Sunday, December 31, 2017

No one grows up for free

The last breaking day of 2017. 
Once, because I am an introvert, I felt that the only thing worse than not being invited to a large, important event full of strangers was attending one. 

Because, small talk. I don't know what to say or ask, I screw up anecdotes, and my timing is bad.

My attitude changed when I grew up, became a writer, and realized that conversations are my classroom.
A full year of conversations has come to a close and my bag is packed for 2018. 

For many I know and love, it has been a year of major decisions around all the big stuff – parenting, career moves, relationship shifts, having children, moving, marriage and divorce – and the risk, regret, relief and reward of making those decisions have been significant.

I know someone who left a relationship and someone else who would like to start one. I know someone who wants to make a different career choice and someone who gambled big on a business idea. I know others who wonder if they blew it as a parent.

Issues of regret touch me the most because I am, as my son would say, a "stud" at handling this in my own life. And so on this last day of 2017, I'm going to share some thoughts on the subject of mistakes and regret and the parting gift we are handed as we leave mistakes behind:  new wisdom. 

First, we are, every one of us, every day, as long as we're alive and have a past, still growing up.

Second, no one grows up for free.  

There are only two ways to go when we think back on a bad decision:  Mire in it, loathe yourself for it, and refuse to trust your instincts going forward.

Or, realize that at any point on the continuum, you can't know more than you do. You can't factor in maturity that hasn't arrived yet. You can't factor in the age and wisdom that you haven't earned yet. You can't factor in consequences that will punish your impulses, or outcomes that will reward your intuition because those things are like grades on an exam that you'll get when you get.    

I've learned that all you can do with every decision, even the risky ones, even the big or costly ones, is take a chance on your instincts because instincts, like children, need to be field-tested to work right.

I've learned that all you can do with every decision, is know that in the process of recovering from a misstep, you will have learned something about your decision making that you needed to know.

This is important for people who are considering new jobs, new homes, new love, and new lives, with or without someone they hoped would be at their side.

This is important for people who have ventured into unknowns and stumbled, sometimes badly. It's important for those who regret a thing they've said, or done, or caused. 

You will do it again. 

You have to. 

Because the alternative is to live so cautiously you'll run out of things to think about and eventually won't bother to dream. 

I've learned that wisdom can come from things you've done right, but it usually comes from the things you've done wrong first. And while the parting gift of new wisdom isn't glamorous, it is your co-pilot, and it is your therapist.

Once, I believed that life should be lived with some imagination of how we want to look back on it. I've learned that this is false. To believe we have any control over a future memory at all is to believe we will still be ruled by the moods and moments and motives of today.

We won't be.

Next year, when you do brood over your flaws or mistakes or poor planning or bad decisions, remember this:  You are, thankfully, flawed,  which will instantly improve your likability because no one likes a flawless person. 

Whether we are teens, or college graduates, or newly married, or empty-nesters, or facing retirement, we are always growing up. 

It isn't free.

If you're doing it right.


  1. Thanks for the perspective.

  2. Such a great thought! Our son is always so hard on himself when he ‘screws up’. We try to remind him that these life things are so new!

  3. Well played! Beautifully written and oh yes, thanks. I feel better.