When I was in my twenties I vividly remember having a conversation with fifty-something-year-old coworker. We were talking about issues that women face in their marriage, their families, and in the workforce. Mind you, this lady was of a strict religious background (similar yet different from mine), but she was not a shrinking violet, not at all. I told her about how I had a hard time being assertive as a woman because I worried that I would make someone mad at me and/or they wouldn’t like me anymore. I still remember the gleam in her eye and the chuckle in her voice when she said, “Honey, by the time you get to your forties you’ll be over that!”
In the last few years I’ve recalled her words often. Now that I’m firmly ensconced in the fifth decade of my life I feel that I’m slowly turning the corner in the area of assertiveness. I guess life has a way of doing that to a person. There comes a time when you’re done with all the niceties and realize that trying to please people is a futile effort at best and the only thing it does is completely steal your energy.
Now, I’m not saying that I’m turning into a mean, bitter old woman. No, part of my forties’ “renaissance” is the casting off of bitterness. I know some bitter people, and I do not want to become like them. Childlessness has done it’s darnedest to try and make me bitter, but I’m not going to let it win. My view is there’s a happy medium between blind optimism and hopeless cynicism. My boss even gave me the off-hand compliment the other day that I’m a very good blend of comic and cynic which makes me well suited for the job I do. (I will delve into the complexities of my job at a later date. It definitely deserves a post all its own).
I’m also learning not to own the problems and or take responsibility for the choices of others. I have spent many a year upset and torn apart by the bad decisions of others. Of course, some of these decisions and choices have affected me, because for better or worse, we all have people in our lives whose decisions can color our lives to a small or great extent. If I’m remembering correctly God’s Word says nothing about having to accept responsibility for others decisions or choices. I’ve spent too many years feeling responsible or thinking there was something I could’ve done to keep someone from making a bad decision. The gosh-darn honest truth is we’re only responsible for our actions and our actions only. Sure, someone might’ve done something that affected you…maybe DEEPLY affected you…but guess what? It’s not your fault! It’s not my fault. It’s THEIR fault. The consequences rest squarely on their shoulders, and that’s it! Simple as that. You are free to live your life knowing that what they did is their responsibility and their responsibility alone. We don’t have to own it. The problem is too many people choose to own others’ responsibilities. Humans complicate simple things.
One of the many chosen “complications” is many of us (including me) use others’ bad decisions as an excuse to make our own. “Well, they did this; so, I’m going to do that, by golly!”; a.k.a. bad choices made out of spite and anger. I believe that’s why many hurt people fall into addiction, and is why you see generational addiction in families. (Disclaimer: I’m not a professional here…just giving you my philosophy per my observation). Still, we are free at any time to change OUR course. We may not be able to change the course of the person(s) who caused us pain, but we can decide to stop making our own bad decisions, or reacting in a way that has not worked and will most likely never to work in the future; otherwise known as the definition of insanity.
I’m preaching to myself here because this “stinkin’ thinkin'” has been a part of my M.O. since adolescence. The first hard-knock situation in my teens nearly drove me to suicide because I thought, “If this person doesn’t love or like me then my life is over.” When I look back at that situation I am completely appalled at myself. Fortunately, several loving people in my life saw the signs, confronted me and made me realize the utter absurdity of off-ing myself for a person who was not worthy of my love and devotion. I got counseling, and while I moved on to be a mostly mentally healthy and happy adult that adolescent way of thinking has had a big influence on my life. It’s time for that way of thinking to go the way of my adolescent figure…gone forever.
So, this is what I believe God is teaching me this year. Last year was “maturity” (and I’ll admit I’m not totally “there” yet but making strides), and this year is going to be “confidence and assertiveness.” We’ll see how it goes!