Owning your Choices

A number of years ago I remember watching some talk show that was interviewing Charlie Sheen.

The timing of this interview was fairly significant.  He had just gone through a fairly public downward spiral, where he had displayed all sorts of strange and erratic behavior.  I don’t really follow celebrity culture, so I don’t remember the details, but I *do* remember some of the things he said in the interview.

He was asked about whether or not he had any regrets about the things he had done, and he said no.  He said the past was the past and he couldn’t change it, so he wasn’t going to worry about it.

 

I’m a big believer in the notion that our life is our own person journey.  Along the way we are having all sorts of experiences, and we are constantly making choices.  Our experiences and choices are sometimes good, and sometimes bad.  But they ultimately shape us into the people we are today.  This process never really ends, as we are always growing and changing.

So I understand the notion of trying not to get caught up in the past.

He’s right, the past IS the past.  For good OR bad, it’s already happened and can’t be changed; so it really doesn’t make sense to waste energy on something you can’t change.

In fact focusing on the past, getting caught up in it and refusing to let it go, is extremely unhealthy.  Often this is referred to as rumination, and it’s something that’s commonly found in both anxiety and depression.

But (and this is a BIG but)…

That’s not to say the past doesn’t matter.

The past may have already happened, and we may not be able to change it.  However we can ALWAYS learn from it.

We are always going to do some things well, and we are also going to make a lot of mistakes.  The value of this experience is LEARNING from it, and trying to grow as a person.  To improve, and minimize those mistakes moving forward.  To try and do better, and BE better, each and every day.

That is what growth and experience is all about.

And PART of that process is OWNING our mistakes.

Because if we can’t even own our mistakes, then how in the world are we ever supposed to learn from them?  How are we supposed to grow?

We don’t grow if we are blaming someone else or rationalizing away our behavior.  If we say “sure I did that, but it was because…” then we aren’t truly owning it.

To own our choices we need to be able to say “yes, that was me.  I did that.  It was MY choice”.

It’s only THEN, that we can recognize how our choices may have impacted or hurt others.  And it’s only when we do this that that we can truly apologize for something we have done.

 

That was my issue with the Charlie Sheen interview back in the day.

I didn’t sense remorse.

I didn’t sense learning or growth.

There didn’t seem to be any real ownership.

Rather, it was “yeah, I did that.  But I can’t change the past so it doesn’t really matter”.

He didn’t seem to get the impact his actions, his CHOICES, had on others.

 

We all do stupid things sometimes.  We all have moments where we will say thing or do things that will hurt the people we care about.

And these are moments that over time have the potential to seriously damage a relationship.

I believe that when relationships end, it’s usually not because of a particular incident or event.  Sure that happens sometimes, but more often it’s a series of smaller things that allow resentment to gradually build, and over time allows apathy to set in.  Most relationships die the death of a thousand cuts; and maybe there’s an incident that pushes things over the edge – but it’s really all the smaller things that have done the real damage.

And that’s where ownership comes in.

 

People talk about how they would never do anything to hurt someone they love.  Well, I have a different take on that.

We may not *want* to hurt those we love, but if you are around someone long enough you will hurt them.  That’s just human nature.

 

And once you have hurt someone, it’s already happened.  You can’t take it back.

That doesn’t mean you can’t try to make it right though.

Ownership to me is about recognizing what we have done, and how it has impacted those around usIt’s about showing remorse for how we have made the other person feel, and trying to learn from those moments.  It’s about taking steps to prevent those sorts of things from happening again in the future.

It may be true that we cannot change the past.  But we CAN avoid making the same mistakes.  And if we can do that, then we can use the mistakes of our past to build a better future.

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Life can change in the blink of an eye

mdeLast night I was driving home, just like any other night; when everything suddenly changed.

I’m still not entirely clear on what all happened, but one moment I was driving full speed through a controlled intersection, when I saw lights in my periphery that were much closer than they should have been.

I both heard and felt the impact, and I remember screaming.  The next thing I knew my car was full of smoke and I was breathing in the rancid air from the air bag that was deflating in front of me (seriously, that stuff smells/tastes awful).

The next 10-15 minutes were a blur.

I had been hit on the driver side from a black truck, but by the time I wedged the door open and got out of the car the truck was long gone.  My car had been pushed 10-15 feet sideways, completely out of my lane and almost into the vehicles that were waiting at the lights.  There was a witness, who I only know by the name Liam, who was concerned for my well being and told me I could rest in his car while he phoned the police.

Another witness named Mike followed the truck and managed to get its plate number at one point stopping the guy and talking to him (I don’t know how), before the driver took off – apparently down a set of train tracks.  Based on Mike’s assessment, the driver was clearly drunk.

Both guys, and a third witness whose name I didn’t catch stayed and made statements with the police on my behalf.  Eventually the police took my statement, my car was taken to a compound, and the tow truck driver brought me home.

 

I could have died last night.

I was hit on the driver’s side, and although I’m a bit sore today I’m fine.  No cuts, and no bruises that I’m aware of.  It was a bad situation, but it turned out about as well as it could have.

Still, a few moments different and I could have died.  And that’s something that’s been in my head all morning.

 

Any long time readers know I’m going through a divorce.

My wife blindsided me back in 2012 with the fact that she had “never truly loved me” and she “wasn’t sure if she wanted to be married anymore”.  And after that day, we really weren’t.

Whether it was poor communication or ignorance and naivety on my part really doesn’t matter.  Ultimately I didn’t see it coming any more that I saw the truck last night.

We loved each other, didn’t we?  How could we have gotten to that point?

I spent the next few years trying to understand what had gone wrong, and trying to make things better.  But nothing I tried mattered.  She had decided “something was wrong with us”, and who knows, maybe something was.  However that belief ultimately meant things just spiraled further and further as the years passed by.  Until eventually, I made the choice to take my life down a different path.

For a chance at a fresh start.

 

I had heard all the horror stories about divorce, and how people can become angry, petty and bitter.  I knew that wasn’t me, or what I wanted out of my life.

My marriage had failed.

Actually, failed is probably the wrong word.

Rather, my marriage had concluded.  Based on the road we had been on, it came to its logical conclusion – the only place it really could have gone. It was up to us to get it off that road before it was too late, and we didn’t, or couldn’t. That wasn’t a failure so much as it was simply an ending that was different from the one we had once hoped for.

Still, we had kids together that we both loved.  And due to those kids, we would be in each others lives still for many years to come; for the rest of our lives really.  For the betterment of everyone, the best thing that could happen would be for us to treat each other kindly and with respect for what we had once been together.  And to come up with a solution that may not have been quite what either of us wanted; but one that was amenable to both of us.

Well, I can’t exactly say that’s happened.

Things have devolved to the point where it’s impossible to have constructive dialogue, and everything has to be done through lawyers.  Thousands and thousands of dollars have been spent.  And yeah, it’s just money.  But it’s also money that would have been better split between us.  Money that could have helped us each start anew.

With the way things have gone, I suspect before too long we will be two people who hate one another.  And that makes me sad.

 

Last night something terrible happened, yet a number of complete strangers stepped up to the plate to help me out as best they could.  I’m sure they had places to go, but they put their lives on pause for a while to help someone they didn’t even know.

All I know them as is Liam, Mike and the other guy.  But I’m still grateful for the kindness they showed me.

Yet two people who once stood at an altar in front of assembled families and friends, who spent almost half their lives together, and who brought two children into the world together; can’t even find a way to walk away from that life with kindness and respect.

As I said, it makes me sad.

 

This isn’t about me.  My story is far from unique though.

I know a number of people who have gone through divorce, and so many stories are similar.  So many people end up completely hating each other, and can’t even be in the same room as the other person when it is all said and done.

I understand that divorce can be emotional for some people.  And I understand all too well what it means to be hurt by someone.

But some of the things people do, and some of the ways they act?  Anger, bitterness, pettiness, looking for “little wins”?

I don’t get it.

How does that help anyone at all?

That’s not the person I want to be.

 

I could have died last night.

I realize I’m idealistic, and I know I can be naive.

But if two people once came together out of love, even if that love is now gone they should be able to walk away with respect for what they once were.

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Owning our Part

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I’ve got a buddy who drives me a bit crazy.  He’s a great guy, he really is; and I love him to death.

Thing is, he also happens to be a bit of a slob.

Not a slob in terms of his appearance or anything.  But, well…

…he’s kind of lazy.

And where you see it the most is he almost never cleans up after himself.  I mean, the dude will eat his food and just walk away, leaving his plate behind.

Not taking it the 10 steps to the sink.  Not putting it in the dishwasher.

He just leaves it.

 

I don’t have to live with the guy, so I guess it really shouldn’t bother me.  But it still kinda does.

I like things to be fairly tidy; and seeing plates sitting around with leftover bits of food?  Well, that’s pretty gross.

It makes me think, what the hell man – how hard is it to put your stuff away?  Why do you leave your stuff out?  Why do you think it’s alright?

 

Let me ask you a question – do you like paying bills?  It doesn’t matter which type of bill.  It could be mortgage, utilities, credit card, or any bill really.

Unless you’re weird, the answer is probably no, you don’t like paying them (and if you DO, I have a bunch that you can pay if you want).  Nah, we pay our bills because we have to.  Paying the mortgage is preferable to having the house repossessed.  Paying the utilities is better than having them cut off.  If we want the thing the bill is for, we have to pay it.

But what if you didn’t?

What if you got that bill in the mail and you never had to pay it.  What if it just paid itself?

Would you cry?  Would you complain?  Would you cry out in indignation saying “hey, I WANTED to pay that electrical bill!”

No, probably not.

Rather, you would probably think it was pretty awesome.

Maybe the first time the bill “paid itself” you would wonder how/why it was paid.  If it was a mistake you may contact the electrical company and let them know, or you may just hope they wouldn’t notice.  And if someone paid it for you, you would probably be thankful.

Thing is, over time if they just continued to pay it and you never had to you would probably start to expect it.  And eventually you would take it for granted.

 

So, back to my buddy…

He doesn’t clean up after himself, and in all the years I’ve known him he’s never had to.  He doesn’t seem to even think about it, because he gets away with it.

It’s frustrating to me, but I think it’s also human nature.

No one wants to feel like a parent to their partner.  We don’t want to feel like we are nagging them.  We want our partners to do things because they are showing consideration to us and because they recognize it’s the right thing to do, not because they have to.  But at the same time, it’s human nature to do the least amount possible.

So looking at my buddy, yes he needs to own his behaviors.  Yes it’s his “fault”.

But it’s also the fault of the person who enables him to do it.

Bear with me a moment here…

 

When “bad things” happen to us or we are hurt by the people we care about, we often struggle to understand things like how could they do that to me?  How could they hurt me?  Don’t they care?

The focus is on what has happened to us.  And when we are hurt, it’s easy and even sensible to blame the person who hurt us.

The harder question is what did you do to contribute to the situation?

This isn’t a popular question, especially when people are hurting.  And in asking it in the past, I’ve even been accused of victim blaming.  I don’t see it that way though.

Trying to understand how you have contributed to something is not the same as taking blame for it.  People are responsible for their own choices and behaviors.

I am never *responsible* for someone else’s choices.  That’s on them.

So when someone has done something, whatever it is, it was their choice.

However that doesn’t mean I haven’t contributed to the situation in some way.

 

Let’s say your relationship is breaking down – does it really matter who’s fault it is?

I don’t think so.

It may be 50/50.  Or it could be 90% your partners fault and 10% yours.

Ultimately you have no control over what the other person has done.  The only thing you have control over is you.  Your actions, your response.

The only thing you can actually change is your part in things.

So be willing to recognize and own your own part.  Owning your part is very different from taking the blame for someone elses part.  That’s on them, and only they can own it.

Some people won’t own their own part.  Instead, they will blame others for their own actions and their own choices.  Saying things like “you made me do this”, or “I did this because you did that”.

 

When we blame others for the bad things in our life (and ignore our own part in things), what are we doing?

We are making ourselves victims.

And we are giving that other person control over us.

That doesn’t help us at all – blaming others keeps us trapped, or at least makes us feel trapped; when in reality we always have choices.

Even if our only choice sometimes is to walk away.

 

When do we learn?  When do we grow?

We grow when we struggle.  We grow when we fail.

We don’t grow when things are easy, and when our life is going down the happy path.

As I said, owning our part in things does NOT mean we are taking ownership of someone else’s choices.  It does not mean we are taking the blame for the things they have done.

It means we are accepting that our choices are our own, taking ownership of those choices, and realizing we have the power to make different choices in the future.

It means seeing how we may have contributed to the situations we are in, and looking for ways that we can change that moving forward.

 

Facing our own role in things is difficult.  It forces us to take a long hard look at ourselves, and sometimes what we see will make us uncomfortable.

This isn’t a bad thing though.  Rather, being uncomfortable with something about ourselves is often a sign that we’re on the right track.

And it’s a sign that we are ready to grow.

Be aware of your own bullshit

Cheating to “Stay In” a Marriage

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I came across a fascinating article on CNN.com this morning, on infidelity by women and some of the reasons why they cheat.

It’s definitely worth a read, but for a quick overview it talks about how there has been a 40% rise in the number of women who admit they have had affairs in the last 27 years; while the incidence of affairs for men has stayed fairly static during the same time span.

In looking at reasons, the article cites things from feelings of resentment due to a disparity in the amount of labor that goes into maintaining the life and the marriage, to basically boredom in the marriage because marriage has turned out to be something very different from what they expected it to be.

 

I’ve been writing about these things for years, so nothing in there really surprised me.

But at the same time, reading the article kind of pissed me off.

ESPECIALLY when it talks about people who were able to admit that they had a pretty good life.  They had a good friendship with their husbands, they had built a life together, had a family with children that they were raising together.  Really they had a lot of things, but at the same time they felt that there was some need that wasn’t being met inside the marriage, so they started going outside of the marriage to try and fill that need.

As the article stated:

In an earlier generation, this might have taken the form of separation or divorce, but now, it seemed, more and more women were unwilling to abandon the marriages and families they’d built over years or decades. They were also unwilling to bear the stigma of a publicly open marriage or to go through the effort of negotiating such a complex arrangement.

These women were turning to infidelity not as a way to explode a marriage, but as a way to stay in it.

 

Turning to infidelity not as a way to explode a marriage, but as a way to stay in it?

Give me a f*cking break.

The narcissism of that statement is mind boggling to me.  And sadly, I know that many people buy into that exact line of thinking as a way to rationalize their own behavior to themselves.

Let me phrase that idea in a slightly different way…

Hmmm, I “like” my husband.  I like the life/lifestyle we’ve built.  I want my kids to grow up in a home with both parents full time.  But there’s something missing, and I want more.  At the same time, I’m not willing to give up what I’ve built in order to go take a chance at trying to find something more.  So I’ll just try to keep what I’ve built, and go do whatever I want on the side.  After all, I “deserve” to be happy.

It’s a load of crap, it’s selfish, and it’s driven purely by ego.  I’ve heard some people use the excuse that they are doing it (“staying” in a marriage where they are checked out) “for their kids” but that’s another cop out.  It really amounts to:

I want this.

I deserve this.

I’m entitled to this.

I want to have my cake, and eat it too.

These sentiments seem to be on the rise.  And they are sentiments that are all about you.

 

Yes, people can look out for themselves.  And doing so isn’t necessarily a bad thing (in fact, sometimes you need to).

Here’s the thing about life though – you don’t get to pick and choose the things that work for you while ignoring and avoiding the things that don’t.

Perfection doesn’t exist.  EVERYTHING comes with both good AND bad, and as individuals it’s up to us to choose things where we believe the good makes the bad worthwhile.  We need to try and find something that is enough for us.

I’m a parent, and there are times that it’s very rewarding but there are also times that it’s extremely challenging.  I can’t just be there for the good stuff, and the fun stuff.  In fact I would argue that the challenging times are often the times that are most important to my children.  Those are the times where they need me the most, and HOW I respond to them in those moments has the biggest impact.  They may not be easy times for me personally, but they’re pretty damned important.

I have a pretty good career, and there are some parts of my job that I really enjoy.  There are also parts of my job that kind of suck.  I can’t just do the stuff I enjoy and ignore the rest.

Well, I could.

But I would be pretty delusional to think I could do so while still holding onto my job.

 

And that’s exactly what this mindset is about.

It’s delusional.

It’s about focusing on me, and what I want in the moment.

 

The article is about women’s affairs, but I don’t want to give the impression that this is a mindset that is unique to women, because it’s not.  In fact, when the article talks about the 40% increase in affairs by women it’s probably because they are catching up to men in the frequency of affairs.

Look, I’m all for equality.

But I don’t care if men have been doing it for years, of if lots of people cheat.

That doesn’t make it alright.

 

I think this increase in focusing on “self” is a social problem (if you see it as a problem, which I do), where people have increasingly put themselves and their immediate needs and wants at the center of everything.  Where people believe they have a “right” to happiness, and they believe they should be able to “have it all”.

It’s a broken mindset.

 

The article mentions that people often have needs that were not being met inside their marriage, so they choose to go outside the marriage to get them fulfilled.

Yes, people have needs.

Yes, couples have problems and sometimes marriages and relationships aren’t very fulfilling.

However I’ve always believe that when faced with a problem in life you have three choices:

  1. Accept the problem as it is (in which case it’s a want, and not a need)
  2. Try to make the problem better (bring something that is unacceptable up to an acceptable level)
  3. Decide it is truly a problem, and the current situation is unacceptable

Comparing this approach to unmet needs in a marriage, if you are able to accept your situation because you realize it’s a want, but not a need, then good for you.

However that’s probably not a great option, because if you’re unhappy then probably something is wrong, and it would be good to have positive change.

So option two becomes working on the problem.  This involves communicating it, and being open to the possibility of positive change.

And I think this is where things really fall apart for most couples.

One person is convinced that they have communicated their need/want, while it reality their partner really doesn’t get it.  Then to make things worse, the frustrated person ends up closing the door to positive change, because they believe they have tried and are not being heard.  When that happens, once the other person does get it, it’s too late.  Because their partner is no longer willing to accept their efforts.

This is likely where many affairs come in.

But affairs are a cowards way out.

If it truly is a need, and it is truly an unacceptable situation then the real solution here is option 3.

If the current situation is so bad, get out.

It doesn’t matter if you have a nice lifestyle, family, friends, kids, or if it will be hard on your own.  If your needs aren’t being met to the point that you want to cheat, get out.

If the benefits of lifestyle, family, friends, kids, whatever are worth staying for, then don’t cheat.

It’s called integrity.

 

Your actions don’t just impact you.

Make choices, and make ones that are right for you.

But understand consequences.

Understand who will be impacted by your choices.  And then, after weighing those things make the choice that’s best for you.

 

I have no problems with someone leaving an unhappy marriage.

But I have huge problems with someone thinking they can just do what they want to pursue their own needs/wants without caring about how it impacts their partner.

Part of the beauty of marriage is having someone to be with you, to share experiences, and to grow old with.

So tell me, why in the world would you ever want to grow old with someone who has so little respect for you that they are willing to cheat on you?  Why would you want to share your life with them? 

Because that’s sure not love.

  • Accept things
  • Work to improve things
  • Or walk away

Each of those choices I can accept.  Each involves courage.

But cheating, and then rationalizing it to yourself as “a way to stay IN the marriage”?

That’s not a marriage I would want any part of.

We are all Damaged

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I was recently talking with a close friend who is in the early stages of a divorce, and our discussion made me think back to a line from the first post I ever published, back in early 2014.  In it I wrote the following about learning what it meant to be a parent:

Suddenly we were parents, and it was up to us to discover what that meant.

We spent the next few years learning and I’m sure we made some mistakes along the way.  The bumps and bruises healed, and any psychological damage we did hopefully won’t surface for a few years yet (at least until he’s out of the house).

It was meant to be funny at the time, and it still kind of is (to me anyhow).  But at the same time, in the years since I wrote that I’ve come to realize there’s a lot of truth to it as well.

 

While talking things through with my buddy, one of his biggest concerns (about the divorce) is how it will impact his kids.  And really, the question is how, not if; because there WILL be impacts.  Some of those impacts will be felt immediately, with pain and confusion.  Tears, anger, withdrawal, etc.  A divorce can have impacts that cannot be predicted though.

As children, parents often shelter us from the world and make us feel safe.  Having your parents split up is often the first time that safety is really threatened, and it can be many, many years before the full impacts of that are felt.

I think these are natural concerns, and in fact I would be more concerned if he wasn’t worried about how the divorce would affect his kids.

 

This post isn’t about divorce.  Divorce just happens to be one of the many things that can happen in someone’s life that will have long lasting impacts.

Rather, it’s about how all the little things that have impacts we can’t fully understand or appreciate at the time.  Parents are always shaping our children through the things we say and do.  As parents we are models to our children, and they learn much more than we realize.  Hopefully a lot of what they learn from us is positive; but a lot of the issues they have in future life will come back to the “mistakes” that were made in raising them.

 

Attachment Theory is a psychological model that talks about how we form attachments with others; and how our relationships shape us, especially when we are hurt or feel threatened in those relationships.

Attachment theory has three attachment styles (four in some places, but the last one is just a mix of these three so I’m going to ignore it):

  1. Ambivalent Attachment.  This is characterized by a reluctance to get close to others, and a fear that your partner doesn’t love you.
  2. Avoidant Attachment.  This is characterized by problems with intimacy, holding back emotionally from the relationship (which probably contributes to the intimacy issues), and being unwilling to share feelings and emotions.
  3. Secure Attachment.  This is characterized by being comfortable sharing feelings with partners and friends, and an ability to have trusting lasting relationships.

 

I mention parenting above, because our earliest relationship is with our parents; and it is these early years that are believed to be the most important for shaping how we are able to form attachments as adults.

Which is kind of scary really.

I’m a dad, and I’ll be the first to admit that I have no freaking clue what I’m doing most of the time.  I try to do my best, as I’m sure most parents do.  Am I a “good” dad?  I would like to think so.  Yet I know I’ve made mistakes in the process.  Just as my parents did, and their parents before them.

This same dynamic has played out in our own lives.

As people we are the sum of our experiences.  Everything we have gone through up until now has impacted us in some way, and has shaped us into the person we are today.

Think about that for a moment.

How we were raised, what our parent’s relationship looked like, and also what our earliest relationships looked like.  All of these things have shaped HOW we form attachments.  I say “shaped”, because they influence it but they don’t have to control it.

 

As attachment theory says, it’s the fears, threats, and the hurts in our relationships that shape our future relationships the most.

We’ve all been hurt.  We’ve all suffered pain, and disappointment at the hands of those we love.  And these things leave marks on our lives.

If we’ve been hurt a lot, it’s understandable that we start to become more tentative around people, or build walls to protect us from being hurt again.  If we’ve been betrayed, it’s natural to start to lose trust in people, and fear these same things happening again.

All of the pain we’ve felt leads to insecurities, and we all have them.  We all have some sort of damage that we carry with us into our future relationships.

The danger here is, if we aren’t careful the damage we carry with us can poison our future relationships and end up causing the exact situation we are trying to avoid.

If you’ve been betrayed and find it difficult to trust, that lack of trust can lead you to see threat in situation that don’t warrant it; and that lack of trust can drive people away.

If you’ve been abandoned that fear of abandonment can make you hold on too tightly, pushing people away.  Or it can cause you to remain distant, preventing close attachments from developing.

There are all sorts of things we can do that sabotage our relationships; and while they may be understandable to those who know our histories that doesn’t mean they are healthy or acceptable behaviors.

The absolute worst thing you can do is say “this is just who I am”.  It’s not up to our partners to accommodate us.  To a degree they need to, but it’s also on us to try and heal ourselves, to be “better”.

We need to try and be self-aware and look at ourselves.  Try to understand what we are bringing into our relationships that is causing harm.  Because it’s only when we recognize and accept that damage that we can start to change it.

It’s a lot easier said than done though.

 

I’ve always thought of myself as someone who is fairly self-aware and emotionally healthy.  I realize I’m affected by my experiences and I think I understand what my own insecurities are.

Yet even still I have times that I catch myself doing things and/or saying things that at some level I *know* are counterproductive to what I want.  I know these things are self-defeating, but like turning your head to watch the scene of an accident, it’s hard to stop.

I’ve written many times that I don’t believe in “meant to be”.  I believe life presents us with opportunities, and it’s up to us to determine what we want to do with them.  So it’s especially frustrating when we do things that undermine those opportunities when they are presented.  When we don’t give ourselves the best chance to succeed.

 

One of my current favorite bands is Editors, and in their song Bones they have the following line:

In the end all you can hope for
Is the love you felt to equal the pain you’ve gone through

I think there’s a lot of truth there.  As I said, we’ve all been hurt.  We’ve all been disappointed.  We are all damaged in some way.

But it’s up to us to recognize that damage, and accept that it’s part of us.  And while it may be part of our past, it doesn’t have to shape our future.

A Beautiful Love Story

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A few days ago I was talking to my sister.  Among the many topics we discussed was the death of my Grandmother; how near the end she thought my father was her husband (who had been gone for over 20 years), and how she told him she was glad to see him because she believed that he had come to take her with him.

Honestly, in some ways that doesn’t even seem real.  It seems like something out of a Nicholas Sparks novel or something.

But it happened.

That moment was at once sad and beautiful for me; the thought that near the end, someone’s thoughts would be with their husband/wife, and that they would find peace in the prospect of being reunited with that person.   To me it spoke of a love and a bond that has survived for over 70 years.

And for many, that sort of love seems to be reserved for Hollywood movies and romance novels.

 

It got me wondering what their relationship was like when they were alive.

The truth is I have no idea.

My Grandfather has been gone for over 20 years; passing away while I was in university.  I didn’t really see them interact much, or perhaps it’s more accurate to say I didn’t really pay attention to their interactions at the time.  This may sound terrible, but back then I’m not sure if I really saw my grandparents (or parents for that matter) as real people, I saw them primarily through the roles they played in my life.

However although they were my grandparents they were also real people, and real people have problems.

They have highs, and lows.  They have successes, and suffer disappointments.  Real people tend to get short with each other when they are feeling stressed, and will sometimes say things they later regret.

So I’ll guess they had problems, both individually and as a couple.  I’ll guess they had moments where they didn’t like each other very much.  They may even have had moments where they wondered if they made a mistake, and if there was something different, and better out there.

I don’t really know though.

All I know is, a few days before my grandfather died I sat at the table with them in their kitchen, and they talked about their life together.  I also know my grandmother was in pain when my grandfather passed away.  And I know she seemed happy at the prospect of being reunited with him when she was dying.

 

What is a beautiful love story?

What does it look like to you?

 

It is about meeting your prince/princess charming, who will “complete you”, always love you, never hurt you, and will make your life wonderful?

That isn’t real.  And is more about looking for someone to fill a hole inside you than it is about love.

Is it about meeting someone who will make your heart beat faster, where you can’t stop thinking about them and you want to be with them every waking moment?

That’s something that’s not sustainable, and is more about hormones and infatuation than it is about love.

Is it about traveling the world with someone, and having them shower you with gifts?

That’s about lifestyle, and money, and has little to do with love.

 

No, to me a beautiful love story looks a bit different from what you see in the movies.

To me a beautiful love story is about two people who share values and have a shared vision of the type of relationship they are looking for.  And as they learn each other, they realize that they want share that vision with each other.

It’s about two people who meet and (over time) are willing to let their defenses down with each other; and to be authentic and vulnerable with each other.  People who may still want the other person to like them, but see no need to pretend to be something they are not in order to achieve that.  People who are willing to share their insecurities with each other, and know that although their partner may always push them to try to improve and be the best version of themselves, they are also able to accept them for who they are.

It’s about two people who have individual hopes and dreams, but also have shared goals.  So they share the things they can while also supporting each other for the things they can’t share.  Where one person gets joy not just from having their own needs and wants met, but also by being there to support their partner.

 

Real life isn’t like the movies.  It’s often mundane, and day to day life is often routine.  It can also be messy, as sickness and tragedy can strike at any time.

So in my love story people aren’t always happy, and they understand they don’t need to be.  There are moments of joy, happiness, pain, disappointment, anger and sadness.  There are times when one person will have to support the other, times where a couple will disagree, and times when they aren’t sure if they are going to make it.

But in my love story, people realize love doesn’t just happen.  They realize it can be lost if it’s not nurtured.  They realize that not only are we responsible for making love and affection a part of our everyday interactions, but we are also responsible for maintaining our feelings of love towards our partner.

In my love story each person focuses on who their partner is, instead of worrying about who they aren’t.  And each person continues to choose the other, and continues to reach out to each other with love, each and ever day.

 

That’s my love story.

It may not be the stuff of Hollywood movies or romance novels.

But that doesn’t make it any less beautiful.

 

And if I can find that?

Then maybe I will have found someone who (hopefully a long time from now) will miss me when I am gone, and will find peace in the prospect of one day being reunited with me.

Because that type of love is a love that endures.

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How to Improve your Life without Changing a Thing

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A few posts back I mentioned watching the movie Wild.  It’s about a lady whose life has hit “rock bottom”, and how she finds herself again and reboots her life by going on a hike.

I haven’t read “Eat, Pray, Love” (or seen the movie), but my understanding is that it deals with similar concepts.  There is a woman recovering from a difficult divorce, who goes on a journey to find who she is and what she’s looking for in life – joy, spirituality and love.

There are many similar stories about “transformative journeys”, where people come to a point in life where they are questioning things:

Who am I?  Why am I here?  What will make me happy?  What gives me purpose?  What do I really want out of life?  Is this all there is?  Isn’t there “more” to life?

So they embark on journeys of self-discovery; which usually involve walking away from the life they had and the life they knew, discovering *something* about themselves, and coming back a changed and hopefully more whole person.

 

In 1949, Joseph Campbell released a book called The Hero with a Thousand Faces.  He had studied mythology from different cultures, and found a common thread in most mythology is “the hero’s journey”.  In the hero’s journey, someone starts in an ordinary world, and begins a quest only after they are compelled to by some event or tragedy.  Their quest takes them to different places, and a journey of growth and awakening, until they finally return to a variation on their old life, where they are more at peace and balanced.

At its essence, the hero’s journey is a story of personal change, and growth.  And stories like Wild, or Eat, Pray, Love tap into this basic narrative.

 

Think of the questions:

Who am I?  Why am I here?  What will make me happy?  What gives me purpose?  What do I really want out of life?  Is this all there is?  Isn’t there “more” to life?

These are hard questions, and ones I think we all ask ourselves from time to time.  The hero’s journey appeals to us because at some level, we have all thought of just walking away from everything and starting over.  Or at the very least, taking a “break” from our regular life and having our own journey (come on, admit it.  I know I’ve thought it, and for the most part I like my life).

The thing is, it’s not really an option for most of us.

Most of us can’t just walk away, or even take a time out from our regular life.

We have responsibilities that make this impossible – jobs, mortgages, kids, etc.  Impossible may be a strong word, but at the very least it’s extremely difficult.  Part of the challenge is, our choices have implications – so if we just decide to walk away from our jobs, financial obligations or families; chances are we are walking away forever.  These aren’t the sort of things you can just “test out”.

 

There’s a deeper problem with the hero’s journey however.

Even if we could just walk away and go on a journey of discovery and transformation, those stories are misleading; because they tell only part of the story.  They are kind of like romance stories which end with the couple getting married.  The romance leading up to the wedding may be the exciting or romantic part, but it’s just the beginning.

Just as finding love is very different from being able to hold onto it forever, having a transformative journey and finding yourself in the short term doesn’t mean you won’t end up just as lost again in the future.

Making changes is one thing.  Sustaining them is something else.

 

I have a childhood buddy who went on his own version of the hero’s journey.

We were probably in our early 30’s at the time, and he was working a professional career.  One day I received a group email from him saying he had quit his job and was moving across the country to become a white water rafting instructor.

Ummm, alright.

He and I had gone for lunch a few months prior, and I had no idea anything like this was looming, so I assumed something must have happened.  But he was gone, and we didn’t speak for a number of years.

A few years ago I heard he was back, so we got together one night for dinner.

I had to ask – what the hell had happened?  Why did he leave?

I’m sure there were a number of factors, but one of them he told me was deep dissatisfaction with the regular 9-5 life, where you are caught in this cycle of work, eat, sleep, rinse and repeat.  He asked himself those same questions – what am I doing?  Why am I doing this?  Is this all there is?

He had no dependents, and he had always loved the outdoors.

So he left.

 

Yet here he was, back home.

Back in the same career he had walked away from.  Largely living the same life he had been living before.

I asked him – if this was a life he needed to walk away from, why was he back?  And was he happy (or at least content) now, back living his old life?

In response, he told me a bit about the past few years of his life.

He had been living a fairly nomadic life.  He worked as a white water rafting guide/instructor during part of the year, and when the season was done he travelled the world.  He saw all sorts of things; amazing sights and places.  Thing is, he largely saw them alone.

He would meet women, and have some companionship.  But he was never in one place for very long; so with any relationship he got into, both people knew it was a temporary thing.  And after a while, he started to feel rootless and yearn for something more.

It wasn’t just that though.

Over time he found his job as a white water rafting instructor wasn’t what he thought it would be.  He had become sick of the day to day office life and wanted to have more adventure and excitement in his life.  Yet somehow, spending his days on the rapids was no longer exciting.

It was no longer fulfilling.

I remember sitting there in the restaurant, and him looking at me and saying:

“You know, I realized that it doesn’t matter what you are doing.  Eventually, everything becomes work”.

Those words still resonate with me, and I find them very powerful.

Eventually, everything becomes work.  Everything.

 

Everything becomes work, yet here he was back doing the same work he had done before.  So I asked him, what had changed?

The realization that everything eventually becomes work made him understand he had two options.

  1. When even the adrenaline rush of riding the rapids can become routine, how can we ever expect life to remain fresh and exciting? We can’t, unless we keep changing things up.  So he could either continue changing things up every time routine started to set in, and go off on some other adventure.  But since everything becomes routine, this would apply to jobs, relationships, lifestyle, etc; and he would always be on the move.
  2. The other option was changing his approach, so that was what he did. He was able to handle going back to his old job and his old life because he changed his mental approach.  His outlook, and attitude were now different.  He accepted that life isn’t always fun, and isn’t always exciting.  He approached his job as something he may not love, but also didn’t hate.  And it was enough for him, because it allowed him to support the life he wanted.

 

If you really look at the hero’s journey, what is it about?

Is it about the quest?  The adventure?

Was the story of Wild really about going on a hike?  Was Eat, Pray, Love really about escaping to a foreign land to, umm, eat, pray and love (sorry, I told you I haven’t read it)?  Was my buddy’s journey really about white water rafting?

No, the journey (or the quest) is just a short term thing, a break from ordinary life.  That may recharge someone for a bit, but it’s temporary.

Sustained change is about the lessons we learn; it’s really about personal and spiritual growth.  It’s about letting go of who you think you want to be and the life you think you should have, and instead accepting yourself for who you are.  It’s about finding peace, and contentment, and meaning in your life as it is now.  Which doesn’t mean you can’t change or improve, but it does mean you don’t have to.

 

What can you actually change in life?

Often circumstances dictate things, and you aren’t really able to change much.  You can get a different job, but eventually it will become work.  You can find a different partner, but they will have good and bad too.

Most of us can’t walk away from our lives.  We can’t go on some incredible transformative journey or adventure.  But I think we CAN come to terms with the fact that our life IS our adventure.

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Our attitude shapes almost everything.  Our expectations shape our experiences.  And how we approach things becomes our reality.

As my buddy found, eventually everything becomes work.  Everything becomes routine.

When things become routine, its human nature for us to start taking things for granted.  And when we do that we stop seeing the good in our lives because it has become our new normal. 

Instead, we see the negative.   We see the things we feel are missing, and we focus on our flaws, and how we aren’t who we thought we would be.

 

We are the only ones who can turn that around.

We can start by accepting we won’t always be happy, and we don’t need to be.  By accepting that things will suck sometimes, and that’s alright.

Changing our outlook involves changing our focus away from what we don’t have, and instead focusing on what we do have.

To do that, we need to remind ourselves everyday about the good we have right now.  We need to start practicing active appreciation, and teach ourselves to see the beauty all around us that we have become blind to.

Real change comes from within.  And the one thing you can always change is your outlook and attitude.