Memoir, Personal, Relationships

Regrets and Do-Overs

While in Utah visiting my family, my sister and I got into a conversation about regrets.

What do I regret? What kinds of things would I do differently if I had a few do-overs?

Life never stops moving forward. Stay focused ...
credit: deeplifequotes)

Do I regret filling yards of surgical tubing with water and spraying an apartment full of poker-playing boys in college? No.

Do I regret filling up my first semester of college with classes like trampoline, tennis and dance?

Or making a spontaneous decision at 9 p.m. at night to load my car with college friends and drive to Las Vegas for the weekend?

Nope.

What I regret are the times I could have been kinder to people.

Valentines-Day-Hearts-Collection-Free-Stock-Photos-Small

I remember a girl in junior high and high school that everyone teased mercilessly because she had acne and a nervous twitch.

As she walked down the halls, people imitated her twitch as she passed them.

I hated walking that same gauntlet as all the boys sat on the hall benches and called me “Little Bob,” after my Dad who was a little league football coach or “Little Snowsie,” after my brother.”

If I hated that kind of attention, how must it have been to be mocked for bad skin and a sudden jerk of the neck I couldn’t control?

Luckily, I can’t remember directly teasing her myself, but maybe I’ve conveniently forgotten that detail because I’m ashamed of myself.

Even if I didn’t personally injure her, I never once stood up for her.

I’m ashamed of myself for the times I could have stepped back from the teasing or stepped in to stop it; for the times I kept my mouth shut when I could have jumped to someone’s defense or when I opened my mouth only to add to the cutting remarks.

Doug shared a story on Facebook from The New York Times Magazine called, “George Saunder’s Advice to Graduates.”

http://6thfloor.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/31/george-saunderss-advice-to-graduates/

He wrote about regret he’s carried for  42-years. He regrets that he wasn’t nice to a shy girl who joined his seventh grade class.

She wore blue cat-eye glasses and nervously chewed on her hair.

Students teased her, asking if her hair tasted good, or they simply ignored her and never tried to befriend her.

I don’t know how many kids passed through my life like that. How many did I ignore because they didn’t look or dress right or simply because I had plenty of friends?

Saunder’s said, “Relative to most of the other kids, I was actually pretty nice to her. I never said an unkind word to her. In fact, I sometimes even (mildly) defended her. But it still bothers me. So here’s something I know to be true, although it’s a little corny, and I don’t quite know what to do with it: What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.”

That phrase “failures of kindness” hit me hard because that is what I regret most too.

“Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded…sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly,” he said.

But, what about the times I didn’t respond sensibly, reservedly or mildly and without even knowing it, may have been downright cruel?

There are no do-overs for those times.

In his graduation speech, he wisely shared that: “as you get older, your self will diminish and you will grow in love. YOU will be gradually replaced by LOVE. If you have kids, that will be a huge moment in your process of self-diminishment. You won’t really care what happens to YOU, as long as they benefit.” (One of the best reasons ever for having children!)

His end-of-speech advice was, “Since , according to me, your life is going to be a gradual process of becoming kinder and more loving: Hurry up! Speed it along. Start right now.”

If I had one do-over, I would definitely follow his advice and err on the side of kindness. I’ve clearly become a much kinder, more selfless person as I’ve aged.

But, if I could dial the years back to my adolescence and do a few things differently, I’d still do the crazy things like hose down the poker-playing boys, master my trampoline moves, and skip off to Vegas; but, I’d also be a lot kinder.

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Forget Perfection

I’m starting to feel like someone is spying on me, noticing how hard I can be on myself for falling short in one area or another because targeted messages on the dangers of perfectionism seem to be coming at me from every angle. 

It’s like when I send emails, search a particular topic on the internet or buy something online, and then suddenly I get Google and Facebook ads related to those exact topics. I hate being watched and monitored so closely.

In Church, we talked about perfection and how expecting to become perfect “at once” leads to disappointment. “Be better today than you were yesterday, and be better tomorrow than you are today,” we were taught.

Then I got an email from a writer’s group with the headline, “You Have to Be Okay With Less Than Perfect.”

It included this poem:

“Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in”

–from Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem”

Then, another email arrived from Oprah about Brene Brown’s “Four Totally Surprising Lessons We All Need to Learn.” http://www.oprah.com/spirit/Life-Lessons-We-All-Need-to-Learn-Brene-Brown.

Brene-Brown-On-Being-Graphic-Recording
Brene-Brown-On-Being-Graphic-Recording (Photo credit: On Being)

It quoted the same poem about perfection I’d read in the writing group email.

Brown’s lesson number three was “Perfectionism Is Not About Striving for Excellence.”

She said, “For some of us (including me), what I’m about to say is horrifying: Perfectionism is not about achievement and growth. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfectly, look perfectly and act perfectly, we can avoid the pain of blame, judgment and shame.”

She said, “Somewhere along the way, we adopted this dangerous and debilitating belief system: I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it. A ticker tape began to stream through our heads: Please. Perform. Perfect.”

According to Brown, research shows that perfectionism hampers success and often leads to depression, anxiety, addiction and missed opportunities, due to fears of putting anything out in the world that could be imperfect or disappoint others.

“It’s a 20-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from taking flight,” she said.

So I’ve wondered, “what 20-ton shield am I lugging around that I think is protecting me?”

I don’t believe I’m a perfectionist. I’ve never cared about being perfect. I’m fine with my cracks.

Or so I thought.

But, then I thought more about those three words: please, perform, perfect.

I realized that while I don’t expect to be perfect, I do expect to improve and get better.

I’m learning there’s a fine line between obsessing over being perfect and feeling driven to be better.

If we’re not careful, they end up being the same thing and putting us into the same destructive cycles that create feelings of never being good enough.

Because of my health history, it is vital for me to diligently take care of myself.

So, I do my best to move more and eat less. I expect to see results from those efforts. Yet, week after week, the scale doesn’t budge and my clothes fit the same as the week and months before. Then I wonder, “What is wrong with me? Why can’t I do this? Other people succeed at this. Why can’t I?”

Those questions never lead me to a happy place. They only lead to frustration, disappointment, and insecurity.

So, I try to concentrate on improving my behaviors. I tell myself to forget about being perfect in this area because it’s impossible. I want to be happy doing what is best for my health even if nothing changes. 

This is not easy.

It requires me accepting that I am a cracked pot — you know, the flawed pot that couldn’t hold any water and the water leaked out through the cracks while being carried by its owner from the creek?

The poor little pot hated its cracks and wanted to be perfect like the other pots around it…until it notices the flowers that sprung up on its path. Everywhere the pot was carried there was a trail of beautiful flowers.

Public Flower Garden in downtown Seattle
Public Flower Garden in downtown Seattle (Photo credit: FallenPegasus)

This has to be one of life’s toughest lessons because it means we can’t stop trying to improve even though we don’t see progress being made.

A little self acceptance may sooth my feelings about all my cracks.

I’m hoping that if I give myself some slack, I’ll notice the flowers I’m watering along my path without even realizing it.

It’s worth a try.

From the News

Hurricane Sandy and Losing Control

I like to believe I am a calm, controlled kind of woman.

So when I heard about the storm of the century heading our way, Doug and I took all the necessary precautions.

Hurricane Sandy & Marblehead [Front Street 9]
Hurricane Sandy & Marblehead [Front Street 9] (Photo credit: The Birkes)
We filled the tub with water, charged up our battery-powered lights, moved all of our deck furniture, brought in all the pumpkins and Halloween decorations, made a pot of soup, did all the laundry and checked bits of advice of preparations lists.

Then, we waited.

And watched the news.

Always a mistake. But, how do you pull yourself away from it?

The more I watched, the more my anxiety grew.

The sky darkened, the rains poured down, and the winds picked up.

I pestered Doug with questions like, “Should I move that bike out of the backyard? Should we go to the basement now?”

I also kept returning to the bags of Halloween candy like they were the last bags of candy I would ever see in my life.

Halloween Candy
Halloween Candy (Photo credit: JefferyTurner)

I wrote a couple of storm stories for the Deseret News to stay busy.

http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865565510/Northern-Virginians-hunker-down-during-Hurricane-Sandy.html

http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865565593/Tens-of-Thousands-Without-Power-in-DC-and-worst-is-yet-to-come.html

I checked Twitter and Facebook obsessively and I looked out the window repeatedly.

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...

Doug told me to relax and sit down.

Relax?

We  have a hurricane the size of Texas heading our way!  The weatherman says we could lose power for weeks!

How can I relax?

I could not relax.

More TV, more Twitter, more Facebook, more window watching, and more candy.

Finally, it was bedtime.

Every time I closed my eyes a gust of wind or a heavy downpour jolted me out of bed.

I kept looking toward the window to make sure the streetlights were still on.

Finally, I fell asleep and empathized with Dorothy and Toto.

The next day, I woke up and it was over.

Trees standing. Power still on. Basement dry.

Enormous relief and gratitude washed over me.

Then, I turned on the news and saw what was happening to our neighbors in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York.

And while my personal worries had evaporated and my high level anxiety had subsided, I felt guilty.

Why did we get off so easy while they got totally slammed?

As I watched homeowners standing in their vanished neighborhoods holding their children and shaking their heads in disbelief, I was reminded of  how desperately we all want control over our lives and how tragedies like this prove to us that we never really have it.

When I was going through chemotherapy (a recurring theme in a lot of my blog posts, I know. I know…), I stood over my jewelry box one afternoon and dumped everything out on my dresser.

Feverishly I focused on sorting all my jewelry and organizing it neatly into little compartments.

I took such deep pleasure in that moment because I had total control over  that one small thing.

Waiting for a hurricane to land is like staring at a messy jewelry box with your hands tied behind your back.

You desperately want to put everything in its place, and you can’t.

So, you pace the floor, eat the candy, try to read a book, put it down, and keep watching disasters on TV.

Today I put the pumpkins back on the porch, the furniture back on the deck, and tried to walk away from the bags of candy.

Those small things helped my life feel normal again.

Except for the pangs of sadness I still feel for those with the overwhelming task of trying to turn chaos back into order.

In my helpless state, I looked for opportunities to help, hoping to lessen my feelings of guilt and to give me some of that elusive feeling of control over something, anything.

Maybe somebody has a jewelry box I could organize, a child I could hold, or a water bottle I could hand out.

I read an article by Sandy Wallace at examiner.com, that said, “”Hurricane Sandy may have taken a lot of things away from New York and New Jersey, but the storm known as Frankenstorm and Superstorm Sandy can’t take away the resilience of the people.”

http://www.examiner.com/article/governor-christie-and-mayor-bloomberg-teach-resilience

This article reminded me that this is when we choose resilience over control, and take a moment to recognize the ultimate power that resides in the elements, over which we have absolutely no control.