“I’ve got a damn church meeting coming up, so we’ll have to be somewhat quick about this.”
Kate shot me a glance in the dusty church basement, eyebrows raised.
Our premarital counseling was off to a good start.
We’d been patiently waiting for the good Father to give us his best advice. The man had been married for decades himself, and I wanted the secret. I grabbed Kate’s hand and stared at her freckles. How could I ever live without them?
Our minister put on his collar. He sat down opposite us. He stared at me for approximately one eternity before shifting his shoulders to look at Kate for an equally long time.
They must teach ministers a special stare.
Finally, he cleared his throat and said this.
“I want you both to know — you are not responsible for the other person’s happiness.”
That was his opening advice? I thought the whole point of being in a relationship was to make the other person happy. Why else would you want to be together?
That was 8 years ago. Sadly, I spent at least 7 of those years struggling to fully understand the advice. It was easily the best relationship truth I’ve ever been told.
You can facilitate another person’s happiness. You can assist in their happiness. You can learn love languages to increase the possibility of their feeling happy for a while.
But make someone happy, always? Dream on.
You can’t control anyone’s happiness. That means you are also responsible for your own happiness.
That was one of the hardest truths I’ve ever had to learn.
Here are a few more.
#2 — You aren’t special
Your personality is not unique. Your strengths have been identified in other humans. Probably you aren’t even the only person to have your name.
You are just another human. Nothing more.
Now for the better side of this news: Your problems aren’t special, so they have already been solved. Your weaknesses aren’t special, so another person can tell you how to manage them. Your fears aren’t special, so the literature exists on how to conquer them.
Those things are important to realize. What may be more important to realize is that none of your role models are special either. They are average human beings who decided to do special things, despite their humanity.
So can you.
#3 — Your heroes will disappoint you
Every person, at some point, will let you down. The higher you place an individual on a pedestal, the further they have to fall.
You want your role models to always be beacons of light and they aren’t. You want them to be a voice of certainty and they aren’t.
You want them to be gods and they aren’t.
A couple of examples come to mind here. The first is JK Rowling’s recent fall from favor in the transgender community, and she rejected the attempt at recovery. The second is all those celebrities doing strange pandemic releases like this “I take responsibility” video and that awkward Imagine compilation.
It can be easy to feel foolish when a hero lets you down. That’s why Daniel Radcliff’s remarks on Rowling fallout are so meaningful.
“To all the people who now feel that their experience of the books has been tarnished or diminished, I am deeply sorry for the pain these comments have caused you. I really hope that you don’t entirely lose what was valuable in these stories to you… in my opinion nobody can touch that. It means to you what it means to you and I hope that these comments will not taint that too much.”
Maybe it makes more sense to believe in what people create, as opposed to people themselves.
#4 — You aren’t a savior
Trying to save everyone from everything will dismantle you. It’s like trying to make someone happy times a billion.
Think you can heal the whole world? Spend 10 minutes on social media. Actually don’t even bother doing that. Just google “pandemic,” “racial bias,” and then “Yemen.” It won’t take long to learn exactly how impotent you are.
As modern philosopher Naval puts it: “The human brain was not designed to handle all the world’s emergencies in real time.”
The urge to rescue people is strong. It is also futile.
Don’t be a savior. Be a helper instead. Helpers don’t have an ego. Helpers get on board for a good cause. Helpers do the work. Helpers know that whatever they can give is enough.
#5 — Life doesn’t make narrative sense
Hollywood’s lies are irresistible. We want them in real life.
We want the bad guy to get his comeuppance. We want the days of our lives to have a meaningful arc. We want every journey to go full circle. Unfortunately, you can’t count on your journey to conclude at the end of 30 minutes, an hour, or even a season.
I like what screenwriter and actor Rachel Bloom says about this:
“Life doesn’t make narrative sense. Life is just a series of revelations occurring over time.”
My thirst for little revelations is probably the reason I became a writer. Reading and writer are often the only two anchors that keep me from drifting into an ocean of hopelessness.
I search for one revelation a day. It’s like a little present to myself.
#6 — A crisis will reveal your true nature
Or did you just think Crossfit founder Greg Glassman just woke up a few weeks ago and decided to be racist?
Glassman recently exposed his blatant racial bias online, leading to a media firestorm which caused him to step down from the company. Hopefully, he knew better to even think the things he said, but he said them anyway.
Why? He was hurting.
In a matter of weeks, Crossfit evaporated. All that work and money — gone.
It’s easy to be emotionally stable when everything is going well. It’s much more difficult when the rug is pulled out from under you.
#7 — Fitness is a requirement, not a profession
Dr. Anthony Fauci is a bit of a celebrity these days. Mid-March, all of America looked to him as a voice of reason. We wanted to know what he thought. We wanted to know what the data showed. We wanted access to his knowledge as an immunologist.
In other words, it is not Fauci’s job to be in shape. Despite this, he ran seven miles per day well into his 50s, and he continues to run three miles a day now, aged 79.
Regardless of your profession, being healthy and fit is beneficial.
Don’t do it for your body. Do it for your mind.
#8 — Your most important work will probably never be seen
What is your most important work?
Hint: you probably see it when you wake up.
As our view of the whole world increases, it can become difficult to focus on what is right in front of us. Mental illness is on the rise, in part because we are all exposed to hundreds of problems per day we can neither control nor solve.
When I get overwhelmed, I like to think of what my friend John Mashni says. John has an incredible career. He does big deals with big clients.
He also happens to have 4 children.
The last time we talked, John was preparing to take his daughters out on a date. This is what he said over the phone:
“Date night is important because my kids don’t really care what I do for a living.”
It made me think of my father. I don’t remember much about the day-to-day problems in his teaching career. I remember diving in a pile of leaves to catch a football. I remember his strong arms scooping me out. I remember the way his whole face lit up as his smile opened up to say “TOUCHDOWN TODD!”
That stuff sticks.
Your most important work will be invisible. Learn that hard lesson, and not only will your life feel easier, but your perspective is also much easier to handle.
Make your spouse coffee. Spin your children in circles. Fix the toilet. Smile at your neighbor.
Do thankless work.
The seemingly insignificant moments can make the biggest difference.
This article originally appeared on Medium.