Daily Archives: August 21, 2012

Four Lessons I’m Learning


Here are some lessons about life and other random things that have occurred to me lately. If my kids happen upon this post when I am old(er), gray(er) and wiser, I will be pleased.

Relationships: Relative to non-marital relationships, some people simply aren’t a good fit. This assessment can occur immediately or after a while. But life isn’t like Seinfeld, and sometimes we can’t simply just stop relating to someone, can we? Sometimes we are bad fits right away but we ignore it, rationalize or try to force things. Forcing something to work that really mightn’t otherwise can be exhausting. The lesson or takeaway: don’t sweat the relationship’s demise as a failure. It’s no one’s fault, it simply ran out of elasticity. Mooning about it also is pointless (easier said than done). Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and move on. I think men have an easier time of this than women as we are nurturers and growers and creators by nature. I envy rational men sometimes for their efficiency when relationships go pear-shaped.  I’ve written a lot about relationships, and I will likely continue to because they are so important to have in our lives, but I’m at the point now in my life (one month away from turning 45) where I am forgiving myself for fighting the obvious when some fits are bad fits. I’m also giving myself a break and listening to my intuition now whenever I experience a feeling when relating to someone (even someone I already know) that suggests things are likely going in an unproductive direction. Relationships, friendships are vitally important to me and I cherish them all but I’m done forcing them to be something they’re incapable of becoming.

Relative to marital relationships: it’s a whole different ballgame. I have no advice in this arena other than to strongly advise, “KNOW THYSELF” before you throw yourself headlong into something you might underestimate.

Desire v. Scarcity: This one’s complicated because it’s a new subject for me. My parents were toddlers during the Great Depression. One parent was exposed to its woeful hardships vastly more than the other parent who was almost blindingly sheltered from its ravages. Because of this truly unique pairing, I have spent the better part of my life balancing the financial attitudes of easy affluence and parsimony. It has been gut-wrenching emotionally at times for me that way. I am financially responsible, always have been, but I don’t enjoy money. I used to think that I didn’t care about money; money was not really important. I think now, that this attitude of indifference was borne as a coping method to balance my fears of scarcity with my shame of desiring. That was the only way I could detach myself from it and learn to think of money as a tool (which I largely still do – I really don’t have an attachment to/interest in money). After thinking more about it and being around people who truly have no money worries at all, I have also learned that simply wanting more, better, newer, nicer doesn’t mean I am sinful or wasteful or extravagant. What’s more, is that I always know that money is flowing and that largely, I am secure. In fact, I am lightened by people who simply say, “I want X because I do…” and they go and get it and have no shame about it. Me? I watch and learn… take notes.

A little deeper: Because one parent consistently and emphatically feared for our lives regarding money and the other parent had no concerns about what things cost, I have “learned” that the honorable way to live regarding money is to hold contempt for worth and wealth — even if it were my own wealth. It’s as though fortune is undeserving and creates a sense of entitlement (which we all know is possible – look at the Kardashians), yet I believe in capitalism. What’s missing completely from this equation is the sentiment of: respect. I have no respect for what I am worthy of (a nice pair of shorts for example) without inordinately feeling like an ungrateful shrew for not enjoying / exhausting the things I do have. Thus I learned via witnessing my scarce-minded parent that wearing clothes until they are threadbare (because you know that’s virtuous – no, it’s not at all; it’s almost martyrdom, a form of manipultion) is the proper way to live. I am not so sure of that. One parent would buy hand-knit cashmere sweaters and the other would have collars turned over and resown on when they became threadbare. I know… really? Yes. Really.

But I am grateful. I shop at outlets! I drive my car sparingly! I eat when I am hungry! Above all, I am a very optimistic person! I live a lot of my life saying to friends, “You woke up in America; so far your day is ridiculously better than 6.8 billion other peoples’ so stop moaning.”

But as in so much of our lives (90% of what we do actually) it all comes back to unconscious childhood messages, and as a result I have trained myself to not want anything I don’t need and to doubt the necessity of things I have, yet not unload them. Ahhh… that’s pretty screwed up, isn’t it? Sometimes I’ve felt deeply shameful about wanting more, better, finer, larger, newer anything. I know this treads a thin line, because I do believe that abject gluttony is wrong, but in my woeful scarce-fearing mind, I believe what I am experiencing: a healthy desire that makes me ambitious and productive is not appropriate. What’s worse, I’ve seen how this thinking has begun to transmute into my personal life in terms of wanting better health, deserving better fitness. Even writing a book… wanting fame and fortune is wrong because that means I am vain… so I don’t seek fame and fortune. But then I’d be nuts for not wanting that right? No… Forget wanting the new shorts, this stuff is complicated.

The thing is: I never used to think that way, I was all about grabbing the brass rings and going for it, as long as I worked for it, but something has shifted. I recognize now that shift revolves mostly around my interest in having a larger home. (Spending a week on a private island doesn’t help things, I admit.) The house I live in is fine, but I realized this weekend (because I compared the plats and floor plans) that it’s only slightly larger, by 50sf, than the one we left; the only thing it offers that is larger is the backyard my children seldom use.

But it’s not even the square footage that’s a problem, it’s the layout. This house was built in the late 70s when everyone had cocktails in the massive living room and no one ate together save for the depressed housewife in her mu-mu feeding her flappy infant under low light. The neighborhood I live in is also transitory; it was built during the cold war and near the Pentagon. Most military officers who could afford off-base housing likely move every three years, so these houses weren’t designed with future lifestyles in mind, nor for long-term residents for that matter. We have lived here for 12 years. We aren’t military. I grew up in a big house. I want a bigger one now. That’s not a sin, is it?

I had an epiphany the other day about this though and while it’s a breakthrough of sorts for me, it’s going to take some work to unravel the years of fear and phobia that I experienced about scarcity. The epiphany (finally!) is this: it’s OK to want something newer or better. It’s OK to have desires as they can keep you focused, productive and ambitious. What’s “wrong” about desire is if it becomes an obsession and clouds your appreciation for what you already have. That is the hard part for me; this new way of thinking, of being OK with wanting something bigger or newer tends to swing my pendulum comPLETEly in the opposite direction where I tend to lose my impulse control, and I end up wantingwhatiwantwheniwantit. So this is going to take some training. Part of the reconditioning for this though lies in simply being OK with wanting more and not fearing scarcity. And admitting that has actually made me like where I am more. No one has ever died saying they wish they worried more. Here’s a great blog post about figuring out wanting and what we want  – what’s even better are the comments.

Shedding: Getting rid of things is good to do. Keeping stuff for future use just on the basis that you might need it someday (when it’s unlikely you’ll use it simply because you have it) creates a hold on the space in your life, preventing the flow from moving forward. Holding on stagnates what you do have and stops the item from going to someone else who truly needs it. The other day, I happened upon my bedroom Junk Drawer (it’s not bad, it just needs some culling) and after I gutted it I know I will never need another pen, ponytail band or chapstick for the rest of my life. I have some friends who have no problem whatsoever about throwing things away; not even recycling them! I try hard to do my civic duty and recycle, and donate things to charity, but that is work too. I have donated to charity and recycled since I got married almost 20 years ago. Sometimes, it’s just nice to toss something in the trash… you know?

When I threw out some stuff it relieved emotional energy and loosened me up. A matchbook from a restaurant, “Ruby Foos” in NYC that I’ve held on to since I got it the night my brother took us there before seeing a play, “Noises Off,” has done nothing for me. The matchbook didn’t suddenly make me remember the night. Those memories were already there. (Great play, by the way.) So I tossed it. I’m not saying I won’t recycle anymore, I will, but I’m gonna let myself toss useless things. The object is not the memory; the memory is the memory.

Mistakes: There is no “undo” button in life. There is “reset” and “redo.” It’s up to us to know the difference. Freud said there is no such thing as a mistake. I tend to think he’s right about that sometimes. But the biggest mistake about anything is not learning from anything; to suppose that you know all the answers. I don’t.

I guess the points I’m making in this post are:

  • That we must continue to live life and constantly learn what we can.
  • Do what works and stop what doesn’t.
  • Buy what you need, donate what have but you don’t need.
  • Throw out things no one will need, it’s OK.
  • Baggage foisted on to you by your parents or your childhood is not yours, DUMP IT.
  • Always aim for the stars but be happy if you hit the moon.
  • Letting go lets you live.
  • Be a boot-strapper and always, always, always try again.

Thank you.