Monday, November 11, 2013

Unlearn These Lessons

In May of 2010, Martha Beck of the Oprah Magazine wrote a great article, titled "10 life lessons you should unlearn." You should be able to find the original at this CNN Link. That was the inspiration for this post, along with the realization that some people I know and love need to know these lessons, because a learned lesson is an earned lesson.

We all seek joy in life, though sometimes we don't realize that's what we're doing. We think a pain-free, conflict-free existence will lift us up in our minds and relieve us from the daily toils that plague us. I hate to point this out, but you will not reach that nirvana while you're alive. (A discussion of whether you reach this state after death is an entirely different topic.)

It might be possible if people were perfect. One of my favorite movies is based on James Hilton's book Lost Horizon. The movie is called Lost Horizon and was made twice in the US (according to IMDB). The first was directed by Frank Capra and starred Ronald Colman as Robert Conway with the incomparable Jane Wyatt as Sondra. The second was directed by Charles Jarrott and starred Peter Finch as Richard Conway and Olivia Hussey as Maria. I'm most familiar with the second; it had a significant impact on my thinking when I first saw it.

I imagined a world like the Shangri-La valley, where the desires of others were weighed against your own desires. If the desires of two people conflict, the one with the greater desire wins and life moves forward with no regrets and no recriminations. I wanted to live in that valley. This theory takes perfect people and I don't know any.

Martha Beck gives ten lessons we should unlearn:
1. Problems are bad
2. It's important to stay happy
3. I'm irreparably damaged by my past
4. Working hard leads to success
5. Success is the opposite of failure
6. It matters what people think of me
7. We should think rationally about our decisions
8. The pretty girls get all the good stuff
9. If all my wishes came true right now, life would be perfect
10. Loss is terrible

I read the list and nodded my head at most of these points. Of course problems are bad! We all know working hard leads to success! Loss IS terrible. You probably did the same thing.

Change the perspective a little and these can mean something more positive.

1. Problems are bad. Well, problems are lessons, challenges that we face and overcome. I'd agree that the problems we cannot overcome are bad, but look a little harder if you're stuck. A bad relationship teaches you to recognize real love. A health problem can force you to change your habits and become healthier. Some problems are very, very hard and you should seek others to help you find new solutions, solutions you would not even think of. I'd say problems can be bad, but might not. I'd also say you are never given more than you can handle.
2. It's important to stay happy. This one confused me, then I realized almost every commercial and television show sells this thought. I don't know anyone who is happy all the time. I know a lot of people who have hard lives and refuse to be mired in misery, though. They give themselves the freedom to feel down and then they move on. So many people think they must be happy all the time - and that is a big lie. No wonder the drug companies make so much money selling encapsulated happiness. Psychologists benefit from this one too.
3. I'm irreparably damaged by my past. This one just isn't true and never has been. The damage is done when you dwell on the past as if you cannot escape it. Really, you can't escape it, but you can let it go. Try to look at it differently, from different angles. Take that past issue and consciously envision three reasons it has no hold on you. You can almost always start with "Now I'm aware of it, and I'm a stronger person." You cannot remove the past incident, but you can refuse to give it power over you. Let it go.
4. Working hard leads to success. I think there is truth to this, but the point is that it doesn't have to be, and shouldn't be, work for you. Are you doing accounting work and you hate it? What do you really want to do? Okay, seriously. Millionaire is not a job title. You'd rather garden? Look for ways to make work into play. Let someone else do the accounting; for them it is play!
5. Success is the opposite of failure. Actually this one is true, but Martha Beck tricks you because failure is not the opposite of success. Everyone I know, myself included, achieves successes through multiple failures. Each failure taught me something to build on so that success was one step closer. Look at Edison. It took hundreds of tries before the light went on for him.
6. It matters what people think of me. Well, for close relatives it matters a little. Not really. What used to bother me was thinking about what people thought of me. After some research and probing questions ("What do you think of me?") I found out that most people don't think of me at all. When they do think of me it is rarely as bad as I imagined. Even if it is bad, I can choose to let it go (see the bit about my sister-in-law's review of my book).What people think of you should not drive your behavior and actions. 
Bear in mind, though, each action does have a consequence, and each consequence ripples through your relationships. Consequences of your own actions should have impact on what you do.
7. We should think rationally about our decisions. I think this is true to a point, but never go against your gut. If it feels like the wrong thing to do, reconsider carefully. Something about your decision affects your body and your body is trying to give you a clue.
8. The pretty girls get all the good stuff. Pretty girls do get good stuff, but I haven't any first-hand knowledge of this. I'm a guy. Tall guys get all the good stuff. That's true. Really, I don't have anything to say on this. Read the article.
9. If all my wishes came true right now, life would be perfect. Oooh. Even I know this one is a lie. Garth Brooks has a song called "Unanswered Prayers" where he sings "Some of God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers." Here's a key point, though. Life is never perfect. It never will be. And it isn't fair. But you can be as good as possible, and as fair as possible. Leave the world a better place than you found it, as my Mom used to say.
10. Loss is terrible. This is true, but loss cannot be feared so much that you stop living. Your heart will break, but it will also heal if you let it. Some losses are forever, as long as this life lasts. The pain hurts with every breath at first. Keep breathing. Eventually the pain hurts a little less, perhaps not noticeably, but the tightness will ease. Your breathing will be easier, just a bit at a time. The pain is still there, and always will be, but eventually you will only notice it when you look at it. I promise.

Perspective is the key issue in life. Years ago I had a friend who was sad because his bank account was low and he couldn't see the profit from any of his investments. His broken down car was in the shop, so he was sitting on the bus, on the way home from work when a man boarded the bus and sat next to him. "Hey," says the guy. "It's me. You gave me some money a few years ago and I managed to get out of the slump I was in. I have a job and a house now, and it's all because you helped me out. Thanks, man." My friend later told his wife, "We're looking at the wrong bank account."

Please unlearn the bad life lessons. The Shangri-La is just over the hill...

No comments:

Post a Comment