“How are you?” asked a friend who had been avoiding me like the plague since hearing that I had gotten what he perceived to be horrible news last week.
(I won’t bore you with the details, but the news was a curveball I didn’t see coming.)
“Relieved and optimistic,” I replied.
The truth is the “horrible news” had lifted a burden from my shoulders. It was, in fact, the answer I’d been seeking to a nagging issue with which I’d been faced. It was an answer that excused me from having to accept something that would have shoved me a giant step backward in my personal and professional life.
But my friend didn’t see it that way. In his eyes I had gotten news that made the sinking of the Titanic seem like a romantic comedy.
What surprised me the most is that this reaction was very common among many of the people I came in contact with. Not only were they reluctant to talk to me about the situation, some were avoiding me like the plague. It’s as if they feared that by bringing up the subject they would catch my “misfortune” and be dealt with the same fate.
To make sure I wasn’t being paranoid, I started calling people to tell them how liberated I felt.
This was met with an awkward silence and then followed by something like: “Barb, you’re such an optimist.” Translation: “Barb you are in denial. It’s time for a reality check.”
It was impossible to convince anyone that despite what was going on, I was OK!
There’s a line from Dean Koontz’s best-selling book ‘Life Expectancy’ that struck a chord with me while this was happening. The protagonist — a baker who is somewhat of a modern-day version of the Bible’s Job — says: “No one can grant you happiness. Happiness is a choice we all have the power to make.” And no matter how bad things get, “there is always cake.”
Focusing on the fact that he would always have cake to bake and to eat kept him going. Cake was his was his reality check gauge.
The day after receiving the news I woke up and made my own reality check by going through a mental checklist of what’s most important to me.
Am I alive and healthy? Check.
Are my family and my loved ones alive and healthy? Check.
Is my dog sleeping next to me? Check.
Is there a roof over my head? Check.
Is there cake in the pantry? Check.
Well, then, all was well indeed.
We all have times our lives when things don’t go exactly the way we would have wanted them to. During those times, fear has a way of rearing its ugly head. Often fear comes disguised as advice from well-meaning friends and relatives. And before you know it, something that didn’t seem so bad at first ends up looking very much like you’re doomed indeed.
Fear is contagious. Before tumbling down into the depths of needless despair, ask yourself: Is this my fear? Or am I afraid because someone else told me to be afraid.
Don’t worry. Worry is a useless, draining emotion that sucks the life out of you and everyone around you.
While being a Pollyanna is no better, being optimistically vigilant and patient is so much more productive.
When life throws you a curveball, pay attention and wait for the right moment to swing. If you swing wildly — or too soon — contact with the ball is impossible.
Use your power to choose happiness and remember, there will always be cake.