Faith, intention and optimism have never come easily to me. I am amazed by and slightly jealous of people who move forward with intention and commit to a path in life, believing it will all work out. They have faith that the time and effort will get them what they ultimately desire. They may change course from time to time, but they do so intentionally. They don’t accept roadblocks, wait for opportunity or cater to others’ expectations. They’re confused when people say, “But I don’t have a choice." They believe one always has a choice. Oh, and they are always, always optimistic.
I used to be that way, but a few key rejections and objections taught me to compromise on what I want early. I learned I wasn’t the only stakeholder, and I’d have to give a little to get a little. When you’re in your teens and twenties, it’s hard to know whether you’ve given too much or too little. So, today, I’m more aligned with the breed of people that hangs back with no expectations, guards against failure and waits for the window of opportunity to open on something a bit better than what they have. I no longer believe that intentions are worth setting. If you have no expectations, you can’t be disappointed.
It’s not self-help book material, I know. But it's how I’m wired, and you can't solve a problem without identifying it first.
Some of this comes from the ongoing messages black women receive from society. Don’t raise your voice or ask for what you want directly, non-black people — especially law enforcement — will think you’re pushy or potentially violent. Keep your head down, your nose clean, your eyes open and always be ready to pounce on an opportunity — or so the mantra goes.
It’s worth noting that I’m persistent when I know what needs to be done and the stakes are high enough. I assume this posture usually in response to outside pressure, not inner drive. The downside of that approach rears its ugly head when you get older. There's dignity that comes from taking yourself seriously — acting from intention and believing that what you want is worth chasing with gusto. The universe tends to reward those who go about life in this way. It may spend a lot of time punishing them up front, but it tends to reward them eventually.
Those who, like me, sit back and wait, must contend with whatever opportunity comes along, stringing a set of pearls they find, rather than intentionally choosing the ones they want. Eventually, it becomes all but impossible to honestly answer “yes” when these optimistic, intentional people ask, “are those pearls you have the pearls you wanted?”
That’s when regret sets in.
Now, I generally avoid regret. I don’t find looking back satisfying or productive. So, when I let my eyes wander over my shoulder, it derails me. I start asking questions that I don’t like the answers to — questions such as: Why didn’t you fight back more? Why didn’t you stick with the original plan? Why didn’t you persist in going after what you wanted? Why did you let that stop you?
I don’t like the answer, because the answer to all of these questions is: I was afraid. I traded my intended path for the one that induced less uncertainty or risk. Whether it was objections from parents, fear of rejection, guilt, envy, over thinking, bias (real or perceived) or a host of other things, I shied away from not one, but many intended paths.
The act of repeatedly choosing to run with certainty and safety over sticking with my intention in the midst of ambiguity and fear has left me struggling to declare what I want to do with my "one wild and precious life
”. Nearly every time I have jumped through the window of opportunity, the answer comes back: Just get through this wild and crazy life in one piece.
That’s not a life goal; that’s table stakes.
So, I am working on ways to change, but first I need to adopt the following rules:
Don’t look back. Unless you're editing you LinkedIn profile, looking back for the sake of looking back does not serve you.
Make peace with your decisions. You made them. You cannot unmake them. Let them rest in peace.
If you must look back, look back with compassion for your younger self. Know that the you who made those decisions then did the best she could with the information she had. If you don’t think she did her best, well, do better next time. That leads me to...
If you don’t like how you did what you did, change what you’re doing. Before you make a decision to leap into the arms of opportunity, ask yourself if you’re doing it because you’re afraid of not doing it or because it’s what you really want to do.
Consume less news and more how-tos. As I have stated in a previous newsletter, I bias towards reading news on the internet rather than how-tos and general knowledge. It’s a habit from a past life. News is useful for a day or so, but consuming it rabidly without getting paid to do so isn’t really a great use of one’s time. Learning how to do something or getting your head around an entirely new concept is much more rewarding in the long term.
Beating yourself up won’t get you where you want to go. Stop beating yourself up about not knowing if what you’re doing is what you intended to be doing. Sometimes plans change, the question is what do you intend to do now and, given #4, what are you going to do about it?
Alright, on with the five:
FML: Millennials are screwed - This is a gorgeous and devastating piece about why Millennials (of which I am one) are really, right royally screwed ... and how we can get un-screwed.
How to have fewer regrets - Well, this was convenient… (The New York Times)
Treat yo’ self … without going broke - Baths and reading are amazing (Lifehacker)
Kill the Newsletter - I missed this back in 2016. Having left Unroll.me, I needed a newsletter aggregation solution. Boom. Welcome to the thunder dome!
Move over, John Locke. Hello, Yacob. An exploration of the great philosophers of Africa who came well before their European counterparts on some very basic concepts. (Aeon)