The other day I went to see a client/friend, most of my clients become friends, as I don’t enjoy working with people I don’t like. Anyway, he is an extremely determined and optimistic man by nature, and when I saw him, it made me want to enter some deep breathing zone of perfect meditative balance, whatever the hell that is, to counteract his energy.
He rushed into the interview late and frazzled, and all I could picture was him standing on one foot, balancing an overflowing dining set for eight on various body parts with sticks and canes as props all while trying to hold his breath and plaster a smile on his face. His attempts to be present were genuine, though I could hear his mind churning.
Finally, the room emptied out, and for a brief moment he dropped the dishes, the plastered smile, and the breath returned to his body. He looked at me sincerely and in an exhausted state of sadness said, “it gets better, easier I mean, right?”
I wanted to turn into Mary Poppins or Sally Sunshine, is she a real person? Or some other cheery singing person and offer some ray of golden positivity. Yes, of course, the sun will come out tomorrow, every cloud has a silver lining, blah, blah, blah.
But I didn’t, I don’t. I looked him directly in the eye and with full sincerity and replied no it’s going to get worse. Life doesn’t get easier it gets harder. The problems of the cute girl in English class not noticing you exist and your team lost the championship game, and you crashed your mom’s car, get replaced with trying to pay your rent, trying to feed your kids, and not noticing that your wife is leaving until she’s gone. These get replaced with more worrying about your children and now your parents and your business. And then your health, your spouse’s health, and everyone you know dying, social security, and finding purpose in retirement. Life does not throw easier balls.
AND it does get easier. Not because life creates a filter, only allowing the smallest pieces of pain through, but because you change. In time, if you work on it, you learn to adjust yourself. Unmet expectations cause pain. The distance between reality and expectation and the tightness of the grip on that expectation is the formula for predicting pain or happiness. (This is not where I debate the definition of happiness and joy and all the other adjectives to describe a positive feeling, pick whichever one works for you.) If you practice loosening that grip on expectation, eventually it will get easier to deal with the never-ending stream of challenges the player called life tosses you from the pitcher’s mound.
In fact, I like that analogy. In baseball do the balls coming at you get easier as you progress? No. The better you get, the better people you play with and the pitches come faster and with more twists and turns and challenges. But with lots and lots of practice, you get better at dealing with them. With practice, you learn when to lean in, when to pull back, when to loosen up and when to tighten your grip. You learn to handle it better. If you don’t practice as life starts increasing the speed and complexity of the pitches, you will find yourself unable to deal with them. You will get hit and knocked down and get the wind knocked out of you and find yourself on the ground over and over struggling to stand. If you practice, practice hard like a baseball player trying to make it to the majors, you will learn how to loosen that grip on the expectation side of the formula. You will learn to accept reality even when it is in conflict with your expectations, and while life won’t get easier, it will get easier.