Life is a process and there is no permanent record. This year has shined a bright light on the US culture. One of the things I’ve noticed is that we seem to view what happens right this minute as determinative of everything that follows. This is hobbling our thinking at a time when pivoting needs to be swift and nimble.
It is absolutely responsible and important to carefully consider decisions. But if we don’t empty our mind of expectations, assumptions, conventional wisdom, and trending topics first, we both limit ourselves and create undue pressure at a time when we need less.
Rather than recognizing that uncertainty is always with us, some have responded to this year of swift change by further entrenching themselves in ideas or behaviors that do not serve well. Many times, it comes down to the idea that if we do something unconventional, or different than our family or friends, and it doesn’t turn out well, it will go on our permanent record.
There is no permanent record. If someone holds a long-time grudge, that’s on them, not you. If someone continues to judge you for a mistake you have acknowledged in spite of it being a one-time error, that’s on them. If your parents disagree with your decision, but you’re okay with the consequences, it’s their problem, not yours. If everyone in your Facebook group disagrees with you, it doesn’t mean you’re misguided.
I understand it doesn’t always feel good to stand alone. I left high school a year early. My dad thought that was a mistake. I had the credits to graduate and went to straight to college with a scholarship in hand. In spite of this, and the fact that I received my high school diploma the following year along with my class, he still believed it was a mistake.
Ten years later, although I had no regrets about the decision, he scored it as an error on his version of my permanent record. I could have accepted his view and let it create doubt or I could feel confident that I had researched my options and was willing to continue to move toward my goals.
Were there failures along the way? Of course. But failing in an endeavor does not make me a failure because I know I don’t have to become mired in that glitch. I can view it as a chance for improvement. To remain inspired, I keep these words from a 1910 speech by Theodore Roosevelt in my head at all times:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
If there were a permanent record, I would want it to reflect me as a contender in the arena rather than someone who always towed a line drawn by others. I’d want it to show that my decisions were well thought and carefully made. I’d want to be seen as a problem solver who moved past obstacles. And I would hope to be judged on more than appearance or net worth.
If you are a student whose grades are suffering during the pandemic, it is not a life ruining experience. Learn the life lessons in front of you. Those are more valuable than any letter grade.
If you are a parent struggling to be productive while also minding the kids, cut yourself some slack when you don’t perform at your 2019 level. Not all productivity can be measured in immediate output. Ask any strategic planner.
If you are a child who cannot visit an elderly parent in long-term care, just do what you can to stay connected. The separation does not mean your relationship has ended. It just means it has had to shift.
If you are feeling frustrated, sad, and angry because you cannot safely attend a wedding, funeral, graduation, performance, or family reunion, those feelings are normal. You may need to designate some time for self-care to grieve the loss.
If you are having to ask for help, it doesn’t mean you aren’t capable. We all need assistance under certain circumstances.
If you are a frontline or essential worker, thank you! Collectively, we have placed an undue burden on you. It will take a toll. That is not because you are weak. It is because you are a human tasked with superhuman expectations.
There’s lots of catastrophizing going on right now. The news and social media are filled with hyperbole. It’s easy to get caught up in the idea that our lives are falling apart. Some are suffering devastating pain and loss. Others are suffering a change in routine. Many of us fall somewhere in between.
But before we decide that we can’t bounce back from the setbacks of 2020 and 2021, let’s remember that we can adapt when needed. We can see ourselves as the man in the arena and use challenges as motivation to be better. We can shift priorities and make better choices. And we can evaluate, reevaluate, and leave our mistakes in the past because there is no permanent record.