Leaving Your Comfort Zone

As I begin the journey of transitioning to a new position within my company, there are two quotes that keep running through my mind that I’d like to share them with you.

Henry Ford, the innovative business magnate and inventor of the assembly line, is credited with saying, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” This speaks to me on a visceral level, as it exemplifies the belief that you are the captain of your own destiny, that only you can determine your own fate.

While this viewpoint is a bit simplistic – there are obviously outside forces at work all of the time that affect who you are and what you are trying to do – it is true in that it all starts with you. Your attitude, and the actions that attitude leads to, dictates a great deal of your success…and your failures.

To steal from Norman Vincent Peale, the power of positive thinking cannot be understated. So much of life depends upon how you react in a given situation, and by maintaining a positive outlook and acting in a manner that is consistent with your most deeply held values and beliefs, you will succeed in whatever you set out to do in the long run.

The second of the quotes is by Virgin founder Richard Branson: “If someone offers you an amazing opportunity and you’re not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later.” This really goes against my nature, and human nature in general. As a civilized Society, we are hard-wired to find a situation in which we’re comfortable, and then do everything in our power to remain in that situation. Granted, there are those individuals who thrive on change and who live for the next challenge, but most of us just want to be content, to find what makes us happy and stay there.

I don’t remember much from the psychology class I took years ago, but Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs has always stuck with me, in much the same way that “the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell” has, and which I tend to throw into conversations at inappropriate times to show I paid attention in biology class.

It is significant that the need for safety and security is near the bottom of the pyramid, second only to our need for physiological satisfaction – food and water, warmth and sleep. The need for comfort and security is intrinsically basic to our survival and sense of well being, so much so that it often becomes the goal rather than the means to the end of advancing up the pyramid.

To journey outside my comfort zone – to move away from the job I’ve had for the past seven years and try something new, something I’ve never done before – is, frankly, quite scary. Don’t get me wrong – I have all the confidence in the world that I’ll succeed, based on my past experience of jumping into new things and doing well. But I also know that there’s no guarantee that I’ll do well. I know everyone in my new department will do everything they can to assist me, but in the end I’ll be depending on my own skill and ability to learn new things and succeed.

In the end, I believe the payoff is worth the risk.

The Ballad of Disgruntled Dan

Photo by In Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images

In the deep recesses of an uncaring, cruel city
Lives a man whom many call Disgruntled Dan
No one takes notice, none show the slightest pity
They avoid him like a plague (as much as they can)

Disgruntled Dan works the eight-to-five dayshift
If he’s avoiding his spouse he might pull overtime
And if he’s out sick, all consider it a gift
Sadly, he hasn’t missed one since 2009

He leaves the house early and his coffee he gets
With a scowl to the barista, never bothers with words
Then proceeds to the office, to pay off his debts
He works for the money, passion’s for the birds

He sits at his desk and logs onto the network
To see which emails he’ll ignore first today
He couldn’t care less if they all think he’s a jerk
They can mock all they want, as long as he’s paid

When lunchtime rolls ’round and the whole office clears out
To their favorite restaurants go the various cliques
Ol’ Dan grabs his brown paper sack, rigid and stout
Downs his egg salad sandwich while the office clock ticks

The afternoon meetings are challenging for Dan
He’d much rather be left to his own devices
He wishes they were over before they even began
He could care less about their inventory prices

He never contributes to the roundtable discussions
Content to doodle on his yellow legal pad
He’s blissfully unaware of any repercussions
Of the staff’s business plan, good or bad

The clock strikes five and ol’ Disgruntled Dan
Is out the door as if shot from a rifle
He honks at the traffic that he cannot stand
The annoyance he feels is no trifle

By the light of the TV, Dan and the missus
Eat yesterday’s leftovers, then doze in the den
And when they retire, there are no good-night kisses
Goes to sleep preparing to do it all over again

The morale to Disgruntled Dan’s tortured existence
Escapes him on a daily basis
The root of it all is his very insistence
In how he deals daily with the problems he faces

His passion was lost far too long ago to remember
If it ever existed in his heart at all
He counts the years, January to December
He feels the end coming but can’t seem to stall

So don’t be like our ol’ friend Disgruntled Dan
Be thankful and pleasant and giving and kind
Let a passionate life be your guide and do all you can
Be positive of heart, and of soul, and of mind

And you’ll find that your happiness and goodwill
Becomes success in the blink of an eye
For what does it profit a man to tilt at the windmill
Wake up! Don’t let your life pass you by

The First Step

Image courtesy of shutterstock.com

If there’s one thing I can take away from the last two years of my life, it’s this lesson, embodied by quote by the great French painter Henri Matisse:

Image courtesy of brainyquote.com

Two years ago, after spending the first fifty-plus years of my life playing guitar to myself in my bedroom, I decided to screw up my courage and play for people. I joined a band, which led to playing solo in public, which led to a handful of paid gigs and a couple of albums. In the span of two years, I went from playing alone for myself to being paid to play in front of (mostly) strangers.

Initially, I had no idea what I was doing. Once I got out there and started playing in public, I made friends with a number of musicians who were more than happy to give me tips and show me the ropes, but when I was starting out, I had to make it up as I went along.

The learning curve was steep, and I often felt frustrated and lost. There’s no handbook on what equipment you really need, how to get gigs, how to market yourself, how to make it known to the world at large that you want to play in front of people.

I made more than my fair share of mistakes along the way – too many to go into much detail about them here. And truthfully, too many of my mistakes were stupid and embarrassing, the sort of errors of judgement where you ask yourself after the fact, “What the heck were you thinking out there?” and chalk up to inexperience.

The lesson I took from all of these character-building moments is this: when it comes to trying new things, to doing something different, to putting yourself out there to experience new experiences, the best guide is to follow the words of the great poet and shoemaker Nike:

Image courtesy adweek.com

Never played a guitar with a bunch of other guys? Just do it.

Never wrote a song before? Just do it.

Never sang and played in front of people? Just do it.

Never recorded an album of original songs before? Just do it.

Doing all of these things involved only two prerequisites on my part: the desire to do it, and the willingness to fail. And that is all that separates those who want to do something from those that do – the ability to stop worrying and start acting.

It’s pointless to sit around wishing that you could do something, idly daydreaming about it rather than actually making it happen. Regardless of what it is you wish to accomplish, the first step is to take that first step. The worse that could possibly happen is that you fail.

But failure is no reason to not try.

The fear of failure is a strong demotivater, and it takes courage to ignore that gut instinct of wanting to remain in the comfort zone we’ve created for ourselves and make a change. The easiest course of action is always to do nothing, to not affect the change in your life that will lead down new roads and open new opportunities to you. But the easiest course is rarely the best course. Comfort is the enemy of progress and change.

So, if you’ve ever wanted to do something creative – play an instrument, write a book, paint a picture, make a movie – but feel like you don’t know where to start, or how to start, or when to start, then stop over-thinking it.

Creativity takes courage. Just do it.

Positive Success

Photo: lifehack.org

I’ve never been a proponent of “fake it ’til you make it,” but there is definitely something to be said for choosing to take a positive outlook on life.

There is a school of thought that would have you force yourself to be unflinchingly positive in the face of even the most dire of consequences. I’m sure we’ve all known people like this – the fake smile, the tireless (and tiring) upbeat behavior, the always-on friendliness. The problem with this sort of behavior is that it is completely and totally fake, inauthentic to the extreme.

Authenticity is a buzzword that gets thrown around a lot, but there really is much to be said in favor of the sort of grounded honesty that comes with addressing every situation with the gravitas that it requires. There is nothing wrong with admitting you’re “not feeling it” or that you’re not sure about a certain situation – it’s only human nature to be wary around new and different situations.

To barrel headlong into every situation with rose-colored glasses, vowing to only see the sunny side of everything, may make you feel temporarily better, but will do nothing to relieve long-term conflict and stress. In fact, that attitude will always work against you, leaving you feeling worse off than when you started, when you finally get to the breaking point of not being able to take it anymore.

However, there is a vast difference between this perpetual fake happiness and making the conscious choice to view everything through a positive filter. Where the former behavior will almost always lead you to missing certain salient points about a given situation because you’re operating with blinders on, the latter behavior allows you to implement the necessary framework to turn some of those negatives into positives.

Case-in-point: Losing a job will cause someone with “perpetual happiness disease” to enter into a state of denial about their situation, refusing to believe that there was anything amiss with their performance in the first place. If they’re just patient, something better is sure to come along. They wait and wait, to no avail. They often end up crashing, unable to maintain the forced high of always being “on.” They end up worse off than when they were before.

Take the person who is able to take the authentic-yet-positive perspective to heart and put them in the same position, however, and you’ll have a person who quickly realizes the severity of their situation and takes positive steps to mitigate the circumstances and resolve the situation as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Photo: brainyquote.com

Positive thinking is so much different than trying to always see “the sunny side of life.” Abraham Lincoln said, “Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Positive thinking, then, is a state of mind, the mental decision to see the good and favorable in everything, in every situation. It is the authentic assessment of what is going on paired with the determination to make the best choice for all involved.

My challenge to you is this: Spend one hour a day taking a positive outlook on every situation and person you encounter. Not the happy-go-lucky, take-what-comes-and-be-happy-with-it attitude that so many self-help gurus would have you adopt, but rather the genuine belief that there is a positive side to whatever situation you’re in, as long as you’re patient and focused enough to realize it.

I’d wager that you’ll soon find yourself expanding this practice to much longer sessions than that initial hour – you’ll find it to be such a useful tool that you won’t be able to help yourself, it will become second nature in very short order. I’m sure that, if given the chance, you’ll find your outlook on life to begin to mirror that confident outlook, and your relationship with everyone at work and home will improve and be the better for it.

In fact, I’m positive of it.

The Secret of Getting Ahead

Tomorrow is an odd concept, if you think about it.

On the one hand, it makes total sense that we’d have to have some way to communicate the idea that there is some unknown quantity that has yet to occur, some future time and place that we’ll soon be interacting with. We as humans are planners by nature, and we like to know what the future holds so that we can make those plans accordingly.

But tomorrow is an illusion, make no mistake about it. We’ll never arrive there, because it doesn’t exist outside of being an abstract concept, a way to put off until tomorrow what we don’t want to do today.

If you want to get something done, the best way to start – the only way to start, in fact – is to just do it.

We all fall victim to the paralysis of analysis. I’m as guilty of it as you are. How many times have you said to yourself late in the day, “It’s too late to start this now – I’ll do it tomorrow”? Or when organizing the coming day first thing in the morning, you find yourself rationalizing yourself out of starting that tough project because you know you won’t be able to finish it in a day?

We waste so much time and energy talking ourselves out of doing what needs to be done – time and energy, ironically, that would be better served in rolling up our sleeves and getting to work. I fall into the same trap myself – I spend so much time convincing myself that I shouldn’t start some task that I literally could have finished the task in the time it takes me to decide to put it off until tomorrow.

The answer is a simple one – just do it. The secret to getting ahead is getting started.

Instead of over-analyzing, over-thinking, over-rationalizing a decision, I challenge you the next time you are faced with such a decision to set aside your indecision and just do it.

You may surprise yourself.

And if you do this again, and again, and yet again – don’t think, just do – you’ll soon find that you have adopted a habit of taking action. Your days of inaction and inactivity will be behind you, and you’ll feel like a whole new person, one who gets things done.

And those are the best kind of people.

Seven Years

Tommy: Did you hear I finally graduated?

Richard Hayden: Yeah, and just a shade under a decade, too, all right.

Tommy: You know, a lot of people go to college for seven years…

Tommy Boy

They say you never stop learning, and I am the epitome of that adage.

I graduated high school in ’82, received my Associates’ Degree in 2009, and am currently trying to get my Bachelors’ Degree through OSU-Tulsa. I’ve taken Spanish courses and marketing courses and continuing education courses in micro- and macro-economics. I was a MAS-certified trainer for a short while. I’ve been on leadership retreats, and even took piano lessons for a time. The fun never seems to end.

I’ve taken painting lessons and drawing lessons and guitar lessons and driving lessons. I learned how to coach young boys playing flag football and how to get little kids to play soccer. I know how to cook and load a dishwasher and put the dishes away. I was born knowing none of those things – I had to learn them as well.

I believe my constant desire to do new things – actually, my constant vacillation between what sparks my interest and what bores me – is the driving force behind my being a jack-of-all-trades (but master of none). Once I accomplish what I set out to do – whether it’s painting a tree or recording an album or writing a book – I’m ready to move on to the next thing.

I went back to college in 2004, after the twins were born. My wife and I were both working, and with three kids, one of us would have been working just to pay for daycare. She had the better benefits, so I quit my job and became a stay-at-home dad. I chose accounting because I already had a few credit hours, and that was the quickest degree I could get. I went to school at night, one or two classes at a time.

Seven years after the boys were born, I had my degree.

Fast forward a few years. I began taking junior-level course at Oklahoma State University-Tulsa back in 2013, taking a class here and a class there. Then I encountered marketing, and a new passion was born. I am leaning towards changing my course of study from business administration to marketing. In fact, I have a call in to my OSU-Tulsa guidance counselor to discuss making this change.

Regardless of which degree I pursue – business admin, marketing, or some other discipline that hasn’t yet piqued my interest – I should be able to complete the degree program by 2023.

Seven years after I started.

What I’ve Learned

I’ve learned that, for me at least, the process of learning new things is just as satisfying as having learned the thing.

Band Of Brothers

Let me tell you a little bit about my friends and bandmates.

It all started with Steve and Kevin. Along with a couple of other friends, they started a band called Lost Giants in 2016 as a tribute to Steve’s brother Chris, who had just died unexpectedly. I joined the group in late 2016, and that morphed into Flaming Bagpipes. Bryan became our drummer in early 2018 and we changed our name to Bent & Bruised. We’ve been rocking out ever since.

Steve is the driving force behind the band, both as our bass player and as a constant source of inspiration. He has a musical background, but had never picked up a stringed instrument until three years ago. He continues to improve as a bassist, partly through natural musical ability and partly because he never puts the damn thing down (according to his wife). To hear him play is to witness true musical fire and grit. Steve imbues everything he does with passion, and his music is no different.

Bryan is the backbone of our little project. Having played in many bands, his experience has been invaluable to us. There isn’t a rhythmic pattern that he can’t play, and as a long-time veteran of the gig scene in Tulsa as well as being a small business owner, Bryan knows business as well as the inner workings of being a band in Tulsa, inside and out. The consummate pro, we would only be half the band we are now without his steady hand on the drum kit.

Kevin is the spiritual leader of the band. As lead guitarist and vocalist, it is his vision of what a band should be that guides us. His musical acumen is second-to-none, and he is certainly the most gifted and talented guitarist I’ve had the privilege to play with, which is saying a lot. Kevin’s attention to detail, while oft-times frustrating to the rest of us, always brings out the best in everyone. Without his vision and experience of playing in a band in college, the rest of us would just be a bunch of guys making noise in the garage. If Steve is the lifeblood and Bryan is the backbone, Kevin is the heart of band.

The thing I love most about hanging with these guys as that we are truly greater than the sum of our parts, both musically and as human beings. The band is a true democracy, and we are there for each other when we need to be, both musically and personally. We’ve taken trips together, gone to concerts together, and gone bar hopping together, both with and without our wives. We are truly a band of brothers.

What I’ve Learned

There’s no better feeling that spending hours upon hours creating music with people you genuinely love.

I’m Ready, I’m Ready!

SpongeBob SquarePants ©2019 Viacom Media Networks

I’ve always loved Mondays.

To my way of thinking, Monday represents a chance to reset and get it right, to be better than I was the previous week. Sometimes weekends are just as jam-packed with activities as the week is, and sometimes (like this past one) it’s an opportunity to unwind and decompress. In either case, Monday is an opportunity to begin fresh.

Psychologists tell us that it isn’t healthy, but I suspect part of the reason I so enjoy Mondays is that I’ve always been the type of person who’s personal identity and self-worth is inextricably link to what I do for a living. I physically spend nine hours at the office (more or less) every day of the week, and I’ve been accessible 24/7 for as long as I’ve owned a cell phone. Some of my “off-duty” activities tie directly back to my job, as well – going back to school to complete my bachelor’s degree, for example, is tied to my desire to continually grow and improve within the company.

Pick up any calendar and you’ll see the week is supposed to start on Sunday. This practice dates back thousands of years – ancient Egyptians wanted to honor Ra, the sun god, by designating the first day of their newly-created seven-day week as Sun’s day. This was passed on the the Romans, who designated the first day as dies solis. For many Christians, this continued tradition is based on the Bible, which notes that God said, “Let there be light!” on the first day of creation.

(I realize that I’m leaving out quite a few cultures – Slavs and the Chinese to name two – that actually start their weeks on Sunday. In many of those instances, their “Sunday” is not named after any sort of sun deity, and is in fact called something different. In Hungary, for example, their Sunday is actually called “market day,” and in Old Russian it is often referred to as “free day.”)

According to ISO 8601, which describes the internationally accepted method for discussing dates and times, Monday is the first day of the week. The United States, Canada, and Japan all consider it to be the second day of the week. (For more on this fascinating subject, visit here: https://www.iso.org/iso-8601-date-and-time-format.html)

This may be my recently-discovered patrimonio mexicaño showing itself, but my week has always started on Monday, for as long as I can remember. I consider the weekend to be a set of two days, inseparable and meant to be experienced as one experience, like chapters six and seven in a book. Others view it as something more akin to bookends, with Sunday on one end and Saturday on the other, to be experienced as two separate entities.

Psychologically, most everything I do on Saturday would fall into the category of “unwinding” for the previous week, while everything I do on Sunday (laundry, for example) is in preparation for the upcoming week. I’ve always made this mental separation of the two days – Saturday for relaxing, Sunday for preparation.

My view of Monday certainly goes against what popular culture would have you believe about this day of the week – a list of popular song titles makes this very evident. Blue Monday, Manic Monday, Stormy Monday, I Don’t Like MondaysRainy Days and Mondays – this list seems endless. I’m not really sure where all of this animosity towards the first day of the week comes from, but I suspect many of these songwriters were in denial about what a productive day Monday can be if you just put your mind to it.

I’m writing this early on a Sunday morning, and as I type I’m mentally preparing for everything I need to accomplish today in order to be prepared for the new week starting tomorrow. I’ve sorted the laundry, decided which shirts I need to iron for work next week, verified which rooms on campus my two new classes are in, and checked emails to make sure there are no outstanding tasks that need to be completed before the week begins tomorrow. In the words of the great yellow poet, SpongeBob SquarePants, “I’m ready, I’m ready!”

I’m excited for the new beginning that this Monday will bring – are you?

What I’ve Learned

I’ve learned more than I could ever want to know about why Sunday actually isn’t the first day of the week, despite what your calendar is trying to tell you.

En Español, Por Favor

I had nothing better to do this past summer, so I thought I would learn to speak Spanish.

This desire was driven by a number of things. Having been born and raised in southern California, I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with Hispanic culture. As I’ve aged (read: mellowed and matured), the “hate” part has completely faded, leaving me with an idealized love of all things Latin American. The music, the accents, the culture – I love it all.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve become very interested in my heritage. I knew next to nothing about my biological father’s family (more on this in a future post), and much of what I knew of my mother’s family became more shrouded in mystery the further back you went.

So I sent off my saliva to Ancestry.com and waited patiently for the results.

Most of what came back was not surprising – I assumed my mother’s side had come from Europe at some point – Danziger and Boyd are both common European names – and Hardwick screams “British Isles.” What I didn’t expect was the 6% Native American result.

That’s when I started digging, and learned that, for reasons that are obvious if you think about them for a few seconds, Native American results can sometimes be mistaken for Mexican results in certain cases. According to Ancestry.com:

Not long after humans first appeared in today’s Alaska and the western United States, they had already settled as far south as the tip of modern-day Chile. Then they migrated inland. As settlers, these groups were dramatically successful: In only a few thousand years they had occupied virtually the entire landmass.

https://www.ancestry.com/dna/ethnicity/native-america

Armed with this information, I redoubled my efforts at lifting the veil of my father’s ancestral past.

Thanks to public records and contact with a couple of fifth cousins, I was able to ascertain that my paternal great-grandfather, James Jefferson Santigo Hardwick, was married at least three times. He was born in Missouri in February of 1857, and moved to Mexico sometime between 1870 and 1881.

His first wife, Luisa Aguilar, was from Sonora, Mexico – that’s where they met, married, and lived for many years. When she died twelve years later, my great-grandfather married her sister, Esperanza Aguilar. And when she died six years after that, he married a third sister, Josefina Aguilar.

Josefina J de Jesus Aguilar is my great-grandmother, and the cause of the 6% “Native American” reading in my DNA. I am – proudly – part mexicaño. ¡Viva Mexico!

In addition to these facts, my daughter is fluent in Spanish, having gone through the language immersion program at Eisenhower Elementary School from kindergarten through fifth grade. She continued to study Spanish, with a slight detour into Latin, well into her first year of college. We are now able to communicate in Spanish (albeit at a very basic level), and though I can’t speak for her, I enjoy it very much.

Last March, I stumbled onto an online course called Speed Spanish that is primarily geared toward people anticipating travel to Spanish-speaking countries, and I was off to the races. I completed all three tracks in a matter of a few months, just in time to take a beginning Spanish course at Tulsa Community College. Thanks to Speed Spanish, I was able to excel in this class, and am already making plans to take Spanish II this summer as a break from the marketing and business classes I’ve been taking through Oklahoma State University-Tulsa (go Pokes!)

One of my favorite parts of learning español has been connecting on an entirely different level with friends and acquaintances who speak Spanish. I’ve also made friends from American latina who are trying to learn English – I’ve met quite a few people through various iPhone apps, in fact. I write and speak in Spanish, they do the same in English, and we teach each other – a truly collaborative effort!

What I Learned

Ancestry is a fascinating thing – if you don’t know where you came from and who your ancestors are, the process of discovery and be just as exciting as the discovery itself.

Ah, y español. Estoy aprendiendo a hablar español.

Over/Under The Weather

Nothing exemplifies my ever-shifting opinion on everything better than my thoughts on the weather.

For background, I grew up in southern California, but probably not the southern California you’re picturing in your mind right now. Where I grew up (first in the San Fernando Valley, then in the San Joaquin valley), winters were always mild and wet, summers were always warm and arid. Spring and fall consisted of fog. In fact, most of the mornings that I can remember consisted of limited visibility, regardless of the season.

After high school, I spent two years in England and three years in Italy. The weather north of London was exactly how you’ve seen it depicted on television – cloudy, rainy, and bleak. Southern Italy was hot most of the time, and since I lived on the coast near the port city of Brindisi, afternoon rain was a common occurrence.

Oklahoma is different – it should have its own weather category. “How’s the weather today?” “Oh, the usual – ice storms in the morning, followed by tornadoes and a chance of hail. Although it’s below freezing right now, it’ll clear up and we should hit a high of 85 degrees by lunchtime.”

One of my favorite TV shows is the Weather On The 8’s shorts on the The Weather Channel. I love to sit and watch what the weather is now, and what it’s supposed to be later. I’ve been known to play on my phone during The World’s Most Dangerous Weather That Is So Awesomely Terrible That You’ll Scarcely Believe It!  just so I can catch the next 8’s spot.

Part of the problem is that I’m never sure which weather I prefer. This morning, as I was driving home from the gym in the light rain and cold temperatures, I started thinking about how much I missed the warmer weather. Had it been 90 and humid, I’m sure I would have been pining for winter.

When there is snow on the ground (an increasingly rare occurrence here in Green Country), it’s fun for about an hour. Then, I’m wishing it were a little bit warmer, a little bit less windy, a little bit more pleasant. Snow is fun to play in for a very short time, but eventually my frozen nose and ears get to me, and my fingers stop working, even when wearing the thickest, most water-resistant gloves. It’s the worst.

When we get days on end of precipitation, I long for the dry days of summer. I don’t like being outside in the rain, and Zeus hates running in it. I hate coming inside and feeling wet, my sneakers squeaking on the floor as I drip water everywhere. Being soaked clean through and having to change clothes for the third time that day is something I dread. It’s the worst.

And during the dog days of summer, when the overnight low struggles to get down to 90, I long for the cold temperatures of winter, and the ability to bundle up against the frigid weather. I can’t sleep lying in a pool of sweat, and I can’t function when my shirt is drenched the moment I step outside. It’s the worst.

What I’ve Learned

The truth, if you haven’t guessed it by now, is that I’m never happy. At least, not with the weather. Unless I’m watching it on The Weather Channel.

Life on Earth

Today a good friend told me a story that really made me think.

She was driving home a few days ago, and was in the far left lane on the highway. She glanced in her rearview mirror and saw flashing lights approaching. She looked down at her speedometer – uncharacteristically, she was doing the speed limit. Breathing a sigh of relief, she checked her mirrors again, turned on her blinker, and changed lanes to let the patrol car pass.

However, as she changed lanes, she heard a honking behind her – she’d inadvertently cut someone off. The driver behind her flashed his high beams aggressively while continuing to lay on his horn. She was sure she could hear the driver swearing at her.

What’s more, the officer in the patrol car chose that moment to shut off his lights and siren, erasing any evidence that my friend was forced to change lanes. For all intents and purposes, at least from the perspective of the other driver, there was no reason for my friend to have cut him off. The other driver followed her all the way to her exit, tailgating her until she was actually on her exit ramp. The other driver then roared off down the highway, adding a few more honks to punctuate his ire.

So, who was at fault here? My friend who tried to get out of the way of an approaching emergency vehicle? The officer in the patrol car for running his lights and siren, and then not? The other driver who was minding his own business until my friend cut him off for no apparent reason?

The truth of the matter is that sometimes things just happen, and no one is to blame. We are always so quick to try to assign blame and assess guilt that we lose sight of the fact that not everything is someone’s fault, not every negative event is the result of someone who is out to get us. Shit happens.

I wonder how many times my totally innocent actions have resulted in annoying, irritating or angering someone – unintentionally, of course. Sure, I go out of my way to piss people off sometimes, that’s just who I am. But I only behave that way with people I like and/or care about (the two are not mutually exclusive) – rarely do I unleash my wrath on an innocent stranger, despite what you may have heard about the way I drive.

I spend so much time agonizing over the annoying irritants I encounter every day – people walking too slowly in front of me, someone taking the last piece of pizza, Starbucks running out of peppermint syrup (seriously, how does that happen?), idiots that don’t know how to merge or use their blinker…what habits do I have or actions have I taken that have the same effect on others? Does someone not like my laugh? Am I taking someone else’s parking space in the garage at work? Did I accidentally cut someone off in line? Does my hair offend someone?

You can’t please all of the people all of the time. It’s more than just a well-worn adage, it’s the God’s honest truth. You do the best you can, and hope for the best. Sometimes you make the right decision, sometimes you don’t. The difference is in how you handle it when you encounter someone who’s ire you’ve provoked.

My friend just kept driving until it was her time to exit. She was fortunate that the other drive didn’t come after her, or pull out a gun and shoot at her vehicle – this is Oklahoma, after all. She did the right thing – she kept her cool and waited it out until the situation passed. She recognized that, although she did nothing wrong, in the other driver’s eyes she had. She resisted the urge to retaliate (by brake-checking him, for example). She accepted her lumps (tailgating, high beams, annoying horn) and moved on.

What I’ve Learned

We should all be more like my friend – recognize when you make a mistake, accept your punishment, apologize when you can, and move on. That’s the way it goes, sometimes – welcome to life on Earth.

And While I’m Thinking Of It…

The title of this post, as well as a couple of paragraphs, was directly inspired by the awesome tune Life on Earth by Snow Patrol – you should definitely stop what you’re doing right now and check it out!

Regret

I almost made a huge, life-altering mistake yesterday.

I’m not going to get into the details – suffice it to say that I had pulled the trigger on this action, and was going to go through with it. I consulted with people that had experienced the same thing, and I thought my decision was the correct one, the sound one, the right one for me.

Then, after I’d made the decision and gotten the ball rolling, regret set in. Major regret. What-the-hell-have-I-done regret. I spent the afternoon and most of the evening getting progressively more depressed, until I finally came to the realization that I was not going to be able to live with the decision I’d made and continue to function in a normal way.

So, I reversed my decision.

The very act of deciding to reverse my decision immediately lifted my spirits. The haze lifted, and I knew that reversing my decision was the right move, and I understood that I never should have proceeded with it in the first place. My mood immediately improved, the sort of improvement that comes with making the right choice.

What drives people to make decisions that they know are not in their best interest? For me, it was the lure of the quick fix. I thought that some immediate pain would be worth the long term goal, and often that is true. In this case, though, the pain would have gone against everything I purport to stand for. I would have been doing something that was counter to everything I’d worked for over the last few years, and worse, was counter to who I am as a person.

The regret that followed my decision far, far outweighed the more subtle, pervasive regret that had been building in my psyche, a low-hum type of regret that led me to making this ill-informed and ill-timed decision in the first place. In the end, that was easier to live with the existing regret than to have to deal with the alternative. At least for now.

I’m not one who is really given to too much self-analysis and internal critique. I make a decision and I stick with it, confident in the knowledge that I’m a pretty good judge of most situations and can see most outcomes, and following my choices through with grace and aplomb (mostly). And this situation was no different – I went into it with eyes wide open, and knew exactly what the ramifications would be.

It was only after making this particular decision that I began to realize that I didn’t want to live with the results, that my decision was the wrong one, and that I would regret making the move for many years to come. It was the sort of life-altering crossroads where I could clearly see the results of both sticking with my decision, and reversing it. I chose the road I’d already been traveling, and that made all the difference.

I made the call (actually, sent the email) to express my regrets and reverse my decision. And felt 100% better, confident in the knowledge that I’d made the right decision this time, a decision I knew I wouldn’t regret.

What I’ve Learned

Trust your gut. And when your gut tells you that your gut betrayed you, trust that as well.