You Will Fall | Wash Your Mouth Out Wednesday
“You are going to fail.” That’s what I read in @christipedigo ‘s Tweet. I had asked my friends on Twitter for suggestions for a WYMOW post, and hers was the second one that I received. You see, after taking a several-months-long hiatus from writing, I needed inspiration to get back into my blog. I have had three straight years of things not going very well in my personal and professional life (strangely enough, beginning the year I was to turn 40), so you might understand when I mis-read her message. I’ve come to expect failure. What a perfect thing for me to write about! I am an expert, afterall.
But Christi wasn’t talking about me. She wasn’t even talking about failure. She was talking about the unfortunate reality that those who are closest to us tend to be the most discouraging. Her message said fall, not fail. Our parents tell us that we are going to fall. Our friends tell us that we are going to regret something. And although it’s my experience talking, I’m sure that Christi would agree that the ultimate message is that we are going to fail.
As I pondered the possibility of putting figurative pen to paper about Christi’s pet peeve, a feeling of shame washed over me. I’m actually guilty of this very thing. Not on a large scale, because I try not to give advice, in general, but I have done this with my son. I can recall quite vividly standing under a tree in which he was climbing, saying, “Don’t go any higher. Okay, get down before you fall.” I also recall feeling like an asshole as those words came out of my mouth, because as a child, I climbed many trees.
My mother was not peeking out the window to make sure I wasn’t doing anything dangerous, and she sure wasn’t telling me how badly I was about to be hurt. She was letting me be a kid. Is tree-climbing dangerous? Yes, it probably is. Each time I climbed a tree, I knew that I could fall, and I didn’t need anyone to remind me of that fact. I didn’t want to fall, but I loved being in the tree, so I took the chance. I know that kids occasionally fall and break a wrist or an ankle, but I never did. If anyone had told me that I was going to fall, then the act of climbing the tree would have become a conquest instead of something fun to do.
Lots of people do not follow their dreams because friends or family say that their goals are impossible to reach. I once worked with a man who told me that his daughter wasn’t really good enough to be a professional dancer. She was finishing her undergraudate degree as a dance major, hoping to find work soon. What kind of person would say that to someone they love? I think that you know as well as I do that the answer to that question is “plenty.” My best friend (make that “former” best friend) told me nearly two years ago that I was going to fail. I wasn’t even aiming for the stars – just a job with my former employer, but I let her negativity become my motivation for pursuing a job. It became about her. I don’t know that my co-worker ever informed his daugher of her impending bomb of a career choice, but I can imagine that she might have pursued it relentlessly just to make Daddy proud and prove him wrong. But then her success might have had more to do with his discouragement.
Does it turn out that the negativity is good? Is it the push that some of us need to be great rather than just good? Regardless of whether it is or isn’t, is it easy to fall into the trap of letting someone make your life decisions about them. I think that we all deal with negative advice in one of three ways: 1) let it crush us, 2) let it make us angry, or 3) actually consider it objectively and decide whether we can accept the consequences.
I eventually learned to urge my kid to use caution, rather than to tell him that something he is doing is definitely going to have negative consequences. I will not tell him that he is going to fall. I might tell him how and why something is dangerous, but then I am going to try to step aside and let him do his thing. He is just a kid, but he is usually smart enough to weigh risks and benefits. I might also tell him that I’m worried about him, and that I don’t want him to get hurt. Afterall, those negative words of caution do not always arise from meanness or spite; sometimes they come from a place of genuine concern.
So please don’t tell me I’m going to fall. If you love me, tell me what worries you, or that you’re scared for me, but give me some support too. And if you’re mean enough to hurl those words at me with no real concern for my well-being or sanity, expect me to shove a bar of pumice soap in your mouth and strap your mouth closed for a day or two.
If you happen to find the words “You’re going to fall” on the tip of your own tongue, stop and think about your motivation. Are you saying it because you are genuinely concerned for the person? Because if you are, then you might try to consider expressing these thoughts from a different perspective. But if you are saying it for meanness, then bite your tongue. And if someone says this to you, “You’re going to fall,” just smile, look them in the eyes, and say, “You’re right. I might, but I want to try anyway.” While you consider that, I’ll be enjoying the nice breeze from up here in my tree.
Thank you, Christi.