1. You work on you.
When I married my husband, I was certain he was the most wonderful man in the world and I was also certain I could make him even better. I was sure, with my gentle prodding (a.k.a. self-righteous nagging) I could transform him into a non-smoking, cupboard-door-closing, napkin-on-his-lap kind of guy. And then, of course, my new husband kept right on buying packs of Camel Lights, leaving doors wide open, and making pizza sauce finger smears on the napkin next to his plate.
Then the part of me that thrives on control kind of flipped out. I yelled. I got mean. I cried. I lamented. I called my mother.
“Stop trying to change him, change you.”
Her insight helped me let go of trying to change someone else (impossible) and redirect my energy on the possible (self-control and self-improvement). She reminded me of all the ways I could be better. And finished with,
“Let God work on Mickey.”
It was a humbling change of focus – the kind of change of perspective that can save a marriage.
2. Fill in the boxes.
The night I met Mickey, we were introduced because he was finishing medical school and I was trying to get in. He wasted very little time in pointing out that I was a pretty pathetic applicant.
Research experience? None.
Volunteer experience? None.
Hospital experience? None.
Pre-med courses completed? Most, but not all.
I had wanted to be a doctor for as long as I could remember, but on paper, I was just another floundering 22-year-old college grad who didn’t know what to do with her life.
Mickey explained the med school admissions process with check boxes. He said,
“It doesn’t matter how deserving you are, if you’ve got empty boxes. There are thousands of applications with all the boxes filled – so fill the boxes.”
He made it seem so simple. Any check-mark was better than none. I didn’t need to discover the pathophysiology of autism, I just needed a check mark.
So I got a little research experience. I volunteered at my tiny home-town hospital and I took more classes. On paper I started to look like someone who knew what she wanted. And then, God sprinkled some magic fairy dust on my application (that’s a story for another time) and I got in.
Mickey made something formidable seem as simple as check marks. This website is me filling in the boxes to get a novel published.
Want something that seems big and daunting? Fill in the boxes.
3. If you want people to like you, like them.
As a resident, there was a particular instructor who was almost malicious in her enjoyment of my misery. While crying on the phone to my mother, I asked,
“Why doesn’t she like me?”
My mom asked,
“Do you like her?”
That was not a hard question.
I have hated less than a handful of people in my life and she was one of them.
Do you know how hard it is to like someone that doesn’t like you?
It’s also really hard to hate someone that adores you.
If someone doesn’t like you, think really hard if you’ve given him/her a reason to think the feeling is mutual.
If you look for reasons to like people, you will find them. And the more people you like, the more people you will find that like you.
4. Rejoice in your sufferings.
Over twenty years ago, I heard a sermon on Romans 5:3-5:
“…But we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope…”
The speaker told a story about reading these verses and then accidentally backing his car through his garage door.
His initial reaction was what anyone’s would be (maybe without the expletives), but he thought about these verses and then raised his hands and said out loud,
When I have 3 body fluid kinds of days (pee, poop, and vomit), I remember this and say,
The next time bad stuff happens (a flat tire, a broken toilet, cancelled plans), put your arms up and say,
The absurdity of it will make you smile and that alone will lift your spirits. It’s the glint of humor in misery. It’s a day changer.
5. Do the hard things you won’t regret.
The wife of one of Mickey’s closest friends once said to me,
“You’ll never regret going for a run, going to church, or sleeping with your husband.”
I would add writing thank you notes and reading to your children to that list.
I don’t know why it can be so hard to do things that can be so rewarding and so easy to watch TV (which offers no sense of personal accomplishment whatsoever). When I’m mired in torpor, my inner motivational speaker says,
“Do it! This is one of those things you’ll never regret.”
If I follow through, I always say,
“I’m so glad I did that!”
Following this advice is about more than just living without regret, it’s about creating more opportunities for gladness and satisfaction and gratitude.
When I look back on all of these pieces of advice together, they have been more than day changers, they have been life changers.
What advice has changed your life?
(P.S. – Mickey quit smoking all on his own after about six years of marriage. (Thank you, God!) He reads everything before I publish it and was totally okay with me outing him as a napkin-on-the-table guy; he’s awesome like that.)