See?!? I shouldn’t have . . .

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Hindsight is not always 20/20.

It’s hard not to judge our decisions and actions on a situation’s ultimate outcome.

We pick A instead of B, the situation goes terribly wrong, and we think “See? I shouldn’t have picked A. I should have picked B instead.” This hindsight feels simple. But it’s not. It’s fuzzy and confusing.

The world is a massive place teeming with a billion billion little forces. When your best laid plans go wrong (as they will), give yourself the space to remember: “The world is a massive place teeming with a billion billion little forces. Maybe this wasn’t all my fault.”

We have a tendency to judge our own decisions and the decisions of others (think significant other, friend, doctor, boss, teen-aged child, world leader–so many others)–to judge those decisions, after the fact, by what happened in the end. And then we draw powerful lessons. Lessons about what is “stupid” or “silly” or “unnecessary” or “not-worth-it” or “my fault.” Worse, we let others draw those lessons for us and, embarrassed, we quietly accept the lessons deep into our hearts.

A few examples might help . . .

You decide that you should speak up with your co-worker about something you don’t feel good about. Maybe something he’s doing that upsets you. Something that’s making your job harder. Maybe something you feel is unethical or unsafe. It’s such a tough decision for you to make–to speak up–because you hate confrontation, you don’t want to be mean, you’re worried about a putting a target on your back, you might be wrong, you don’t get the workplace politics game well enough. But you make up your mind. You speak up. And it goes terribly. Zero acceptance, zero awareness, zero accountability. By the end of it all, the one co-worker is out to get you and all your other co-workers have heard you’re a tool. . . . So did you make the wrong call?

Or maybe you’ve always been very socially anxious and don’t have a lot of friends. You grew up with too many relationships that went poorly. You never learned to trust that there was good in people. Despite all this, you finally get up the courage to make a friend. You try opening up a little bit. You put yourself out there. And it goes terribly wrong. Turns out he has zero interest in you, only in what he can get from you. He breaks your confidence and ends up shaming you for your personality and you’re left feeling more lonely and anxious than before you ever tried. . . . So would it have been better not to open up?

Or maybe you’ve been struggling for years over what you should do with a toxic family member. You need your own healthy boundaries and she always brings forward so much hurt and confusion for you. But “she’s family” and you do love her. Finally after some therapy and sleepless nights, you make the choice that you can’t have a healthy relationship with her and that you’ll both be happier if you let her go. Her birthday comes around later that year and, knowing how lonely she is, you feel deeply guilty and sad. You miss the idea of having a relationship with her and you feel deep sympathy for her sad experience of life. So much guilt. . . . So does that make the choice you made the wrong choice?

It’s easy to say yes to all these. To see something go “wrong” and immediately feel that your choice was clearly wrong. That it’s your fault. To say, “See? I shouldn’t have done that!” Shouldn’t have signed up for that race. Shouldn’t have reached out to that family member. Shouldn’t have stood up to the bullying. Shouldn’t have applied for that job. Shouldn’t have taken that medication. Shouldn’t have listened to that friend. Shouldn’t have auditioned for that choir. Shouldn’t have opened up to that person about being depressed.

But hindsight is not that simple. Choice-A being followed by Bad does not mean Choice-A caused Bad. And Choice-A leading to Bad does not mean Choice-B would have led to any better. A billion billion little forces. A hundred little choices. We do our best. Our instincts and our experience are helpful. We listen, we try, we leap. And sometimes, life also hurts.

When something “goes wrong,” please don’t jump to the conclusion that it means you never should have tried it. That you’ve made the wrong choices in life. That it obviously would have been better if you’d made the different choices.

And when someone says to you, “See, you shouldn’t have . . .”–please be careful about the shame and guilt you accept from them, and how you let their judgment change you.

Almost every time I’ve ever heard myself tell myself–or someone else tell me–“See, you shouldn’t have . . .” it’s been a very quick take, a very knee-jerk reaction, a very simplistic perspective. It’s been for the sake of putting out a spark, shifting the blame, self-preservation. Yes, sometimes we have to wrestle with whether we’ve made some bad choices or need to make some changes. But in my experience, most of the times we hear–from ourselves or others–that “See?!?” reaction . . . it’s not fair, it’s not realistic, and it’s not helpful.

Stick up for yourself a little. Keep that spark alive, the one you followed, even when you didn’t know how it would end up. Remember the billion billion forces, and make your little choices anyway, as best you can. And then, when life still hurts, let it be life.

Because very, very, very likely, yes you SHOULD have. And you should again tomorrow!

No shame, no embarrassment, no blame, no guilt. Live your life, no matter what they (or you) say when embarrassment sends them (or you) scrambling to explain life’s curveballs. You’re doing great. :)

P. S. After all, what if you just never bothered trying things you weren’t already certain about? . . .

Sadness Doesn’t Always Need a Solution

I crossed paths with a coyote a couple nights back. It was awesome! Bear with me while I take you through a weird train of thought I had. It trotted across a dark road and down the hill into a neighborhood. As I kept walking, I heard nearby dogs start barking loudly. I could see one of the dogs chained in its yard in the glow of a porch light. How sad would it be if the coyote attacked one of the barking dogs! It’s not unheard of in our area. What if I had a puppy that were killed by a coyote? What would I do about it? I’m sure I’d be sad and angry. I’d blame myself for leaving my dog unattended. I’d blame the city for not fixing its coyote problem. We live right next to a couple big nature and wildlife preserves and there are no fences keeping the coyotes in the preserve. Maybe I’d start a petition to put up some kind of protective fence along the preserve’s border. But–and here’s where it gets tricky–I probably have a neighbor who loves living here¬†because of the closeness to nature and loves to see deer scamper through their yard. Lots of people would hate to have the preserve fenced off. And lots of people would not like the idea of forcing the wildlife to stay inside the preserve, thinking that’s cruel, unnecessary, unfair…

That was all hypothetical (though if someone were taking a vote I’d say no fence). What’s not hypothetical is that we tend to react to tragedies and sad events by looking for someone or something to blame and by trying to change something so that the event couldn’t happen again.

And what I wondered the other night is: Why do we do that?

And does it even help?

Is every sad thing a bad thing that should not have happened and that we should retaliate against and prevent ever happening again at all costs?

If someone you love falls from a cliff, should you stop hiking up beautiful mountains?

 

I think some of the things we do to try to stop any sad things from happening have their own sad effects in ways we don’t realize. Life isn’t all meant to be totally safe and free of bumps and bruises. Fearfully cowering in our homes means we miss out on a lot of happiness. Trying to get everyone to join us isn’t fair. Trying to organize the planet into safe boxes isn’t happy or beautiful. We can’t make life “perfect” and I think our striving to do so robs us of peace and love.

So when something very sad happens, before you “do something about it,” stop and think: Would it actually help? Or am I just making life more complicated and the world more bland for others? Think of all the frustrating and paralyzing rules and regulations that get made because one time something sad happened to someone.

 

And I think when we have to find someone to blame sad things on, we end up lonely and scared of the very people that could be there to hold our hands through our sadness. Sometimes a tragedy turns us angry and bitter against people who are close to us, or people that we wish could have somehow stopped the tragedy happening. So we call people evil and ugly and we become lonely and scared–and so we spread our loneliness and fear.

 

Sometimes we tell ourselves stories to lay blame elsewhere so that we can feel like the sad things happening is wrong, like it’s not a fair part of life, so it’s right for us to be angry: Like that all sad things are punishment for the world’s “sinfulness” and if only all those people weren’t the way they were… or that there’s an evil force who’s specifically targeting us for being so good–trying to trip us up. That can give us a boost of self-righteousness and courage to “overcome.” But it can also turn us against the rest of the world and it can catch us in a vicious cycle of obsessing over whether we’re good enough–when what we really needed was just a good cry.

 

And maybe when someone tells us they’re sad, they don’t need us to fix it.

 

Maybe sometimes we just need to feel the sad without having to blame anyone or do anything about it. The more time we spend in the initial stages of grief, lashing out in anger, trying to explain it away, insisting it shouldn’t and couldn’t have happened–the more we are hurt and broken and the more we hurt and break the world around us.

Maybe the fact that you’re sad doesn’t mean someone’s wronged you, or you’re living the wrong life, or you have the wrong people by your side, or the world is out to get you.

Maybe sad is a part of life we shouldn’t fight against.

“Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness. It is far better to take things as they come along with patience and equanimity.” – Carl Jung

Don’t bring about more sadness by your reaction to your own sadness. Just shed some tears and let life be beautiful.

 

sadness - carl jung