A funny thing happens when you start to make choices that are a little left of centre: people either hate you or envy you. I find both reactions quite fascinating but today in particular I want to focus on envy.
“Love looks through a telescope; envy, through a microscope.” Josh Billings
It has become clear to me in recent years that I have become a person people envy. This is quite amusing to me because at high school I was the typical goody-goody, band-geek, A student and definitely not the enviable ‘cool girl’. But people do seem to tell me I am ‘lucky’ quite a lot these days. Especially this is true of people who haven’t known me for more than a few years and are not in my inner circle so are therefore not privy to the whole story. One area this happens a lot, especially because of my job as a music teacher, is my ability to play the piano quite well. People say things like ‘Oh you’re so lucky, I did piano for a few years at school but I never got that good!’ or ‘Oh you’re so lucky you learnt early, can you teach me to play like that?’ Well, if people never had the opportunity to play any instruments in the past then yes, I got a headstart. But there’s no time like the present, it’s never too late to learn! Secondly, I can teach you to play like this, if you can commit to an hour a day practice for maybe the next 5 years. I have been playing since I was 5 years old but as you are a grown up I think we can accelerate the learning because you have already developed all your fine-motor skills so if you really commit, it won’t take you as long as it took me. I was indeed fortunate to have parents who valued music who started me on my journey (and who didn’t let me quit like I asked to…every single week after my lesson for practically all of primary school!). But it was me who did the practice. It was me who got up an hour before the rest of my family to do my scales every morning for most of my high-school life.
And then it was me who pretty much stopped practicing properly as soon as I left school. There are musicians who I admire these days who are much better than me. I’d love to be able to play as well as them, but I have enough knowledge of how much time, effort and sheer persistence goes into that skill level to feel not one iota of envy. I know I have made other choices with my life and that it isn’t ‘luck’ that I can’t play as well as the pianists I look up to. I also know how much hard work went into getting me to my current skill level so I know that it isn’t ‘luck’ that makes me a better piano player than the person I just met telling me how lucky I am because I actually practiced at high school and they didn’t.
“Diligence is the mother of good luck.” Benjamin Franklin
There are other areas of my life people envy too, like my having Tuesday mornings and Fridays off, and they think ‘Ellen is so lucky!’ Probably every week somebody tells me I am lucky, and I know what they mean. What they mean is that they want the perks of my life without having to do any of the work to get there. All they see is the perk of having some extra time off. What they do not see is the decade of illness, the almost-burnt-out-and-ready-to-quit agony and the hard decisions that led to this current, more enjoyable situation. They also conveniently forget in their fantasies about having my life that I also willingly took a pay cut in order to secure more time off. Funny that!
Yes, I am incredibly grateful for the extra time off. It is worth more to me than the money I could have earned working that extra time because for the most part it means I am able to look after myself far better and therefore be well, be happy and be a better employee and colleague for the hours I am at work. But it wasn’t an accident. I had to make some really hard decisions and also some sacrifices to get here. And I don’t resent that at all. I am just sad that people think they have to get ‘lucky’, or at the very least to get cancer to have a ‘good enough excuse’ (yes, it has been said to me) to take extra time off a job they don’t enjoy to have more life and happiness. When the truth is, all they need is a strong enough desire and the guts to make a tough decision.
“Whatever luck I had, I made.” Chuck Norris
Another area people envy me is in my relationship. I am extremely grateful for the happy, healthy relationship we have created and I’m really looking forward to spending the rest of our lives together. But it didn’t happen overnight or through some stroke of ‘luck’. I can understand single people who are perhaps a little lonely feeling a bit jealous. I remember feeling like that at times too and I think that yearning and striving for love is normal and natural. But it’s the coupled-up acquaintances who openly display their envy that I find curious. Now that we are engaged, people often like to give us advice and warnings (yes, warnings!) about what married life will be like. Mostly the advice is positive and constructive. But every now and then someone will tell one or both of us that the spark will wear off, the passion dies and it all goes downhill, so enjoy it while it lasts.
Sure, we are both realistic. We know love changes over time and already we have experienced the change from the infatuated early days to the steadier pace of long term love. But these people mean something different. They are essentially telling us that the love will die and we will end up unhappy, like them, so we should enjoy the ‘luck’ while it lasts. But I’ve seen the way this man treats (or rather, ignores) his wife, I’ve seen the way that woman speaks to and about her husband. I’ve noticed the way he never takes responsibility for any part of his life and the way she blames everyone but herself for her problems. Maybe it’s not luck afterall…
“Shallow men believe in luck. Strong men believe in cause and effect.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
We both kissed a few frogs (toads, even) before we got together, and we had to learn a lot of hard lessons from those experiences first too. We knew each other for about 4 years before we became more-than-friends and I believe we would not have worked out had we attempted a relationship any sooner. Both of us have worked on ourselves and continue to work on ourselves and our relationship to cultivate the healthy love we have. We strive to treat each other with respect and kindness even when we don’t feel very ‘loving’, and we value straightforward communication instead of game-playing and victim-hood. None of that is easy, but it’s worth it. And as it has nothing to do with ‘luck’, you can create that for your relationship too.
The truth is, you can create anything you want in life, just as I have created my life to be as it is today. There are still things I’m working on changing but I know it’s up to me to change those too. My life is infinitely better today than it was in my early adult hood. I spent a lot of time back then playing the victim and wishing somebody would save me or wave a magic wand and fix my life. Logically I knew that was impossible but I stayed stuck in the wishing and took very little action. Nothing was in my control because I believed that it wasn’t.
“If you think you can or you think you can’t, either way you are right.” Henry Ford
Slowly I realised that I was in control of my thoughts and I began to turn my moods and overall happiness around. Next I began to realise that I was in control of who I allowed into my life and what treatment I would and wouldn’t put up with. In doing so I was able to create better, healthier, happier relationships. After years of putting my health 100% in the hands of various doctors who I spoke to for 10 minutes once a month, things really started to accelerate when I finally took control of my own health. This is still a journey for me but it gets easier and better every day (and it takes a lot more than 10 minutes a month!). And most recently I have begun taking control of my time and how I spend it in a professional as well as personal sense, which has led me to some decisions like reducing my hours at work, upskilling for a new career and launching a side business.
All of these choices are available to you, too. They aren’t luck. If you don’t like something, change it! It only involves believing that you are the master of your own destiny and you have the power to create the life you want.
And you can!