“A blazing fire makes flame and brightness out of everything that is thrown into it.” – Marcus Aurelius
One of my favorite shows of all time is the Simpsons. I am juuuuust young enough (or old enough) where I don’t remember a time that the show hasn’t been on TV. I grew up with it, and it pretty much shaped many of my favorite memories growing up! My friends and I would spend HOURS laughing and joking about Simpsons’ references.
Even today, I make connections with other Simpsons fans by sneaking Simpsons phrases into casual conversations. When I nonchalantly say “stop, stop, he’s already dead” or “you’re dumb as a mule and twice as ugly” or “Lisa needs braces” or “everyone is stupid except me” – like Captain America, I could do this all day – many people who “get it” will instantly laugh.
There’s a running joke between me and my boss, who is a baby boomer (I tell you that for context). The joke is I am only aware of things she references because it was on the Simpsons. Tennessee Williams, Rear Window, John Waters, the Beatles, Watergate, Thelma and Louise, A Clockwork Orange… I could go on and on. Right or wrong, I understand <insert pop culture reference> because I watched the Simpsons.
Seasons 3 through 8 is some of the greatest television ever broadcasted. In the classic Season 3 episode, “I Married Marge,” Homer and Marge (do I need to explain who Homer and Marge are?) decide to get married because they accidentally become pregnant with Bart.
In classic Simpsons satirical fashion, Dr. Hibbert gives Marge a pamphlet called “So You’ve Ruined Your Life.”
Ultimately, Marge and Homer didn’t ruin their lives, even thought they thought they had. Despite the unplanned pregnancy (and Bart’s hellion personality), they love him dearly, and their marriage is actually a model for Americans! Who’d have thunk it? Despite their dysfunctional family dynamics and character faults, a “ruinous” situation becomes wonderful and fulfilling.
In fact, the Simpsons aren’t simply self-aware of how “dysfunctional” their lives are, they’re happy just the way they are!
There’s a stoic concept for this: Amor fati – “a love of fate!” Friedrich Nietzsche, not necessarily a stoic, but an influential philosopher nonetheless, came up with the phrase itself. He wrote:
“That one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backwards, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it….but love it.”
How POWERFUL is that mindset? It’s incredibly freeing – to feel not only at ease with everything that is happening in your life, but EMBRACING it. Everything good, everything “bad” – not merely accepting it, but LOVING it!
Like the quote by Marcus Aurelius above, our own fires (our lives) are made brighter and more powerful by everything thrown into it (good, bad, everything). Fires grow powerful by added inflammable items, which is everything in our lives.
That’s the philosophy. Reality is much different. The truth is, life is messy much of the time, and the human mind hasn’t evolved to think in terms of “enjoying one’s problems,” to steal a Zen proverb. It’s an evolutionary survival mechanism to dwell on our pain and misery – to be pessimistic, to desire that things be different. It goes against the human mind to think in terms of “embracing the suck.”
Fortunately, the mind can be trained! It takes A LOT of work, hard work, but it can be done! Through mindfulness and awareness, we can train the brain to be loving of our “woes.”
This type of training is so important in the human resources field (and any work profession, really)! I don’t need to rehash the point here that HR is a TOUGH profession. People are messy and they will try us! Personal events, health events, work events, life events in general will destroy us if we let them.
Don’t let them control you! You control you!
Recently, I completed a 10 Day Gratitude Challenge issued by Kevin Monroe. You can sign up for the next 10 Day Challenge here! It was an incredibly powerful challenge. It forced me to think differently about things – big and small. There is so much to be grateful for in seemingly innocuous things. We can be grateful for even seemingly “bad” events if we shift our perspective and approach a rewiring of our brain.
Your shitty micromanaging boss? Working with them is an opportunity to develop your patience and negotiation skills! Be happy you have a shitty boss, so you can learn what you don’t want to be! “I’m glad this is happening because I get to grow, which I wouldn’t have experienced had I not had this person as a boss.”
Your diagnosis of a mental health condition? It’s an opportunity to be grateful for a family that is supportive and loving and understanding. By embracing autism, for example, an individual will become aware of what an amazing artist he is! Without the condition, he may not have ever developed or had such inspirational talent.
The Gratitude Challenge is a small step in the right direction towards “amor fati,” or embracing the suck. And actually, when done right, there is no “suck.” Regardless, it’s a starting point, and hopefully, more people sign up for this style of positive thinking! It doesn’t ignore the negative; it takes the negative and destroys it.
Yet, I understand many people who read this post would be skeptical. Again, the human brain is not hardwired to think in these terms. “How the hell can I or should I be grateful for my cancer diagnosis?!?” I would never fault anyone for being angry, mad, upset, etc. That’s being human.
Full disclosure, I have immense difficulty thinking in these terms, but I am grateful that I am aware enough to try to rewire my brain! In a few years, I hope to be better. (That’s how long it takes to rewire decades of pessimism!!! D’oh… I mean… woohoo).
What I am saying is that little afflictions and big afflictions happen. No one can change this fact of life, yet changing the way we react to such things makes all the difference. Powerful individuals are those who can look at such afflictions and see no affliction. They see opportunities to grow, to influence, and to be grateful. They see matches to grow their fire.
That is true power. That is true freedom. That is true peace. I admire the hell out of these individuals, and I wish to emulate them to the very best of my abilities! And one day, I hope to make it with them, no matter how many times I fall!