How many times has my 20-20 hindsight sneered at that particular thought?
Well, it did!
When they were handing out brains, you thought they said trains and jumped out of the way.
That’s mean! Not fair! I’ve just had some bad luck lately. It’s not my fault!
So now you’re whining about it? You should have seen this coming. Idiot.
That is just one example of the inner dialog that has run through my head more than once over the years. Thankfully, as I have gained in years, I have also gained the ability to spot my bad choices a bit sooner than I used to. Sometimes, I even catch them quickly enough to make a course correction and fix my error. Mostly. Partially. Sometimes.
I recently watched a movie on TV: “Sunlight Jr.” starring Naomi Watts and Matt Dillon. I tuned in to the movie looking for some brainless entertainment, but it didn’t turn out to be so brainless. By the next day I found myself drawing all sorts of parallels to real life. To myself. To people I have known. The movie was about a hard-working convenience store clerk and a wheelchair-bound man who are living together. Life is tough for them. Tough times happen, some of which is not their fault. But the blame for a lot of that bad luck does rest squarely on their shoulders.
I came to a realization some time ago that, more than anything else, life is about the choices we make. Despite events beyond our control, from accidents to other peoples’ actions, what we make of life is a direct result of our choices.
A teenager makes a bad choice and never finishes high school. The teenager might easily blame his dysfunctional family, but the family didn’t make him to drop out of high school.
A young woman agrees to move to another city so her boyfriend can have his dream job. The fact that she left her dream job and he broke up with her six months later could easily be blamed on the bad ex-boyfriend, but she made the choice to sacrifice her goals for his.
There are no shortage of examples. Bad luck nearly always follows on the heals of bad choices. Once in a while, we get lucky, but not often.
Blaming someone or something else is easy, but if we can’t admit the mistake, how can we learn? How can we avoid making similar bad decisions in the future?
Life is about the choices we make. And what we learn from them.
It has been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, each time expecting a different result.
Admitting mistakes, acknowledging failure, accepting blame — those things are not easy. Sometimes, they can be painfully difficult. But without that first step toward taking responsibility for ourselves and our actions, the rest can never happen.
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Unhappy at home, loathing high school, and thrilled with my first part-time job, I dropped out of school and left home right after I turned 18. Because I had sufficient credits and grade point average, my mother was able to convince the school to issue me a diploma anyway . I didn’t deserve that, but I got lucky because my mother made a good choice and took a stand on my behalf.
A few years later, I realized what a bad choice I had made. I chose freedom and independence over a college education that my parents would have paid for. Pretty dumb, right? Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Unless I wanted to spend the rest of my life working for minimum wage, I needed to acquire some job skills, so I continued to work and squeezed in a community college course here and there. Forget getting a degree, I just went for practical courses like typing, business machines, introduction to computers (this was in the early 1970s), and accounting 101. Before long, I became an accounts payable clerk, then a bookkeeper, and then a full-charge bookkeeper. It paid reasonably well and I enjoyed the work. And I was proud of being good at what I did.
So yes, I made a bad decision. Later, I realized it and learned from my mistake. That enabled me to do something about it and improve my situation.
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In the movie, “Sunlight Jr.”, the character Melissa put up with a rude crude supervisor, believed his promises of management training that never materialized, and accepted an assignment to work a dangerous graveyard shift alone. All of those were bad choices made for good reasons. She didn’t want to lose her job and she clung to the hope of advancement. Looking in from my side of the TV screen, it was easy to spot that her supervisor had no respect for her and never had any thought of recommending her for the management training program. Melissa didn’t see that. She saw what she wanted to see and made her choices accordingly. Her life went from bad to worse. And she lost her job, to boot.
Such is life.
It can be very difficult to see beyond our hopes and dreams to the cold face of reality. Eventually, if we live long enough, we learn to recognize the warning signs when bad luck follows bad luck. A tornado could flatten my house. My car could stall on railroad tracks. Shit happens. And so does honest to goodness bad luck. You are in the wrong place at the wrong time. Your number is up. Nothing to be done for it.
But when bad luck becomes commonplace or you find yourself stuck in a dead end, it is time to start thinking about the choices you have made. What series of events did that decision set in motion? And what is to be done about it?
Unfortunately, life doesn’t come with an eraser. There are no do-overs, no matter how hard we might wish for them. The best we can do is to realize we have made mistakes, learn from them, and then do something about it. It’s called failing forward.
We all made bad decisions. Don’t hesitate to admit your mistakes. Don’t be ashamed that you failed.
And try not to make the same bad decision twice.
Make a different one, instead.