January 30, 2018
Another year has passed, and though my letters have grown fewer and farther apart, I promise it is not because I have cared one bit less. The past year was a whirl, filled with so many wonderful moments of friendship, family, and something else.
When 2016 ended, a major part of my life also came to a conclusion. After 7 startup years (20 in human years), I took leave of something I helped create and all the people that helped bring it to life. The adventure ahead was unknown, but not all was settled with the past.
I promised last year that I would be more thoughtful with my life lessons. I wanted to take the time to reflect on longer threads in life and spare you the segments small enough for bumper stickers. As I turn 43 today, here is the most important thing I learned last year:
Find forgiveness in yourself and others
If you asked me at the beginning of 2017 what I thought I might tell you now, it likely would have been something about self-confidence or taking risks. But as the year progressed, I learned this lesson the old fashioned way.
Forgiveness is one of the toughest mirrors to stand before. It is a reflection of many things, often things we wished we could not see. It’s too easy to dismiss the ills of the world as the sins of others. It’s even easier to turn a blind eye to how we council, contribute, or otherwise collaborate in the perceived slights that befall us.
The 80/20 Rule
Forgiveness falls under the 80/20 rule in my opinion. Eighty percent of the time, you’re likely to blame in some way shape or form. The other twenty percent can be attributed to chance, chaos, evil and its ilk.
I will always do my best to protect you from all the chaos in the world, but the truth is that bad things happen to good and bad people alike. Not all bad things were intentional, accidents are real. We don’t always understand the consequences of every action we take, but we do have control over the choices that we do make.
That 20% sucks and you may never know what caused it. That 20% is the exception, not the rule.
Forgiveness is the Journey, Not the Destination
Over the last year, I have learned how hard forgiveness is. Many times in my life, I had forgiven but only because I forgot it. I did not stare it down, nor did I try to understand it. The few rare times I couldn’t just forget, I found myself being self-destructive and making matters worse, not better.
Finding forgiveness requires that we ask ourselves why. There’s a technique that many people use in business, but I think it’s incredibly useful in lots of places: The 5 Whys. In short, it’s s process of understanding the underlying reason for something by asking and answering an incredible simple, yet complex, question: Why?
I can’t play out that exercise for you, you’ll have to master this on your own. However, in my journey, I have seen many of the bricks in the road to forgiveness. Remember, these are things we do, not that others do to us.
It’s easy to sit idle or to sit back as situations unfold. It’s easy to know that something shouldn’t happen, yet it does. It’s easy to do nothing.
Eventually, however, there will be consequences to that inaction. Those consequences may be near, far, shallow or deep, but certainly, they will be at your feet. In doing nothing, we give permission to something.
We cannot blame others when we failed to act.
Check your emotions at the door, they say. I’ve never been good at that. I wear my emotions on my sleeve, mostly for worst. While it gives many comfort that I am being authentic, it also invites caution and shuts down conversation right when it’s likely most needed.
Letting your emotions get the best of you will guarantee that you can’t see the world in front of you. Walk away, take a breath, revisit it later — whatever you need to do, clear your mind of all that has been built up and injected.
Have you behaved in an overly emotional way? Have you made up a narrative that isn’t really there? Are you running with your heart, not your head?
We cannot blame others for not mirroring our emotions (we should thank them).
Acceptance is one of the most powerful human forces. We’re social by nature and mostly seek to stand together, instead of apart. We’ll do anything to be accepted, even betray our better angels.
Rejection by those most dear to you is stinging and isolating. It makes us second guess our own place in things. It puts us on the outside, displaces our home. We’ll do almost anything to avoid being rejected.
Are people reacting to you or your ideas? Are these one and the same? Can you separate them, making both better?
We cannot blame others for rejecting our ideas or behavior — it need not mean they are rejecting us.
There are many motivations for the things we do, but for many, it is not selfless. In order to belong to a group, we must be recognized by it for our participating and contributions.
Being recognized when we work hard and do well is a wonderful feeling. As such, the absence of that recognition can lead to alienation and isolation. It never feels good to be recognized for how hard you are trying or how hard you’ve worked, but it is going to happen from time to time.
Have you really done something worth recognition? Do people possibly express their appreciation in ways that maybe you can’t appreciate? Are you being too needy?
We cannot blame others for not giving us the recognition we feel we deserve — most people have a hard time with this, assuming it’s even deserved.
It’s almost impossible to not feel ownership for things, regardless of whether you should worry about them or not. Most troubling, though, is that with ownership also comes fear and with fear comes protectionism. We never want to see something we love or care deeply about harmed.
Fighting the good fight isn’t always worth it. There are times where you’ll know you must go down with the ship, but those are few and far between. More often, what we’re protecting is important to us, but maybe not the best for everyone or everything.
Are you mad that you couldn’t protect something from happening? Are you made something happened to someone or something you cared about? What can you do to make it better?
We cannot blame others for doing what they think is best — I encourage you to assume their motives are pure, but be careful that’s not always the case.
Everything happens for a reason, but not everything happens to you. When faced with adversity, animosity and persecution make for convenient crutches. Though convenient, they almost always betray the truth of the matter.
The whole world isn’t out to get you, but you may make them want to ignore/avoid/detest you with your actions. Every individual is a complex set of emotions and motivations and while they may, at any moment, focus their energy on you in not the best way, it’s unlikely always the case. When it is, welcome to the 20%.
Persecution is the devil that begets all of these other frustrations. It is the worst of them and also the easiest to deflect because it’s just not very likely to be happening.
Are you behaving in a way that turns others away? Are you forcing yourself to be isolated? Are you forcing a forgone conclusion?
We cannot blame others for our insecurities, we can secure their belief.
When You Arrive, Apologize
This journey is not easy, but it need not take very long either. Be true to it, be quick with it, and be honest with yourself first and foremost.
Eighty percent of the time, you’ll find that you’ve ended up in a place that was completely unavoidable and undesirable without any thought or effort. In short, you dug a hole for yourself and now you must get out of it.
Once you’ve arrived at the end, assuming you’ve found any and all faults of your own, you must apologize. Apologize to recognize your role in things. Apologize to bookmark your mistakes. Apologize so you can move beyond.
Do not apologize in return for an apology. Do not apologize in expectation of a favor or reward. Do not apologize until you can acknowledge and forgive yourself for what happened along the way.
Apologies only count as long as you’ve counted (see #18: Sorry Stops Working).
Forgiveness is an act of ownership. If we cannot own the role we played in something, we cannot reconcile it. If we cannot forgive ourselves for our humanity, we have no right to offer it to anyone else.
We never know how much time we have left, but we certainly know we’re not getting back any that’s already lost. Whatever you do, son, don’t be a fool like your old man and waste time toiling in frustration — living is so much better with forgiveness.
The worst thing to apologize for is the time you lost.