So that whole situation I blogged about the other day has me thinking about the narratives we tell, both to ourselves and others.
I’ve discussed it before, but my father had a very difficult life. And that’s something I probably didn’t truly understand until I was older. Because he didn’t use his misfortunes or illness as an excuse or to elicit pity in others.
His father died when he was three. His mother remarried multiple times while he was a child and, at least at one point, lived with bank robbers and was known to associate with other criminals. He was shuttled around behind her like an afterthought. And maybe because of some of that he got sick when he was young it wasn’t treated in time. So, it damaged his kidneys.
He grew up knowing that when his kidneys finally failed, he’d die.
(That didn’t happen. Fortunately, by the time he finally did lose his kidneys there were public assistance programs in place that paid for his care.)
He had two failed transplants. The first one failed on the same day he lost his job and found out his wife was pregnant. The second failed in such a spectacular way that it cost him a quarter of his lung and put him in ICU for three months.
He dialyzed for over twenty years, spending four to five hours three times a week hooked up to a machine, which is an exhausting process.
He had major surgeries almost every year of his life including two spinal fusions that had a 10-15% paralysis risk.
And, yet. He never used any of that as an excuse. He was a small business owner for most of his adult life and I never once heard him use his illness as an excuse for why he didn’t deliver a product on time or why he didn’t pay his employees. Money was tight sometimes, no doubt about it. And there was a point in time when he paid him employees and they went straight to the bank to cash their paychecks, but he paid them first.
(As opposed to a competitor of my dad’s that my brother later worked for who stopped paying my brother for three months because times were tight, but somehow managed to renovate his kitchen and buy himself a new truck during that same time.)
My dad could have been on disability his entire adult life. He wasn’t. He could’ve asked his church to raise funds for his care. He didn’t.
He only went on assistance in the last year or so of his life when he really couldn’t physically do it anymore.
I say all this not to make my father look like a saint. He wasn’t. He had flaws as we all do.
I say all this because he’s the example I look to when I hear someone’s hard luck story. He’s the metric I use to measure others.
Because there’s a difference between saying:
-“This is what I’ve done”,
-“I’ve suffered these misfortunes and, despite that, this is what I’ve done”, and
-“I’ve suffered these misfortunes and that’s why I haven’t done X.”
Personally, I try to avoid people who fall into the last category. I know many people can’t help but approach life that way, but I’ve found both personally and professionally that the people who fall into that last category are the ones you can’t rely on when the chips are down.
They’re the ones willing to give themselves an out. Willing to make an excuse for their failures. Willing to blame someone else for what has happened to them rather than make the most of what they still have.
A missed deadline? Well, their child was sick, they had a fight with their spouse the night before, they’ve been filling ill, etc.
All the while, the person in the cubicle next to them is doing twice the workload while going through chemo and a divorce and hasn’t even told anyone about it.
It’s all about the narratives we tell. Who do you want to be? The person who focuses on what’s possible? Or the person who looks for excuses to fail?
My advice? Tell yourself why you can do something. Focus on what you can accomplish.
It isn’t about others holding you back. Or life shitting on your parade. That happens to everyone at some point in time.
It’s about focusing on what’s possible. It’s about finding solutions instead of excuses.
If you can master that art, the art of seeing what you can do instead of focusing on what you can’t do, you will achieve so much more in life.
And me, personally, those are the people I want around me and the people I want to help out in life.
(Unfortunately, those are also the people least likely to ask for help even when they need it.)