There are things in life we have very little control over. When an illness strikes, depression takes over, mother nature rains down her wrath, a moronic cheeto gets voted into office, some things you just don’t have much of a say in.
At points over the last few years I was looking around at my life, and my choices, and my circumstances and I was really unhappy in some areas. I was spending way too much time being sad, angry, disappointed, frustrated, and downright masochistic with some of my life choices. There were things I could not change. But there were things I could.
I’ve spent most of my life assessing, evaluating, adapting, changing, growing. I was once told I have a Chameleon’s soul. I don’t think that’s it. I think I find the best in the people I know. I learn from them, I grow. I take the good and the bad and I try and learn from all of my interactions.
I can look at myself 5 -10 years ago and shake my damn head. I still had a lot of learning to do. And I’ll probably say the same in another decade, assuming I’m still here to talk about it.
As an exercise for myself, I have been writing down some things I know. Things I know for me. And maybe some of these things apply for you too. What I do know more than anything, is we don’t have a lot of time. So, make the most of it.
For real, you have to learn to let go.
Let go of relationships (friendships, lovers, partners, etc) that you have outgrown. It’s ok. It happens. As a society we seem to feel like we have to make time for everyone and everything. We don’t. Sometimes people come into our life for a particular reason or time. You don’t have to hang on to it forever. Be grateful for it. And let it go when it’s time. Reason, season, lifetime. Figure out the difference. It’s hard to let go when things quit working. We are trained from an early age to “work things out”. Great. Work hard. Give all you can. Give 1500%. You simply have to define when enough is enough. Don’t be afraid. When I left my spouse 15 years ago I thought “no one will ever know me like he does. No one will ever love me like he does”. I was wrong. I met new people along my path that indeed, learned to know me, and love me deeply. When they were over I would cry and think, “that will never happen again”. But it does. They might come along infrequently and the time in-between can be hollowing and lonely, but that is when you learn about you. When the next one comes along you are even more loveable and learnable than you ever thought you could be.
Let go of your job:
You really can. You will say you can’t, that people depend on you. They don’t. You can leave. You ARE replaceable. Check your ego and go find something that brings you joy. You can find something else that fits you better. Maybe you can’t RIGHT NOW. But at some point you can. And you should. Leap. Take chances. We all have to make a living. But if you loathe what you do, are you living? Can you change your lifestyle so that you can enjoy what you do? You probably can.
Prioritize your time:
Quit accepting obligations because you feel like you should. Lunch dates, coffee, drinks, nights out with people you don’t enjoy. It’s ok to say no. It’s ok to put your kid, your partner, yourself, your job or whatever you want ahead of other things. Your time is YOURS to prioritize. For years so many things in my life came before ME. My partner, my job, my kids . .and not always in that order. I didn’t take time to rest, or exercise, or do much of anything that was self-care. In retrospect, I’d have spent less time working and keeping the house clean and more time cuddled on the couch with my kids. Which would have been the best self care.
I’m going to allow myself a little bit of grace because well, nobody knows what they are doing and I had zero clue how to be a good parent and even less idea how to be a good single parent and manage life stress, financial stress, work stress and three kid stress. But damn, if I could go back in time, I would have given a lot less fucks about making sure the house was clean. I realize it was a reaction to needing control over my life that felt so out of my control. But seriously you guys. Let the house be a freaking mess and just sit with your kids and listen to all of their stories. They will grow up and move way and they won’t cuddle on your lap anymore. And it happens really freaking fast. I feel really old saying that, but it’s true. You will never get those minutes, days, years, decades back to re-do. Give yourself good time-outs. But damn, stay in that game and make it number one.
Spend the money and travel:
Take yourself out of town. An hour away, to another country; or preferably both. I do not have “means. I’ve been very lucky. I’ve had generous friends who have offered me places to stay, or bought me groupons or traveled with me. These kindnesses have allowed me some opportunities I would not have had otherwise. I’ve also learned some really thrifty tips and ways to travel. If you don’t mind sleeping in someone’s rented bedroom and having someone else rent the couch and sit around casually in their underwear you can stay in a top notch part of town for $50. And you end up with great stories to tell your friends. Be unafraid to go and do and explore. Take yourself to concerts and museums and zoos and events in new unexplored cities all by your lonesome. You will learn so much more about yourself and the world and you can do it really cheaply. I promise you.
Stop being afraid:
This was the hardest lesson to learn. Be unafraid. Unafraid to love, to feel. To have emotions. Unafraid to lose. I still struggle with this the most. It’s hard to not be wary. But sometime in the last few years I realized, there was no point in being so afraid. It didn’t prevent bad things from happening, but being afraid did dampen the happy. A lot.
So much of our life is tied to fear. It manifests in opportunities not taken. In obsessive behavior. You see it in your jealousy of a co-worker, or jealousy in a relationship. Insecurity, control, manipulation. It’s all fear. Fear of losing something we hold dear. A person, a job, ourselves. The kicker is: it is ALL up for losing.
In the blink of an eye everything you hold dear can be lost. You have almost no control over that. It’s life. Your partner might quit loving you. Your boss might find you are no longer the best man for the job. Your best friend might develop cancer and die. We lose children and loved ones and parents and pets and jobs and houses and LIVES. You can not control it. So let go. Quit trying to hold on, quit being afraid of what you might lose.
And if one of those or one of the other millions of terrible things happens: you will probably survive it.
Or you might not. You might lose it all and end up the muttering person in the box under the bridge. You might. I don’t know.
But most likely you will find a way through the mire and you will go on. You will carry what you lost with you, it will be molded into the new fabric of who you are.
Set your fear down. It is the most freeing thing you can do. And if you start to feel anxious, or scared or insecure or jealous of someone or something just remember: It’s just fear talking.
I’ve always been happiest by the simplest things. Watching my kids sleep. Their laughter. Their voice on the line. Their little perfect feet. Even when they got to be adult feet I could still picture their perfect toddler toes in my hand. A perfectly smooth rock. The flower growing out of the sidewalk. Walking into a bar with a fantastic juke box. My small circle of friends. The way the light can get all rose gold on a perfect sunrise. Or purple gold on a good sunset. Sharing a bottle of 2.89 wine with my best friend. The last scene of a great movie. Riding along in a truck under the strong arm of a smart man listening to the miles pass and just being still. Joy can come in a lot of small ways. Pay attention. The world looks a lot less ugly, even now, when you can find small things each day that make you smile.
Do it. You really don’t have forever:
Take the class. Write the story. Go back to school. Say you are sorry. Forgive. Forget. Move on. Reach out. Get involved. Get some sleep. Whatever is on your list. Do it. The clock is ticking. One day you will wake up looking at a birthday at the end side of your 40’s and realize: I have a lot of pages left to write. I better make them interesting. I don’t have time to waste weeks or months or years fighting the wrong battles.
Let go. Be brave. Seek joy.