A Patently Incomplete Manual For Living

“I wanted the world, but you knew better. And that all we have is immortality.” ~U2

be_nice_spread_the_word_postcard-r049d89a720a84595b7ad70470c712e18_vgbaq_8byvr_324It’s tough, this thing called living, this invitation to a dance where sometimes we have partners and sometimes we go it alone. I see it every day, from the Facebook posts of those souls who feel that no one loves them, to the people around me who hunch their shoulders down as if preparing for a long, harsh winter. A real part of it is that there is really no manual for living. There are no hard and fast guidelines that everyone can follow to guarantee a quality existence, to guarantee friends, to guarantee the kind of life we all want but few of us ever seem to attain.

If I had carte blanche to write a manual for living, a firm guideline would be:

(1) Be nice to people.

It should honestly go without saying, but some of the harshest critics of others are the ones most vocal about having no friends, about having no life, about pretty much everything that’s going wrong in their own lives. When we judge others we seem to forget that we also have issues.

Of course, sometimes even when we are the nicest human beings to others there is no positive correlation for us. Sure, we can get the good feelings from being a good person, but that’s often not enough to sustain us. It’s a good start, though.

(2) Think twice before acting.

I can’t tell you the number of times (because I honestly can’t recall) when I’ve done something that I look back on with jaw agape, with no clue how I could have been so godawful stupid. By going with first instincts we can often lose the focus we need to make solid decisions. Most times a simple “time out” to think about whether or not we really want to take certain actions can be a godsend.

(3) Don’t let your self-worth be determined by others.

stop-letting-other-people-define-you-be-yourself-and-be-proud-of-it-quote-1You know those people who need to be loved by everyone, who derive their own value from what others think. Maybe you’re one of those people. It’s hard to shut down that part of ourselves that needs validation. That’s only more true now that we have social media where people can “like” what we say and how we look. But we are more than just the number of “likes” we generate. If you can’t be happy with yourself without the validation of others then it’s easy to lose your way.

(4) Do what you love.

Wow, if someone had told me this a long time ago the sinuous pattern of my life might have changed exponentially, but no one did. Instead, they told me that it’s okay to love things, but that I needed to be practical. Well, guess what? We can do both. Being practical can take care of monetary issues, but taking time out to also do what we love can take care of that space in our souls that needs to be filled. People often ask me how I write as often as I do, and I always defer to the quote that “We make time for the things that are important to us.” If you want to stand in the middle of a train station and sing, then do it. Life is too short.

(5) Draw solid lines.

This means simply that even though you’re nice to everyone, don’t let anyone else compromise your sense of who you are, or what your values are. It’s so important to find ourselves, and not to lose sight of who we are and what we stand for, as human beings, and as individuals. Too often people who masquerade as friends ask us to betray our values for them, who try to guilt us into doing what they want. Draw those lines, and don’t let yourself get dragged over them. If they don’t stay on your side of the lines, then they aren’t good for you. Move on, no matter how hard it might be for you.

(6) Make and maintain goals.

Too many people live from moment to moment, never planning for any kind of future because they don’t want to think that far. The problem is that the future comes when we aren’t looking, and we can influence that. So why not influence that? Goals range from minor ones to major ones, and often attaining those minor goals helps us achieve the major ones in time. It’s fascinating how that works. It means that ten years down the line, instead of being the same, and doing the same things, we’ve done more and are more personally fulfilled for the journey.

(7) Do things that stretch you as a person.

“A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.” It’s so easy to let life take us along for a ride, but that’s not living. That’s passive acceptance of the passage of time and consequence. Being comfortable is a beautiful thing, but when it lulls us into a sense of passivity there’s something not quite right about it. Think about why so many rich people aren’t satisfied. It’s not about the acquiring of stuff. It’s about getting out there and doing things that scare us sometimes. We never know how far those things can take us. A friend of mine is exactly this way. She goes for what she wants, even if she’s not quite there yet, because it helps her figure out how far she needs to get to make it happen in the end.

(8) Keep an open mind.

Too often we close ourselves off to alternative positions to our own, even if we’ve held those positions for so long that we don’t even remember why we follow them anymore. Just because someone else does something different from you it doesn’t mean they’re wrong and you’re right. It is our own individual experience that makes us who we are, as individuals, and being around other people can help expand that experience. By closing ourselves off to other ways of seeing things we shut down our chances to grow and become more complete versions of ourselves.

(9) Don’t be fake with others.

You know we all are to an extent, when we’re at our jobs that we’d like to keep, when we’re around family friends who don’t inspire us, when we’re somewhere around a majority of people who aren’t like us in some way, shape, or form. It’s easy to be fake, to put on those Cheshire Cat grins and pretend everything is fine, or that we are just like the others around us. It might seem like a good thing to do, to keep the boat from rocking, but it takes a toll on us, this practice of being fake. I know, for me personally, the switch between being fake and letting everything out is so ingrained I don’t know who I am at any given point of time. It shouldn’t be like that.

(10) Be honest with yourself.

It’s easy to not just be fake with others, but to also fool ourselves into believing what we will about ourselves. We may not be the kind of people we hoped we would be growing up, but we are who we are. Covering that up doesn’t change anything except that it hampers our growth. We have to know where we’ve been, to accept all the parts that have gotten us to this point, in order to advance, to get somewhere, both mentally and emotionally.

What would be in your manual for living?

Sam

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Boarders, Volume 8

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I’ve been good, right? I’ve done everything I’m supposed to do this year. I’ve been a good father. I’ve spent quality time with my wife. So why am I stuck in this excruciating limbo here in this place where time stands still and I can’t imagine anything past it?

You know me, I’m not one to complain. I generally try to expect the best from situations and people until I’m proven otherwise, and even then I’m not too quick to shift gears. I try my best to be the best I can be, and sure, I make mistakes, but I try to work through them and learn from them.

So why am I being tortured like this? What did I do in a previous life to warrant the cold stares, the hard sighs, the loud judgments and slamming doors? My therapist says I need to confront this woman who has been making my life a living hell for the past few months, but I’m never been good at confrontation. Maybe I need to start learning how.

I think I may have yelled at one person in my life, and that was an eternity ago. I don’t even remember what it was about, or how I even got so worked up that it came out in that red hot way it seems to do with others on a steady basis. I’m generally softspoken, enough that people mistake my kindness for weakness, but I’m not generally weak. I just do things in a different way.

But nothing I do has worked with her. She took me in when I had no place to go, and I will forever be grateful, but she judges me more often than not. I know I haven’t been perfect, but instead of talking to me like a human being she usually talks AT me, telling me everything without telling me anything. Because I still don’t know what I can do to make her treat me like a living, breathing human being.

And it’s gotten worse since we’ve been living here, not that it wasn’t bad before. She would come over our house and tell me all the ways I’ve disappointed her (subtly, of course). She would assume I wasn’t going to do anything to help with housework, to get the children a snack after school, or anything else. But at least then she would eventually GO, she would head back to her house and I could breathe a sigh of relief.

I can’t breathe here. It’s only five months into this living together thing, and I can’t breathe! I’d like to be able to breathe again sometime, please.

Sam

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