The Courage to Be Average

Not me.

I used to be a hero. That sounds conceited, but I mean it in the sense that I put everybody before myself. I sacrificed for the good of others, and refused to accept help. Many women are brought up this way.

In my mid-forties, I began to treat myself as well as I had
everybody else.

But I still I worry about certain people whom I love, and usually I discuss my concerns with my husband, who has been a good mentor to me. (Vice versa, he says. Nice.)

Recently I was venting my pain and confusion about a troubled friend of mine, and Bill said something so smart that I had to write it down. And then I decided to share it with my friends at Any Shiny Thing. Bill said of my friend, “She has a strange life but it’s not your responsibility.”

How liberating to hear it put that way. I’m not responsible for saving her, fixing her, or changing her. (She is not in any mental or physical danger, and has not asked for my opinion or my help.) How she lives her life is not only not my responsibility, it’s none of my business.

It’s her life. Hers to choose, hers to decide. Who am I to “help” her?

I used to try to change people, but I’ve learned that my advice isn’t always useful or applicable. I also have come to understand that most people change when they’re good and ready, not when you want them to. Hell, that lesson was the whole purpose for meeting my last ex-husband. So I have to let things go.

This is a humbling thing to accept, because it means I’m no longer the hero.

It’s hard to sit back and let people live their own lives. You want to help. You want them to like you or think well of you. You want to think well of yourself. Leaving them alone means you have nothing to feed off of, and it takes a pretty strong ego to let it go. But my message is, it’s freeing.

So what if nobody thinks you’re awesome?

Years ago, I told my boss I was a perfectionist. Like many people who say this, I said it with a bit of pride. He smiled at me and said, “Perfectionists fear criticism.”

Crushed! I was humiliated, but he was right, of course. It takes more guts to be imperfect than perfect, and it takes more guts to be average than non-heroic. Now that I realize this, I’m trying to hang up my cape.

What a relief to let it go.


Controlling the Negativity, Part 2

You try not to be negative, but here’s a news flash: the human brain is built for negativity! It’s a survival skill.

Rick Hanson, Ph.D, who wrote Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love & Wisdom, says our brains are designed to scan for danger. When we see something to worry about, the negative information makes a big impression and we’re more likely to be affected by it, because that’s going to help us stay alive. Positive information, on the other hand, isn’t so sticky.

Blue sky, big deal. Saber-toothed cat? BIG deal.

To make matters worse, our fast-paced, information overload-culture increases the amount of scanning our brains do. So we’re constantly gathering more and more negative data.

And we’re stressing the hell out!

On the one hand, it’s kind of cool to think that my brain has a good reason for focusing on the negative. (And here I thought it was just me.) I appreciate the evolutionary necessity of this tendency.

But now that we understand why it’s happening, we can perceive some of our anxiety as an unreliable narrator wringing her hands. Just because the murder rate went up in Texas last year doesn’t mean I have more reason to fear.

Tell your inner worrier to chill.

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