By Lindy Earl
In playing a round of the totally politically-inappropriate game Cards Against Humanity, the following cards were all thrown in: Poor life choices, Self-loathing, Seething with quiet resentment, and Pretending to care. Wow! What a dark round that was.
But the round made me pause, so much so that I gathered the cards and copied them. How many times in my life have I found myself dealing with any of these? I’d like to think never more than one at a time.
First, as a bystander, maybe especially as a parent, it can be obvious when others are making Poor Life Choices. You can suggest, recommend, pray, encourage, but in the end, if the decision isn’t yours to make, you need to step back and allow choices to be made, even bad choices. You then get to decide whether you want to be around for subsequent fallout, and if you want to take the high road (“It will be okay. How can I help?”) or the low road (“Didn’t I warn you?” or “Why don’t you listen?”).
Still, there are times when the poor life choices were mine. When I chose to play a game in a relationship and ended up losing a friend. When I chose the easier/lazier way, and didn’t give my best performance. When I . . . well, you get the idea. I’m sure, by the time you’ve reached my age, everyone has more than a few Poor Life Choices in the rearview mirror. Then the question becomes, what are you going to do with them?
One idea is to gather them, stuff them in a figurative closet, and pretend they never existed. When others ask about some prior event, you can look at them vaguely and shake your head, as though you don’t have a clue to what they refer. But you‘ll always know.
Of course a better choice is to learn from them. Okay, poking myself in the eye caused damage and a loss of vision, so maybe I shouldn’t do that next time. Of course, this is code for, denigrating myself in public (maybe for humor or out of insecurity or a need for attention) caused me to lose the promotion. We have all heard people say that we want a re-do on life, but only if we can have the knowledge we have today. That’s a good thought, because it means you’ve learned from life and feel like you could do it better a second time around. Sadly, there are few do-overs in life.
I think a better idea is to Embrace the Poor Choices. Really own them. Share them. Admit, when working with others, that you’ve made that mistake so you don’t want to repeat it. Explain what happens when you put your pride ahead of someone else’s success. I think people are afraid to do this – to embrace their mistakes, hold onto them, and play them appropriately. Maybe this is out of fear of being scorned or just plain embarrassment. In actuality, when I admit my faults up front, I find that people are incredibly accepting and supportive. When you share, up front, not just what you want to do or prefer to avoid, but WHY, people are more receptive. Try it!
Sometimes, though, it wasn’t supposed to be a poor life choice. You played by the rules. You did everything right. Yet, somehow, you still lost. Even so, learn from it, embrace it, and create within yourself the fortitude to move forward. It’s going to be harder, because now, when a similar decision is before you, you need to do the right thing, despite your previous experience. If you take the easy way, you may find yourself dealing with Self-loathing, Seething with quiet resentment, and Pretending to care.
If, maybe when, that happens, here are some simple ideas: self-loathing is destructive and there is never a winner. It’s egomaniacal at best, which isn’t a very good first place. Just stop it. Move on. Take yourself off the throne and look at others.
Maybe you can allow yourself to seethe with resentment for a little while. It certainly seems justified because sometimes, as we said, we did do everything right, yet lost. A little resentment seems appropriate. Just don’t stay there too long. Again, you will be the loser. Don’t do that to yourself.
And pretending to care is really no answer, because it’s no way to live. Whether your pretending to care is coming from your own Poor Life Choices or just bad things happening to a good person, you need to acknowledge the situation and own your emotions. If the emotion is anger, then be angry and show it. Scream. If you’re done with a relationship, then walk away. Pretending to care isn’t fair to anyone, including you. But now you’re also being cruel to another person by pretending, and you’re better than that.
When you find yourself in a dark place, and we all do in this world, figure out how you got there so you can avoid the journey in future. Then find a way out. Own your feelings and learn from them, inviting others to help you, and you will one day be able to help others. I promise. Poor Life Choices seem to be inevitable in life, but you can minimize yours and make the best of the ones from your past. Then try, try, try to make better decisions. Try.
Lindy is a Consultant, Columnist, and other things that don’t begin with the letter C. You can contact her at LMEarl@EarlMarketing.com.