You might want to put on your seatbelts, grab a snack, a warm blanket, a cup of tea and settle in before you start reading this.
Right now I have a ton of related esoteric thoughts swirling through my brain all demanding to be released at the exact same time. Putting them in some order that makes sense outside my brain universe is a challenge.
I am a naval gazer, spending the majority of my life trying to figure life out because I always felt like I was falling short. What is the meaning? How does it work? Is it nature vs nurture? How do you win at life? What is the ‘right’ way? What is the secret?
Do All The Right Things
I was raised to do all the ‘right things’. To make the right choices. Pick the right job. Pick the right guy. Make a plan and follow through. Go to college, set up a 401K, get married, have kids, live happily ever after.
While I was told “there is no such thing as perfection”, in practice, mistakes were not seen as opportunities to learn, instead they were cause for judgement and punishment. They were justifications for treating me ‘less than’ in subtle and overt ways.
As a working woman, certain things I did were pointed out as mistakes, and errors in judgement, while these same things were overlooked or rewarded in male colleagues and superiors.
I felt disadvantaged simply because of the way I was born, yet I still had this underlying belief that if I made all the right choices, my life would turn out the way I planned. In other words A + B = a guaranteed C. And despite doing ‘everything right’, when things didn’t work out “all right” I got the message that I must’ve done something wrong.
What a crock of shit.
The premise is wrong. The truth is, you can do all the right things and still have unforeseen, unfavorable, or undesired, outcomes.
It took me 50 plus years and a very very dark night of the soul to REALLY get that. “Getting it right” isn’t what this is all about. It benefits mainstream society to have you believe there is something wrong with you for their profit!
Even more they will convince you something is lacking within you, when there isn’t.
This is the thing that capitalism is built upon, isn’t it? Define the problem, so you can sell a solution, right? And if there is no problem? Create one in order to sell the solution! This is how to succeed in modern day society.
In our society, success is defined as a particular outcome. That outcome is in a bank account, a fancy house or car, or a high paying job.
There is a prescription for success: fail to plan and you plan to fail. With the implied message being if you plan you will succeed.
And the repetitive scripts laid it out so perfectly: graduate high school, get a college degree, get a corporate job, work your way up the ladder, go back to school, and put money away for retirement so that you can live a good life after you choose to walk away from the rat race. Sound familiar? That is what is known as a successful life.
So, I found myself lacking.
I worked in social services. No one goes into social services because the money is good. And the ladder? It isn’t all that high and the upper rungs were disproportionately filled by men.
So, by my middle adult hood, I was thoroughly convinced that I was a complete failure. I wasn’t born with the wealth of beauty, won’t get rich through my career and despite doing all the right things, life never turned out exactly as I planned.
What hope was there?
What I Know Now
There Is No ‘Right’
In all of my social conditioning, starting with my parents, supported by primary education and reinforced in my interactions with the world outside my home, the underlying message was the key to life is getting it right. To strategize in order to not make mistakes and to avoid bad outcomes. The general message is that bad outcomes indicate poor decision making.
This was ingrained in me.
I didn’t realize exactly how deeply until more recently. I also discovered that it is likely the number one cause of any suffering I have experienced- bouts of depression and my Dark Night of the Soul. Because I believed with every cell in my body that I could strategically make decisions by calculating the risk of all possible outcomes and doing my due diligence in research in order to make a choice that would yield the results I intended, every time. That’s how I thought it went.
Sometimes that was how it went, but many times it was not.
Here is the absolute truth. You can do “everything right” and still get undesired, unfavorable and/or unforeseen outcomes. You can make good choices that render bad results. You can also make bad choices that render good results. So, if that is true then life can’t really be about ‘getting it right’, can it? It can’t really be about the ‘outcome’!
Two people can be in the same situation, make the same choice, but one reaps rewards while the other suffers consequences. Our initial reaction to that is, ‘it isn’t fair.’ To which someone replies, ‘life isn’t fair’, period.
So, if life isn’t about being fair…what is it about?
There are no mistakes.
How would you define a mistake? Given the dictionary definition, I would accept ‘a misguided action’, but the colloquial definition is ‘a wrong choice’. There is a HUGE difference between a misguided action and a wrong choice.
A wrong choice judges the choice by the outcome created. However, the outcome -either desired or undesired- is information. Desired – this action moved me towards my desire. Undesired – this action moved me away from my desire. This information is vital to the next step to take, is it not? Therefore, how can it be wrong, ever? More so, how can it be considered a mistake?
I maintain there are no bad outcomes or mistakes, only undesired results.
Taking the ‘right’ action before you are ready can also lead to undesired results. You can’t skip steps and rush to the action. It isn’t until every cell of your body believes this is the action to take that the action will produce desired effects. Maybe not EXPECTED results, but favorable ones. What does favorable mean? It means something that forwards you. Something that benefits you. That something, though, might not always be visible immediately.
‘Benefitting you’ doesn’t always feel like a benefit in the moment. Think of a breakup you had that totally devastated you, in time with some perspective, you see it was 100% what needed to happen.
What I’ve Learned From Death
The Right Stuff Is Always Changing
Every generation builds upon the one before it.
To Gen Z’s and Millenials, don’t judge us (Boomers and Gen X) too harshly, for it is upon our shoulders that you stand.
No, we have not left you this place in perfect order, but it wasn’t pristine when we got it, either. It is easy for you to criticize what is wrong, but we struggled to get here. We started at a place very far off from here. Yet, what I hear a lot is the younger generations telling us that we weren’t enough. What we risked and strived for wasn’t enough. That we must ‘DO BETTER’ without any acknowledgement of the ‘better’ we have done.
Here’s what happens.
When you are in a toxic relationship and you begin to empower yourself, there are first steps you take. You don’t take big swings. You don’t suddenly, one day, just have the courage to up and leave. No. You start with the basics. You start where you are at and change the first thing that gets in your way. You don’t take on everything all at once.
Social evolution is no different.
Younger generations look at the world today and think this is how it has always been and we older generations have been asleep at the wheel, doing nothing to improve it. That’s just not the case. We worked hard to get us here. Give us some credit, please. Realize that there are things and situations that exist now, that didn’t exist then. And there are things that existed then, that don’t exist now. Very often it has felt like one step forward, two steps back.
Also keep in mind that while there was racial inequity, there was also gender inequity, and socioeconomic inequity going on at the same time. All while we went from families being able to live on one income to barely getting by on two and sometimes three!
We’ve been fighting on a lot of fronts at once.
Study the strategies of war. The most successful strategy is to force your opponent to fight multiple fronts to divide their resources.
Nothing exists in a vacuum and life doesn’t hand out an agenda with items listed in priority and you just go down the list. No. Things are happening all at once and we do the best we can in those moments.
Those born more recently looking back 50-75 years can only look back with the influence of their current privilege. No generation can look back and understand all the levels and layers of nuanced prejudice, bias and disadvantage that co-existed at the same time as the specific issue they are attempting to judge.
Look at the feminist movement, for example. When I was born women did not have the same authority or rights as men. The feminist movement seemed successful, however the unforeseen consequences is that while women gained the right to work, essentially, they did not factor into that initial movement that women would get paid equally to men. That is something that to this day is still not equal! So in many ways the ‘resolution’ created new problems. And so much in society is like this. Resolutions to problems that cause bigger problems with no accountability…but that’s another topic.
But it brings me to the next point, that we need to redefine how we determine ‘success’ in life.
No one on their deathbed laments over not having a better car in the driveway or more money in their retirement account. The regrets I hear from the dying are things like not making amends earlier in relationships. Not taking more risks for love. Not spending more time with the ones they love. Missing out on things because of fear. No one ever wishes they’d gone further up the corporate ladder, either.
People don’t seem to regret outcomes as much as they regret their process.
Success is a process, not an outcome.
There is no ‘right’, no ‘wrong’, no ‘good’, no ‘bad’, because everything is always in motion until you die. Each decision has generations of ripples that extend out for years, decades and even lifetimes. We can’t ever definitively judge something (or ourselves for that matter) as a ‘success’ or ‘failure’ until we are on our deathbed taking stock of our lives.
Many decisions do not turn out like we thought they would and we are disappointed, but then a few months or even years later something desired or favorable comes as a result of that first decision years before. What we might have originally judged a bad decision, later reaps positive rewards, which might then cause us to reconsider and subsequently reclassify it as a good decision.
It stands to reason then that success has little to nothing to do with outcomes then. Success is found in the process of decision making, not in the actual rewards or consequences.
How you make a decision is more important than the results of that decision. Each result is simply information you use going forward. It isn’t the results that matter at all. It is the process. If there is joy in your process, there will be joy in your results. EVEN when the results are undesired, unfavorable or unforeseen you can find joy! This is what is referred to as ‘something good coming of it’. That wasn’t by mistake!! That was on purpose.
This realization was startling to me. It opened my eyes to how deeply the ‘program of perfection’ was rooted! Yes, that’s what it is – a program of perfection. A mutually exclusive construct creating suffering. ‘Getting it right’ is a euphemism for ‘perfectionism’. So, if there is no such thing as perfection, but all your efforts go to being perfect there can be no joy there.
I spent the first half (or better) of my life thinking I sucked at life because I treated it like a strategic game of chess. Always looking two, three or ten steps ahead to anticipate any possible undesired effects. I believed that in order to win at life I needed to have achieved certain results.
Even in my years of studying and practicing ‘manifesting’ that belief was still running underneath. “If I take the right steps I will manifest the life of my dreams”. I mean, isn’t that what all the Life Coaches, Business Coaches, etc… put in their marketing to hook you? “If you don’t like your life, I can tell you the steps to getting exactly what you want…” with a picture of them in front of the house and car of their dreams.
We have it all wrong.
Life is not a strategic game of chess. Nope.
Life is a Saturday afternoon, playing in the sandbox, making mud pies.
The purpose of life is to play not strategize. THAT is how we do it ‘right’.
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