I should know, spent the first 33 years of my life looking in the past rather than at the sunny future.
And when I was not regretting something stupid I had done in the past, I was typically “kvetching” at the unfairness of life.
“Kvetch” you ask? Oh, it’s yiddish for someone who complains a lot but isn’t willing to do anything to change their situation.)
Is your hand going up too?
Don’t worry, we’ve all been a kvetch at one point of our lives. And heck, sometimes it feels damn good (and is even healthy) to just vent.
One day, I was particularly kvetchy while concurrently crying so hard that I could barely speak. My friend, trying to console me, had no idea what was going on. I just rambled about why I couldn’t meet a nice guy, why I couldn’t get a job, how unfair life was, blah blah blah.
He had had enough.
He turned to me and said “Have you ever considered that you might be the common denominator of everything you’re complaining about?”
You know in the movies when someone gets slapped in the face, but it’s filmed in slow motion? That’s a pretty accurate summary of that moment in time felt.
But fact be told, I knew he was right. Everything that was happening in my life was, at the end of the day, my responsibility.
“My life, my responsibility” is a mantra I now tell myself every single gosh darn day. Because here’s the thing: you can continue to use your limited energy to blame, or you can use that energy to change.
Sometimes I wish I would have learned this sooner, however what I’m finding as I get older is that the important lessons in life are like a good Osso Bucco – just like you can’t rush depth of flavour, you can’t rush self-knowledge either.
I know what you’re thinking: “well thanks Captain Obvious, but how can we help ourselves to learn more about ourselves?”.
Well, young grasshopper, it’s easy in theory, but more challenging in practice.
Essentially, we need to learn from the experience as observers.
Let’s try a little exercise together.
In my talks and workshops I get people to write down a secret, something that they feel guilty about, something that they’ve never told anyone, or something that they feel is holding them back from moving forward.
I’ve collected thousands over the years, and I’ve read them all.
Some are quite funny, such as:
- “I blame my husband when I eat my kids showbags”
- “I hid a chocolate bar from my husband so I could eat it all.”
While others hurt your heart:
- “I had an abortion and no one knows about it.”
- “I spend at least an hour a day saying to myself ‘How ugly and fat I am and also that I’m a failure’”
- “My depression overwhelms me a lot and I tell no one.”
- “Despite my achievements, I feel inadequate.”
- “I feel guilty I got drunk when pregnant and now [my daughter] has a drinking
problem. I blame myself all the time.”
But all of the stories, although many of them painful or heartbreaking, are incredibly relatable and provide a wealth of personal insight.
Take a moment, step back and ask yourself:
- Can you relate to any of the examples?
- What do you think the authors are going through?
- Can you find a lesson through their stories?
- What do you learn?
How exactly do these secrets provide personal insight?
You are learning about yourself through the eyes of another person by connecting with their story, but with the comfort of psychological distancing.
It’s similar to relating to a character on your favourite TV show, you are going through what they’re going through… but in the safety of your own home.
Think about it – have you ever watched a movie and thought… wow, that could have been me?
So the question now is… how can we learn AND then let go of things that no longer serve us?
- Step 1: If you could erase 1 thing of your past, which memory would it be? Write it down in as much detail as you can. Included all persons involved.
- Step 2: If someone else was involved, how would the situation look from their point of view? Why did they act the way they did?
- Step 3: What responsibility do you need to take for what happened?
- Step 4: What did you learn from the experience that you can use to do good moving forward?
I don’t need to tell you that steps 3 and 4 are not easy.
Heck, they took me years to figure out. But once you do, you’ll understand that you may not need to let things go, but rather use them to help you build wisdom for the rest of your life.
Onwards young grasshopper, look ahead to a bright future while learning from the storms of the past.
Dr Katherine xoxo