The truth about do-overs

There’s something unique about senior years in high school. Largely, they include things you’ll do for the first time and things you’ll do for the last time. I edited a school newspaper for the first time in my life and, just before graduation, for the last time. I acted (well sort of) and sang in Oklahoma! for the first and, so far, for the last time. I produced a talent show and haven’t done that since I graduated with my fellow 350 classmates, most of whom I’ve not seen since.

I’ve thought about reprising my senior year and playing certain things out differently—no doubt carefully applying the benefits that being older and wiser afford. I’d probably be friendlier and more outgoing. I’d be less concerned about being popular and more about helping others without regard for their place in the school. I’d befriend more people, ask more questions, help more folks, appreciate my parents more, find fewer faults, praise others more often, and find the courage to stand up to bullies…

The unfortunate thing about life is that we rarely get true “do-overs.”

We might have a chance to offer an apology for something we’ve done. Or, as they say (somewhere), “mend our ways.” But we can’t take back what’s been done. We can only choose what we’ll do in the present moment to make a difference, offer hope, change a life, encourage the dispirited, say “thanks,” open a door, smile, help others laugh…

The point is not what has happened—unchangeable and cast already—but what we choose to make happen in the here and now. Although decent intentions are always good to have, the future is only created by action.

The beginnings and ends of years, days and minutes are somewhat irrelevant—and mostly artificial—markers. It’s what happens within those markers that can change a life.

What if we lived life knowing (really knowing) that there are no do-overs? What would a life lived that way really be?

Breaking rocks

I called a friend the other day to ask a simple question about some software I was using for a project. It seemed that I caught him in a lack-of-job-related funk that has persisted for many, many months. “I’ve done everything I can think of,” he told me, including changing his resume, changing his approach when applying for work, applying for very different kinds of jobs outside his field. All of it, unfortunately, to no avail.

“And what really pisses me off is that people don’t call you back,” he said in a tone that was a mix of frustration, anger and depression.

My heart went out to him. It’s a situation that many people in our country, and the world, know all too well.  I wondered if I would show the same courage he’s shown during these difficult times.

What struck me very clearly is that the situation will change despite what we may believe to the contrary. It will change. But in the meantime…

I was looking for a lesson in this. Perhaps it is this: We cannot let a letter of rejection—or not getting a job after applying for one or dozens—determine who we are. Human nature tries to connect a “no” answer to “I’m not worthy. I’m not good enough. I’ll never get out of this hole I’m in.” Truth is, the “no” is just a “no.” It doesn’t change our character, who we strive to be, what we love or who loves us. It is simply a statement that “somehow, the job and I don’t fit.”

It could be argued that we’re not qualified, we’re the wrong age, we’re not pretty enough. But all that matters little. And it’s pointless to try to connect dots that just aren’t to be connected.

I don’t mean to imply that we shouldn’t honestly (but gently) look for ways to better ourselves. There’s certain value in self-assessment and improvement. It takes persistence, that’s for sure.

I’m reminded of a question someone asked about breaking rocks with a sledge hammer: Which blow cracked the rock? The answer is “the last one” according to those who engage in such thinking. But not so quick.

Doesn’t each swing of the hammer, each blow to the rock, lead to the end result? Doesn’t each blow matter in some, sometimes imperceptible, way? We don’t need to know exactly how, we just need to keep swinging.

Several years ago, I was visiting some friends and in their bathroom, strategically posted near the mirror, was this reminder: “You are strong. You are smart. You are beautiful. I believe in you.” Yet, how easy it is to focus on what we perceive ourselves not to be. “I’m just not ____ enough,” the thinking goes as we fill in the blank with our shortcomings.

The truth is, we’re stronger than we think we are. Sometimes it takes a gentle reminder.