To Know the Difference

Here’s a little secret: I’m a control freak. Yes, the lady that runs a blog daily is a control freak. Imagine that! And if you’re a control freak, you’ll know how hard it is to rein in the crazy. Which is why I take a lot of comfort from the following quote from Reinhold Niebuhr:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.

 Because even though this little mantra has been adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous, I think it still rings true for everyone. A huge part of life is knowing when you need to give a little more and when you have done all you can.

My problem? It’s with that little, last line. “And the wisdom to know the difference.” Because how do you know? How do I know that it wasn’t me, or that it wasn’t meant to be? What if I deserve the blame but refuse to put it on myself? What if I did what I could but it wasn’t one of those things I could change? What if it was and I didn’t try hard enough?

I mean, think about it. When you took a test in school and you studied your butt off, but you still didn’t get a good grade, what did you tell yourself? Did you get angry and ask why you didn’t study more? Or did you say that there was no way that you could have studied for that test because it was hard? The age-old debate reformed: Was it nature or nurture?

And in reality, it was probably a combination of the two. But if you are anything like me, you are going to spend the next twenty years thinking that it was you…or that it was the test…or perhaps it was you…

So, that quote is really understated. You better pray for that wisdom to know the difference. Forget the courage or the serenity. You are going to need all of the intelligence you can get. Because that’s what is going to help you sleep at night.

But I guess in the end you simply have to do the absolute best that you can and then when you have wrung every drop from yourself and you still didn’t get what you want or it still didn’t work out, then you can ask the universe why it insists on being ridiculous.

And if that doesn’t work, you can do what I do: worry your life away about things you can’t change while being too paralyzed to do anything about the things you can. In reality, if you live this way for long enough, you really won’t know the difference.

Thwarted

Something everyone knows: not everything works out as planned.

Something everyone forgets: not everything works out as planned.

So, why do we still get frustrated when this happens to us? Why are we mad when we have to go to plan B? Why do we get so stressed out when we have to prioritize?

Because a large part of us still believes that the universe revolves around us. But a bigger part of us also thinks that the universe is conspiring against us.

And guess which one wins out? That’s right, the negativity.

I mean, think of whenever you have ever prayed for something to happen, wished for something to happen, wanted something to happen. Maybe you threw a coin into a fountain. Maybe you squeezed your eyes tight and pleaded for it. And maybe, sometimes, it did happen.

But many, many, many other times, it may not have happened as you were hoping it would. And how did you feel then? Shunned? Ignored? Defeated? Like the world was out to get you? Like you weren’t meant to be happy? Sure. But that’s not how you should be feeling. In fact, you should be at peace with your situation.

Take my own life as an example. All week I have been stuck in horrific traffic due to construction along my commute route. A relatively short trip has been doubled, leaving me with even less time to complete all of the tasks that I need to do when I get home. Now, like I said: I knew that the construction would be there, but somehow, it still frustrated me to no end that I couldn’t get on with my life as I planned it because of this obstacle.

However, I have a very different attitude now that I have experienced two weeks of this nonsense. I still get angry about it. But I am now calm when I get home. I know I won’t be able to get everything done, and I have to make sacrifices. Which is totally okay because I am not a  robot, and it’s time that I recognized that. 

And in the end, I found that it is completely okay to be thwarted. It is okay to not get what you want. It is okay to let people down from time to time. Because when this happens, you always end up exactly where you needed to be all along. The universe does not hate you. Just the opposite.

Be Completely Irritated

Frankly, I think the world would be better if people were a little more irritated.

Not with the mundane things. (The coffee is too hot, the office is too cold, the walk to work is too long, and the lunch break is too short…)

But with things that truly mattered.

Of course, you point out that people are plenty irritated already. Just turn on the news, and if you don’t see what people are mad about (in the physical act of carrying out their anger), you see what they are going to be mad about later.

But let’s think of it in another way first. To use an entirely cliched example, an oyster makes a pearl with a grain of sand because it irritates the oyster enough that the mollusk engulfs it in something that it can deal with and the rest of the world thinks is beautiful. (I mean, I guess you can use the same example with eye boogies, but, well. You know.)

Now, there is enough of a lesson in there for me to stop right now. Out of something harsh and annoying, oysters make something beautiful and precious. They are probably the most optimistic sea-dwelling creatures ever, and we should follow their lead. (This is also why oysters are about as cliched as butterflies in the self-help arena.)

But there is something else that you’re missing if you are just looking at the pearl in this cliche. Rather, the real lesson is that people need to become more irritated to make their own pearls in the first place, so to speak.

Often, we are angry over minor issues and complacent over major things. I mean, why is it that we may get angry about someone’s driving on our way to work but not the fact that we have an hour commute that stresses us out everyday? I understand picking your battles, but this is your life, isn’t it? Doesn’t that mean you get to choose what you do and where you work? Why not make the change if it will make you ultimately happier?

The problem is that not enough people let themselves get irritated. They just tell themselves that they will eventually get another job that has a closer commute. Or that if they play their music loud enough, they won’t even mind the hour drive. But really, they should be downright irritated. With themselves, with their life. So much so that they are motivated, like the oyster, to make a change.

And speaking of change, being irritated and pushing yourself to live the best life you can live by constantly striving for the best is hard. In fact, if it is easy, you’re probably doing it wrong.

But don’t be afraid to get a little irritated. It just means that you want change and that you are passionate about getting it. You don’t have to see the whole process; you just need a plan to rid yourself of complacency. Just ask the oyster. If he or she left the grain of sand alone, we wouldn’t have pearls.