Sitting in the chiropractor’s office last week waiting for my second son to have dislocations relocated, I picked up a copy of Reader’s Digest. In it a man who recently sold his software company for $75 million told of being a homeless drug addict many years earlier, hospitalized just as he started to make some more productive life choices, and his gradual path to meaning. A woman who once thought she could have saved another woman’s life, but didn’t, had the chance to do things differently in another crisis 30 years later, and did, putting demons to rest in the most concrete way (by proving to herself she had changed.) A researcher shared 40 years of analysis of success, and distilled it to the difference between having a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.
I’ve been thinking a lot about tension between opposing ideas being a very good thing. Tents stand up straightest when the lines holding them up pull in opposite directions with equal pressure. It’s not a small thing that our body pushes on our skin with the same pressure the atmosphere pushes back. I’m rather glad to have never once exploded. Yay skin. I’m so glad to NOT be constructed in a fixed way, with concrete structures conservatively designed to resist erosion, maintain initial structure, and be impervious to the years.
I like that I’ve changed. I like that I’ve failed, and sometimes with considerable flair. I like that I’m sometimes wrong, and it isn’t the end of the world. I like that there are things I tried without guarantees. Several years ago edge.com made their question, “What have you changed your mind about?” I thought about that (and about that dangling preposition on a writer’s website.) I’ve changed my mind about a lot of things. Here’s the short list.
Opinions. I’ve never suffered for want of them. It’s good to think about what is important and decide where you stand, where your priorities lie, and what you’d die for. It’s unlikely you’re going to have to, though, and not a good idea to spend your life on red alert, sure that any deviation will spell the end of civilization as we know it. (Also really annoys everyone around you.) I like much more to hear others’ opinions and feel a whole lot less threatened when they’re strong or different. In fact, I’m nervous anymore when there is an absence of dissent, because it seems sure that without its clarification, I’m going to miss something.
Finishing. It’s the point to everything we do, right? “Almost only counts in horseshoes,” right? Maybe. Sometimes. It’s good to be a finisher, to be counted on, to have goals and plans and dreams. It’s also good to live in the present. Why wait ’til the end to realize life was a whole lot of little moments lined up? If I hadn’t been in such a hurry to finish college, I might have really been in college. Luckily, I wasn’t in a hurry for my kids to grow up. And even in multi-million dollar deals and organizations that are changing the world, they do it person to person, in baby steps choreographed between large numbers of people, and it’s never finished because everything needs maintenance. Now, I can change my mind halfway through. I might learn something to make it better. I might decide it wasn’t such a good idea after all.
Resources. Having what you need to do what you need to do is pretty important. Except when it’s not. With fascination some years ago I read of the longest-lived people in the world. They are subsistence farmers in the Himalayas. Every Spring they run out of food, and they fast for weeks. They are thin, without the reserves one needs for “a rainy day.” They work into their 100’s and have babies into their 80’s (yes, I know, my reaction was also, “that’s just wrong.”) I’ve spent a lot of my life hungry, sure that if I just had that I could do great things. But I managed to do anyway. Necessity IS the mother of invention. Doing more with less is an unsolicited gift. Fat is a stored resource, but it also can get in the way.
I’ve changed my mind about almost everything, at least a little. I don’t take vitamins anymore, wear arch supports, or believe that public education is universally destructive. I think you can take faith too far, protect your children too much, and help more than is needed. I think positive reinforcement is important and adulation is poison, discipline is sometimes withholding correction, and ice cream is, after all, sometimes a health food. And I think we have much less idea what “bad” and “good” are than we think we do, and certainly almost never in someone else’s life, even while we absolutely must be firm on what we’ve agreed is just.
I’m not sorry I was young and brash and committed, and a fair amount of the time, narrow. It’s still in there, holding up my soul by straining against my tolerances and openness and inclusiveness. I’m happy to take the responsibility to be self-pruning, and to let life and others come in with the snips sometimes too. I plan to continue to embrace opposites.
So, you, what have you changed your mind about?