I went to a Subway with my old man a while back. And by “a while back,” I’m talking a couple years ago. Now, I’d been to sandwich shops with him more times than I could count. Since I was a little kid, we both would order our sandwiches, and we both would always have the sandwich “artist” load it with olives. I’d been raised that way. Olives are something we love in our family.

Only on this trip, my dad didn’t order olives and as if stricken with guilt, he gave me an unsolicited explanation for his new non-ordinary behavior. “You know, Dan, after all these years… I realized that I just don’t like olives on my sandwiches.” Okay, I thought. It really made no difference to me, but then what he said next made me think for a moment. “I just realized that I’ve always put olives on my sandwich, but I’ve never taken the time to think about whether or not it’s actually better that way. Once I did, I realized that… you now what? I don’t like olives on my sandwiches!”

Needless to say, I didn’t enjoy my olive-laden hoagie the way I normally would. Instead, I quietly started wondering if I liked my sandwich better with or without olives. The truth was, I’d never questioned it either.

A week later, I went back to the sandwich shop. This time I ordered the same sandwich in a footlong and asked for olives only on one half so that I could easily compare.

As it turned out, I also preferred the sandwich without olives. In fact, it was way better without olives.

I haven’t had olives on my sandwiches since, and something funny has happened. Not only do I not miss them, the thought of olives on any sandwich grosses me out just a little bit. It’s not that they’re horrible. It’s that they make something good be not as good as it could be.

And isn’t that how life is sometimes?

So often we go through life, eating those olives on our sandwiches.

We don’t question the things we’ve always done to know whether our lives are better doing those things or not.

Take, for example, dogs. I grew up with dogs, and I loved those dogs. And when I became an adult, I felt like those same breeds of dogs would be the best dogs for me. After all, they had gone been good for our family and I loved them.

But as it turned out, what I needed was something different. My lifestyle, my temperament, and the amount of effort I could put into my dog was different than what it was for my mom when I was growing up. And once I learned what I needed and what would work for Noah and me, I found a dog that I love as much as I loved those dogs growing up. For the first time in my adult life, my dog is a real member of the family. Somebody I’d fight for. Somebody I can’t just give up because finding a rental home is tricky or because taking him out in the snow to poop is annoying.

Yours and my olives could be any number of different things. They could be the way you do your hair, the way you organize your kitchen cupboards, or the way you fold your laundry.

They could also be bigger things. The way you divvy up family responsibility. The way you interact with strangers. Religion. The type of traveling/vacationing you usually go on.

Ever since my dad taught me the lesson of the olives (a lesson he didn’t really realize he was teaching me at the time), I’ve taken more time to step back and ask why I do most everything the way I do. And there have been a lot of things that I’ve changed because the way I was doing them wasn’t as good as the way I could be doing them. What I was doing was usually working. It just wasn’t working as well as it could have.

Thanks Dad. I’ll always remember your awesome olive story.

Dan Pearce, Single Dad Laughing

PS. What have been your “olives” in life? Looking at your current life, what kind of “olives” might you want to consider?

This post was originally written for the Land O’Moms blog for whom I’m a blogging ambassador. 

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Dan Pearce is an American-born author, app developer, photographer, and artist. This blog, Single Dad Laughing, is what he's most known for, with more than 1.4 million daily subscribers as of 2017. Pearce writes mostly humorous and introspective works, as well as his musings which span from fatherhood, to dating, to life, to the people and dynamics of society. Single Dad Laughing is much more than a blog. It's an incredible community of people just being real and awesome together!