Stuff I’ve Learned

Stuff I’ve Learned
Coping skills from my house to your house for the price of this book.

Looking back, it’s clear that I Did Not Learn Everything I Ever Needed to Know in Kindergarten. The only thing I learned in kindergarten is that the teacher didn’t take kindly to kids who peed on their car-pet square. My education in how to get along with my fellow humans began in earnest a bit later and, frankly, continues to this day.

But after fifty-plus years on this planet, I’ve collected plenty of coping strategies that may make me look wiser than I am. This could explain why, when it comes to advice, I’m rarely on the receiving end anymore, but often in the role of “doling out.” I’m more than happy to oblige. I even take my own advice on occasion.

So here you go, glorious readers – you who have hung in with me for nearly 200 pages. I am so filled with gratitude that if I still hired babysitters I’d share their phone numbers with you. If I baked, I’d give you a prized, secret family recipe. I would.

But for now, these choice morsels will just have to do.

My very wise father, Sidney, of blessed memory, taught me this one. It’s my favorite coping tool. I’ve used it for big stuff and little stuff. I’m stuck in traffic and will be late for a meeting. (little stuff). I’m going to lose my job (bigger). Someone I love is dying (really big). Go on. Ask: “What is the worst thing that could happen?” Answering candidly can be hard, scary, or incredibly sad. But facing our fears jolts us awake so we can plan our next move.

You know that popular saying: “We’re never given more than we can handle?” I hate that popular saying. The universe throws all sorts of crap at us that we’re not ready to handle. I don’t like “Everything happens for a reason,” either. Horrible things happen that are terribly unfair. But in our darkest hour, people come out of the woodwork to help us, if we let them. The worst thing that could happen? To shut ourselves off from them.

I number myself among those who truly believe in taking the high road—where, by the way, you can always find a parking space, since so few people go there. So you may be surprised to learn that I am also a big supporter of kvetching, complaining, whining, pillow-punching, etc. But at a certain point, you’ve got to stop all that. This is where the 3-2-1 rule comes in. Here’s how it works. Take your current frustration (your spouse just insulted you, you screwed up in a meeting, you forgot to pay a bill and now you owe a late fee…) and assign it 1, 2 or 3, based on just how many days you want to get tied up in knots about it. For all the above, I’d say one day is plenty, but, hey, it’s your screw-up. This means that you get one glorious day to OBSSESS about it. You don’t have to stuff it, or pretend you’re not pissed off, hurt, or embarrassed. You get to lick your wounds like a war martyr. For one day. Then you have to give it up already. Bigger stuff gets two days. Or three. I swear this works. I’m on Day Three as I write this, and in a few hours I’m going to have to let go of something and I am really, really, almostttttttttttttttttttttt ready. Really. I’m going to stop. I am.

This is my rip-off of the 80-20 rule used by business executives, a rule I don’t really understand because I stink at math. Not only am I giving up on perfection, I don’t even VALUE perfection (as if). I now shoot for 80 percent in pretty much everything. Do I give my kids 80 percent of my attention when I’m with them? Do I do the same at work? (hoping at this moment that my bosses have missed this section?) Were my brownies a solid B? Do I eat well 80 percent of the time (brownies excluded)? Good enough is finally, blessedly, good enough for me. (Cue the violins). The biggest payoff? I get a lot more stuff done. Just please don’t ask for that increase as a percentage.

Here’s a secret: I know exactly what other people are thinking (it’s a gift!!!) except when I’m wrong or mostly wrong. That happens a lot. To heal myself, I’ve started using a revolutionary approach. I ask. I say something like this: “Hey, I can’t read your mind. I’d love to know what you’re thinking, if you’re willing to tell me.”

I still screw up, guess wrong, get anxious sometimes. Here’s an example of what NOT to do:

My boyfriend Patrick: “Is that a new color of lipstick? It’s pink. You don’t usually wear pink.”
Me: (All the following dialogue is in my head): “He doesn’t like my pink lipstick. No, it’s worse! He doesn’t like me! He wants to break up! I’m going to die alone! I’m going to become a hoarder of jelly jars, with 27 cats! I should just…”
Patrick: “I like it.”
Me: “You like it?”

Don’t worry too much about what everyone is thinking about you. Honestly? They’re NOT thinking about you.

People are so grateful. Really. Either they, too, want to know the answer, or they know the answer and can feel superior. Everybody wins!

Waiting for someone to buy you flowers is fraught with disappointment. S/he loves you, s/he doesn’t love you…maybe. But maybe s/he just wants to show you love in a different way. You want flowers? Pick out exactly what you want, take them home and put them in a beautiful vase.

You may have noticed by now that human relationships, while being essential to our happiness and survival, are also often a pain in the ass. Sometimes, you desperately want people to do the right thing and, guess what? They don’t! They can’t apologize or ask for forgiveness. They can’t pick up the slack, or their underwear, they just can’t, and you can knock your head against the wall for a long, long time and nothing will change. This doesn’t mean that nothing will ever change. I’ve seen people change in amazing ways. But, right now, in this moment, you are getting NNI: No New Information. Instead of expending your valuable time and energy fretting again (and again), just say, “No New Information,” let it go and move on. When there IS new information, you’ll know.

I can’t think of anything else to say about this one.

Wait 24 hours. For the record, I’m still working on this one myself.

Yes, he makes that idiotic request for you to please load the dishwasher with the forks up. And, yes, she’d like you to please stop throwing a wet towel on the bed, when it’s just not that big of a deal. Crazy-making requests? Absolutely. Do them anyway. I mean it. Do them anyway. Here’s the reason: Because it matters to him or her. These requests may seem small or stupid to you, but to the person you love, honoring them means you are listening, and that is a wonderful way to show love. Um, you are listening, right?

This is for those of you plagued by the primarily female disease called, “I’m-going-to-pack-one-more-lunch-send-one-more-email-throw-in-one-more-load-of-laundry-even-though-I-am-getting-progressively-more-insanely-bitchy….” Stop. Don’t do it. Everything will go faster, and smoother, in the morning. And, while we’re on the subject…

I know. You’re never supposed to go to bed angry. What happens, then, is that you stay up all night fighting. This is a good idea…how? I say, go to bed (see above). Every challenge, and everybody who causes them, can be managed with more grace and dignity after a good night’s sleep.

I once had a therapist I loved so much that I started making up shit about my life so I could keep seeing her. Eventually she was on to me, and graciously fired me. I still miss her. One of my favorite moments, though, came when I was complaining about a particularly difficult passage in a relationship and was looking to her for validation to jump ship. She leaned toward me and said, “I don’t usually give advice to my clients, but I’m going to give it to you.” And then she said two simple words: Try harder.

Try harder? Yep, that’s really what she said. So I did. And I am really glad that I did.

I’ve been living with, loving and loathing, interviewing, and interacting with people for a long, long time now and, frankly, I’ve come to realize that we’re all still infants. Much of the time, no matter how dressed up we get, we still feel small and frightened and inadequate and hungry for something (food, love, sex, warmth, acceptance). I’ve seen elderly women struggle mightily after a falling out with a friend. I’ve talked with men at the end of their careers who feel marginalized and dejected. We feel so deeply all the days of our lives – if we’re lucky. So when we bump up against other people at work or play or on the freeway, there is something very grown-up we can do.

Try harder.

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