time. It’s really easy to look at people’s lives from the outside and come up with quick and easy solutions for them, isn’t it?

The real challenge is keeping one’s opinions to oneself. Usually that comes with age and experience. I must admit I still struggle with this sometimes.

For example, I know an amazing young lady who is talented and charismatic and creative and intelligent and thin and beautiful. She should be the queen of the world. But she drinks. A lot. I mean… a lot. As far as I know, she doesn’t let this impact her work, but it looms large the rest of the time. It breaks my heart. I want to shake her until her teeth rattle. “You have so much going for you! Don’t do this!”

I know another guy who hates his job and is constantly hunting for another one. He looks good on paper. He’s extremely intelligent and capable. He gets lots of interviews, but he never gets hired. He can’t understand why. I can. His personal hygiene leaves a lot to be desired. He looks and smells like he has been living in a cave his whole life. He’s actually kind of scary, if you don’t know him. From an employer’s point of view, this has to be a bit off-putting. If you can’t be bothered to take care of yourself, how can I assume you’ll take care of your job? I’m all for self-expression, but it can sometimes be self-destructive.

And then there’s this guy I have a crush on, who doesn’t seem the least bit interested in me. I mean, Hello! I’m amazing! I’m fun to be around, interesting to talk to, nurturing, non-smoking, fiscally responsible, great in bed… I’m a freaking catch! In other words, perfect for him. Why can’t he see that?

The bottom line is that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. If someone wants to be an alcoholic, look like a Neanderthal, or overlook true love, there’s nothing I can do about it. People have the right to walk their own paths. I don’t have to like it.

I get the “can’t make it drink” part. That’s obvious. But I often still try to lead those horses to the water. I really have to work on that. It’s a waste of time for them, and frankly, it makes me look like a pompous ass. Sometimes horses just prefer to roam free.

wild horses

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Hands at Ten and Two

When learning to drive a car, one of the most fundamental lessons you are taught is to view the steering wheel as if it were a clock, and place your hands at ten and two. Pretty basic. Pretty obvious. You’d think.

Unfortunately, many people fail to apply that lesson to the wider world. Keep your hands on your own steering wheel, not on someone else’s. Steer your own life. Don’t try to dictate to others what they should or should not do or say. Don’t try to fix the messes that you didn’t create, especially if the mess creator doesn’t think it’s a mess. Don’t try to think for someone else.

If you find yourself saying to someone, “Don’t be like that,” then you are trying to drive their metaphorical car. In my life, people have attempted to get me to be more girly or outgoing or turn me into a conservative, but nothing short of a sharp blow to the head would cause those things to happen. I marvel at the amount of energy that others have wasted in trying to get me to be someone that I am not.

Yes, it can be a little scary trying to navigate in a world where every person has his or her own route and destination. It may seem terribly random to you. But while you’re desperately trying to manage all the vehicles around you, you have to ask yourself, who’s driving yours?

The best way to maneuver through chaos is by keeping your eyes on your own route and doing the best that you can to get there safely. Let the other cars take care of themselves.

traffic chaos

Stuffing Up

One of the wisest things my mother ever told me was that if you make a mistake at work and are able to fix it, don’t tell anyone about it. But if you really screw up and can’t rectify it, then be an adult and admit to it. I’ve pretty much lived by this philosophy my whole life.

But it doesn’t work as well in your personal life. I screwed up recently, admitted I’d painted myself into an emotional corner, and yet I still can’t seem to smooth things over. I’ve blown it. And I’ll probably regret it for the rest of my life, because it means that a really amazing person won’t be a part of that life. But honestly, I see no way out, and he doesn’t seem to want to throw me a lifeline.

I hate to think I’m left with nothing but disappointments, but a little tiny part of me is whispering, “If he doesn’t want to help get you back on an even keel since you so obviously are struggling to do so yourself, is he someone whom you’ll be able to count on the next time you stuff up? Because you know you will, sooner or later.”

An important part of any relationship is the belief that the other person will have your back. Once that trust is gone, is there any way to restore it? Once you’ve toppled a brand new foundation, can you rebuild on that same spot? Not by yourself.

Now I know why so many dating profiles say, “No drama, please.” I can totally understand that desire. But in every life a little drama will fall, and therefore that statement tends to backfire. I avoid such people, because it’s obvious they won’t be there for you when the shit inevitably hits the fan.

[Image credit:]
[Image credit:]

My Flying Messenger

At work I often sit with the window open. I enjoy the fresh air, and it also makes it easier to hear the boats if they use their horns to signal that they want me to open the drawbridge. Just outside the window is a large metal box that used to house some past machinery. Since then it’s often been commandeered as a bird’s nest.

One day I was sitting at the desk, engrossed in my laptop, probably writing a blog entry, when I noticed movement out of the corner of my eye. I looked over, and there was a starling sitting on the counter.

“Oh, my. Hello,” I said. “Uh… shoo?”

The bird just looked at me. I thought that if I walked calmly toward him, perhaps he would fly back out the window.

But no. My approach caused the bird to panic and flutter against the walls and ceiling, and then he flew down the stairwell, which, in this case, was a dead end. The only way I could get to the door to let him out that way was to corner him, and I knew that wasn’t going to work.

What to do. What to do. How was I going to get that bird out of there without hurting him? I thought about throwing a towel over him to pick him up. But he was already stressed enough without my trying that sort of ambush.

Then I thought, “Wait a minute. This bird has survived without your intervention up to this point. Maybe you ought to just let him figure out his own path.” So I went back to the desk, sat down, and resumed typing. I had an 8 hour shift ahead of me. Surely the little guy would find the window in that amount of time.

And sure enough, he did.

As he flew away I realized that bird had brought a lesson with him. Maybe I don’t have to fix everything. Maybe sometimes I ought to let nature take its course. Maybe I don’t always know best.

Sometimes I need a reminder of these things.

It just goes to show that you can’t predict how life lessons will show up at your door.

Common Starling. [Image credit:]
Common Starling.
[Image credit:]

“Crap, I’m an Adult.”

Recently I was talking to my niece, who is in her late twenties, the mother of two boys, and is working on her Bachelor’s degree. I was telling her how nicely I thought she had turned out, and that not that many years ago she really had me worried.

I’m so proud of the woman she has become. When I asked her what had triggered such a profound turnaround, she said, “I don’t know when it happened. One day I just woke up and it was like, ‘Crap, I’m an adult.’”

I’ve had those moments. I still have them. I’m kind of having one right now. I’m about to make a major change in my life, and although I want it really badly, it’s not going at all smoothly.

I want to throw a tantrum. I want to get fetal and suck my thumb. I want to hit someone with my pail, take my marbles and go home.

Most of all, I want someone to help me. I want someone to fix this. Several people have stepped up and done what they could, still others have given some really good advice, but as far as a source for a total resolution, I’m it. That is not inspiring confidence. Sometimes I feel like a little kid playing dress up.

Now is the time for me to look in the mirror and say, “Are you a man or a mouse?” My response would probably be tart and barbed, because I’m neither of those things. So I guess I’ll just have to make the best of it. That’s what adults do.


[Image credit:]