Things I’ve Changed My Mind About

This week I was asked the Thiel question “ Tell me something that’s true, that almost nobody agrees with you on.”…Now, I won’t repeat my answer here because it was silly, and pretty gross, and I don’t need another thing online that may come back and haunt me in 5 years. But it did get me thinking about something along the same lines.

I’ve written before about how I was quite a self-righteous, opinionated, black and white kind of a youngster. I sound like exactly like that kid you want to punch in the face. I was. But with a little age comes a little wisdom, usually born out of a little experience, and there are a bunch of things I used to be certain of — that I knew to be true, but of which I’ve since changed my mind. Here are five that came to mind first:

  1. People are either good or bad.

With a few exceptions, most people think they are a good person. I still have important people in my life who sternly believe that people are either good people or bad people, good blokes or grubs, and nothing can change this. One bad act, condemns them to ‘bad’ forever more. I TOTALLY identify with this line of thinking. Its so SIMPLE isn’t it. So efficient. However, I’ve just met too many good people who have done bad things, too many bad people who have redeemed themselves with good acts, to see this in such a binary light. I’m not going to throw anyone else under the bus here to illustrate how I learned this is not true, my own life is an exemplar. I always saw myself as a ‘good girl ‘— the one time I ever got told off in primary school and had to face the corner, I was MORTIFIED and so sensitive to the shame, I never did anything wrong ever again. Like, never. Then at 26, the year after I started drinking (yep, late bloomer because I was a GOOD GIRL), I was caught for driving under the influence — oh, the SHAME. And since then, its been a slippery slope into the human condition of various morally ambiguous activities, I’ve cheated on boyfriends, I’ve undermined people, the list is endless. I’ve learned I’m neither good nor bad, and neither are most people.

2. Being bright is the most important thing

Early on in primary school, I was identified by my teachers as being bright. I was also incredibly conscientious, I asked for homework every week in year 1 (yep, I told you, that kid that deserved to be punched in the face). By year 2, a grade 3 teacher used to take me to his year 3 class and get me to sit in and asked me questions, presumably to motivate the year 3 class because a younger kid could do their work (what an asshole…). By year 3, the teachers told my parents they wanted me to skip years, my parents declined, so they gave me extra, more advanced assignments. The problem with this, is that combined with my intense conscientiousness, and the (rare) praise from my father, I latched on this identity as the smart kid like there was no tomorrow. So much so, that schoolwork, academic success, being the smartest person in the room has been my (almost — see below) all consuming goal for a decent chunk of my life. In terms of continuous years of dedication and $$, the one thing I’ve spent the most time and money on has been my education. But, as I hit University, and actually hung out with other really smart kids, and also really, really, really smart kids, my identity took quite the battering. Once your benchmarks increase, its a motherfucker when you realise you are now just average. This was good for me though, I made me realise I had to do a whole bunch more than rely on my smarts to get me where I wanted to go. And so I found something else I was good at and worked on developing that skill set. Later, as I got further entrenched in my career, it become more and more evident, that the successful people (by any metric, whether that be happiest, most content, wealthiest, whatever) were almost always NOT the smartest person in the room, they were actually the ones who were better described as highly capable at more than one thing. Intelligent AND good human, hard working AND strategic, person everyone liked AND always delivers….So now, I still want to hold my own in any given situation, but I find nothing more thrilling than being in the company of people who are smarter than me (its like the sporting strategy of training with someone better than you makes you better) and nothing sexier than a guy who is smarter than me. Legit. But now I’m focused on being more of a jack of all trades and a master of none.

3. Being right is the most important thing

My father used to tell me I should be a lawyer because I loved arguing. I actually hated arguing (still do), but I loved winning an argument. I was a competitive little motherfucker, and this competitive streak is something I still have to rein in at 42, and I used to justify it that being right was the most important thing. Because being right means being right. Right? But as I’ve gotten older I’ve realised that being right sadly, does not always equate to winning, no matter what fairytale your parents read to you as a kid. I’m pretty sure my constant need to be right (not to mention morally superior) pretty much cost me my relationship. He could never win, and really, who wants to hang out with someone who is ALWAYS right (even when they weren’t, they just had more arguing stamina to go more rounds than the other). And in the workplace, people think they want someone in the team who is right all the time so they can make good decisions, but the reality is people who want to be right all the time are assholes, and no-one wants to work with assholes. Now I realise that compromise, collaboration and persuasion are far more valuable traits and skills. Choose your battles wisely.

4. Relationships that end are failures

When my Mum left my Dad, I hated her. For leaving, for hurting my Dad, for failing our family. How dare She. I didn’t talk to her for over 12 months. Such was my immature view of relationships. Only later (much later) did I really learn the circumstances and I still feel hideously guilty about the way I treated her.

When I met Mike, my longest term relationship, I thought he was the best looking guy I had ever met in my entire life. He was doing his PhD and he even modelled part time. He was also funny AF. He was older than me at Uni and demonstrated my biochemistry lab prac class, and ALL the girls were obsessed with him. He also had a reputation that preceeded him, of sleeping with girls in the prac class, and he did in my year too (not me). Several. He was so far out of my league, I never ever considered the possibility I might ever have a chance with him. But, to cut a long story short a year later we did get together when I started my PhD and stayed together for 10-11 years (timing varies depending on whether you count our breakups and makeups in the last year). At the beginning, I could never imagine I would love anyone else or anyone more. By the end, we were so angry and confused at and about each other. We hurt each other a lot with our carelessness and our resentment. We were trying to make it work so as not to fail, to make the last 11 years not a ‘waste’, not because we actually still loved each other. Now, twenty years later, we still see each other as we work in the same industry and I’m not angry, or resentful, I’m actually so happy for him (he has a wife and two kids now) I don’t get a single butterfly. Not a one.

Now, there are people who are lucky enough to find and work with someone that grows with them over time, to help the partnership withstand decades, children, loss and hard times and my friends Tamara and Damien who met each other at 14 and are still together are a testament to that.

However, I know that most relationships end.

But, it does not mean that they are not successful. I learned a lot from Mike, about love, forgiveness, what I need in a relationship, and even more about what not to do in a relationship that I apply even now. I’m glad we ended it when we did — it came to its natural end and we don’t hate each other — and I’m glad we didn’t end up together, we weren’t the right fit, and I could never have given him children which he desperately wanted. Since then, I’ve met about 5 men who I knew I could or did fall madly in love with, proving there isn’t just one person for everyone.

5. Perfection is achievable

When I was 14, my very first boyfriend (of two weeks, the first guy I ever kissed) dumped me for one of my friends, Sam. He told me that if he could put my face and my personality onto Sam’s body, I would be the perfect girl. It was the first time I had ever considered my body was not OK. This cued a spiral into an eating disorder that lasted 3 years where I ate nothing but a single apple each day. I weighed 46 kilos (which even now I look at that sentence and think, that wasn’t that low — see how fucked up my ED brain is). I was playing competitive basketball at the time, this is not a recipe for good performance. I didn’t do it to get my original boyfriend back, I just wanted people to not think I was fat — I thought if only I got my weight under control I would be fine — in others eyes but more importantly, my eyes. Then I rebounded first year Uni and ate hot chips every day, and blew up, and I hated myself. Loathed myself. Then I rebounded again in third year Uni and ate nothing but two squares of chocolate every day for about 4 years. I got away with this because I didn’t eat until I got home which was often late after studying so no-one saw what I ate and I weighed about 48 kilos again then, which was not low enough for anyone to ever think I had an eating disorder. I was just ‘slim’ — mum used to call me ‘spaghetti arms’. Anyway, eventually I got this all under control, which is a story for another day but I am legitimately ashamed of the amount of time, energy, brainspace and effort I have wasted over my life on what I look like. But the gist of the story here is that I have been thin, and I have been heavy, and never did I feel perfect, because striving for perfection is a false god. It does not exist. I intellectually know this is true, but I have to admit its still a constant battle in my brain to execute this.

And changing ones mind is good, I think. In my world at least for the the last 30 years, I’ve been surrounded by a highly dynamic environment, and those who are dogmatic, or cant process new data that might require a change in course/strategy/focus, hear the whoosh of being left behind. One of the great pleasures you appreciate as you get older is first that you have the freedom to determine your viewpoint on something and the second is the realisation that you also have the freedom to change your mind. After all if you cant you change your mind, you are probably not using it.

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