All I Needed to Know

I learned all I needed to know about life when I was nine years old, important lessons like when things get difficult you find out who really cares about you (hint: fewer people than you may choose to believe). These were difficult lessons to absorb, but looking back, I realize that was the best time to learn, those critical formative years that lay the foundation for the adult I was to become. These lessons also help me create the characters I put in my stories because they are centered around universal flaws that drive human beings, so while those years weren’t necessarily kind, they produced an important perspective that informs all of my characters. So what were these lessons? Let’s take a look.

Ignorance is not an excuse. Everyone makes mistakes, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with mistakes. They’re good for you because I guarantee that you’ll remember your mistakes long after the dust has settled around your successes. The problem with mistakes is not the act of making them but the failure to learn from them. Such ignorance is inexcusable. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome is truly the definition of insanity and stupidity, too.

Pessimism is a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’m generally a tolerant person, but my experience with Debbie Downers is a mixed record at best. What is it with people who see only the clouds in a beautiful, deep blue sky? Everyone I’ve ever known who is a pessimist has been a miserable fool, and their self-imposed misery has resulted in, guess what, more misery. Pessimism is a cancer that begets terrible results. Life is too short. I’ve since cut most pessimists out of my life. I don’t have the time for them.

Blame is a fool’s game. We are all the result of our own decisions. Let me repeat: We are all the result of our own decisions. We all make bad decisions sometimes. I’ve made plenty, but I own them and move on. Trying to blame someone or something for your failures is about as effective as chewing gum to solve an algebra problem (yes, that’s in a song from the 1990s – guess which one). I’ve never met anyone who’s been able to blame their way to success, and my guess is that’s true throughout the entirety of human history.

Focus on what you can control, which in the end is only you. Getting anxious about what someone else has done or will do is a recipe for a bad headache and a miserable time. Worrying about who has what and who doesn’t isn’t much more productive. Poorly adjusted people spend too much time worrying about things well beyond their control, and come to think of it, most things are beyond your control. This lesson really hit me hard back then, and I’ve taken it to heart throughout my adult life, which has made me so much happier than I would have been. In the end, the only thing I can control is myself, and that’s where my focus lies. Everyone else can do whatever they want.

Each and every one of these lessons informs my writing. Creating the imperfect characters (and all of them should be imperfect if they’re human) requires salting their personalities with flaws. The clueless dolt who refuses to learn from his mistakes and keeps hurting those who care about him and the woman who seeks to blame anything but herself for her own failures are examples of characters I’ve imbued with these lessons. Sometimes, life is stranger than fiction, and that’s certainly true when it comes to my characters. I’ll continue to put these lessons to good use. There’s nothing wrong with mining a deep well of experience or creating characters that are just a hint of this and that from people I’ve met over the years. It certainly makes it interesting and entertaining.

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