I stink at golf and have a 20 handicap. Yet I enjoy the opportunity to practice life skills. Although I sometimes cheat and take my first drive over (rationalizing that I haven’t warmed up), I’ll count every other bad shot. After a bad shot, the real skill is recovery. I feel good those rare times when, after hitting a terrible drive, I recover for a par. We all hit bad shots in life that can’t be played over. The challenge is recovery.
Some buddies of mine get bothered by the bad shot or the bad bounce and it affects their game. They get upset, lose balance and their games fall apart. They get mad at themselves or blame others for distracting them and make things worse. Life, to me, invariably consists of a chute with crap being aimed at us and we either shovel it or we drown in it. As we all know, shit happens. Without a crystal ball, we can’t anticipate events and we make mistakes. Many young people, including in my family, have gotten an education only to find the market for their skills evaporated. Many have bought houses based on past predictable appreciation and found the reverse. Children are still being born with birth defects, loved ones still die, people lose jobs and there are still unbalanced people who provide problems for those of us who are more balanced. This is hardly new or surprising. Yet people feel they must get upset when confronted with bad outcomes. True, as long as getting upset doesn’t interfere with recovery.
Gloria, an attractive 36-year-old woman, was devastated when she found out the love of her life was living with another woman. (He was also running for political office.) Understandably, she came to therapy feeling weak and wan. In my view, she did nothing wrong, but made decisions based on his low lies. Honest people think others are honest like themselves and become vulnerable to lies. Of course, she was hurt and in pain. Yet she had to see the game was not over and she had the challenge of recovery. After Gloria fell in love with another man, David, she didn’t even remember her hurt.
A notion we have, which inhibits our recovery, is that we ourselves are careful or strong enough to avoid disasters. Once, when I was cursing myself for a particularly bad golf shot, my partner wisely said, “You’re not good enough to get mad.” I laughed and admitted how correct he was. We’re all vulnerable and we should accept it and move on.
Among the most difficult problems is the death of a spouse, especially after a long marriage. One woman, Daria, whom I admire, was stunned to find that her husband, Glen, who experienced periods of depression, suddenly committed suicide. Glen was popular and interesting to be with, and made his love for her clear. Very much like herself, her grown children could not understand his actions. Unlike many, she did not duck when people asked her about what happened, but was appropriately open about not understanding his actions. I felt guilty because he had asked me to teach them bridge and I had deferred. I felt I could have helped more and knew his family’s guilt had to be multiples of mine. Obviously Daria needed a mourning period. After time, Daria again has resumed her activities and remains interesting to talk to. She has accepted that a terrible event was beyond her control and that she needed to recover, and she mainly did.
Life is full of setbacks. They can’t be avoided. A risk of avoiding setbacks is avoiding joys. Golfers traditionally end each round moaning about the shot they screwed up, but without screw-ups, they would not have the joy of the game. Marriage and kids have much greater potential for setbacks and much greater potential for satisfaction. What may be a prototype for life is watching toddlers learn to walk. They all fall down. They would not grow unless they recovered from many falls. Given the inevitability of setbacks, we should be focused on the challenge of recovery.