I think it will come as no surprise to anyone that stuff happens. People make mistakes. Sometimes things go wrong.
What I can’t abide is what often happens next. Like flies to a rotting corpse, it seems like people swarm around, in search of someone to blame. I didn’t do it. You did it.
I don’t know if that instinct springs from a desperate need to save your own behind, or if humans are more into Schadenfreude (the pleasure derived from the misfortune of others) than we’d care to admit. I hope it isn’t the latter. I’d hate to think we as a species get off on seeing others thrown under the bus. But I have to admit that I’ve witnessed such behavior more than once.
I implore all authority figures the world over to stop asking whose fault things are, and instead, focus on how something happened, and how that thing can be prevented from happening in the future. Then the situation will improve.
If you focus on blame, people will naturally put more emphasis on covering things up. Serious problems will be swept under the rug. It’s only natural that the average person wants to be self-protective. In that atmosphere, things worsen.
Encourage new ideas. Allow people to think outside the box. Make the atmosphere safe to do this, and people become problem solvers.
Unless you are infallible, it’s really absurd to criticize those of us who commit human errors. Learn from these things and move on, rather than create an atmosphere of hostility and tension.
The only time blame is appropriate is when destruction is intentional.
At the risk of sounding ultra-conservative (heaven forefend), I really don’t get it when people are incapable of staying out of trouble. I mean, I understand making mistakes, believe me. I’ve screwed up a time or two. But when you do it over and over and over again, and can practically hear Dr. Phil whispering in your ear, “How’s that workin’ for you?” You really have to wonder.
Is it about bad choices? Because I’ve managed to choose not to break the law my whole life long. It’s not always easy. I’d love to grab that brand new suede jacket and run like the wind, but I choose not to. Sure, I’d like a little instant gratification every now and then, but the first time you tried to play with a candle flame as a child, you should have learned that actions have consequences.
Is it about feeling like you have no choices at all? I can relate to that, too. I’ve lived in a tent. I’m 53 years old and I’ve only just now managed to scratch and claw myself to the very murky, sketchy bottom of the middle class. And I know darned well I’ll never be able to retire. Things are stacked against the 98%. It sucks. But at least I can look myself in the mirror.
You see, I never had much. But I knew I had integrity, and that no one could ever steal that from me. I could, however, give it away. I chose not to. Because it was all I had.
I guess what it all boils down to is what’s most important to you. Possessions? Control over others? Or your own self-worth? Maybe think about that before robbing your next liquor store. Because that money isn’t going to stay with you. Neither will the drugs. In the end, all you have is you.
There have been many instances in which people have made assumptions about me that weren’t true. I always find these experiences extremely disconcerting. I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve. I think of myself as someone who is pretty easy to read. But of course, I shouldn’t assume that total strangers know how to read me.
Once, I was shopping for a purse and my hands were full, so I put all my stuff on the floor and picked up a purse and looked inside to see if it had well designed compartments (as you do), and suddenly this store detective grabbed me rather forcefully by my arm. I looked at him and said, “What the hell?” and he apologized and walked off. He thought I was trying to steal the purse.
That reminded me of the many times I was followed by detectives in stores as a teenager. Yes, I was quite visibly poor, but that didn’t mean I was a thief. I’ve never stolen so much as a stick of gum in my entire life. (Well, that’s not true. I have walked off with my fair share of ball point pens. But I swear to you that it’s never intentional.)
Then there was the time when my greyhound ripped up my couch at 3 in the morning and gashed his leg wide open on the springs. I rushed him to the 24 hour emergency vet. The vet was hostile and uncooperative. I was freaked out and still in my pajamas, but that didn’t mean I was neglectful or abusive to my dog. He changed his attitude when I gave him the long list of very expensive medications that dog was on. Suddenly he looked at me in a completely different light. “Wow, maybe she does care about her dog.” That really pissed me off, because this was an emergency, for crying out loud. I didn’t have time to justify my character while my dog was bleeding out in the waiting room.
Once, while traveling in Turkey, I decided to rent a car for a portion of the journey. Simply because I was female, they wouldn’t rent the car to me unless I test drove it with them. They made it clear that they’d have felt much better if it had been my boyfriend driving. I found that quite amusing, since he’d been in no less than 7 car accidents, all of which were his fault. That’s why I did all the driving in that relationship.
I can’t count the number of times 911 operators have assumed I was a crank caller. I’ve also been accused of cheating when I hadn’t (big shout out to one of my ex’s entire freakin’ loser family), lying when I wasn’t, and being part of a bigger conspiracy when I couldn’t have cared less. I’ve also been told that I really must want children when I don’t, and that there’s something strange about me because I don’t want to dress sexy every waking moment of my life. Don’t even get me started on the innumerable times I have been considered less intelligent than I am.
There’s nothing more frustrating to me than being misunderstood. This makes me realize, though, that I get to hide behind my white privilege quite a bit. Most people assume I’m harmless, which means these negative situations crop up rarely enough to cause me outrage when they do. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a minority and have to contend with this bs every single day.
It’s very easy to feel put upon when your best-laid plans go astray, but why bother? Stuff happens. And not just to you. Every one of us gets blindsided every once in a while.
If you think about it, concluding that things are going “wrong” is really the height of arrogance. Things might not be going according to your plan, but what makes you think that your plan is the plan? What makes you think that there even is a plan in the broader scheme of things?
As my dear friend Caly once said, it is natural to make your own reality from the chaos of life. Otherwise you’d go nuts. But I think we then have a tendency to veer off course and assume than our reality is, or should be, cast in stone. That’s when things get messy, because the world isn’t always going to cooperate with your view thereof.
Instead of thinking that things are going wrong, perhaps it would be better to think, “I made a plan, and then something else happened.” And maybe with luck and the beauty of hindsight you’ll discover that that “something else” wasn’t so bad after all.
Here are a few examples from my life:
I planned to live happily ever after with the love of my life, and then something else happened. He died quite suddenly and unexpectedly. And because of that I’m now in Seattle, and while I miss him so much it’s physically painful sometimes, I do love it here.
I planned to take my degree in Dental Laboratory Technology and Management and start my own dental lab in the mountains of North Carolina, and then something else happened. After graduating with honors, I couldn’t get a job with anyone else to get the requisite training, which turned out to be a good thing because I then had to have wrist surgery and wouldn’t have been able to do the work anyway. (And North Carolina has turned into a place where you aren’t free to pee in public bathrooms without having your gender questioned, and I’d have found that intolerable.)
I planned to grow old with someone, and then something else happened. Someone forgot to tell me that it’s nearly impossible to find love after 50. I haven’t given up entirely, but another “something else” has happened, too: I’ve discovered I quite like my life as it is, so if someone comes along, that’s great, but if not, it’s all good. Most of the time.
I think the true definition of happiness is not becoming so wedded to your itinerary that you overlook the alternate routes. There are many paths you can take. Relax. You’ll get to where you’re supposed to be one way or another, even if it’s not where you expected to go.
It’s not as though young people are beating a path to my door, asking me for advice. In fact, I don’t really know any young people. We move in entirely different circles. But given my rich inner landscape, I have a tendency to carry on conversations in my mind that I’ve never really had. This is one of them.
I have this fantasy that 30 years hence, some university asks me to speak at their graduation. Who knows why. But graduation speeches are the perfect forum to share what you’ve learned about life. So here’s what I’d say in this speech of a lifetime.
I stand here near the end of my life, looking at all of you, who are at the beginning of yours, and I am very excited for you. I suspect you are feeling overwhelmed by the possibilities for your future. There are so many paths you can take. How do you choose? Terrifying abundance. What a gift!
Embrace that feeling. Lean into it. And allow yourself the first-world luxury of feeling this abundance for the rest of your life. One of the worst mistakes you can make is letting yourself feel trapped. You always have choices. You may not choose them out of a sense of obligation, a fear of failure, or the comfort of the well-worn path you find yourself on, but those choices are still there, waiting for you. Therein lies your freedom.
Never forget that it is entirely up to you to write your own life story. No one else can do it for you. Every single person on this planet will take a different journey. That’s more than 7 billion unique journeys going on right this second. Isn’t that amazing? So make your journey your very own.
At least once a day, stop what you’re doing and look around you. Really, really look. You’ll be amazed at what you see.
Don’t let your family dictate your career, don’t stay married only for the sake of the children, don’t remain in a job that you hate because people are counting on your paycheck. If you do, you will have regrets. Regrets are your brain’s way of telling you that you just didn’t listen to it.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Just make sure that the mistakes you make are all yours. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in life, and so will you. Most of mine have been because I didn’t follow my gut, I worried about what others thought, and I allowed myself to be talked into things that didn’t feel right. But in the end, my mistakes were just another part of the journey, and they often taught me much and sent me down paths I’d have never discovered otherwise. It’s all good. It’s life.
So live your life. Yours. Make it unique. Make it a work of art. And give others the space to create their own masterpieces.
The only other piece of advice I have, and this is very important: take a picture of your butt now. Someday you’re going to miss it.
A friend of mine posted a meme on Facebook that said, “If ‘Plan A’ doesn’t work, the alphabet has 25 more letters! Stay cool.”
My response to that was, “I think I’m on Plan Q.”
And it’s true. My life has been a never-ending series of do overs; a veritable cornucopia of screw ups and bad choices as a centerpiece in a virtual Thanksgiving feast of innocent and/or stupid mistakes.
The fact that I’ve hit the reset button so many times is probably why so many of my loved ones think I’m strong. To that I say, “piffle waffle.” “Try, try again” isn’t a sign of nobility or power. It’s a sign that you have been left with no other alternative.
Giving up is not really an option. Sure, you can curl up in a fetal position with the sheets pulled up over your head for a while, but eventually you’re going to get hungry. You’re going to have to do something. Withering up and dying is a long, nasty, painful process, and one that takes an astonishing level of stubbornness.
So, yeah, I’m on Plan Q, if I haven’t lost count. And I’ve no doubt there will be a Plan R in the near future. That’s life.
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.
I’ve spent much of my life fearing the passage of time. I wasn’t obsessed with the topic, but I didn’t want to get older, that was for sure. What a waste of energy that fear was.
First of all, aging is inevitable. All the plastic surgery and vitamins and exercise in the world isn’t going to stop it. We all have an expiration date. (And thank goodness for that! The planet is crowded enough.)
But here’s what kind of took me by surprise: I like myself a lot more than I did at 19. Granted, I wouldn’t mind having my 19-year-old body back, but if I had to be the person I was at 19 to achieve that goal, I’d turn down the offer.
At 19 I was on a hormonal roller coaster. I was desperate to be liked, and really concerned about what other people thought. I didn’t know where my life was going, and spent a lot of time comparing my insides to other people’s outsides. I wasted a lot of energy dwelling on how unfair life was, and trying really hard to get… where, exactly? What, exactly? I had no idea. All I knew was that things were supposed to be much, much better than they were. I don’t know where the ruler came from that I was using to measure my life, but I knew I was falling short, and therefore I was pretty miserable for the most part.
And then a funny thing happened. As I got older, I made a lot more mistakes. I learned a lot more lessons. I had a lot more experiences, and accumulated a lot more memories. And I came to realize that not only am I the sum total of all that stuff, but also I still have so much to look forward to! I now know that I’ll never be able to predict the path my life will take, but now that excites me.
This has been a year of great change and great learning for me. I’m starting completely over at 50, and that creates a unique set of challenges. It also allows for a unique set of insights. Here are a few things that I’m finally starting to figure out this year that I wish I had understood a long time ago.
Not everyone is going to like your pets as much as you do. This was a hard lesson for me to accept, because I know for a fact that I have the best two dogs on earth, but hey, what are you going to do?
You can’t force people to like you. It would be great to get along with everyone, but some people just aren’t going to like you. They may have made that decision before even meeting you. They may genuinely find you irritating. Or there may be some negative chemistry going on that defies explanation that neither of you can do anything about. Oh well.
You can’t convince people to love you. People will either love you or they won’t. Behaving differently or trying to act charming won’t change that. So stop worrying about it. Let whatever happens happen.
There’s no point in worrying about what other people think. In fact, it’s quite liberating when you stop caring. I’m not saying you should throw the Golden Rule out the window. I’m just saying you shouldn’t twist yourself into a pretzel to obtain some stamp of approval that you may or may not get.
You’re most likely not going to radically change in the most fundamental ways. I’ve always had this fantasy that I’d become this person who dressed in artsy clothes and wore a long thick braid over my shoulder. Yeah, I could do that, but the truth is, I’m too lazy to invest in clothes and I’m a wash and wear hair kind of girl. And that’s okay.
People may want you to change, but that’s their problem. I have wasted a lot of time feeling guilty that I haven’t lost the weight other people want me to lose, or been this outgoing social butterfly who likes to join groups. But you know, screw it. Screw them. I’m me.
Rules are made to be broken. The older you get, the more you can get away with. Take advantage of that. It’s fun.
It’s great to learn from other people’s mistakes. Let someone else do the heavy lifting for a change.
Just because you’re craving something doesn’t mean you should eat it. As time goes on, more food disagrees with me. I may want that meatball sub, but I know I’ll regret it. That’s not going to change.
Take chances. If there is something that can change, and you want it to, you’re going to have to take risks. If you don’t, you’ll gather dust. What a waste of life!
Don’t let others decide what is important to you. Your priorities for my life do not automatically constitute my game plan for my life.
People love it when you’re curious about their lives. Pull your head out of your behind and ask questions about others. They’ll enjoy being in the place of expertise, and you might just learn something.
Never stop learning. Read. Discuss. Travel. Ask questions. Be okay with the fact that you don’t know everything. Then life will always be an adventure.
Look in the opposite direction every once in a while. I’ve discovered that when going about my daily routine, I tend to look at the same things. But there’s stuff behind you, and to the left of you, and even overhead, that you may not have noticed before. And often it’s beautiful.
Get over yourself. If you’re holding on to old baggage or regrets or disappointments, what does that achieve?
You only have so much energy. Don’t waste it on stupid shit. It’s okay to not participate in the drama or tolerate the crap. In fact, when you draw firm boundaries, not only does it reduce your stress, but others usually wind up appreciating it, too.
It’s easier to live without secrets. I was living with a doozie for a while there, and when I finally admitted it to my friends and family, it turns out that they didn’t care! I spent so much energy and time guarding that stupid secret that I could have used on something else that was more productive. Just get it out there.
It is so much fun to be able to laugh at yourself. Be silly. Delight yourself. Have fun. Don’t take yourself so freakin’ seriously. Life’s too short.
As you walk your path in life, you’ll come across many intersections and forks in the road, and you’ll have to make decisions. Sometimes you won’t even know you’re at a crossroad until you look back and realize you’ve negotiated your way through it, or discover to your horror that you’ve gotten off track and have to go back and start again.
At times like this it’s really good to be a human being, because you have the power to observe and communicate and learn from others. Look around you and you’ll realize that there are human signposts at nearly every turn. Some people are admirable and you want to emulate them. Follow their path as much as you possibly can. Others are bad influences. They should have “Do Not Enter” tattooed across their foreheads. Many people are excellent sources of advice, and you can often learn from their past mistakes if you only take the time to listen to them.
When I come across a toxic individual, I try to comfort myself with the fact that I’m learning a valuable lesson about how I do not want to be. It’s as if they’ve done the screwing up for me, and yet I can still add it to my life experience. Toxic people can cause you a lot of heartache, but they can save you from even more of it as you walk away from them a much wiser individual.
Take the time to really observe the people who touch your life. Every single one is a sign post. Every single one has value.