The Covid-19 situation has taken front and center stage of our lives, conversations, even our thoughts. Don’t you find you’re thinking about it or talking about it almost all the time? And while the situation has presented us with some challenges that are new, have life’s other typical problems just gone away? No, I would say, unfortunately not. Challenges before are likely still challenges now, in fact some may have even intensified with the lock-down.
As an observer of life, it’s my belief that one challenge commonly shared amongst people, is a desire for things to be “the way they should be.” Frequently, these kinds of situations involve other people.
There’s a phrase I’ve heard from the time I was very young: “You can’t change others, you can only change yourself.” It is interesting the spin that my young mind put on that phrase. My interpretation of it was something like this: “We can get others to change if we change ourselves.” You see, I somehow assumed that the goal we were seeking when changing ourselves, was to get others to change.
Then somewhere in my forties, I had an epiphany that changed my perception of this phrase and what it meant. Hands down, I think the best thing about getting older is the ability to start figuring things out.
Without my knowing why, a friend who was also a co-worker, grew distant. She was someone I liked a lot, so over time it became a disappointment. I tried to help us get the “old magic” back, but nothing I did seemed to work. On a particular day that my unhappy feelings had grown to a climax, I was struck with this thought: “Forget it! You’ve tried everything you can and you can’t make her change. It’s not worth your feeling unhappy over anymore, so just forget about it.” This was a breakthrough because on the heels of that thought came the epiphany: Hmm… what if this is what “You can’t change others, you can only change yourself,” really means? My mind began to formulate a new, possible definition: “I do what is necessary to take good care of myself, and what the other person does is beside the point.”
Could it really be that simple?
The idea felt revolutionary, even freeing. Worrying about just myself could be a lot less stressful than trying to manage another adult human being, someone capable of making their own decisions. This day was the beginning of more insights to follow. Over time I would grow to better understand self-care, happiness, freedom and co-dependency. (Ah, codependency, a topic worthy of future columns). It’s been a long journey but as said earlier, the best thing about getting older is getting wiser.
Many times in life we are faced with a problem of the worst kind - one that has no solution. A problem that has a solution is something I don’t mind at all. Seriously, I never met a problem I wasn’t willing to throw all my energy at and beat into submission! But a problem with no solution? What do you even do with that? Well, here’s an idea for your consideration. If we are able to let go of trying to change a circumstance that just won’t budge, and instead, focus our efforts where they can make a difference – on choosing to let go or adapt in a new way – we may find the “fix” we are desperately seeking. Some might struggle with this approach, thinking it to be selfish, but it is far from it. It is actually a loving way to deal with other human beings. Live and let live.
Of course we will always look for opportunities to influence, lead and mentor. But if what we have to offer is not being received, it’s not our responsibility to force the situation. No one on this earth has that much power. Someone close to me once shared his philosophy. He said, “Here’s what I finally learned to do when facing a circumstance I’ve been trying to change for years, and it just won’t change.”
“Ok,” I said. “What is it? I’m all ears.”
“Two words,” he said: “Quit trying.”
I thought to myself, excuse me? “That’s it?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said. “Quit trying. You can stop driving yourself crazy and start thinking about other things. And sometimes, the universe will work it out for you and you’ll end up getting what you wanted, after all.” On this note, I’ll share that my coworker-friend has been back solidly in my life for some time now.
So, let’s chill; cut others some slack and cut ourselves some slack. One thing’s for sure, when this pandemic is finally in our rear-view mirror, life will still be putting challenging situations squarely in our path ahead. Recognizing we have options in how to deal with them, can bring us the peace of mind we desire.
Cindy works as an employment development counselor, and is a mother and grandmother. She has lived in Sonoma County for 28 years.