“The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem.” —Unknown
A few months ago my wife and I were traveling together and our return flight home was delayed due to mechanical issues with the plane. First the delay was 30 minutes, then an hour, then four. Next thing we knew, the flight was canceled and we had a choice in front of us in how we wanted to react to the situation.
There’s no denying we were frustrated and disappointed. We’d rushed to the airport to make sure we were there on time, and then had absolutely no control over being able to get home according to our plans.
We could take that frustration and use it for good or evil. Evil, letting emotions get the best of us, sending us into a tailspin about the meetings we might miss, the extra money we’d spend in pet sitters, the overall inconvenience of every frustrating consequence of missing a flight home; or good, finding a way to be nice to everyone we’d need to speak to as we made new arrangements to get home as quickly as possible.
Luckily the delay was related to the plane itself rather than weather, and in the end we were able to get a later flight home that same night. Rather than go into a tailspin of emotion over a list of things that would never actually come to fruition, we were grateful for the help in getting our flights changed.
“I don’t blame or complain about things like the economy, the government, taxes, employees, gas prices, or any of the external things that I don’t have control over. The only thing I have control over is my response to these things.” —Jack Canfield
I heard Jack Canfield speak ten years ago on this very thing. When I remember to actively make a choice in how to react to a given situation, I feel pretty damn good. It’s remembering to make that conscious choice before the tailspin of emotion creeps in that gets a bit tricky.
“When you are steadfast in your abstention of thoughts of harm directed toward yourself and others, all living creatures will cease to feel fear in your presence.” – The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
Some of us are in pain. Some of us are in elation. Some of us are somewhere in between. We are all human.
Some of us don’t understand how this happened. Some of us understand all too well how this happened. Some of us don’t care how it happened and are seeking ways to move forward now that it has. We are all in this together.
Some of us feel hatred. Some of us feel love. All of us feel.
When we lash out it is because we are in pain. We need to heal the wounds we have and not thrash about, opening them deeper.
This is nothing you do not already know. And still there are these things that we need reminding of:
Take deep breaths. They will help when you feel overwhelmed.
Be kind. Everyone is going through something we couldn’t possibly imagine. If this feel hard, see above.
Share love. Hug your kids, your significant other, a stranger. We could all use it. If this feels hard, see above.
You will find your way forward. It may not be a path without trepidation, pain, and a few steps backward. But it will absolutely be a path with triumph, healing, and many steps forward.
Immediately I was taken back to various times I was shamed as a kid. No specific instances, but the feeling of being shamed. The lowering of my eyes, my head, my heart, my being.
The thing is, when I was a kid I didn’t know exactly what was happening. I just knew you felt bad. I didn’t know how to articulate myself that I was not a bad person, even if I might have done a bad thing.
My mom’s been dead and gone for more than 20 years now and I can still hear her voice in my head when I make mistakes in my life. Or even if mistakes are made in general, that I, of course, (must have) had something to do with.
“Dian, what did you do?”
Because I was taught by shaming that everything that goes wrong must be my fault, even if that wasn’t my mom’s intention. I immediately begin wracking my brain for the little thing I might have done to contribute to whatever wrong thing happened. And then once I find the thing I think I did, I begin thinking of ways to get around getting blamed for it. Because being blamed means being shamed; one was synonymous with the other.
I think of the lies I will tell so I don’t get in trouble. I think of other things I might have been doing instead, or some reasonable sounding thing I could have been thinking about in order to make me have done such a thing, if I do get found out.
All of that in a 10-second span out of fear of being shamed again. By a woman who’s been dead for 25 years.
I still have to practice actively considering if it’s safe to tell the truth or not. Growing up, it wasn’t always safe in my house to tell the truth. Sometimes my mom would blow up at me, rage against the machine. I saw my mom as rage and me, the machine as a teenager. I had to be a machine and do everything right, perfect, without flaw, else suffer the repercussions. Sometimes, even in the smallest of situations.
Even as I’ve grown older (and progressed after years of therapy), the feeling, the behavior, the habit stays with me.
Take a few weeks ago when my wife was traveling. I stopped on the way home to get a burger from McDonalds because I just didn’t have the energy to make something — or pull food out of the fridge and reheat it.
After finishing my burger and fries I threw away the bag and before my wife got home from her trip I took the trash down to the dumpster so she wouldn’t see the remnants of my failure to be a good wife and eat the food she’d made. Only an idiot would do that. Only a disrespectful child whose only concern in life was herself would do that. Only a bad person would do that.
I have to remind myself that this is not my wife speaking. This is not even me speaking. This is my mother speaking, and in her worst moments, at that.
The irony about that particular incident is that I left the receipt out on the counter and when my wife came home she saw I’d eaten McD’s anyway. She made a small (non-shaming) joke about it, we laughed, and it was over. No wrath. No shame. No one was right or wrong.
There are countless other times where, when asked what I had for lunch or dinner–the question out of sheer curiosity–I have had to fight myself to tell the truth if I didn’t have a homemade green salad with grilled chicken and steamed veggies. I have to remind myself that I’m an adult and I can eat what I want. I have to remind myself that I’m not a bad person, even if I chose a burger and fries over heating up some soup.
I love my mom. She was a great mom; except when she wasn’t, of course. I don’t begrudge her for the mistakes she made as a parent. I also don’t want to be a victim of her mistakes my entire life.
My mom’s death when I was 16 had me grow up way too fast. And still, it took years and years (ten of them) of therapy before I was able to understand that I was (am) a worthy human being, regardless of the mistakes I make. That even though the mistakes I make have an impact on other human beings, I am not a bad or disrespectful or worthless human being because I made the mistake.
If shame is a part of how you raise your kids, you’re not a bad person. And also, there’s room for change to be a better parent. To teach your kids that making a mistake is not the same thing as being a bad person.
And if you grew up like me, thinking that every mistake was another drop in the [Your Name Here] is Worthless Bucket, practice being kind to yourself as you come to learn that only you get to decide what yourself worth is tied to, and it doesn’t have to be your mistakes.
When traveling by train we’re told to mind the gap. The gap between the safety of the platform and the safety of the train.
When traveling on your journey in life, there’s a gap to mind, too.
The gap between where you are now and where you want to be. That space between the two can be scary, exhilarating, life affirming, dangerous, and all of the above. After all, it’s the unknown.
That gap can be innocuous, though, if you’re aware it’s there and prepare to navigate through it.
In April my wife and I embarked on a journey from California to Illinois. We packed up our belongings, ourselves, and our animals and began a 2100-mile drive toward the unknown.
Except there were a lot of knowns. We knew where we would stop along the way. We knew where we would live once we arrived. What we didn’t know was what it would be like once we got here. Enter, the gap.
As a lifelong Angeleno I had no idea what it would be like to live anywhere else. Six months into my new life as a Chicagoan, I’m still minding that gap.
Winter is coming, they tell me. I’ve been told by strangers over and over again that I’ll be back in California after a year, that a Californian–an Angeleno, no less!–won’t be able to hack it in the biting cold of Chicago. I’ve seen the look in friends’ eyes, that I’m crazy for leaving behind the good weather and people of LA. Their words are encouraging and well wishing, but their eyes give away their fear on my behalf.
What feels big for you may feel small to another, and vice versa. Sometimes there’s a gap to mind in that, as well. This gap contains the negative feedback I’ll need to work through to feel solid once again in my decision.
Fall is actually here now and I need to consult the air outside to determine which clothes are appropriate for a run, going out for a meal, or taking Jackson for a walk.
The gap contains thought processes I rarely had to contend with in my former LA life.
When my wife travels for business I’m lonelier than before, because friends were always a short(ish) drive away and even if I didn’t make the drive back then, just knowing it was an option was comforting.
The gap contains navigating friendships in new ways so I don’t end up blaming Chicago, my wife, or myself for my loneliness (although the latter would be closest to the truth, but not for the reasons I would be telling myself).
There are many more gaps in this relocation that I’ll need to mind, but awareness that they’re there (or will be) is the first step to minding them. Only if I’m on the lookout for the gaps can I put myself in a position to mind them.
But when it comes to judging others about the behaviors they display, we do so without taking into account our own behavior.
The next time you feel yourself compelled to judge someone I implore you to take a deep breath and look back at your own behavior. It’s not going to change what anyone else has done, but it might change the way you see and/or feel about that behavior, or even that person.
If it’s about something small, find a way to let it go. How many times have you presented the almost-but-not-quite as the truth? And why do we do this? Speaking for myself, insecurity and fear.
If it’s about something big, dig deeper to understand why one might tell a lie like that. Speaking again from my own experience:
fear – when I was a kid I made up stories about why I was late for fear of consequences: if I could make it not my fault, I might escape punishment by my mom
hiding a different truth or reality (also fear)- I lied about having a brother with cancer when i was in middle school because I desperately needed attention but felt ashamed to admit that I was being molested by my mom’s boyfriend
Really, the big lies boil down to fear. So when someone is telling a big lie, remember they’re afraid of something bigger than the lie they’re telling. Also remember it’s not about you.
So maybe it’s time to skip the judgment, offer some grace and compassion, and save judgment for another day.
A couple months ago I ran the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon in Chicago and saw a sign that read, “If Trump can run, so can you!” While that was bit bit of a play on words, it got me thinking about the whole, ‘if they can ____, so can you!” idea.
Which can be true. Except when we’re not willing to do what it takes in order to make ____ happen.
Take for example: If my friend Heather can finish a half marathon in under 2 hours, so can I. We’re roughly the same age, neither of us have kids, we both work out, and we both like to run.
Except … Heather works out twice a day. Heather makes different food and beverage choices than I do.
So I can’t just start training for a half marathon and expect that I’m going to beat my best time by nearly 10 minutes without a LOT of hard work. I need to be willing to commit to working out a bit harder and longer. I need to be willing to commit to changing my eating and drinking habits. I need to be willing to stick with these changes for the whole of my training, even when it’s hard or hot or cold or there are 10 other things I’d rather be doing.
It’s not that I can’t run a half marathon in under 2 hours. It’s that I can’t just say, If she can do it, so can I! There’s more to it than that.
I have to be willing to be honest about who I need to be to accomplish that goal. I have to be willing to realize that what works for Heather to achieve her goal may not work for me. I need to be willing to make adjustments. I have to be willing to do the things necessary in order for me to stretch to meet that goal.
Or I have to be willing to update my goal to fit something that works for me.
Maybe I update my timeline. Maybe I update the goal itself. Maybe I shift the goal in a new direction. Maybe I decide to change the goal itself entirely. Or maybe I decide that goal isn’t really important to me and I want to work toward something that I can truly commit to for a defined period of time.
So yes, it’s certainly true that if they can, so can you. And also:
“Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.” —Unknown