It’s been a rough start to 2015 for me – too much awfulness to share here. Through it all, though, life goes on, and that has meant that I’ve had to find ways to move forward. Easier said than done.
Probably because I’m having such a stormy time, I’ve been very introspective of late, and I have realized that, despite the turbulence, I’m better suited to deal with it now than I had been in the past. That’s because with age comes wisdom, and I am wiser today than I was a decade ago. Here are ten things that I know now that I wish I’d known ten years ago:
1. Forgiving is easy. It’s forgetting that is hard. You always hear people talking about things they can never forgive – how silly is that. It is very hard, when faced with someone truly remorseful, to withhold forgiveness. The problem is that you can accept someone else’s sincere remorse – and still feel hurt. And until you can forget the thing you’ve already forgiven, it’s impossible to move on. Knowing this doesn’t make it easier to do – but, at least, now, I know what needs to be done.
2. Strong and stubborn are not the same thing. Most of us are raised to believe that consistency is a sign of strength – that when you make a decision, you should stick to it. This is especially true if you’re a parent – you’re told that once you say something to your kids, you can never back down. But refusing to back down regardless of the circumstances is just pigheadedness, not strength. In fact, it often takes a lot more strength to reverse yourself and admit that a different path of action is the wiser thing to do.
3. It doesn’t matter what they say – pay attention to what they do. I blame this inclination of putting more stock in words than actions on being a woman. I have a tendency to talk everything to death, on the assumption that a verbal contract is binding under the law. But people can be careless with their words, and often the words that are treated as the most binding are the ones that were said in the heat of the moment and probably shouldn’t be honored (see 2 above). For me, I’ve learned that I often don’t give people enough credit for the good things they do if they say a single hurtful thing to me – something that I work every day to change in myself.
4. Distance – more than time – heals all wounds. In the immortal words of Elsa, “Let it go.” Remember that things don’t need to be talked to death, and sometimes walking away does more good than the most honest, open, unrestrained conversation. You know how you shouldn’t sweat the small things? Given enough distance, everything is small. (I may be paraphrasing FROZEN again there….) One more thing: for time to heal wounds, the clock has to start – and that can’t happen until you stop talking it to death. That’s why distance is so much more important. No matter how loud you’re shouting, it’s impossible to be heard 10 miles away.
5. There is a big difference between need and want. A need is something that you physically cannot live without. Oxygen. Water. Food. Bon Jovi. A want, on the other hand, is something that you like to whine that you need but you really do not. You don’t need your kids to be nice to each other – you just want it. You don’t need your coworkers to respect you – you just want it. And in most cases where you’re having a rough time, learning to label the things you want properly as wants and not as needs reduces the amount of stress that not having them will cause. (It seems a lot of the wisdom I’ve gained has to do with words and talking…hmmm…)
6. If you’re going around in circles, it is your own responsibility to get off that ride. No matter how many times you punch 2 + 3 into your calculator, the answer is going to be 5. If you want a different output, you need to change the inputs. When your life is a hamster wheel of the same disasters, get off the darn wheel. You cannot wait for another person, a particular set of circumstances, or a force of nature to push you off the wheel – you have to make that choice yourself. Again, this isn’t easy – humans are creatures of habit, if nothing else, and we like our hamster wheels. But, sometimes, you have to make yourself break out of your comfort zone and change the inputs.
7. If you have to put yourself first, you’ve made the wrong choices. So often people talk about how others in their lives aren’t making them happy, how they need to put themselves first. Well, first, putting yourself first isn’t a need, it’s a want (see 5). Second, the truly happy people I know are the ones who do for the people they love and trust that those loved ones will do for them. Now, listen – happy doesn’t mean without complaints. It’s still annoying when your husband doesn’t take your dreams seriously, or your kids expect a chauffeur who will do his duty in silence, or your mother complains about your housekeeping skills instead of praising your career. But when you are generous with yourself – and you’ve been generous to the right people – the math works out in the end and your bucket should be full.
8. Trust, but verify. Trust is one of those funny things – it’s too valuable a thing to be careless with, and yet if you can’t freely give it, your relationships won’t work. This goes for your friends, your partner, your children – you cannot live in a place of suspicion where every motive is constantly questioned (if you did, you’d end up with no friends, no partner, and children who avoid you). And yet, with age, you learn that blind trust is meaningless and anyone who demands blind trust…well, he is probably deceiving you. So here’s the one subset of “putting yourself first” that is ok – never be ashamed to verify facts that are important to you. And never let someone else make you feel guilty because your “mistrust” uncovered his deception – it isn’t mistrustful to verify. It’s just smart.
9. Very little in life will actually kill you. Talk about perspective. You hear the phrase “it’s killing me” tossed around constantly. Really? It’s killing you that your daughter talks back? When’s the funeral? It’s killing you that your boss eats all the blueberry muffins in the break room? Should I start on your obituary? These things aren’t killing you. They’re annoying you. Just like it is important to know the difference between need and want, you need to acknowledge the meaning of the words kill, slaughter, and dead. And then you need to understand that the old saying that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” pretty much means that almost everything in your life has the power to make you stronger (because almost nothing will actually kill you!). Keep the correct outlook on life and watch your stress level plummet. Or even get slaughtered.
10. The sun truly will come out tomorrow. This goes along with 9 – very little will leave you dead, and no matter what, tomorrow is a new day. As dark as it gets, the sun always rises. There is light at the end of the tunnel. I know these sayings are trite and clichéd, but they’re also true. It’s important to remind ourselves that, no matter what, there is always tomorrow, and that that is a gift.
I know I said ten things, but here’s one more that is so meaningful to me that I had it tattooed on my body (and, no, I won’t tell you where):
BONUS: Love heals all. The worst times in my life happened when I forgot this very simple truth. That’s why I got the tattoo – I never want to forget again that no matter how much pain there is, love will heal it all.