We were playing mini golf. My daughter was hitting the ball about 10 times and then lying and telling me she’d only taken two or three strokes.
“I’m not going to keep score if you keep cheating,” I said. “It defeats the purpose of keeping score.”
“Fine!” she said.
For the next few holes, she alternated between making a huge show of counting all of her strokes (and mine) and coming up with elaborate reasons why various strokes of hers didn’t really count. For instance, if she swung hard and missed the ball, it didn’t count. If she swung and the ball only traveled a few inches, it didn’t count. If she swung and hit a line drive out into the parking lot, it didn’t count. If her ball went into one of the water hazards, it didn’t count. If it took her more than six strokes to get the ball in, every stroke after 6 didn’t count.
You get the idea.
After all was said and done and we were both happily eating ice cream, I asked her if she understood why I was bothered by it all.
“Honesty is important, honey,” I said. “You should always tell the truth. Well, not always. Almost always.”
She looked confused.
“Sometimes it’s okay to lie, but only if you are doing it to make someone else feel good.”
She looked even more confused.
“Like, if grandma were wearing an ugly shirt and she asked you if you thought it was ugly, you might tell her that it’s the coolest shirt ever even if you didn’t think so.”
“Oooooh,” she said. “And if someone has an ugly face and asks me if they have an ugly face, I should lie and say that their face is pretty.”
“Um, yeah,” I said. “But you never have to lie to me. I can take anything.”
“Why?” she asked.
“Because it’s almost impossible to offend me,” I said.
“It is?” she asked.
“Yeah, like you told me today how bad my hair looked and that I needed a hair cut and I didn’t get offended. And you make fun of my muffin top and that doesn’t offend me. And when you tell me that I’m embarrassing you, it just makes me smile. And when you tell me that my breath stinks, I just apologize. I don’t get mad.”
“That’s because those things are funny,” she said. “And you really do need a haircut.”
“They’re only funny because I have a sense of humor. If I were easily offended, they wouldn’t be funny,” I explained.
Then I realized that I was basically telling her that most people don’t have senses of humor. Then I spent some time wondering whether that was true or not. (What do you all think?) Then I decided that we were at a good place to just end the conversation and move on before I really put my feet in my mouth.
At any rate, it all got me thinking about a similar conversation I’d had with my kid a few weeks before about owning her quirks. That conversation had completely gone over her head, but I don’t think it will go over yours. It goes like this.
- No one can make you feel badly about yourself except for you.
- You will only ever feel badly about yourself if you think of your individual quirks as bad.
- If you own your quirks and, in your mind, make them “good,” no one will ever be able to offend you, anger you, or embarrass you by calling you on them.
For instance, I have a good friend who is quite proud of his dorkiness. If you tried to make him feel bad by calling him a dork, he’d just laugh and say, “I sure am!” I tend to be socially awkward, especially when I’m surrounded by a group of people. If someone told me that I was awkward, I’d be like, “You think?” (I’m also a messy eater, have a tendency to wear the same outfit for days, and am currently walking around with a white woman ‘fro. So what? It’s all true. Big deal.) Cecily Kellogg, a fellow blogger, absolutely blew me away the first time I met her by telling me a story about a troll who viciously and very publicly attacked her and called her “fat,” among other things. She replied, “Well, duh.” She owned it. Therefore he could do nothing to destroy her peace of mind. (And if you want to see Cecily owning it, just check out her blog.) Similarly, many people love to read The Bloggess, and I’m pretty sure that’s because she owns it. She’s not embarrassed by her anxiety, for instance. Heck, she’s not embarrassed about anything.
You get the idea. You can own more than just your quirks, though. You can also own your choices. In nearly every situation short of human slavery, you always have choices. You can choose to stay married or end your marriage. You can choose to stay in a job or find a new one. You can choose to react with anger or react with kindness. You can choose to stand on an interminable line and strew about it the whole time or stand on the same line with a pleasant smile on your face. The choice is yours. Own the choice.
You can also own your mistakes. At the end of each day, I think about how various things went down and whether I was the best me in each situation. Sometimes I just haven’t been. Like when I was sitting in my car waiting for a gas pump to open up and I gave a sort of meanish hand gesture to the lady who decided to drive around my car—not, as it turned out, to beat me to a gas pump but rather just to drive down the road, which I was blocking at that moment—I was in the wrong. I could have blamed that incident on the stupid configuration of the gas station or even on the lady. (She could have been more patient, don’t you think?) I didn’t. My hand gesture was my hand gesture. I could have just as easily smiled and wished her a lifetime of happiness. Next time, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.
Note that owning my mistakes is very different from beating myself up. I don’t tell myself I am a horrible person for falling short. I just make note of it, own it, and use that information to grow into a better me.
What else of yours can you own? Can you see how owning your life can bring you more happiness and peace of mind? Let me know what you think.
A professional journalist, Alisa Bowman is the author of Project: Happily Ever After, a memoir of how she saved her marriage, and coauthor of Pitch Perfect, a must-read if you've ever had a sense of dread tie up your insides before a speech, presentation, or conversation. If you enjoyed this post, you will no doubt love her updates on Facebook and Twitter.