I decided to celebrate my 28th birthday at a West Village bar a friend worked at. I envisioned a casual celebration, where from 6-9PM a steady stream of friends and acquaintances would play tag-team for my attention as I held court on my barstool thrown.
It turned out that my kingdom was not as mighty as I thought. The first hour no one showed up. Nor the second. The third, my friend George showed up with a nice little notebook and pen gift. A couple other people showed up near the end of my time window. No more than 4 people showed up throughout the evening.
A realization became clear sitting there those lonely hours: I was a person people didn’t show up for. How did I know this? Because no one showed up.
There were 2 options for handling my realization:
- Blame others for my misfortune. I could have accused friends of being unkind, unreliable, dishonest, etc. It wasn’t me. It was them.
- Take responsibility for the results in my life. I could have looked at what it was about me that was so easy to easy to ignore.
Fortunately, I chose option #2. I saw people didn’t show up for me because I didn’t show up for them. I saw that I gave up on people. That I used friends for favors and to stave off loneliness. I seldom actively took an interest in their welfare. I rarely went out of my way to help them. I wouldn’t have shown up for me either.
Sitting there, I made a determination: by my 30th birthday, I was going to be the kind of person people showed up for. Over the next couple years, I showed up for people in the way I wanted to be shown up for. I would support them in the way they needed, not the way that was convenient for me. I gave commitments early and stuck to them; “flaking” ceased to be a go-to excuse. I focused more on other people’s happiness than my own.
As a consequence of my determination, my 30th birthday party was one of the happiest days of my life. I had a room packed with friends and family, enveloped by love and support.
The results in our lives are not accidents. Whether we lose our job, get dumped, feel lonely, get sick, get audited, or whatever, we create our lives on a moment-to-moment basis. We are usually unaware that we do it (or why). I didn’t consciously want to sit around that bar alone nursing an espresso. But when I looked at it, based on my prior behavior, I saw it was no coincidence that that was my result.
I want to remove an obvious hazard from this reasoning. You might think, “Did the tsunami victims in Japan create that result?” In short, yes. When you live in a seismically active coastal region that uses nuclear energy, there is the chance that a perfect shit storm will befall you. Or take the many uprisings in the Middle East. The oppression didn’t happen overnight. Decades of submitting to corrupt regimes preceded the breaking point. (Many religions believe we choose our parents, but I’ll stay out of that conversation for now). It doesn’t make these horrors any less horrific; it just says they didn’t happen accidentally.
Some results are the consequence of being alive. We are human. We get sick and die. Better get used to it.
The vast majority of the results we have problems with are more pedestrian than tsunamis and malignant tumors. We complain about people failing to meet our expectations, about not having enough money, about perceived injustices, about our health; we even complain about the weather (want to talk about futility).
Upon closer inspection, we can see ulterior motives for our complaints. We complain about the failings of other people because it shifts attention away from our behavior. We complain about not having enough money to shift attention away from our failure to pay debts, our greed, overspending, etc. We complain about injustices toward others to shift attention away from our own complicity with unjust systems. We complain about our health to shift attention away from personal neglect or our lack of acceptance of death. We complain about the weather to shift attention from our overwhelming unhappiness with reality in general.
What if nothing in our lives happened by accident? What if every result in our lives was our creation? What if we took full ownership of our lives and all its details? These propositions might not be true (though I suspect they are), but they are far more powerful stances than bitching.
With this in mind, here are some things to contemplate:
- Write out some results in your life where you experience conflict or complaints?
- What would happen if you believed you created those results?
- Speculate on specific actions you take that might be creating those results. Poor eating leading to poor health. Poor communication leading to poor relationships. Etc.
- Take a tangible step right now where you create the result you feel is missing. Want more money, be generous. Want respect in a relationship, respect others. Want more attention, pay attention. Put in more Gandhian terms, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”