Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood.”
Who here is tired of seeing ole Ralph’s quotes? Half the time I wonder if he really said some of these things, or if someone just writes something uplifting and then slaps his name on it. (No, I don’t want to research it unless it has a billable code.)
But someone has a point here.
I’ve screwed up a couple times in my life.
Ok, a good number of times.
But the best times I’ve learned were through my own screw-ups or by witnessing someone else go down in a Blaze of Glory.
Practice makes perfect?!
I’ve never learned anything by adhering to adults’ warnings during my youth.
And certainly, not from my parents who, in my mind, were merely trying to keep me from having a good time.
I don’t have any degrees or licenses in psychology or sociology or anything like that.
I’m not a mental health counselor. But a bit mental.
Just a gal with a couple of decades of mistakes under her belt with time to ponder what worked and what didn’t.
Here’s my list of the five most valuable lessons. Things I’ve started doing or stopped doing that have made a huge difference.
1. Contact your parents every day. When you’re in your teens and early twenties, the prospect of your parents dying, if you’re lucky to have both still alive, seems so far away. You imagine they’ll pass peacefully in their sleep in their nineties like Noah and Allie did in The Notebook.
Now that I’m in my mid-thirties, I have plenty of friends and acquaintances who have lost one or both of their parents. Some during childhood, some following long battles with terminal illnesses and, for others, unexpectedly and without warning.
I made a vow that I wouldn’t take another day with both of my parents for granted because I know there’s no guarantee and I’ve witnessed the painful heartache of seeing someone lose someone they loved. My parents are two of the most important people in my life. Accordingly, I make a point to have some type of contact with them every single day, whether it’s a phone call, email, or text message. I don’t want to have regrets.
There will come a time when I wish I could contact them, but I can’t.
2. Stop Caring What Other People Think. This one can be tricky. If you didn’t care what other people think, you’d be a sociopath with no friends. You have to care, to a degree. Just an eensy weensy teeny tiny one.
Not caring about what other people think requires a balancing being kind and courteous to others while being your true self. It also requires you to decide whose opinions you’ll actually take into consideration when making choices. For me, this number is small and is limited to my immediate family, my husband, a few close friends whose friendships have spanned multiple decades, and my boss (dang, that pesky mortgage!)
I used to be a slave to other people’s opinions. I used to cringe at the idea of not making someone happy or the prospect that someone could be upset with me. It was exhausting and a waste of time.
I’ve learned you can try and try and try and try, but there are times someone will never like you and there’s nothing you can do about it. Absent extreme circumstances, most of the time, their reasons for not liking you are meritless. You have a similar voice as their second-grade teacher, who once slapped them on the knuckles with a ruler. You asked their ex-boyfriend to the Sadie Hawkins dance your sophomore year of high school. You once picked them last during a game of dodgeball. You play your music too loud in your car. You’re a dentist and they once had a bad experience getting a tooth pulled. Twenty years ago. By someone else. Your breath smells like celery, and they’re allergic. You have a great body with tons of friends and the face of an angel, while they are feeling down-and-out about themselves (e.g., the way I feel about Margot Robbie.)
See how dumb?
I’ve wasted so much time worrying about the opinions of people who don’t matter. I can never get that time back. And when I decided it was time to stop worrying, the quality of my life (and friendships that really mattered) grew exponentially.
3. Have a To-Do List. In the past when I felt really overwhelmed, instead of being able to tackle projects, I felt mentally and emotionally paralyzed. I didn’t know where to start.
Now, I create a “to-do” list of things that I need to accomplish throughout the day. The list isn’t made in order of importance; just whatever needs to be done. I usually keep the list in my purse or in my planner, and add to it throughout the day.
When performing tasks, I start with the easiest items on the list. The ones that require the least amount of brainpower and stress.
Paying the electric bill. Emailing someone a confirmation about something. Responding to a text message.
Then, by the time I attempt the “hard” stuff, I feel like I’ve already accomplished a lot.
Psychologically, having a list is so important to the Type A crazy person in me. It’s like the adult-version of a baby blanket and, for me, is critical to staying sane and on task.
4. Water Your Own Garden. It’s easy to look across the proverbial fence to see what other people have and feel like your own garden isn’t good enough.
But it is.
It’s simple to think someone else has a happier marriage and more well-behaved children and tons of money with plenty of time for champagne wishes and caviar dreams. Well, they don’t. We all have our struggles and our weaknesses.
Sure, I’d love to live in a bigger house with a more spacious kitchen and larger backyard in a “better” neighborhood (Tampa peeps: South of Gandy in the heezy), but I also know that would mean a larger mortgage, less money for “family” stuff, and more overall headache.
It’s normal, albeit unhealthy, to look at what other people have and compare it to what you have and then feel like you’re not good enough. Been there, done that. It’s no fun. But I promise, your real friends don’t care about the size of your house, what kind of car you drive, the brand of clothes you wear, or whether you rub elbows with people who are deemed socially important. Your real friends like you for you.
So go ahead and rent the matchbox apartment, drive the boxy Scion (y’all know what I’m talking about), and rock the Xhilaration leggings with reckless abandon. The people who matter won’t notice and won’t care.
5. Know When to Be Quiet. This has been one of my biggest struggles. The biggest. In my younger days, I would say whatever came to my mind, no matter the topic, and if someone got their feelings hurt or it got me into trouble, I would justify myself (and dismiss their feelings) as “just speakin’ my mind.”
I’ve learned in some situations, it’s better to shut the heck up. Everyone knows what those situations are. And if you want to go ahead and speak your mind, be prepared for potential consequences of hurt relationships. Is it worth it? Nope.
I guess in life, experience is the best (and sometimes only) way to grow.
These include screwing up.
I needed the screw-ups. They were actually gifts.
(By the way, what lessons and screw-ups would you put on your own list?)