When was the last time you made a mistake or a poor decision, either in or out of a relationship? Do you remember how you reacted to disappointing yourself?
Were you rough on yourself? Did you punish yourself? Deluge yourself with a lot of negative self-talk? Begin to feel unworthy of good things? Or deserving of bad things?
In boxing, the term, "gloves are off" means that hardcore fighting is about to commence. Gloves provide a certain level of protection for fighters, helping them not to do too much damage to each other. When gloves come off, the fight gets more dangerous.
Generally, thirty is the age where we begin reflecting on our lives. Going over our decisions, scrutinizing where we are in life--socially, financially, and career- and relationship-wise--and how where we are compares to our peers and measures up to our own expectations.
Since turning thirty years ago, I haven't stopped reflecting. Each year, time makes some of the things that are left undone more urgent. Not to mention the judgement I levy against myself for the things that I assess have been done too slowly or altogether wrong.
Just today I was thinking about the time that I convinced myself I wanted an MBA, so I paid The Princeton Review an obscene amount of money to help me study for the GMAT. I even went so far as to hire a private tutor. I cheered myself on, but the expensive truth was that I no more wanted an MBA than I did a root canal. By the time I figured out that an MFA was the only Masters degree I should ever pursue in life, I was out thousands of dollars, months worth of time, and I was not feeling good about myself having done so poorly on the math part of the GMAT, even though, to my delight and expectation, I slayed the written and verbal parts like dragons.
I thought about it today with a sense of regret because I spent an opportune time chasing the wrong dream. Using data sufficiency and odd integers as a vehicle to get me to the land of paradigm shifts, synergies, and learnings. Not to mention that I could've used the money to take a vacation. Ugh. That really bugs me!
In a similar way I judge my single life for a number of errors, wrong turns, and wrong people. I have regrets about not saying the things I should've said, not leaving sooner, or leaving when I should've stayed and dealt with an issue head-on, not making an effort, or making too much of an effort, not taking up for myself in the way I've proven myself capable, being too harsh, or being too nice.
I had to learn how to look back on mistakes without mentally flogging myself.
I wore boxing gloves--meant for fighters' protection--not to cushion blows, but to beat my own self up over normal mistakes that not one of us can escape our lives without making. Not one of us.
When I suggest that we take the gloves off, I actually don't want the fight to get more dangerous, I want the self-boxing to stop. Taking the gloves off suggests that we are no longer fighting, beating ourselves up when we look back on our immediate or long-ago pasts.
Practicing meditation and yoga taught me how to treat myself with gentleness and how to shift my view.
Perhaps it wasn't "wrong" of me to pursue an MBA. They were costly lessons, but there's no doubt that I learned a great deal about myself in that process. It still stings, but the difference in how I deal with it today versus yesterday, is that I'm not calling myself a friggin idiot for having tried and failed at something. I now consider myself more of an adventurer! An explorer! Delusional? Maybe, but it sure beats giving myself two black eyes for having been human. For having lived.
As singles, it's easy to get into a game of comparisons and regrets because most of us don't consider ourselves successful until we've acquired our idea of The Dream. Perhaps we should consider adding self-reliance, freedom, and autonomy as part of The Dream so we can clearly see that we're doing well now.
I think it's healthy to look back on life and think about how we would've handled situations and people differently. But I encourage us to treat ourselves with respect and compassion as we do it.
Opt for soft, furry mittens instead of boxing gloves. Be gentle with yourself. You're ok and the things that make you human are ok.
Take off the gloves.
Photo credit: KayVee.INC via CC Flickr