Just before I went into third grade, I went to a summer camp near my house. A girl my age named Mollie and I were in gymnastics together, which was one of the camp activities offered. After gymnastics on one nondescript day, Mollie turned to me and said, “You know, your nose flares when you speak.” I was mortified and speechless. Another girl stood by as Mollie said this to me. She and Mollie giggled to themselves as they walked away.
Being 8-years-old, I didn’t have the equipment to respond to this comment. I had never been unkind to Mollie. Rather, I’d tried to befriend her. Instead of being kind to me, she appeared to delight in making me feel small and insecure. Thankfully, she and I did not go to the same school, so I only had to deal with Mollie at summer camp. I avoided her after this exchange.
A few years later, my eldest male cousin decided that my nose looked like a ski jump. For the remainder of my tween and teen years, he and his siblings referred to me as “Ski Jump.” Again, finding myself mortified because of descriptors related to my nose, I withdrew when my cousins showed up. To my dismay, we spent every holiday with those cousins. Thankfully, the nickname fell away around the time I went to college.
Obviously, these unkind but truthful comments have never left me. Over the years, as I processed how I felt, I realized those comments were factually correct. I also came to understand that they could have been delivered more kindly, or not at all. Absent those circumstances, I eventually would have realized that my nose is pointy and that my nares flare when I speak. I didn’t need the words to be delivered as they were - in a cutting, hurtful manner.
Some people use facts as weapons. Under circumstances like those above, the delivery is meant to be unkind and disabling. The deliverer will likely want to you believe that the fact is pure and unadulterated. You are not required to believe this. You are smart enough to detect this lie and address it directly.
If you find yourself in a circumstance similar to one of the above, try this: thank the deliverer for his or her comments. Praise your own attributes. Disarm the deliverer by owning what is yours.
Follow your nose.
Greek mythology tells the story of Sisyphus, who, in broad strokes, was condemned to continually roll a rock up a hill in Hell because he cheated death. Although few on Earth will ever be held accountable by Hades, I suspect some of you have felt like Sisyphus at one time or another. I know I certainly have.
Reasons abound for why you might feel, or have felt, like Sisyphus. Perhaps you are having difficulty at work, or are having difficulty with a relationship. Perhaps you feel stuck in a situation and have not yet figured out how to change it. Perhaps you’ve experienced a loss and are struggling with the emotional tidal wave. Without a doubt, all of these circumstances can make you feel like Sisyphus. Up the hill you push that huge rock, only to lose your footing, causing you to lose control of the rock. Helplessly, you then watch the rock roll back down the hill.
Overcome with anger, grief, helplessness or despair (choose your Gremlin), you might find yourself questioning everything. Many of us have been in that exact place (which might give you a moment of solace).
How do you change this circumstance? How can you operate differently so you feel more like Athena or Hercules and less like Sisyphus? Now, hang on. This is where the answer is simple, but, for a moment, the path gets a bit more difficult.
You must change.
You: Arguh. Are you kidding?
Me: Nope. Not kidding.
TRUTH: We can only control ourselves. Although we have the ability to influence others, we have the absolute power to control just one person – ourself.
By making one change, even if it is ever so small, the situation changes. You stop repeating history and start writing history. You stop making yourself subject to the circumstance and you make the circumstance different.
In this space, I can’t cover every circumstance to which this analogy applies. However, I can make clear that you aren’t required to carry the weight of another unless you choose to do so. Similarly, you are entirely able to let go of weight that is holding you back.
Here is my suggestion: if that rock needs to move or be moved and your efforts have not been successful, try a different tactic.
Drop the rock.
Arriving home after a long day, made much longer by my own twisted emotional state (the anniversary of my mom’s passing is not an easy day for me), I kicked off my shoes and dialed up Fleetwood Mac on my iPod (yes, I still have one). Humming along as I usually do, I went about the evening routine without a second thought. Just as Lindsey Buckingham got to the refrain of the third song, I found myself belly-laughing. You might think the song I was humming is entitled “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow,” but if you asked my college friend, Patrick, he would tell you that the song is entitled “Don’t Stop Thinking About Your Momma.”
I can still see him bouncing down the hallway (at 6’5’’, his bouncing was quite noticeable), singing his version of the song at the top of his lungs. He wasn’t shy, nor was he on key. But he loved his mom. Clearly, he decided Fleetwood Mac had written the song for her.
Finding my mood a bit lighter after the song ended, I started thinking about the way we hear things. When it comes to music, I guess there is an argument to be made about the manner in which the song is sun, but I believe there might also be an element of our lives woven into our interpretation. Obviously, Patrick’s love for his mom influenced his interpretation of those words. Here are a few more I’ve stumbled upon over the years:
Song: Live and Let Die (Wings)
Lyric: Live and Let Die
Heard as: the liver man died
Song: Thank You, Next (Arianna Grande)
Lyric: Thank you, next
Heard as: bacon eggs
Song: Purple Haze (Jimmy Hendrix)
Lyric: Excuse me while I kiss the sky
Heard as: excuse me while I kiss this guy
Song: Bad Moon Rising (Creedence Clearwater Revival)
Lyric: There’s a bad moon on the rise
Heard as: there’s a bathroom on the right
Song: Alive and Kickin’ (Simple Minds)
Lyric: Alive and Kickin’
Heard as: I like fried chicken
While in the car one day, my son asked if Arianna Grande was singing about bacon and eggs. For the record, he loves eggs. Hendrix and CCR’s respective songs have flummoxed people for years. Loving fried chicken is understandable. I have no explanation for the liver man. My husband added this one to the mix. Apparently, his childhood friend would belt this line out when the song was on the radio. Someone eventually told him the correct title of the song, but I don’t think he ever changed the words when he sang it.
It is still funny.
Sometimes, we hear what we want.