Where there is ruin, there is hope for treasure. ~Rumi
A friend of mine once joked that he was going to call his autobiography, The Lives I’ve Ruined. HA! At least, I hope that was a joke.
But as a recovering perfectionist, it got me thinking a lot about the idea that things get “ruined” because of our actions…a cake, an event, a relationship…we say we “ruined” it by adding too much sugar or scheduling it on a day it rained or enabling bad behavior or behaving badly ourselves.
I think the reality is that most things are pretty tough to ruin. I guarantee you will find someone who thinks your ruined cake is delicious (or at the very least hilarious), your rainy wedding poetic and your “failed” relationship good riddance to bad trash. Most good things are very hard to ruin, and to ruin a life is damned near impossible. There goes the premise of my friend’s autobiography. See, I ruined it for him. Ha again.
As an achievement driven society, we tend to view marriage as a “goal” in a relationship; a long term marriage is a “success”, a marriage that ends in divorce is a “failure”. Divorce means we “ruined” our marriage. But not all relationships are meant to last forever.
Obviously, “quitting” is not part of the American credo, except when it’s in a “Take This Job and Shove It” kind of way. And even then the preferable tactic would be to somehow take over the company you work for and fire your boss. Seriously, quitting pretty much anything (except our so-called vices) is frowned upon across the board, even if it’s something that is actively causing you pain.
We seem to be hard-wired to “feel the burn” of our discomfort and sit in it like life is really an Iron Man competition in pain tolerance.
We stay in jobs, relationships and situations of all varieties that make us utterly miserable because we feel it is the “right thing to do.”
A nation of martyrs, we pride ourselves on our perseverance in the face of our own suffering. Suffering builds character, right? Good men (and women) don’t leave.
This is the premise many of us were raised with, so whenever we decide we have had enough (take-this-situation-and-shove-it) rather than acting on it, we often sit in a limbo. A limbo of depression and anxiety; a limbo of inertia. Because we believe we should be able to “fix” what ails us, we should be able to find the silver lining, look on the sunny side of things. So wonderfully American of us, really!
In this limbo we struggle with our “failure” to fix or find or look in a way that can fool ourselves for any meaningful amount of time. And the situation drags on. We also have a great driving belief in Deus Ex Machina—the hand of God, the fortunate coincidence that rescues us from our misery. If this intervention does not happen, then we think it is a sign that we are meant to maintain the status quo.
Trudging like good little soldiers through our own personal war zones, ever mindful of mines and the possibility of bombs dropping from the sky. We live our lives in the trenches, waiting for the end of the war that is raging inside of us. Do I want to be “good” and dutiful and steadfast, or do I want to be happy?
Obviously it all depends on what happiness means to us as individuals. I definitely know people who are “happy” in their martyrdoms—they have a sense of righteousness and superiority. I know people who absolutely LOVE to complain—in fact, some days I suspect I may be one of them. It is a part of the human condition to brag a bit about our misery; believe me, I am on Facebook, so I should know.
But if you have a decent job, a comfortable home environment and some relationships that bring you satisfaction, then generally speaking you are happy. All petty complaints aside, you have a good life.
But if even one of these is seriously askew, then you are living in place of unnecessary suffering.
I hear people say that a divorce “ruined” their life and I wonder: would spending the rest of your life in an unhealthy, unhappy marriage have been preferable? It might be good to challenge some of the beliefs we have about success, too. If you make enough money to support you in a lavish lifestyle, but the stress or politics of that job are shredding your soul, is that an admirable life? What does happiness mean to you?
There is almost always some pain in ending a relationship, but endings are actually new paths that open for us, paths that the relationship prepared us for and pushed us towards. This is the gift of a “ruined” relationship: it sends you in a new direction that you never would have conceived of if you hadn’t come through it exactly the way you did. It was a gateway to a new part of your life, a new part of you.
Quitting can be brave
I look at the people in my life who have “quit” things—jobs, marriages, social obligations, self-destructive behaviors, limiting belief systems—and I don’t see “quitters.” I see incredibly brave people who took a stand for themselves, their health, their well-being and their futures, often in the face of judgment, often with the consequence of losing a support system, always with the chaos that major life changes bring.
These people are not “quitters.” These people are heroes. Change is the biggest, scariest part of life and they took it on, head first. Maybe it’s time to realize change is inevitable. Maybe it’s time to realize quitting can be a triumph of growth and forward movement.
Maybe “quitters” are, after all, the bravest souls we have.
So here is my conclusion: you haven’t ruined anything. If you are still breathing, you still have an opportunity to bring your best self to the table and live a life you feel good about. That will mean a million different things to a million different people and that is how it is supposed to be. We travel many roads with our various companions while we are here on earth, some of them more enjoyable than others, all of them crucial to the development of our true selves.
Like an irritant forms a pearl, we are honed into our best selves by the people who challenge us as much as those who love us. We learn from each other and while we definitely will have preferences about the lessons we get, all of them are ultimately useful if we remember to see them that way. Not a single thing you have done in your life has been in vain, because you (and/or someone else!) have learned from it.
You haven’t ruined anything.
You are on a journey and even if you sometimes feel lost, the destination is never in doubt.
Read Kara Post-Kennedy every week here on The Good Men Project!