There’s no such thing as a free Exit.
A young woman I’d worked with for three years was ready to leave therapy. She was calm, happy and about to step out of the room into the Rest of Her Life. I was excited for her, but I’d miss her. That’s the thing about being a psychologist: just because you want people to live happily without you doesn’t mean you enjoy it.
“So it’s over,” she said. “This is where you say something wise and illuminating that will sustain me all the rest of my days.”
“What if what I say is not Good Enough?”
She grinned at the reference to her perfectionist standards, something we’d worked hard on. But she wasn’t finished with me. “If you say goodbye and good luck, I’ll slap you. I’ve spent a lot of time and money here and I expect the best you’ve got.”
She hugged me then which some psychologists frown on but I let clients create their own ending: if they want to hug, I do too. And I promised when I got home that night I would write her some parting words, tips for life, boiled all the way down.
So here it is, my version of all that really matters.
The Pocket Guide to a ‘Good Enough’ Life
1. Crap happens.
Crap happening to you is as certain as death — and it comes first. No matter how cool or blessed you think you are, you’ll be tested. So arm yourself; stay open to change and keep building yourself an emotional toolkit that will see you through the tough times.
2. Date yourself.
Okay, not exclusively, that would be weird. Nurture your mind, body and spirit — and take yourself out for some fun, sometimes. Yours is the only relationship you can’t leave. Treat it with kindness and respect.
3. Keep your past behind you.
We all have histories, some nastier than others. Invest in understanding yours but don’t let it trap you and hold you back. Life is right here, right now, so commit to being in the present while planning for the future.
4. Show up and show off.
Life is like a lottery ticket: you can’t win if you’re not in. So get out of bed, turn up and offer up the best you have. If you don’t know what your best is spend time working out your strengths: they’re your passport to making a unique stamp on the world.
5. Make bad art.
Seriously. Creativity is soul food. Don’t tell yourself you’re not imaginative, just make stuff. It’ll distract you from you problems, ground you in the present and give you a sense of accomplishment. And if you’re paralysed by your own lofty expectations, rip them down and start making BAD art. It’s really satisfying.
6. People matter (but some don’t).
Good relationships are the foundation of happiness. Bad ones will tear you apart and wreck your self-worth. So invest in those that matter; build a handful that will last — that will grow and change with you — and let the toxic ones go. They only serve to limit or hurt you.
7. Be quite nice.
Don’t be drop-dead, sickeningly nice because mean people will walk all over you. Be kind and generous but say no, sometimes. Stop grovelling for attention or approval and don’t dwell on what others think of you. If it helps, when you get to 50 you’ll realise that no-one was all that interested in you anyway.
8. Your body is not a temple.
Your body is just a body. So don’t get all obsessed with it. Feed it well, move it and treat it with respect and it’ll pay you back with strength and energy (and by fitting into your favourite clothes). Abuse it at your peril — it may just seek revenge.
9. Jump with two feet.
Not off a cliff or anything dangerous, obviously. But whatever you do, do it with your whole heart. Throw yourself right over the bar. Being all-in will light you up. Being half-in, half-out in work, relationships, family life will prevent you from getting the most pleasure/success/love out of anything.
10. Life is a long sprint.
Statistically, all going well, and with a little luck thrown in, you will live a long time. The great temptation of youth is to DO IT ALL NOW. Set goals! Be productive! Have a 6-point morning routine! Read 10 books a week! It’s all good stuff but you’re also allowed to lie face down, eat too much pizza and binge-watch Netflix sometimes. Take your time. Create a life that means something or leaves something. Think. Adapt. Evolve. Shuffle forward. And look for the gold in your world — even when all you can see are iron chips.