You do stupid things all the time. You know you are doing something stupid while doing it. You know you did something stupid after doing it.
Each time, you walk away from your embarrassing existence hoping no one noticed. Then one cold winter morning all the dumb things you did explode on your face like a broken faucet.
The consummation of human stupidity is a regret-filled recognition. What started off silly and negligible turns into an unfathomable complex regret that all but wreaks us. Because our focus is on the big stuff. Good grades. Respectability. Career. Family. Purpose. And the stupid things, when they show up, they make all your carefully crafted ambitions look silly.
You found your purpose, all right, but what answer do you have for the simple question staring at you each time things fall apart: How could you have been so stupid for so long?
You treat people badly despite knowing you treat them badly. You continue harboring resentment against your dad/mom/sibling despite knowing you may, cumulatively, see them for less than 100 days for the rest of life. You remain in the toxic relationship (with the guy/gal/boss/belief) because it has become your identity and losing it will make you look, you know, like a loser.
Instead of admitting to your stupidity, you convinced yourself with the same simple answer: this is normal. It takes a catastrophe to wake you.
It takes you falling into a deep hole and people showing up to pull you out of it for you to realize what a dick you’ve been all your life. It takes for someone important to pop out of the world, from the rest of your life for you to see the demon you’ve been battling in all your relationships is yourself and you thought you needed a new therapist. It takes you waking up on the morning of your 50th birthday and asking yourself why you feel like shit all the time. Here’s why: you’ve built your identities from the shit people throw at you. Good morning. And Happy Birthday.
Like your ambitions, you don’t see your stupidities until everything feels dire. What’s truly dire are the years of your life you will never get back. The changes you put off because they weren’t big enough.
That’s where self-improvement screwed us over. It told us all changes must be a giant shift, a makeover of the soul. It’s why we love to make overhauls to our life. Like waking up one day and deciding, becoming a minimalist is the answer to all your life problems. Or that energy crystal. Or hugging strangers on the street.
The overhaul is just a fresh start for all your stupidities. Your sweeping change is a comforting ritual: a mass burial of all the fundamentals you don’t want to deal with.
In your quest for a golden future, you built yourself a landmine. Your life needs no massive change. Because stupidity and its choices are irredeemably fundamental. Infuriatingly small.
In our big chase, we think life’s magic is in making the small things disappear. As the reveal of every magic trick shows us, it is painfully simple: You’ve been closing your eyes. The failure of your life is not that you don’t accomplish big things. It’s that you forget the fundamentals.
Roman kings, the wackadoodledoos that they were, had the words memento mori (“Remember, you are going to die”) whispered into their ears constantly. Morbidity aside, it must be irritating to have someone constantly whisper in your ear and resist the urge to show who’s really king. But given I am no roman king, here are the words I would pay for:
“Remember, you are stupid.”
And when you forget, and you will, I’d pay the whisperer a hundred times that to scream the following words into your face: “forgive yourself.”
Forgive yourself. It’s the biggest change you can make.