I have always been the type of person who has to learn something for herself. Despite advice from some of the most trusted people in my life, people who trumped me on experience, wisdom, age, and intelligence, I always had to walk my own path. Sometimes, this worked out in my favor. It lead to amazing experiences, meeting wonderful people, and broadened perspectives. Other times, it lead to getting a clover tattoo on my foot as a dare. Life is for livin’, amirite?
Thankfully (for me and my other foot), as I have gotten older, I have learned to heed good advice when it’s given.
And as I think back, there are 3 pieces of advice that have stood the test of time and have acted as guideposts for me in difficult situations or when having to navigate through certain points within relationships of all types.
1. People will always tell you who they are. It’s up to you to listen
There have been many times in my life where I have toiled and stressed over what someone “really” means after having a conversation. So many hours wasted on third, fourth and fifth chances. So many feelings hurt repeating the same mistakes with the same person over and over again. So many times ignoring that gut-feeling about someone thinking, “I’m in my head” or “I’m over-reacting”. One day, I was speaking with my Aunt about this, and in her wisdom, she said, “people will always tell you who they are – you just need to be willing to listen”. What she meant was to stop making excuses for people who are showing you exactly what they mean. Stop projecting your thoughts and feelings onto a situation that is straightforward. Stop acting surprised that someone is letting you down when they have already shown you a million ways to Sunday that they are going to let you down. There is a freedom in learning how to take someone at face value and in learning when to save your energy.
2. You are who your friends are
This one took me longer than I would like to admit, but once it clicked, it changed everything. You are the average of the closest people around you, so you better be proud of who you have included in that inner circle. If you’re not careful, you can unknowingly slip into a sort of groupthink. Bad behaviors that keep you from growing into your full potential can seem normal and commonplace if those around you are participating in them. That’s not to say that you don’t think for yourself; of course you do. It’s just that when you spend time with the people who comprise your community, it’s easy to lean on what’s comfortable or make decisions based on what’s happening around you. Making the decision to truly ensure that those you keep close always push you to be better, support you, stay honest with you and are a bit aspirational will do wonders for your life and happiness. It’s not easy to let go of relationships and friendships that no longer serve you, but it is necessary and important for emotional stability and a strong sense of self.
3. Control What You Can
This one, on repeat. You can’t worry about something that you have no control over. There is a great scene in the Tom Hanks movie “Bridge of Spies” where Hanks, who plays a lawyer during the Cold War, speaking to his client, a Soviet spy facing life imprisonment and the possibility of death, says something along the lines of “If this doesn’t go well, it could mean the end of your life. Aren’t you worried?”. His client’s reply is, “would it help?”.
Focusing on things that sit beyond your control serves no purpose other than to negatively affect your well-being. When you have a problem or a concern that feels too large to fix, break it down into bite-sized pieces, and work through one piece at a time. Look at what you can control and where your energy will impact change, and focus there. Pretty soon, those small pieces start turning into a substantial chunk, and the problem feels a little bit closer to being solved. The best thing that we can do for ourselves is to learn how to sit in and embrace the discomfort of knowing our control is limited, and sometimes, the only way out is through.