Loss of Innocence

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I love music, and growing up largely in the 80’s and 90’s one of the bigger bands was REM.  I like a lot of their stuff, but my favorite song by REM is Losing my Religion.

Michael Stipe (of REM) has said the song was written about loving someone who doesn’t love you back, but to me the song has always represented a loss of belief; not just in love, but in anything.

 

Belief for me has always been very important.

I’ve never done well with the idea that I should do something just because someone says I should.  I mean, I get that sometimes you need to, but I’ve always been the sort of person to ask “why”.  Once I understand the why of something it gives me a sense of buy-in.

I’ve also believed that when you do “the right thing”, things will work out in some capacity.  At some level I know life doesn’t always work that way.  Bad things happen to good people sometimes, and bad people sometimes get away with things.  But still, I’ve largely tried to life my life according to the principle of “doing the right thing”.  I fully accept that “the right thing” can be open to debate, but by and large I’ve tried to live this way and perhaps as a result my life has been pretty blessed.

 

We all have little failures and losses from time to time, and these are important as they help us grow.  But the first time I truly experienced rejection was when I lost my job in my early 20’s.  I had been working as a consultant for a few years, and a few weeks after my client contract ended the consulting company let me go.

I remember my confusion as I sat in that room.  I had heard the words, but they didn’t make sense.  Being let go?  How was that possible?  I was a good worker, well-liked by my co-workers, and I would like to think I was respected for the work I had done.

So why?

To this day I don’t really know why I was chosen (a handful of people were let go).  But I would be lying if I said it didn’t hurt.

It was a difficult experience, and was both good and bad.  It made me realize that sometimes things happen that won’t make sense to you, and there’s nothing you can do about it.  It also made me change my approach to work.  Prior to that I would have always “gone the extra mile” for the company I worked for.  But when I realized that in the end it’s a numbers game, work started to become just work to me.  I still took pride in the work I did, but I detached myself a bit from my work.  I started to see it as something that allowed me to pay the bills and life the life I wanted, and not much more.

 

The next time I experienced that sort of confusion was in 2012, when my then wife told me she didn’t love me, never really had, and wasn’t sure if she wanted to be married anymore.  I was stunned, caught off guard.  I was hearing her words, but they weren’t making sense.

We were married.  We had children, and had built a life together?  How was this even possible?

In an attempt to describe the emotions of losing a relationship/marriage, a few years ago I wrote the following:

We all start innocent, and growing up you believe in different things. You believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, maybe even the tooth fairy. You believe mommy and daddy love each other, and will always be able to keep you safe. Actually you probably don’t even understand “safe”, because you don’t know threats, you don’t know fear, and you don’t know pain. You only see the light and good in the world, and not the darkness.

Over time, this innocence fades. You find out Santa is just a man in a suit, and there is no Easter Bunny (the tooth fairy IS real though, I’m pretty sure about that one). You start to find out that the world isn’t quite as safe as you thought. Bad things happen to good people sometimes. People get hurt. Tragedies happen. Relationships fail.

In early relationships we experience heartache firsthand, and we hear the rather sobering stats on divorce.

But that early heartache we experienced was simply to prepare us for the person we would be with forever. And divorce only happens to people who give up, and stop loving each other. We know that won’t ever apply to us, because we are different. We believe.

Sure, Santa wasn’t real. And yes, bad things happen in the world. Maybe the world around us had lost it’s magic and wonder.

But for me? My marriage one of the last pieces of magic left in the world.

It was my fairy tale. It was my love story.

And now that magic was broken too.

 

When I wrote that, I still thought there was a chance for my marriage.  In retrospect it was long dead because I was the only one who still wanted it and was putting in any effort.

Yet I still believed I could turn things around.

Not because of any tangible evidence (as my wife’s actions and body language clearly showed she was done), but because I believed in me.

This belief in myself is at once my strength and my weakness.  It’s a strength because it allows me to keep going when times are hard.  But it’s a weakness too, because sometimes it’s better to accept failure as a learning experience, and move on.

 

Any long time readers know that I believe in love.

Not the sort of Hollywood love where you meet “the one” and your life somehow magically becomes amazing.  But a different kind of love, where two people with shared values and vision come together and feel a connection – probably physical and emotional at first.  And over time it develops into something deeper.  Where two people allow themselves to be vulnerable with each other, as they share experiences and build something together; and where they continue to choose each other each and every day.

When my marriage ended, I didn’t want the experience to change me.  Which is ridiculous in some ways, because of course it changed me.

What I meant was I didn’t want it to cause me to change my approach to life, and to love.

A lot of people get hurt and start to build walls to protect themselves from being hurt again.  It’s understandable, but for years I’ve believed doing so ends up creating the exact situation you are trying to avoid.  Closing yourself off to prevent yourself from being hurt simply ensures you will never have the type of closeness you are hoping for.

So being yourself, and being willing to take a chance and let people in seems like the best way to approach things.  Yeah, you may get hurt, but that’s a chance you need to be willing to take.  It’s the trade off for hopefully finding something good.

 

Since my marriage ended I’ve met a few people where I thought that maybe things would happen, and I saw the potential for “something more”, but nothing has really gone anywhere.

One was especially hard, because I saw so much good.  There seemed to be a shared vision on relationships and what we both wanted out of life.  There was a tremendous overlap on shared interests.  On paper, it really looked like it had a chance; and as a result I let myself start to believe again.  Yet it stopped before it even really got started.

 

Belief.

As I said, it’s at once a strength and a weakness.

Is it better to go into things accepting that statistically most things fail?  If you take that approach, aren’t you just setting yourself up for failure?

Don’t you need to believe that something can and will succeed in order to put in the appropriate energy to allow something to succeed?

Maybe the key is learning to temper belief, and re-defining what is an appropriate level of belief for a specific situation.  But what does that actually look like?

I still want to believe, and don’t want to imagine a day where I stop believing.

But some days it’s hard.

 

That’s me in the corner
That’s me in the spotlight
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don’t know if I can do it
Oh no I’ve said too much
I haven’t said enough

I thought that I heard you laughing
I thought that I heard you sing
I think I thought I saw you try

But that was just a dream, try, cry, why, try
That was just a dream

Just a dream

REM – Losing My Religion

 

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Ruled By Fear

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When I was younger I wanted to be a physiotherapist.  Actually, before that I wanted to be a comic book artist, and before that I wanted to be an animal trainer (come on, you KNOW that would be awesome).  But in late high school I started thinking seriously about a career, and physio was what I wanted.

I was serious about it too.  In grade 12 I volunteered at a physio clinic in order to better understand what was involved, and as I saw it in action I knew it was something I would not only enjoy, but would also be good at.

So off I went to university, and in my first year I took all the prerequisites for Physiotherapy.  To get into Physio you need to apply to the faculty, and due to a limited number of spots available every year there was an interview process to get in.  I was confident I had a shot if I could get to the interview stage; but only the applicants with the top marks received interviews.

My marks were good, but not good enough.  And I tried for two years before coming to accept maybe physio wasn’t going to happen for me.

One day I was talking to someone about it, and they suggested I apply at different schools (out of town) as I would have a much better chance to get in.  That idea had never occurred to me, but even after hearing about it I never even tried.  I DID want to get into physio, but I was also an 18-19 year old kid who had never been away from home.  The reality was, I didn’t even consider trying to get into school somewhere else.  That wasn’t an option to me at the time.

Although I didn’t see it, my fear of being away from home, my friends and my family was greater than my desire to get into Physiotherapy school.

And so I didn’t even try.

I didn’t think of it as fear, but at some level that’s what it was.  I wanted something – I really did.  But I didn’t want it enough to make the take a chance, and to do what needed to be done to pursue that dream.

 

In life, we are often ruled by our fears.  We fear failure, and we fear rejection.  And these fears often end up shaping our behaviors and decisions.

 

Fear of Failure

When we fear failure, there are a few different ways it can manifest.

The most obvious one is removing ourselves from a situation, and not even trying.  When you don’t even try, it may be because you’ve convinced yourself in advance that you were going to fail – so why bother when you know how it will end up.

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Not trying may also be so you can convince yourself you didn’t fail.  I’m sure we’ve all seen and heard people say something like “I would have done X, if not for Y”.  Things like I would have been a professional musician if not for my mom and dad needing my help, or I would have been a doctor if I didn’t have kids, or any number of things.

When you don’t try it’s easy to lie to yourself and tell yourself these things.

Maybe it’s true and you would have been X; then again, maybe not.

You’ll never know.

The “what if” game is a wasted exercise, because no matter what you think may have happened – it didn’t.  You made the choices you made.  And life worked out the way it worked out.

 

Sometimes people do put in some effort, but fear of failure becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  They don’t believe they can succeed, so they sabotage themselves by putting in minimal effort.

Then, when things don’t work out they tell themselves “see, I knew it wasn’t going to work out.”  Not accepting that the way they approached it was a significant contributor to how things ended up.

 

When this happens, one of the lies people tell themselves is if it didn’t work out it wasn’t meant to be.

Meant to be.

Fate.

To me that’s a cop out.  “It wasn’t meant to be” turns us into victims, and absolves us of any responsibility for the course of our life.

Things work out sometimes, and other times they don’t.  But if it’s all about “meant to be” then why are we here?  “Meant to be” turns us into nothing more than observers, it means we are passive participants in our own lives; and I can’t accept that.

Rather, I think life presents us with opportunities, and it’s up to us to determine what we want to do them.

Sometimes we pass those opportunities by, maybe because we are scared we will fail or we feel we aren’t ready.

Life doesn’t care if we’re scared – it doesn’t care if we think we’re ready.  Opportunities arise, and we need to decide what to do with them.

Sometimes we embrace those opportunities and give them our all.  And sometimes we still fail.

When that happens it can hurt like hell.  But if it’s something that mattered to us and something we believed in, at least we know that we’ve tried.

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Fear of Rejection

I’ve written a lot about authenticity in relationships, and about how important it is to just “be yourself”, whoever that is.  And I DO believe that being authentic and vulnerable in a relationship is key to both happiness and long term success.

But one thing I tend to gloss over when writing about authenticity is how hard that is to do sometimes.

See, we all have egos and want to be liked and accepted.  And rejection hurts.

 

Fear of rejection can lead us to hide parts of ourselves, or even to pretend to be something we are not.

We probably all do this to a degree, because we want to impress and we want to be accepted.  And in the early days of a relationship it’s somewhat understandable.

It’s a paradox, where we need to feel accepted in order to feel emotionally safe with the other person.  At the same time, we need to be vulnerable and let our partners in in order to feel accepted and safe.

So usually in the early days it can be a gradual process of sharing and revealing ourselves.  Ultimately we need to let the other person in though, as much as we can.

Similar to how not trying out of fear of failure can CAUSE us to fail, holding back out of fear of rejection will limit the closeness in our relationships and ensure we will never be accepted for who we are.  After all, our partner can’t ever fully accept us if we won’t let them truly see us.

When that happens, that’s not a failure of the relationship.  That’s a failure within ourselves.  Because often, when a fear of rejection is causing us to hold back (or try to be someone we’re not), it’s because we have not accepted ourselves.

 

Accepting ourselves can be very, very hard.

We all have damage.

We all have insecurities.

We’ve all been hurt.

When that happens it’s very easy to build walls around ourselves in order to “protect” ourselves from further hurt.  It doesn’t work though, because our fears just hold us back from the life we really want.

 

Facing our fears is hard.

Letting go is hard.

Embracing life and opportunities is hard.

And being vulnerable and authentic is hard.

Each of these things comes at a cost, but the cost of not doing so is even higher.

 

We all have fears, of failure and of rejection.  You have them, and I have them.  And we all need to address them in the way that seems right for us.

For me, I don’t want to let fear hold me back.  When life presents me with opportunities, I don’t want my fears to cause me to pass them by.  If it’s something I believe in, I want to embrace it.  I want to be the authentic me, and take a chance.

I may be hurt.

I may fail.

But whether I succeed or fail at something, for the things that matter I want to be able to face the mirror at the end of the day and tell myself I gave it my all.

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The Identity Gap

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Identity is a big topic for me in my writing.  Who are you?  Who am I?  How well do we really understand ourselves as a person, and perhaps more importantly, how well do we accept ourselves?

Along this lines, one idea I’ve had rolling around in my head for a while is the idea of an “identity gap”.

To me, an identity gap is the gap between who we ARE and who we WANT TO BE.

 

Related to my post on fantasy, we all have an idealized version of self; this picture of who we wish we were, and how we wish our life looked.  This ideal is related to our dreams, and may be influenced by the things we see around us or the expectations that were placed on us growing up.

 

However this is just an ideal, and I don’t think ANYONE is their idealized version of “self”.  And for that matter, I don’t think anyone ever achieves it.

This concept of an identity gap has huge implications for the level of happiness a person has in their life.  And I think this happiness is directly related to three questions:

  1. How big is the gap between who you want to be and who you are?
  2. Do you accept that your idealized version of self is simply an ideal, and not reality?
  3. What are you doing to improve yourself and close the gap between who you are and who you want to be?

 

What is your Ideal Self?

This is a tough question to answer.  But I guess another way of look at it is, when you were a teenager who did you think you would be?  What did you think it actually meant to be an adult?

This is an area where man oh man, I think a lot of us screw up something fierce.

On one hand, we have all these adults all around us modelling what life as an adult looks like.  So you would think we would actually learn something from that.

On the other hand, we have tv shows, and advertising telling us how amazing we are, and how special we are, and how we “deserve the best”.

I’m not sure about this, but I suspect that even when all the evidence around us is telling us life as an adult is pretty mundane, there’s also a part of that expects life to look like a beer commercial.

 

I don’t think many teenagers/college students take a look at their parents and say “yup, that’s who I’m going to be when I grow up”.

For some reason we think we are different, and special, so of course our life will be different.  We will set goals, and achieve all of our wildest dreams.

 

A few posts back used a line I found:

What screws us up most in life is the picture in our head of how it’s supposed to be.

That line seems simple at first, but it’s also one of the most profound things I’ve ever read.

How things are “supposed to be”.

What life is “supposed” to look like.

What “love” is supposed to look like.

Who we are “supposed” to be.

 

I’m reminder of a scene from movie Boyhood.  It’s kind of a bizarre film, as it doesn’t really follow a traditional mold; but it’s also really powerful.  It was filmed over 12 years, and during the film you actually see the characters age and grow up.

In it Patricia Arquette starts out as a young mother with little education.  And during the 12 years of the film her children grow up, she is married and divorced twice, and gains an education and becomes a college professor (I think).

Late in the film there’s a scene where her son is leaving for college and she breaks down.  She reflects on all the things that have happened in her life, all the things she has done and accomplished.  And then she says:

I just thought there would be more.

 

I just thought there would be more.

Life hasn’t matched up to the picture she had in her head.  There was an identity gap, and when comparing reality to ideal, life ended up being a disappointment.

 

I think this happens often.

For some reason we expect “more”.  And real life isn’t able to measure up.

In our society right now, depression rates are up.  Anxiety rates are up.  People talk about happiness as if it’s this magical thing that they can achieve.  This goal in life that will make everything better.

So how do we make this better?

 

An Ideal is a Dream

I think one of the first things we need to do is accept that our ideal is simply something to strive towards, and not something we are likely to ever achieve.

And that’s alright.

We are all just “regular” people.  We aren’t any better than anyone else, and we do not deserve special treatment.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t have goals – because we should.  We need them, as goals give us something to strive towards.

Instead of just looking at our imaginary end state, we need to be able to set small milestones or goals, and celebrate the little successes we have along the way.

Because sometimes our ideal isn’t actually realistic.

So we shouldn’t measure our success in life against it’s end state.  We need to be able to look at where we are now, and appreciate it each and every day.

 

How are you Trying to Improve?

Let’s say I want to make a fence.  What do I need to do?

Does it help me to wake up everyday, look in my yard and think “man, I wish I had a fence”?

Ummm, no so much.

How about if I buy some wood and some screws, and put them in my yard and just leave them there?

I suppose that gets me a bit closer, but again, it’s not very helpful.

 

Instead, a few things need to happen.

  • First I need to understand where I am today.
  • Next I need to understand where I want to be.
  • Then I need a plan to get from point A to point B.
  • Lastly (and perhaps most importantly) I need initiative. I need to be willing to do something about it.

 

So everything starts with accepting yourself for who you are TODAY.

We all have strengths and weaknesses, good sides and bad sides.  And until we accept ourselves for who we are today (warts and all), we can never move forward or improve.  We are never able to live in the present moment, and able to appreciate the life we DO have.

When people are focused on their identity gap, they are focused on who they are not instead of who they are. And when THAT is the focus?  If someone is focused on what they are missing or who they are not, I don’t think they will ever be happy.  Because it doesn’t matter how much you improve, you can always get better.  And people who are focused on what they are not are unable to live in the moment and appreciate the things they DO have.

So any improvements need to first start with self acceptance.

changeparadox

 

Once you have accepted who you are today, you are now in a position to better understand the gap between where you are and where you want to be.

Ironically, once you have accepted yourself it may not matter as much.

Because although we can always be “more”, when we have accepted ourselves we know we are “enough”.

Is It Better To Be Single?

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A while ago I was out with a buddy, and while we were eating he looked at me and asked “do you ever miss being single?”

That’s a pretty loaded question, so I had to get a bit of clarification on what he meant.  He wasn’t talking about dating, or looking for other women.  He was talking about simply being able to do what we were doing – being able to go out and grab some food with a buddy.  To not have to worry about kids, or when he needs to be home, or feeling guilty about leaving his wife alone with the kids while he goes takes time for himself.

Looking at it that way, do I miss being single?

Truthfully?

Of course I do.  But maybe it’s better to say that I miss certain aspects of it.

 

The Traditional Path

Growing up many of us follow the template:

  • Finish high school
  • Get a post-secondary education
  • Start a career
  • Date, with the hopes of finding that someone you want to build a life with
  • Get married
  • Raise a family

We follow the template because we see it.  It’s been modeled to us our whole lives – from parents, grandparents, friends, the media, etc.  And although people may not say it explicitly, at least at a subconscious level we are taught that this is “the best way”, or “the right way” to live.

Is it TRULY the best way to live?

Personally I like the template, but divorce rates (that continue to hover around 50% for first marriages) would seem indicate that it’s not necessarily an easy way to live.

So best?  Who knows.

At the very least, I can say it’s not the only way to live.

 

Different “Ways” To Live

There are other ways to life your life.

Some choose to remain single (with no relationship).

For people who do, I suppose you can question if they actually want to be single or if they have just resigned themselves to it.

I suspect it’s probably a mix of both.  Really, for the people who are married I wonder how many actually want to be married and how many are simply scared to be alone.  In any case, remaining single is a viable choice, and is the one that provides the greatest amount of personal freedom.

You may never actually be able to do whatever you want, but your choices impact less people when it’s just you.

 

Others may stay single yet date casually.  I guess this is way of trying to have some of the benefits of a relationship without the expectations commitment brings.

 

Then you have others who are in exclusive relationships, but have no interest in marriage or even living together.  I know a guy who’s been with his girlfriend for a few years now.  Both are divorced, have their own kids, and love each other.  But they still value living independently, and their relationship is mainly characterized by getting together a few nights a week and vacationing together periodically.

According to him this approach helps reduce the effects of taking each other for granted (hedonic adaptation), because they only see each other when they want to.

Personally I don’t get it, but hey, it seems to work for them.

 

For each of these approaches you can also add a variation – with kids and without.  If you’re raising a family together, I would think that probably works best for all involved if you are living under one roof.  But kids bring with them a whole other set of challenges.

Really, the life of a married couple with no kids generally looks VERY different from the life of a married couple with kids.  And even comparing couples with kids, the number of kids and their ages can have big impacts on what the couple’s lives look like.

 

Choosing a Path

So what approach is best?  To stay single (and not date)?  Date casually?  Get married?  Have kids?  Not have kids?

There’s no right or wrong answer here.

  • If you stay single you have the greatest control over your own life.  And although you may not have a “partner”, you probably have friends, family, coworkers, etc to provide much of the connection that people often look for in a relationship.
  • If you date casually, your relationship life is probably more “exciting” (speculating here, as I really wouldn’t know).  The early phase of a relationship is often referred to as the discovery phase, or the passion phase.  It’s a phase that can’t last though, so having a number of new relationships ensures you are always having new experiences.
  • If you are in a long term committed relationship where you are living with that person/married, you will have a partner in life, and someone to share experiences and “grow old” with.
  • If you have children, you have the experience of truly developing and shaping another life to be the best it can be.  And there is a certain level of pride and joy in being a parent that is difficult to articulate, and can only be understood by someone who is a parent.

 

Each approach to life is different.  They each have a number of strengths; but there are also a number of challenges and struggles inherent to each approach.

There is no perfect approach that can give you the good without the bad.  Being a parent has some incredible and rewarding moments.  But man, it also involves a lot of sacrifice and challenges.  Getting married and having a partner in life can be great, but it can also be very difficult.

Each choice involves making some sort of sacrifice, and giving up something else.  It’s part of the trade off.

 

Grass is Greener Syndrome

Where we get ourselves in trouble is when we start comparing, or looking at “the road not chosen”.

When times are good, we don’t even think about our choices (which sadly means we actually taking them for granted and not appreciating the good in them).

When times get hard though?  Well, during those times the sacrifices and challenges or our chosen road often stand out.  And it’s easy to start to question if it’s worth it.

 

Imagine you have chosen one road, and you find yourself talking to someone who has chosen another.  It’s really easy to look at their life and see primarily the good parts.  The freedoms they have that are different from yours, the sacrifices you make that they don’t seem to have to make.

Remember though – two people can go out who have chosen different roads, and talk.  And each can head home envious of the others life.

The grass isn’t really greener on the other side.  It’s just a bit different.  With both strengths and weaknesses – just like the life we have now.

 

Going back to the start, do I miss being single?  Sure, sometimes.  I would be lying if I said otherwise.  I also sometimes miss the freedom from my life before I was a parent.

Hell, I miss the days I lived at my parents – where I had no job (beyond my paper route), no responsibilities or bills, and not a care in the world.  Did I appreciate that life at the time?  Of course not – because that life was just what I knew.

And that’s the sad part.

Often you don’t appreciate the things you have until they are gone.  We shouldn’t HAVE to lose things before we can appreciate them.  We should be able to take time out every day, and be truly grateful for the things we DO have.

If we could do that, maybe the bad times wouldn’t feel so overwhelming.  Maybe we wouldn’t get to the point where we are looking longingly at the road not taken.

 

So instead of looking at what we don’t have and what we are missing, perhaps we should be trying to remember and appreciate the strengths of the road we have chosen.  And focusing on making it the best life it can be.

justNeedToWaterIt

 

 

What If?

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When I was a kid I used to read comics, and although I didn’t read it on a regular basis I always enjoyed a series called “What If”.

The premise of the series was great. Comics have their own history and continuity, so the “What if” series was a way to explore alternatives to that history. It allowed writers to imagine how the current comic world would look if just one event happened differently, or one decision was made differently.

For example, the Hulk is the typical Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde story. He’s a brilliant scientist to transforms into a powerful yet relatively mindless creature. What would happen if he could maintain his brilliant mind while adding the power of the Hulk? How would that change that character, as well as the universe he lives in?

WhatIf

These stories imagining alternate realities in the world of comics were usually fairly silly and often a lot of fun.

 

I think in some capacity, we all play the “what if” game with our own lives. What if we had made a certain decision differently, or what if one event happened differently.

What would it mean to us today?

How would it impact our lives?

Usually if we are having these thoughts, it’s because something about how are lives are “today” hasn’t worked out quite the way we thought it would. After all, there’s not a lot of need to look back and imagine what things would be like if you are happy with where you are now.

 

I recently saw the Disney/Pixar movie Inside Out (great film by the way), and there is bit about this thinking that becomes a recurring joke. There’s a scene where a family is having dinner and the mom is concerned about how their daughter has been behaving. She turns to her husband for support with their daughter, and is disappointed by how he handles things. In her disappointment, she has a memory about a Brazilian helicopter pilot who appears to be straight out of a romance novel.

At the moment the mom seems to be thinking, “I chose you when I could have had him”.

InsideOutHelicopterPilot

As comedy relief, it was a funny scene.

But really, “what if” is a very destructive form of thought.

It’s an exercise in mental futility, because you can never know how any other scenario would have played out. If today hasn’t worked out the way you thought it would, what makes you think any “what if” scenario would have worked out the way you think it would have?

Sure, you can tell yourself “things would have been better if…”. But you will never know. It may have been better and it may have been worse. At the very least, you wouldn’t be the same person you are today.

What would have happened if the mom from Inside Out had gone with the Brazilian Helicopter Pilot?  Her life would have been completely different.  Chances are there would have been good, and some bad.  The relationship would have had some excitement, and some struggles.  Plus, any good experiences she has shared with her husband would never have happened, and that includes their daughter.

 

I know, I know.  It’s a cartoon.  But we all think this way from time to time.

I’ve imagined, what if I stuck with drawing?  What if I started playing basketball at an earlier age?  What if I would have been willing to leave town to go to school?

There are always “what if’s”.  Truly though, they don’t matter.

Sure, maybe X or Y would have happened if you had made certain choices differently, or if events had worked out differently.

But they didn’t.  Where you are today is where you are.  And the past can’t change that, only the future can.

 

“What if” is a waste of time, and it can cripple people. It can not only trap you in re-examing past decisions, but it can also prevent moving forward with current decisions. After all, if you are ruminating over past decisions what if your next decision doesn’t turn out the way you want?

What really matters is where we are today, and what we are going to do with our present state.

Are you happy with where you are, and is your level of happiness enough? There are so many different aspects to life that I don’t believe anyone will ever be totally happy, and that’s alright. Are you content though?

If not, what are you doing about it?

If you are dissatisfied with your current situation, getting caught in the past accomplishes nothing. What matters is how you move forward. How do you improve upon your current situation? Does the situation need to change? Or is it enough to change your thinking and your level of acceptance of the current situation?

I truly believe that is what life is really about. Making decisions, and then doing the best with the decision you have made. If you aren’t happy, change your situation.

And accept that no matter what road you have taken in the past, or whatever road you take in the future, there WILL be surprises. There WILL be disappointments. Things aren’t going to work out exactly the way you had planned, and that’s alright.

We adapt, we adjust, and we keep going.

Because often the most important part about happiness is not worrying about disappointment. Not worrying about what is missing. Instead, happiness is about focusing on what you do have, and appreciating the little moments each and every day.

What Do You Want?

Wishlist
Every day businesses undertake projects that are intended to guide and shape their futures. Considerable effort is put into these projects – countless person hours and dollars.
But studies show that these projects often fail. And for those that don’t fail, a relatively small percentage can truly be considered a success.

Most projects fall into this “other” category where they aren’t outright failures; but they didn’t really achieve what they had set out to do. For these projects, their success is measured in relative terms.

Because of the costs involved, a lot of time and effort has been spent trying to understand this problem.

Why do projects not have a higher level of success? Is it due to shortcomings in the people involved? Is it the approach organizations take? And what can we do to try and improve the level of success in the future.

Often the failure of projects can be boiled down to one basic problem:

The business didn’t know what it wanted, or what it was trying to accomplish. It had a pretty good idea of what it wanted; but it didn’t truly understand its own needs, or requirements.

What exactly is a “Requirement”?

A requirement can be thought of as an action or property that something must have in order to have perceived value.

This definition of a requirement came from a business book. But really, it applies to anything.

When you buy a car you expect certain things from it. There’s an assumption that at the very least you will be able to start, stop and steer a car. If it doesn’t meet these criteria, then it doesn’t perform the activities we expect and therefore you wouldn’t buy it (it doesn’t have perceived value).

Of course you may buy a broken car as a hobby project or as a collector. But if either of those are your intent then you come in with a specific set of requirements for what you are looking for.

Going back to the business world, it is estimated that as much as 60% of (business) problems come from incorrectly identifying requirements. From not truly knowing what it is that a business wants, or is trying to accomplish.

See, businesses often don’t actually know what they want. And to actually achieve success in getting to what you want, having a *pretty good idea* isn’t nearly enough.

Can You Describe What You Want?

Not knowing what you want is a common business problem, but it’s also a common people problem.

I see this as something we all face, in all aspects of our lives. And like business projects, this is probably one of the main causes of failure people have in their personal relationships.

Not knowing what you want happens in a few different ways.

First, like businesses people often only have a general idea of what they want but they don’t really understand the specifics of it.  To a degree this is understandable, but it makes it very difficult to know if something has actually achieved its requirements. How can we determine if something is successful if we don’t even know the criteria we are measuring something against?

In relationships people often use “happiness” as their measure of success, and I constantly see/hear things like “I just want to be happy”, or “people deserve to be happy”.

Fair enough. But what does that mean?

Saying you want happiness is like saying you want to go on vacation somewhere; and then jumping in your car and driving randomly figuring you’ll see where you end up. You could do it, and it might even be kind of fun. You’ll definitely end up “somewhere” and will probably have some new experiences along the way (of course, some of them may be experiences you later wish you never had).

Something like happiness can be elusive if you don’t know what it means to you.  People seem to figure they will know it when they find it; but that’s kind of like driving randomly without a map and expecting to get where you want.

It *may* happen. But if it does it’s probably more luck than anything.

One problem is, it’s very difficult to say what constitutes happiness.  It’s not status, beauty or wealth – as many who seem to have everything are miserable while many who seem to have nothing profess to be happy. And it’s not just something you can “feel”, as there are a number of things and conditions that can make people depressed and struggle with the feeling of happiness.

So chasing happiness doesn’t work.

But you can have other things you want out of life. You can try to accomplish things for yourself, and for those around you (such as wanting to support your loved ones in the things they do).

To truly be happy in life and in love, you need to have a pretty good idea of what you are looking for.  And you need to be able to articulate those things.  Because if you can’t, how will you ever know if you find them?

 

A second problem is that sometimes people believe they know what they want. But once they get it, they realize it’s not actually what they were looking for.

This happens all the time, and I think it is an important and valuable experience. It happens when people think they understand their problem, while in reality they have come up with a possible solution. And it turns out not to be the solution to the right problem.

There are countless stories where someone wasn’t happy, and they attribute this unhappiness to *something*.  Maybe their job, or their appearance, or their relationship, or…

…the list can go on.

So they change things. And often find they aren’t any happier. In fact, sometimes they are even less happy, because they threw out one of the positives in their life in an attempt to find what was wrong.

When this happens, they thought they knew the solution to their problem.  But they were searching for a solution to a problem they didn’t truly understand.

Knowing Yourself

I titled this post “What Do You Want?”

We all have things we want out of life and love; and if we don’t, we should. But often, we aren’t really sure what those things are.  And when we do, it’s sometimes viewed as a negative thing.

It’s easy to say you have goals in life.  But love involves two people (generally). So wanting something out of love means that you actually have expectations of the other person.

And this can cause resentment.

Often I see people saying things like:

Why can’t someone just love me without expecting anything in return?

We seem to live in a world that thinks it’s bad to expect things from people. There are all sorts of sayings like “the best way to avoid disappointment is to not expect anything from anyone”, or “true love begins when nothing is looked for in return.” I understand the sentiment behind these sorts of statements, but feel it is a dangerous way of thinking.

Love has expectations. To me that’s a simple truth.

If it didn’t, people could marry and be happy with anyone, and clearly that’s not the case. Somehow it’s alright to say that people can have standards, but expectations are “bad”. Is there really a difference?  Expectation is an important aspect of any healthy relationship, as they are simply a way of articulating your requirements – the actions and properties you feel you need as part of the relationship.

Of course it is important that expectations are realistic, and there is a difference between expectations and entitlement.

We all have things we need from our friends, our families, our careers, and yes – even our partners.  And understanding yourself and what you want is extremely important for your own happiness.

Often the people who are chronically unhappy are people who just kind of slide through life, rarely making decisions, and rarely having goals. They’re like the person driving randomly, hoping to find a place to end up.

Personally, I don’t want to be happy. I mean I do, but I don’t see it as a goal.  Happiness is really part of an experience, or a process.  But the journey is the important part.

There are things I want out of life, and out of love, and I have expectations for all the people I care about. My parents, siblings, friends, children, and my partner. And I think it’s only fair that they in turn have expectations of me. But most importantly, I have expectations of myself.

The people in my life won’t always be able to meet my expectations, so yes at times I will be disappointed in them. And I’m sure there will be times that they will be disappointed in me.

That’s life though.

I won’t always be happy, and that’s alright. When I’m not, it’s not necessarily a reflection on the quality of my life, or of the people around me.

Instead of happiness, I want a life where I can be both happy and sad. Joyful, and angry. Curious and afraid. I want to live a life that combines the mundane aspects of day to day life with the bigger experiences, those moments you look back on and remember.

Sadness is part of that. So is anger, hurt and disappointment.  I’m not saying I look forward to them, but I accept them as part of my journey.

In the end, all I hope is that the good moments outweigh the bad.

A New Beginning

2016 is almost here – the start of a new year.

Often, this changing of the calendar year is seen as a clean slate and a time for change. People make new years resolutions (often around exercise and diet). This will be the year that they get in better shape, take that course, quit smoking/drinking, get that promotion or find that special someone. Whatever it is, this will be the year that things change, with the perception that these changes will bring improvements in their life.

And people do make changes.

For a while.

For many years I was a regular at a local gym, and the first few weeks after new years were the busiest times of year. The number of attendees would jump by 20-30% in those first few weeks, and then would start to taper off again. And by February the new group of “regulars” looked pretty similar to the group that was there before the new year began.

See, making changes is easy.

Sustaining them on the other hand? Now that’s another story.

Real, sustainable change requires commitment, dedication, and effort. But as much as people often talk about wanting changes, we don’t want to have to work for it. We’re looking for instant gratification. The easy button, and magic wand solutions. We are looking for the best of both worlds – ways to get the changes we want without having to sacrifice or change what we do now.

The thing is, why are we actually looking for change? Will those changes really improve our life? Will they really make us happier?

I won’t deny that many changes have benefits. For example, getting into better shape is generally a good thing. Often though, we don’t really need to make changes. Often what we are actually looking for is right there in front of us and has been the whole time. We have just become blind to it.

What we really need isn’t always change, but a change in perspective.

I’ve told this story before, but there are two events I can point to in my life that changed my perspective.

When I was in my early 20’s I spent a month in a poor country, staying with people who lived there. That month, I realized just how much I truly had back home, not only in terms of material items but also in terms of opportunity. Growing up middle class in Canada I knew there were some that were better off than me, and others that were worse off. But my life was my norm, and because of that I never appreciated it. Taking that trip allowed me to see my world in a new light.

Another moment was one of the first walks in the neighborhood that I took my first child on when we was learning to walk. It took us around an hour just to make it a few houses away, as he was fascinated by everything around him. Cracks in the sidewalk, bugs, the texture of trees and grass. Everything was new and magical for him. And allowing him to explore while doing that walk at his speed allowed me to appreciate just how much beauty I failed to notice each and every day.

January 1st does mark a new year. And it can be a time for change.

But instead of just making changes to ourselves and those things around us, also think about the things we already have. The world we know is our norm, and it’s very easy to take for granted.

So try to slow down, and see your existing world with new eyes. See the good and the beauty in what you already have instead of focusing on flaws and the things that are missing. When we are more appreciative and thankful for what we have, we are more satisfied in life.

To any readers out there, I wish you a happy close to 2015 and a wonderful start to the new year.

No matter where you are and what your situation, it is a magical world – if we let it be.