When I got the idea to do a Life Talks series, it was while I was on a five and a half hour drive to visit friends near Chicago. There has been so much on my mind lately, and I’ve been doing what I always do when things are on my mind–thinking about them ad nauseum.
My zodiac sign is Cancer. Cancers are notoriously known for being emotional; perhaps the most emotional sign of the zodiac. While it’s true that I am emotional, I experience my emotions differently than is stereotypical of my sign. I feel things deeply, and I reflect on them heavily. I just don’t tend to express them openly.
I’ve been hearing quite a bit lately that I “have my shit together”. I think it is because of my tendency to reflect so much on things that this is true. I have years worth of life lessons that I’ve taken the time to reflect on and truly learn from, and it has shaped who I am in big ways. I realized on that drive that maybe I have quite a lot to share about the things that I’ve learned.
So on this first Life Talks post, I’m going to tell you how I got my shit together. It isn’t because I’ve gotten lucky and magically made all the right choices. Believe me, there’ve been more times than I can count that I’ve been stubborn, hard-headed and refused to listen to reason. I’ve made my fair share of mistakes and impulsive decisions.
It’s for precisely that reason that I’ve been in plenty of situations that have taught me valuable lessons. Because of my habit of introspection, I have learned from those lessons and experienced deep shifts in perspective as a result. The quickest way to get your shit together, frankly, is to not be resistant to the lessons life is trying to teach you.
When things go wrong, take a step back and examine them. Instead of denying your fault, accept your part in it, and then adjust your behavior in the future. It is amazing the level of understanding that comes when you allow life to shape you instead of defeat you. That is what I want for you; I want you to conquer this life and never be defeated.
One of those earliest situations for me is the way I began my adult life. I found myself pregnant just shy of the age of 19. My now-ex-husband was my high school sweetheart, but at the time we had been broken up for a few months. I hadn’t seen him since the breakup, and I went back to the town where I lived in high school to visit my mom for the weekend. I saw him while I was there, and…well…two weeks later I peed on a stick and a + appeared.
There is no bigger wakeup call that you need to step back and examine your life than an accidental pregnancy. In this day and age, where there are birth control and condoms, accidental pregnancies are almost always the result of recklessness. For me it 100% was. Rather than making excuses or playing the victim, I accepted this truth. I owned it, then “put on my big girl panties”, and dealt with it. I took responsibility for it, and I did the things I knew I had to do in order to be the mother my child needed.
The course of my entire life shifted. I sacrificed all of the plans that I had made, the traditional college experience and everything that was to follow, in order to do what was right. I started a family and did my best to provide my children with stability, love and support. I also made sure that an accidental pregnancy would never happen again.
Sometimes things happen to you that are truly out of your control. Maybe someone mistreats you, or you find yourself caught in a situation that isn’t your fault. Whatever the case may be, it is important to take the time to let your feelings about the situation flow through you. And once you’ve let yourself feel it, then let it go, because you can’t have a future if you won’t let go of your past.
Let your mind take over instead of your heart, and keep yourself in rational thought. Being bitter or holding a grudge, no matter the situation or how well-deserved it may be, will affect your attitude. You won’t realize it until quite a ways down the road, when you look back and realize you somehow aren’t as carefree and as happy as you used to be.
Maybe what happened really was unfair. Maybe you were legitimately a victim. Maybe you were blindsided by something and it threw you for a loop. But if you choose to dwell on it and remain long-term in a state of anger or sadness about it, you are going to put yourself through so much more suffering than is necessary. You will start to put off negative vibes, and the people around you will sense it and want to start distancing themselves from you. Negative feelings, when allowed to fester for long periods of time, will poison you. One of my favorite sayings is that you can’t control what happens to you, but you can control how you react to it.
Example time. This past weekend I went to visit a dear friend and his wife up near Chicago. I hadn’t been up to visit in a couple of years, and they bought a new house since then, so I was long overdue to go. We talked in June, and they made plans for me to come up the last weekend of July. When I arrived Friday night, they greeted me warmly. She had written “welcome Loren” on the marker board on the fridge, left me a welcome basket on the guest bed, and told me to make myself at home.
I asked about what we would be doing the next day. My friend told me that his wife had to work so it would just be he and I. We went for a late breakfast at a place in Geneva called Buttermilk. Then we drove out to Waterman’s Winery for a wine tasting and to sit for a couple of hours and catch up while sipping on some wine. We drove back to his place and talked about dinner plans. I asked if his wife was coming to dinner with us, and he said no. He said that he’s given up on trying to figure out when she’ll be home, which raised some questions in the back of my mind, but I let it go.
We went and grabbed dinner at a restaurant nearby, then went back to hang out at the house and watch a movie. When the movie was almost over, his wife finally came home. She came into the living room and asked her husband if she could talk to him. He got up and left while I continued watching the movie. A few minutes later he came back, paused the movie, and sat down silently.
He finally spoke. “I’m sorry. [The wife] and I are having some problems, and I need to start putting her first. I probably shouldn’t have had you come up this weekend. I know you’re planning on leaving in the morning, but is there any way you can leave now?” I looked at him, unsure if I’d heard him right. I picked up my phone to look at the time. 7:49 p.m. I said, “it’s 8:00 at night and I live five and a half hours away! I can leave first thing in the morning, but I cannot drive all night back home.” His wife entered the room and said, “look, [he] and I are having problems. I’m sorry if you can’t understand that, but you need to go.”
My mind scrambled for a moment, realizing that I had been drinking wine all afternoon and was already tired; knowing that I would not be home until 1:30 a.m. What was I going to do? Then I thought about the fact that my mom lives around three hours south of them. Her house is a little off the beaten path from my route home, adding about an hour to my total return trip, but at least I could be there by 11:15. So I quickly packed my bags and left, filled up my gas tank, and made way for the refuge that was my mother.
That night and a great deal of the next day, I went back and forth between feeling hurt and shocked. It was so unbelievable that I almost couldn’t wrap my mind around what had happened. He text me after I left to apologize again. He said that it’s no longer appropriate for him to have single female friends and this is all his fault.
I told him that it is certainly not all his fault. That if she wasn’t comfortable with it then she shouldn’t have acted like she was, and when she found out she had to work then they should have rescheduled with me instead of letting me come up anyway. But changing her mind after I’m already there and kicking me out of the house at 8:00 at night when I’m 380 miles from home was absolutely NOT okay. Those were the last words I will ever speak to someone who used to be one of my best friends.
It would have been so easy to get angry and to feel sorry for myself. I spent plenty of time in tears, and plenty more time stress-cleaning my house. But then I sat down and thought about the rest of the story. I was lucky enough to have somewhere to go. I am lucky enough to have a mother who will always be there for me, and who sat up and waited for me to arrive safely. I realized how incredibly grateful I am to have her. My friends, it’s all about perspective!
Then, while bawling my eyes out to an episode of Queer Eye a few hours later, my thinking shifted. I thought of all of the other friends that I have; the people who had texted me and messaged me and checked in on me to see if I was okay. And I realized that I AM BLESSED! I felt empathy and love and peace, and I was able to let go.
It can be so hard when you’re hurt not to dwell on negative emotions. It can be even more difficult not to be angry and place blame on someone who hurt you. It will take a lot of practice, but the best thing you can do is work on moving from a place of reacting to your feelings, to a place of rational thought. Mastering this is tough, but it’s a game-changer. My advice is this–if you are feeling emotional, do nothing!
Whatever impulsive reaction you may have, whether it’s to unleash your anger on the deserving party or send a five-page text message pouring your heart out–don’t do it! Feel your feelings, wait for the emotions to subside, think the situation over thoroughly, and then act if you can decide calmly and rationally that you need to. This will prevent you from escalating a rotten situation and potentially making it worse, and making yourself feel even worse than you already do. This is how emotional maturity grows.
Lastly–if you don’t like something about yourself or where you are in life–change it! I know, I know…easier said than done. Most change doesn’t come easy or quickly. But if you actively work for the life that you want, reflect and learn from the things that go wrong, and mount all obstacles and don’t give up…you will get it. I promise.
The 10 Commandments for Getting Your Shit Together:
- Admit to your faults and learn from them.
- Take responsibility for your actions.
- Take time to reflect on life’s lessons.
- Leave the past behind you and keep moving forward.
- Always do the right thing; especially when it isn’t the easy thing.
- Don’t play the victim.
- Don’t get lost in negative headspace.
- Don’t react while emotional.
- Look for the good in a situation, because good always exists in it somewhere.
- Take action to change your circumstances, and it will ultimately change your life.
Please let me know if you’ve found any of this valuable. I plan to make this a regular series, posting either once or twice a month on opposite weeks from Mediterranean Mondays. Also, if there is anything you would specifically like to hear about, let me know and I will be happy to help if I can. Believe me when I say that you absolutely can live your best life and be your best self ❤