John Patrick Weiss on keeping things simple — and how that will improve your life.
Ever notice how easy it is to solve a friend’s problem? Maybe a buddy wants your advice about a career change. He has a great job but thinks he can make it as a rock singer. You know that when he sings, the neighborhood cats think it’s a mating call.
Or a gal pal of yours thinks she found Mr. Wonderful. You’ve met him twice. He’s unemployed, doesn’t wear deodorant and has two ex-wives. “Yes, but those dreamy eyes,” she tells you. “And he writes lovely poetry.”
It’s flattering when a friend seeks your advice. It means he or she trusts you and values your counsel. So you listen and in short order the answer to their problem is blindingly obvious. To you.
The problem is that we’ve all got some junk in the trunk. Wounds from the past. Stuff that hurt us and we never forgot. Never got over.
Your buddy that wants to dump his good job to be a rock star, for example. Deep down he might know he doesn’t sing well. But his father never really believed in him. Told him to get a real job and give up on all those silly teenage dreams. So your buddy has a blind spot now. You can tell him he can’t sing, but now he thinks you’re just like his dad. So he pushes back and just might throw away that good job on a pipe dream. All because of the junk in his trunk.
How about that gal pal with the “dreamy” new boyfriend. You try to point out the wreckage of his past. The ex-wives and beer cans littering his apartment. He’s no good for her. It’s painfully obvious. But all she see can talk about is his poetry and devotion to her. Too many failed relationships, or maybe a childhood belief that she’s just not good enough. That’s the junk in her trunk.
Author and psychiatrist Gordon Livingston wrote a splendid little book entitled, “Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart.” In one chapter Dr. Livingston writes “The statute of limitations has expired on most of our childhood traumas.” He asks the excellent question, “So what do we owe our personal histories?”
There’s no question we are shaped by the experiences of our past. If there has been serious abuse, this must be dealt with. But Dr. Livingston says his favorite therapeutic question is “what’s next?” He likes to ask this because it invites a willingness and ability to change. A path forward.
Our past experiences shape us but they do not dictate what our future will be. We have the power to decide. Sometimes therapy can help. But in the end, we have to develop the ability to see past our blind spots. Learn to leave behind or work around the junk in our trunk.
As Dr. Livingston found, people with an entrenched sort of “learned helplessness” are the most difficult to work with. In my police career I too have encountered such personalities. Always the victims. Always blaming someone else. Never able to get out of their own way. Which is sad, because so many of their personal decisions are tainted by the junk in their trunk.
Difficult things do happen to us that are beyond our control. But as we examine closely the many trials and tribulations in our lives, a difficult reality emerges. As Dr. Livingston put it,” We are responsible for most of what happens to us.” Our decisions affect so much of our lives.
All of which brings me back to the junk in your trunk. You need to unload it or at least shut the trunk if you expect to get back in that car and drive anywhere worthwhile. The junk will ruin your life because all of your decisions get filtered through it. What a burden. What a terrible way to make sound decisions.
That’s why it’s so easy to solve other people’s problems. You can look at them objectively, without your junk getting in the way. You have more clarity.
So, don’t be that guy that dumps a good job to be a frustrated rock singer. Or that gal who shacks up with Mr. Wrong. Empty the junk in your trunk, hop back in that car and be on your way to a happier future!
This article originally appeared on John Patrick Weiss’s Blog.