Nov 20, 2014

Bumps in the Road - Life is Full of Problems and Maybe That's OK

Here's a concept I'm trying to work through.

A friend was upset that she was having car issues and the full recommended maintenance was out of her budget.  Car troubles are a pain, that's for sure.  I remember those days when the cost of routine maintenance would catch me by surprise, empty out my bank account, and drive me to stressed out tears.

And selfishly, I was glad that I no longer have to agonize over what is an inevitable problem.  Cars have issues.  They break down.  Especially if you buy an older car.  Even if it's newer, the cost of 15,000 mile maintenance or new tires can be surprising.  Unless you budget for it.

I'm very fortunate.  I live and split the bills with 2 other adults, and I have a job that allows me to live comfortably, without watching every dollar.  But I've also learned that there are always going to be unexpected expenses, and I have an emergency fund with extra money, just in case.  So when I need maintenance, or get a flat tire, I have money waiting and ready for it.  I don't need to put it on a credit card and then scramble to catch up.  And that eliminates most of the stress involved.

This is financial advice I've learned over time and it applies to a lot more than just cars.  You can't possibly predict all the things that could possibly go wrong in the future.  So you give yourself a little padding.  And when things happen, you say, "Oh, it's just one of those things.  I better build the account back up to prepare for the next one."

But what if it's not just finances?

Life is full of bumps in the road.  Sometimes they're financial - unexpected car trouble, medical bills, having your house broken into.  Sometimes they're purely emotional - illness, an argument, losing a friend.  Or a hassle - the kids making a huge mess, coworkers dropping a huge project on you, having your personal information stolen.

The point is - bad shit happens.  And it's going to keep happening.  Some of it's minor and some of it is fairly devastating.  And it's easy to get into a really negative place where we feel powerless, or like we're being targeted and these terrible things are only happening to us.

But maybe we should accept that we're powerless to prevent it.  We can prevent, or minimize the impact of, a few things.  But, unlike finances, we really can't do anything about a lot of life's issues.

And this sounds terrible, but at the same time, it almost makes me feel better.

Yes, I'm upset that x, y, or z happened.  But, you know... it's just one of the many bad things that's going to happen.  I can't stop it, but I can make the best of it.  I can remember that I'm not being singled out - bad things happen to everyone.  I can remember that life is full of good things that balance out the bad.  I can remember that I've gotten through all the past bad things, and I'll get through this one, and the future ones.

Ryan says something to me when I'm upset, "Just remember that everything's ok."  I used to think he was saying I shouldn't be upset because "everything is ok."  Eventually we talked about it, and he explained that he meant it was ok to be upset.  And I shouldn't worry about being upset, or feel guilty about it.  That way, when I got over whatever I was sad about, I could be totally done with it, because I had allowed myself to be sad, instead of bottling or repressing it.

After all, the worst feeling is being upset about being upset.  It's circular and much, much harder to shake off.  If you invalidate your feelings, you can't work through them.

So while it sounds depressing, "Lots of bad shit is going to happen to you throughout your life."  I find it to be somewhat freeing.  This bad thing is just one of many bad things and it's not worth any extra stress or anxiety.

Be upset if you need to be upset.  But also think about whether or not this issue is worth all the negativity you're allowing it to inject into your life.  You can't always control what happens to you, but you can control how you react to it.

Some people look at the night sky, or the ocean, and they feel all their problems become insignificant in the grand scheme of things.  In a way, this is my method for doing that.  Except instead of looking at the unemotional grandeur and beauty of nature, I look at the problem, and all the other problems.

I guess this is the ultimate silver lining: I might have a problem, but at least it's only one of the problems I'll have to face in my lifetime.

What do you think?  Helpful or depressing?

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