Tomorrow’s Regrets and Yesterday’s Mistakes

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This morning, a co-worker informed me that his sister, who has been fighting cancer for some time, has only a month left to live. Possibly three if all goes well with her chemo. The cancer, which began in her lungs, has spread throughout her body and taken up prominent residence in her brain, where it’s set up shop, picked out china patterns, and redone the wallpaper.

It’s a terrible thing, fighting a losing battle, but it’s not the cancer I’m referring to. It’s the reflection on everything that came before. The regrets. The life that should have been, but somehow never manifested while there was still time.

Yeah, I know this isn’t my usual light-hearted fare, stuffed with Ninja Turtle references, dry humor, and a dollop of sarcasm, but stick with me. I’ll try to make it worth your while.

The Life That Should Have Been

When facing the end of a journey, any journey, you can’t help but look back on it and reflect. Sure, there are good memories. A good meal, an evening with friends, a smile from a pretty girl that you’re mostly sure wasn’t patronizing. But we don’t focus on those things. They’re still there and we can remember them when we make the effort, but they’re not the focus.

Instead, too many people look back and see only the missed opportunities, the mistakes, the things they should have done now that they’re older, hopefully a bit wiser, and have a few more XPs than they did when they started out.

I mean, who hasn’t done something stupid like attacking the darkness and wasting their magic missile spell on a joke, then ended up with a one-way ticket through the digestive system of a storm dragon. Am I right?

The advertising executive looks back and wonders what happened to his dream to be a rock star. The rock star ponders whether his life would have been better if he’d been a doctor like his mother wanted. The doctor, unable to heal himself, dreams of a life where he’d gone into advertising and wrote jingles and got to say with no irony whatsoever, But wait, there’s more!

<EltonJohn>It’s the circle of should, and it moves us all…</EltonJohn>

Why Do We Wait So Long?

So, if we look back and see so prominently all the things we should have done, all the risks we should have taken, all the opportunities we let slip through our fingers, why didn’t we just grab them in the first place?

I think fear plays a big role. We want to be safe. We want to be taken care of. We don’t want to risk what we have in the hopes of finding something more. A job in a cubicle listening to your neighbor complain about his lost stapler is a safer and more financially-stable choice than starting your own business or playing music at a club on weekends for tips and free drinks (no more than two; be responsible, kids).

Not only that, but we want to belong. We don’t want to stand out. That sort of acceptance and peer pressure can be a powerful motivator to act or not to act (but what is the question?). Facing that disappointment and resistance can be every bit as much of an obstacle as the Black Gate. The best we dare to hope for is to see an oliphaunt on the way.

Regrets, Rain Checks, and Roller Skates

In my own life, I have a number of regrets, long-lost dreams, and shoulds have have fallen to the wayside. When I was young, I wanted to be a writer. I loved reading and stories and writing my own. There were even a few times when I won some acknowledgment or other.

But things changed. That dream fell away to new interests, new obsessions. It’s only in recent years that I have circled around and rediscovered writing. I only wish I’d done it sooner.

But even now, I still find plenty of excuses reasons why I can’t write. One day I feel I have nothing to say, the next I’m too tired after dealing with a schizophrenic (literally; not making this up) walk-in at work, or maybe there just wasn’t enough time.

In any event, it was a rain check. I’d get back to it later.

Next month will be the third anniversary of the publication of My Name Is Michael Bishop. I’ve written a few stories and novellas since then, but nothing substantial. No novels, no forward progress. Eleventy-hundred writing and business books later, and my velocity zero.

This is normally the part where I say something inspiring. hold aloft my magic sword and say, By the power of Greyskull! I make a stand, promise to never do it again, and to attack my goal with such laser-focus that all of space and time will bow to my demands.

Yeah, that’s not going to happen, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t make some small changes that hopefully will add up to a result.

A Brand New Day

Here is my seven point plan for guaranteed success likely modest improvement:

  • Figure Out What I Want – Obviously, you can’t figure out where you’re going until you have a destination. Mine is to be a career writer. Moving on!
  • Every Day, Take One Step – Momentum is the hardest thing to build up when you try something new, whether it’s exercising, building a new habit, starting a career, or launching a rocket into space. But the thing about momentum is that once you get started, it gets easier and easier to keep going. Every day, at least one step toward a goal. Even if you never pick up speed, you’ll get there in time.
  • Watch For Opportunities – On a recent podcast, the guest mentioned that she always found money when she went for a walk, but only when she was actively looking for it. It would make sense to be on the lookout for any such career opportunities. When one comes along, all you have to do is grab it, shake it around a bit, and gnaw on it in the sun until you get to the marrow.
  • Treat (Almost) Every Decision As A Possible Regret – Today’s mistake is tomorrow’s regret, so sayeth somebody (I hope I’m the first to come up with it). Each decision presents a fork in the road, and unless it’s an episode of Sliders, you only get to experience one. Hasty, panicked decisions are the express pass to regret, so I’m going to make an effort to be more deliberate in my decision-making.
  • Be Present – I don’t mean wrapping myself up in paper and putting a bow on my head (though J may threaten to do it to me to be silly); what I mean is making an effort to not just coast through the day, waiting until I get through the things I have to do so I can get to the “good stuff.”
  • Never Give Up – When I launched My Name Is Michael Bishop, I had all sorts of unrealistic expectations about becoming a famous writer and selling tens of copies. That didn’t happen, and the disappointment put me off writing for a while. Now I know that this business, like so many others, is a long, hard battle up a steep hill while people throw rocks and insults. You only lose if you stop moving.
  • Number Seven – There is no number seven. Not even behind the curtain.

Regret has always been a part of life and will always be, especially when we approach the end of it. We (hopefully) still have a long way to go before we reach that point. While we may not become Brandon Sanderson or Charles Dickens or any of a thousand potential heroes along the way, as long as we push ourselves, look for opportunities, and try to leave the world a little better than it was when we found it, our lives had meaning, and nothing will be able to change that.

Wow, that was heavy. So, what do you think? Do you approach each day as an opportunity, and what do you plan to do to improve your lot? Leave a note in the comments below, and remember to share this post with your friends. Thanks for reading!

Book Review: The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown

The-Gifts-of-ImperfectionIf you’ve been following me on Goodreads this year (or stalking; don’t think I can’t see you hiding behind that squirrel), you have probably noticed that I’ve been reading a lot of self-help and life-improvement books this year. Part of that is due to a renewed effort to help myself (see what I did there?) improve my life (I did it again! +25 XP), break out of a decades-long depression, and just in general makes things better for myself and the people who put up with love me.

To some extent, despite a constant string of disasters and setbacks, I have done that. The latest book from which I sought to extract knowledge by means of dental pliers learn is The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown. The idea is to learn to accept yourself for who you are, faults and all, and show that same compassion to those around you. So, did it work, or did these Gifts of Imperfection turn out to be full of so much coal with much nicer, more personable hair than I’ll ever have?

Here we go.

There Is Still Hope

Why do you linger here here when there is no hope?
There is still hope.

When you struggle with the constant threat of self-shame and the depression that follows it around like an evil little puppy, it can be hard to remember that things can, and probably will, get better. One of the points made over and over is that perfectionism, along with much of the negativity we direct at ourselves and others, is the result of shame, and that shame’s kyptonite is compassion.

This gives you a weapon that you can deploy (or have Green Arrow shoot, if you have Justice League connections) when the shame kraken rises up out of the sea and tries to eat the Andromeda of your happiness.

No, that didn’t make any sense to me, either, although Andromeda of Happiness would be a great name for a Jefferson Starship cover band.

Basically, the idea is that you’re going to screw up, I’m going to screw up, and that’s okay. Forgiveness all around, and then we get on with our day. Things can’t suck forever. Just learn from your mistakes and try to not be a jerk.

A Roadmap to Compassion

The Gifts of Imperfection is divided up into what Brown refers to as guideposts. Each one is focused on a particular aspect of perfectionism. Think of them as minions of the shame kraken. Each one attacks you from a different angle in order to break down your self-esteem and make you put up all sorts of barriers that prevent you from seeing things objectively.

I thought that breaking things down this way made it easier to isolate and identify each of those little minions and attack them one at a time, rather than going after the shame kraken and its army all at once. Everyone stacks up differently when faced with those aspects of imperfection (which totally sounds like an Enigma album name). One person may be particularly weak against the fear of scarcity, while another might have a problem where they constantly compare themselves to others.

And if you have to face a Charmander, I recommend using Squirtle. Water Gun is super effective!

A Little to the Left

While I did learn a few things from this book and feel that, overall, I am better off for having read it, I couldn’t help shaking the feeling that I am not the target demographic. Most of the stories, anecdotes, and advice cover people and situations more in line with mothers, many of them single, and almost all of them of a strong financial background. As I have not (to my knowledge, at least) given birth to a baby human or become financially independent from my workplace, I felt a little left out.

This is not a mark against the book or anyone more suited to its material. It just would have been nice for it to be more inclusive for people in differing situations or less affluent monetary conditions.

I still want a Scrooge McDuck money bin. Ah well; maybe next year.

I’ll Have One With Everyone

As someone who has flirted with Buddhism (but never closed the deal; I’m not easy, you know), I couldn’t help but notice quite a few similarities between Buddhist teachings and many of the recommendations on the book. The central theme revolves around letting go of the fixations and obsessions that make you unhappy and color your perspective with excrement-colored glasses.

That’s some old-school sutra right there.

Spirituality is a fairly constant theme throughout the book, but it doesn’t seem to point the reader toward any particular faith. Maybe the idea is that happiness depends on having some sort of connection with something larger and more powerful than yourself, whether it’s God, Jesus, the universe, or Andre the Giant.

Have fun storming the castle.

So, the book. Definitely some good lessons, though many people may find themselves on the other side of the shop window, looking in and trying to gleam whatever knowledge they can from how the other half lives. The focus on spirituality may come across as new-age-ey, but I can understand why it was included. Like any self-help book, you’re free to take what you find helpful and ignore the rest.

Overall, I would have to say that while there are some good lessons to be had, the book isn’t perfect, and that’s okay. I forgive.

Why I Stopped Eating Fast Food

Why I Stopped Eating Fast Food

Before we get started, I just want to point out that this post is in no way a damning of fast food itself, its legions of underpaid workers, or the corporate overlords who have so effectively blanketed the world in dollar burgers and super-sized cartons of fries. Don’t expect me to wax poetic about all the reasons why fast food is bad and how we should all subsist on kale smoothies and quinoa sandwiches. I’m not going to judge (unless you mean Dredd – I AM the law!) anyone’s eating habits. This is just a rundown of why I made this decision for my own life; take from it what you will. Or not. I’m easy.

All set? Okay, let’s go.

I Need To Lose Some Weight

You can’t talk about cutting out fast food without some guy in the audience raising his hand and saying, “Get off the stage! We’re here to see Aerosmith!”

Some people.

Then, after evading security, you spend a pleasant half-hour discussing why healthy eating and fast food don’t mix with the voices in your head. It’s a common enough story, and it’s happened to us all.

So, being a gentleman of, let’s say, significant proportions, I need to lose weight. A lot of it. And that’s not going to happen on a diet of double cheeseburgers and burrito supremes.

Once I Pop, I Just Can’t Stop

I have something of an addictive personality. Thankfully, I’ve avoided vices like drugs and alcohol, but if you set me loose on a buffet of fried chicken and curly fries, it turns into an after-school special starring me as a fast food junkie and Alan Thicke as my TV dad who wants me to be happy, but doesn’t realize that his pressuring me to join the school track team is making me turn to disreputable late-night burger runs to deal with the stress.

My name is TR Goodman, and I’m addicted to fast food.

And, as we all know, the first step toward getting help is avoiding responsibility for ten years admitting that you have a problem. Why is fast food addictive? Hell if I know. I just know that if I eat it, something happens in my brain that turns me into a burger-crazed zombie.

It’s not pretty, and the only way to avoid it is to stop eating fast food altogether.

Cooking At Home Saves Money

It pretty well goes without saying that it’s a lot cheaper to make up a hefty pot of mushroom and barley stew at home than it is to buy a sack of burgers down at the corner drive-thru. Given that I’m still in the process of paying down a number of old debts from my care-and-responsibility-free college days, more money to dump on those old credit cards is a pretty big plus.

It also means that I have more money for the important cultural things in life. Like video games. And pretty book covers.

Now I just need to write a few books to go with those pretty, pretty covers…

It’s not that I’m never going to eat out again, but when you’re not eating out 7X per week, you save up enough that when you actually do go out, you can buy yourself a nice steak dinner. Now that’s something to look forward to.

I Can Be Supportive

Whether you’re married, in a committed relationship, or just have a cat that you really like to hang out with, your decisions affect more than just you. They affect the people (and cats) around you, sometimes just as much, if not more. And when those decisions impact the health of those around you, it becomes a problem.

My fiancee has a particular chronic ailment (not zombie-ism – sheesh) that makes her have to follow a strict diet, mostly a vegan one with some fish and a bit of chicken breast thrown in. She’s done very well on this diet, in terms of her illness, and I want to do everything I can to support her. She’s been a good sport about my addiction, and generally doesn’t say anything when I run out for sausage and cheese biscuits, hash browns, or a bag of tacos. Sometimes she even shares them with me.

And then it hit me that in doing what I was doing, I was directly jeopardizing her health by bringing all these unhealthy foods into the house. When you love someone, you do everything you can to support them, not tempt them away from what has clearly been working.

Once the guilt storm passed, it made the decision obvious.

It Doesn’t Taste That Great

I love salt and fat and heaping mounds of meat as much as the next guy. Probably more, to be honest. And while there are definitely some things on various fast food menus that I’m going to miss (I’m looking at you, Carl’s Jr burgers and hash browns from just about anywhere), but none of it really tastes that great compared to what I make at home. I just tend to be too lazy to do any actual cooking.

I Feel Better Without It

On top of everything else, this is the one that made my decision easy. The effects of eating fast food, at least for me, are similar to the annual Thanksgiving binge: a bloated, slow, waddling feeling, followed by a food coma that knocks me out on the couch in the middle of Doctor Who. It’s not fun, and I don’t want to have to have someone explain to me how the Doctor defeated the Daleks (hint: stairs).

After only a few days of “clean” eating, I have more energy, I feel better, my back pain goes away, I win the lottery, and all sorts of little physical things become easier for me. During those moments when the drive-thru becomes and the aroma of bacon fills the air, it’s those little things that remind me that I made the right decision.

So, I think that’s enough serious discourse for the moment. Those are my reasons not to eat fast food. Your mileage may vary if you decide to try something similar. If you think you might want to give it a shot, more power to you. If you read this article while dipping your fries in a chocolate shake and noshing on a bucket of fried chicken, I applaud your sense of irony.

Well played, sir (or madam or other). Well played, indeed.

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