Actions have consequences. We may forget it sometimes and act as though our personal bubble is a closed system. But while we often behave as though we are little universes unto ourselves, most of us live in close enough proximity to other humans that our actions have observable effects upon collision with other people, places, or things. It is a feature of maturity that rather than trying to undo those consequences, we swallow our pride, bandage our scrapes, and get up and get back to work.
It’s actually a relatively simple life plan: do your best, acknowledge mistakes, move on, do better next time. It’s all we can expect of ourselves. It’s all I can expect of myself. I don’t usually have trouble with the first step, or the second. But I get hung up on the third. My life plan has been: do my best, apologize for my mistakes, and then berate myself for them as violently as possible. As if I wouldn’t remember. As if I wouldn’t learn.
I do remember. But, admittedly, I don’t always learn. This weekend was a textbook example. I went to trade in my stick shift hatchback for a slightly newer, larger automatic transmission vehicle, and got suckered into a nicer car than I wanted and more debt than I’d planned, all while being overcharged for the privilege. More than one confidant has since pointed out to me that this is not an uncommon experience. But I went into full-on self-flagellation mode for an entire day before I realized that solace lay in giving up on undoing the mess.
It was a relief to call off the dogs and decide to simply deal with the fact that I’d made a spectacular f***-up, a f***-up that, despite the large initial blast, did not cause any lasting damage, would not kill me, and would not ruin my life forever. I’ve talked about an increased tolerance for physical pain on this blog before. If I can’t enjoy a little more psychological resilience as well, then this really will have been a wasted exercise.
And it merits pointing out that I should have known better. I’ve never bought a car before in my life. I’ve never even watched a car being bought. My only experience with the process had been the part where people shake hands and exchange keys. So I don’t know why I thought I could waltz into a car dealership and get exactly what I wanted.
Worse, it was my second dealership of the day – my fourth overall – and I was tired, and my shoulder pain was starting to poke through the medication. My own car was a torture chamber of cramped seats, poor shocks, and constant clutching and shifting. I couldn’t bear the thought of having to drive it home, and then back out again to endure another day of fighting off exuberant salespeople. So I folded. I knew I was being taken in, and I just didn’t have the energy to fight it.
Surprisingly, I’m still stunned by how callously some people are able to take advantage of others. Despite hard-earned prior knowledge in this vein, in the moment I forgot how easily some stoop to the brazen railroading of another human being. But the real problem here isn’t that people like that exist – nothing to be done about that – but that I still don’t know my limits, even after all this time, all this pain, and all of the angst expressed at all this length on all this blog.
We are a culture that celebrates those who push past limits to succeed. It deludes us into thinking that success is the inevitable result. But my experience has been that failure is far more likely. When I try to leap the fences, I usually end up on my ass. I was an easy mark: female, inexperienced, alone, and exhausted. I’m lucky I managed to get out with no major harm done, my pride more bruised than anything else.
We think we know what’s going on in our heads all the time, even though, after the fact, we often have to conclude that we don’t. I’d latched on to the hope that I would not be driving my hatchback home that afternoon. I’m not sure how or when that happened; I had no reason to think it. And in fact, I wasn’t thinking it, not consciously, anyway. But at some point, a decision had been made, and accepted, and written into the program. And as such, just as I had decided, I did not drive the hatchback home. Action. Consequence. There’s no surprise here. And it’s a lesson I’ve been taught before; many times before, many of those times recently enough to be included in this blog.
The experience has thrown into stark relief exactly what my issues are, and how dangerous they can be. Life continues to toss larger and larger boulders at me, and I just look up at the sky and think, gee, that couldn’t possibly happen again, and go right back and repeat the same action and get the same result. Our heads are echo chambers. We have to let other people into them, or we will mistake our inner voice for the voice of reason. We have to remember that the world is too large to fit inside our minds, and we can’t possibly know it all; we can only delude ourselves into thinking so. Which we nonetheless do, or at least I do, over and over again.
That delusion is an action. And like all other actions, it has consequences. We cannot blame life for being the way it is. We cannot get hung up berating ourselves for past mistakes. We have to move on. We have to do better next time. Get up, and get back to work.