Mourning What We Don’t Have

I just thought there’d be more,” muses a character in the coming of age film Boyhood. Hearing these words caught my attention because they represent a universal wistfulness and a trap we can fall into if we’re not careful. I don’t believe anyone’s life turns out the way they expect, but it’s the ones who exude an overriding sense of disappointment who run the greatest risk for missing out. Our lives are not profound; the lessons we are here to learn are, but the ways we spend our days are not. From what I’ve seen, the most potent messages and morals we master often arise from the most mundane of occasions. Hungry for wisdom, re-booters learn to watch and listen closely as they go about their routines, knowing that the key to greater understanding often reveals itself not with banging drums and sounding horns, but quietly, resting gently in the shadows of our awareness waiting to be found.

Here’s an example from my life that I hope will make sense. Being an individual whose wardrobe would suggest a calendar crammed with important engagements and an active social calendar, the truth is I’m ready for a life I don’t lead. My closet mocks me. While I used to wear “grown up clothes” when I had a clearly defined identity as a competent professional, I can’t recall the last time I put on a suit. Most of my aspirational party outfits remain just that, hanging forlornly in my closet. I could make myself very unhappy thinking about all the events I’m not going to or the clients I no longer have. I could berate myself for not making more of an effort or any number of other reasons. I could do all those things. But you know what?

I don’t. Not anymore. As I’ve moved through this re-booting process, I’ve come ‘round to see that I’m incredibly fortunate that I don’t need to wear a uniform or get dressed up for some boring lecture and meal where I paste a smile on my face, exhausted, listening to some ding dong bloviate, mesmerized by the sound of their own voice. The exact same strategy can be applied to finding the benefits in much more significant struggles: you married the wrong person, you never married, you had kids, you never had kids, you feel ignored, everybody wants something, whatever it is, there’s always an upside if we look for it.

What aspect of your life makes you mope? What might you learn from this challenge? How might you shift your perception to embrace the blessing hidden within?

For instance, an intense dislike for certain relatives or coworkers may teach you about tolerance, diplomacy, and maintaining boundaries. Not only does it not matter what they think, but you also don’t need to let it annoy you. Maybe a project you worked hard at failed—could this be a favor in the long run? Learning to become self-reliant (looking to ourselves for confirmation or approval) instead of seeking outside approval is one of the most powerful life lessons a person can master. As devastating as bankruptcy would be, finding a way to live happily in reduced circumstances teaches us something about the source of contentment. A serious illness or handicap forces us to reprioritize what and who is important. Being denied the “perfect” spouse or college admission or blue ribbon of your longing is not a failing. Or, going back to my wardrobe example, having a bunch of clothes I have no occasion to wear offers me the opportunity to realize how serene my days are, giving me time to focus on far more interesting challenges. This is my lesson. This is how I’m lucky. Realizing this makes my life better!

We all know people who have dedicated significant time and energy to nursing their grievances. “Poor me, poor me,” they cry. “Look what I have to deal with. Boo hoo.” What has it gotten them? Who do you think of when I say this? Has this perspective served them well?

Just because we fervently believe something doesn’t mean it’s true! I thought I had slammed into a brick wall when my life fell apart, never mind how miserable I was at the time. I couldn’t see how I could possibly recover (although a small part of me knew different). I wailed and carried on for months and months, a weepy, conflicted, frightened mess. This was where I had it all wrong. I know now that the beliefs and priorities I had at the time were not good for me. Looking back, I am so grateful I escaped; my life is a thousand times better and I’m a thousand times wiser. Thank God it happened. But, seeing things in this new light required me to change, required me to be willing to look for the opportunities instead of the losses. Sort of like my wardrobe.

Returning to my question about the person you know who drags around, what do you think about this? Why do you think they refuse to acknowledge the possible positives in this very real difficulty? What makes their anger or grief or malaise so much more appealing? Is there some part of your life where you run that risk? What blessings do you not see?

Rainbow

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