Last week, I published a post called Whose Life is it Anyway. If you haven’t read it yet, I’d suggest you read that first as this post will mean much more to you.
One comment that came in on that post said, “it seems to me that if your marriage, your job, and your religion weren’t making you happy, MAYBE the common denominator is YOU! Maybe there is still something resonating in YOU to make YOU unhappy with everything else. It’s a bit scary that you are encouraging others to make the same choices you did. I do think you are a great writer, but I’m not sure you are qualified to be an expert on life.”
To this reader, I would simply say, “of course I’m the common denominator.”
There are the obvious common denominators. I accepted a job that I knew I wouldn’t enjoy very much. I chose to marry the woman I did. And it was I who was still trying to follow a religion long after I had stopped believing in it.
But let’s forget about those surface truths for a moment.
There are the less obvious common denominators that were also all “me” which are much more important.
Over the course of my career, I fell in love with money. I fell in love with things. I fell in love with occupational accomplishment. I grew to enjoy traveling on business and being away from my wife. I grew to believe that my income and my possessions somehow made me a better human being than others.
Over the course of my life, I came to believe that looks were more important than the heart when it came to women. I believed that anybody who loved me needed to do so without expecting anything in return. I didn’t think making my body attractive to my mate was important. I made and laughed about many degrading jokes about women. I was unwilling to give in the way I needed to for any relationship to ever work.
And, since I was a teenager, I was as much of the problem in religion as anyone else. I made snide remarks when somebody did something that I didn’t approve of. I put pressure on fellow church members to never mess up. I had my sins that I loved and which I kept hidden. I declared that I believed things that I didn’t really believe just so that I could impress others or be accepted by others.
Now, I wonder…
If I had written the post in such a way that I didn’t mention the ultimate decisions to leave or start over, but instead focused only on the common denominators, how would it have gone down?
Had I repeated those exact paragraphs above (about the less obvious common denominators) and asked you all what I should do, what would your answers for me have been? If you didn’t know that I was miserable at work, in my marriage, or in my religion, but only knew what I wrote in those three paragraphs, I’m serious… What would you tell me to do?
Read them again because this is really important in regards to the discussion.
Call me crazy, but I’m guessing you’d tell me that those things are no way for anyone to live. You’d tell me it was obvious why I was struggling. You’d tell me to do what I needed to do to fix them. You’d encourage me to rip my life apart until I was shed of those demons. Those unhealthy ways of thinking and living.
I’m going out on a limb here, but I’m betting you’d probably tell me that I would never find true happiness until those things were all a part of my past.
Now, zoom out.
And what if the only three things I told you were what I shared in that first paragraph. Here they are again.
I accepted a job that I knew I wouldn’t enjoy very much. I chose to marry the woman I did. And it was I who was still trying to follow a religion long after I had stopped believing in it.
Are you starting to see a little bit of the problem we all face every single day?
We live in a world where people judge others on the surface denominators. People tell each other what they should be doing and shouldn’t be doing based purely on those surface visuals. People think that everything is so right and wrong because they see only those definable and extrinsic parts of the lives of others.
People are almost always incapable of seeing what lies beneath. They’re almost always incapable of seeing what causes such things. They’re almost always incapable of seeing how anybody really got to where they are.
And it isn’t just the world.
We ourselves are almost always only capable of seeing and not seeing the same things in ourselves.
When I got to the point in my life where I couldn’t hold anything together anymore, and I couldn’t figure out why, do you honestly think I had any idea that those sub-surface denominators existed or were problems? Do you think I had any clue where to even look for the problems?
In case you’re not sure, the answer is no. I had no clue and I was doing nothing that would ever lead me to figure it all out.
And my answer was always… more. More money. More gifts for my wife. More time on the road. More pressure on others. More. More. More. More. More. More. More.
And everything in my life kept falling apart.
And that’s why, even when I’d pick up the pieces again, and again, and again, it would always fall back apart. It wouldn’t stay together. Because, you see, I would always put the pieces back exactly as they were before, certain that this time it just needed a little more glue or a little more this or a little more that.
Hello, I just ran across your blog and I find it very endearing. I too can really relate to everything that you said. I come from a similar situation but opposite direction. I am now a single mom of 5. I remember the day someone that I was talking to (whom I respect and love very much) said, "You are living a lie."
I was very offended because I have always been honest with my business and over-giving with anyone I meet and love.
After I thought about what he had said he was right. I only let people see the good parts of my life and hid the fact that my spouse was really a verbally abusive jerk and that there were real problems that could not be fixed. That it wasn't an honest way of living life pretending that all is fine. I finally saw how by MY denial of all of these things, I was teaching and damaging my own children that I love so much.
I thought that I could show them strength in spite of difficulties and not to run away from problems. I became part of the problem. I can never change another person. I can only choose not to be treated poorly. I learned and want my children to know charity for another person means giving and forgiving but also not allowing them to take advantage of you and beat you down. It is not charitable to allow others to continue to be mean.
The last thing that I share that I thought was very smart. It is a quote I heard a long time ago, "Men marry women thinking they will never change and women marry men thinking they will change."
I will enjoy reading more of your words. I find you honesty and openness, courageous and very kind.
Love, love, love your post. Just last night I admitted to my husband that I am the common denominator in my unhappiness in areas of my life, particularly friendship. It's funny how everything is on the internet. I just googled "when you are the common denominator" and I was blessed to read your blog.
Although I did not read your first post, please know that this one is for anyone who desires emotional healing in this area. I truly appreciate your thoughtfulness in sharing with those of us who do.
My sincere thanks and may your life be wonderfully blessed and enriched with joy.
I could tell you the exact point in time and place I knew I had reached peace within; my very definition of happiness. I will tell you that its silly, though what’s most important is I no longer had to ask myself where happiness was, I just knew. *That’s the beauty of it.* Once I began to feel this inner peace, it was okay to move forward in my life.
Though with considerable thought, research, and logic, I realized achieving Happiness is more derived from a correlation of strengths in your life and not an easily contrived step-by-step process. Happiness happens.
Thank you for this post. Hits the nail right on the head. Coming out of our closets is the hardest thing we will ever do and the most rewarding. To live authentically is the most important thing that we humans can do with the gift of life that we've been given. Keep reminding us, OK?
Hello again, Dan.
I had originally thought that I would have something good to add, but you seem to have covered it.
In my feedback on "Whose life", I mentioned that I have had to piece myself back together. In fact, several times. Today, I have a fairly stable life, but I know that this could change in a matter of minutes. I also know that I alone have the power to accept defeat or start over. Heh, my mother always says I'm just too damned stubborn.It took a lot to discover what patterns I needed to break. Now that I know, I have made a lot of progress toward that goal.
I, too, loved this post because it showed me that not only is it truly my responsibility to make myself happy, but that it's totally possible to stop putting so much pressure on my husband to make me happy! He has his own happiness to worry with!
I have spent the last 10 years in what can only be described as love triangles with the father of my children. I met him as he was getting divorced from his first wife. We were never married and I walked away after 4 years only to discover myself back 3 years later and interfering with his new marriage. I thought I could be what he wanted and needed and he would finally put that ring on my finger.... how wrong I was. But I didn't *get it* until after my 4th child was born 6 months ago. Finally I had an awakening that my life did not include him in it as a partner. As if it wasn't obvious enough. And that even though I had always told him that HE was the common denominator of pain and misery in our lives it was actually me. I am the common denominator. I'm finally ready to move on and stop being so self destructive; actually live in the present and not in the glossed over past, thinking 'I should have done this because then we'd be together'. Everything in my life has been a work in progress while I've been dealing with my pain of lost love. I have been paralized by it. Your post ' Who's life' really spoke to me because it's where I am now. I'm learning that I'm worth happiness and I'm not going to find it in that situation. That who I thought I was, is not real, and as a result, the concept of our relationship wasn't real. Everything I've done for the last 10 years has been like a record on repeat. I walked away for all the right reasons after 4 years but I walked into another relationship of the same make up, which tells me I wasn't ready. I hadn't dealt with me, and I ended up repeating my past. It's time to change the music and move on from the past. It feels pretty liberating and confronting to know that I am accountable for my actions. And I hope with accountability I can finally make good decisions about how I want my life to look. I'm looking forward to reading the next 9 days of your work.
I love this post even more than the "Who's Life..." post.
I always blamed myself for not being happy, and at the same time didn't take any responsibility. (How on earth is that even possible? If I hadn't lived it, I wouldn't have believed it.) I kept beating myself up for not being happy with the way my life was, but never did anything to change it. I know WHY, I thought that was my only choice.
I completely identified with the idea that my life didn't fall apart when I left the church, left my marriage, and started making the huge and drastic changes: My life had been nothing but a mask for as long as I can remember. It felt so good to finally stop pretending. And to finally let myself just be me.
I wasn't just afraid of losing other people's approval: I was afraid I would become a horrible selfish, evil, (insert a bunch of other "bad" adjectives here) person. Living my life for me has actually created just the opposite. People used to think I was a very kind person, because I gave so much out of guilt and fear. Now, when I give, it comes from within me. I have choices that I never used to have... I'm rambling, and I know it... Mostly, I just loved this post. Loved the way I felt reading it and remembering my journey (and looking forward to all of the things I am going to continue to learn as I create my own life). Thanks Dan!!!
My co-worker made a comment last week about her ex. She said being with him was exhausting, because nothing was ever "right" in his life. After 20 years, she threw in the towel and said enough! I didn't realize how often when we are unhappy with ourselves, we put the burden on our spouses to make us happy. It really opened my eyes because I am more often a "glass is half empty" kindof girl. I'm going to make an effort to "own" my happiness and not expect outside forces to give it to me...These posts have re-affirmed what I think I already knew...Thanks again Dan...Even an old married lady like me can use some good advice once in a while!
Im in the midst of a career change. Writing. I have a passion and a gift but never the confidence to seek full time or as a profession. I spent many years in a profession because I was good at it, but didnt love. The payroll was my motivation. Today i see a change. I see the changes in my attitude everyday and people around me see a change. Im happy! Theres no payroll high enough to take this away. For years I stood on the edge looking; this year I took the leap. I can breath.
I took ownership of one thing that impacted me the most every day of my life. Now I can see clearly where and what was impacted by my complacency. A lot. Years ago I made decisions in other areas of my life I took ownership and created change: my marriage, my life after divorce, my relationship with my children, my priorities, my choice of women, my debt, and material things. I left a devastating marriage marred with betrayal, angst, dishonesty, alcohol.
I reprioritized my life and found my children again and made them my priority. I learned and chose better women to be in my life and my childrens lives. I loosened my debt and migrated away from hefty purchases and big prize items. Something still got the best of me. Why was I still stressed and anxious. Why couldnt I relax or settle down. I could never seem to take ownership of my career.
Now I have. Im a better person for it and others in my life and those relationships are now better. Because I took ownership of the one area in my life that alluded me for so many years. New Beginnings! I can love again, and that love is in me.
I read both of these posts and I wasn's sure what I wanted to say after the first one, but after this one I know what I want to say. I have always been the common denominator. It took me almost 40 years of life to figure it out, I'm 41 btw. I knew as a kid I was always unhappy. I was never good enough, I never liked who I was. That was because I always focused on making everyone else happy and because they weren't happy with who they were I wasn't ever "good" enough. I'm an enabler, I married an alcholic in my first marriage and it turned in to physical, sexual and emotional abuse, until one day I woke up and said my kids deserved better, not me, my kids. I didn't think I did. I bounced to and from other relationships that all had some sort of control issues in them and usually with someone with addictions of some sort. But I could save them right? I could make them happy enough they wouldn't need anything else. Heck no. I was miserable and I wanted out. I was dying inside because I made those choices expecting someone that was incapable of loving me to give me unconditional love. But how could I get that from someone when I couldn't even give it to myself? After my second marriage ended, I did alot of soul searching and realized why I picked people like that. I stayed single for almost 3 years, it was all about me. But then I realized I still wasn't really happy. I had a good job, I was self sufficient and I was still miserable. I had a baby in 2009, her dad was again not a stable or reliable person, but I could fix him. I kicked him out and changed the locks when she was 4 months old. I deserved better. This was the turning point for me. Having this amazing little person in my life renewed my faith in everything. Made me know what true happiness was. Made me realize that everything else isn't as important as living my life and being happy. I got laid off from my job of 5 years back in February of 2010, It was like a weight was lifted off of me. I again started thinking about the life I want to have and that people aroung me should be wanted not needed. How I was going to make myself happy. How I was going to make changes to find my own happiness. I knew I didn't need a relationship until I figured all of that out. I also didn't jump into the first job that came along out of necessity, I decided to do temp work until the right place came along. I met someone about 8 months ago, we are both totally happy with who we are as people and it has lead us to have a completely open and happy, trusting and loving relationship. I have an amazing daughter that is 2 1/2 going on 30, who's smile takes away all that is wrong in the world. I started an amazing new job two weeks ago that is offering me a stable place I actually want to go everyday. And even though there are still troubles out there, I know that I can face them head on because they don't define who I am.
I believe we are all a work in progress. As we mature, as priorities shift, we can choose to affirm that we are, right this minute, exactly where we should be - either to learn a lesson or teach one. Happiness? I am beginning to think the word is overrated. Maybe a bit cliche'. I think that when I feel worthy enough to risk being vulnerable to others, then I can embrace my choices with contentment and peace. (I sort of just paraphrased Brene' Brown, PhD). You are certainly making a lot of valuable points. We are the common denominator. We have to believe that we have value in order to value others their own right to happiness. Bravo. I can't wait to see where this goes next...
Thank you. You've no idea how much I needed to read this today. It's time to rebuild with a design of my own choosing, not the cookie-cutter stuff that is sold to us as what life SHOULD be.
I rarely find anything in your posts that I don't agree with, and this one was no exception. I am still struggling with the "letting unhealthy things go" part, but I am farther along that path than I was 2 years ago, or even a week ago. One thing that came to my mind as I was reading this, was a talk I heard in church yesterday. He had a piece of wood with 2 wooden blocks glued to it. He then put a piece of cardboard shaped like an arch behind it, and proceeded to talk about the "keystone" of [our] religion. He put one block at a time on top of each other (like faith, the Atonement, the scriptures, etc.) until there was just a small space at the top. He placed that "keystone" in the space and removed the cardboard piece that was holding all the blocks in place. The arch stayed firm and steady. Then he took the keystone out, and it collapsed. Yesterday, before I read this blog (after reading the original "This is my life..." one) I was sitting there in church, thinking about how my personal arch is constantly wavering. Sometimes I am doing what I love, with people I love, and giving of myself, but many times I am missing that keystone in my life. If I was to label my blocks, they would be all the various "shoulds" I have put on myself, and the keystone would be "Follow the counsel of others". What I want to do is to label all the blocks with things like, "Be yourself" "Follow your dreams" "Love without Fear" "Give without Keeping Score" etc. and the arch would be called "Happiness".
Erk! You said, "Love can only fall apart on a person so many times before they can’t keep blaming everyone else". Unfortunately, I know far too many people who have lived the majority of their lives continually blaming everyone else. Anyone else, except for themselves. They are never at fault.
Give yourself some credit, because you saw something that some people never see: a good part of your unhappiness was due to your choices and your actions (or inactions) and therefore it is within your power to change it.
There is a big fat lie that circulates around the people of this world and that is that 'circumstance' makes a person happy. Let me dispel that falsehood with the truth. No one ever FINDS happiness. It's not wrapped in wrapping paper hiding on the desk of the one great job, it's not hidden under the clothes of the woman you think is your soul mate, it's not going to just APPEAR if you look hard enough.
Happiness is a decision. It is often disguised though.
"I see a man, he looks like he needs help, or maybe just a good meal, should I help him?"
"My next door neighbour's yard hasn't been mowed since her husband died, should I mow it for her?"
"My child has been asking if I will play with her outside in the garden, should I go and play?"
...happiness is a product of genuine goodness. Happiness is a product of serving other people. Happiness is a product of letting go of selfish desires and focusing on the needs of others. It builds one drop at a time, one choice at a time and soon enough, if you choose it over and over, you'll realise that you are truly happy, and that you are showing other people that they can be happy too.
We are the authors of our own perspective. Unfortunately, our conscious selves are not the only ones writing. It's worth it to remember that bad brain chemicals from a malfunctioning body can be the primary author of our perspective.
You learned that you needed to get right physically too, and were fortunate enough to be young and resilient enough to be able to change your thinking without fighting your body. Realize how lucky you are to be able to do that.
This is so true....brandon and I are constantly saying : 'after this hurdle things will ease up'....we're usually referring to finances but its true for everything....and its never true! After every hurdle, is another hurdle. Climbing, overcoming, learning, growing, even struggling is the human condition. If it was easy, nothing would be worth it and everything we have has been sooo worth it! When I'm down and out, I remind myself that I've been down and out before and guess what?!?! I'm still here! Sometimes it 3 steps forward-2 steps back.....but happiness is in the progress. Always learn something. Always take something possitive away from your struggles. Happiness is in the learning, in the progress, in the journey.
This one frustrates me.. b/c I am apparently the common denominator (according to this) for my business not working anymore ... and its actually the fact that people have come into my business and dropped our prices so low I cannot compete. Its not as simple as dropping the prices. Im out numbereded by lowballers. I tried to raise them to get high dollar people but unfortunatly the year long experiment didnt work either. For 17 years I was the sole breadwinner, able to manage two properties and live just fine. Since my markets dropped... I am starving. Im 46 and I cant just change jobs! I own a building with taxes, and bills! Its frustrating to me that I just cannot change this around. :-( I dont know WHAT to do to be happy when I am in this pit of hell.
“The reason people find it so hard to be happy is that they always see the past better than it was, the present worse than it is, and the future less resolved than it will be” ~Marcel Pagnal
I'm a new reader here. When you say you left your religion, did you find truth in Jesus Christ, or was He part of what you left behind?
I may be wrong, but I think what your reader was lamenting was the fact that you dwelt mostly on the second part of your two-part question: "First, 'could I possibly be happy if I give more?' and second, 'how bad do I want to be happy?'" I think s/he was worried that people reading your post would glaze over that first part and jump straight into doing something drastic without first pausing to examine whether one could be happy without changing the situation, but by changing oneself first. I would love to read a post from you expounding on the first part of that question, because it does seem a bit out of order to me too. If you are unhappy with your life, first examine yourself, and see whether simply changing your own attitude will fix it. If you don't change yourself first, change your situation all you want and you will never be happy. At least, that's the story of my life so far. I've been miserable most of my life, having lived with Clinical Depression since at least high school. It wasn't until I got help for my condition and changed me, that I was finally happy. Then my circumstances changed beyond my control - first my husband was laid off, and then I was "let go." We still don't have permanent jobs. We're barely scraping by with no idea what the future holds for us. Our bank account is a lot closer to zero than it used to be. We've had a lot of things taken away from us: our house, our car, our dignity. And yet, even though I'm not happy with the situation, I'm still happy. I'm happy in my marriage, I'm happy with my kids, I'm happy with my growing relationship with God, and most importantly, I'm a lot happier with the person I've become over the last few years. I shudder to think where I'd be right now if I hadn't chosen to change myself into a better person before life happened to us. I'm not perfect - I still have a lot of improving to do before I'm the person/mother/wife I really want to be, and of course there's a lot of improving to be done about our situation, but am I happy? YES!
What a good post. Very deep. As you know from my blog last year was very hard for me to. Being a single dad like you we share the same struggles and goals. There is an old native american story that goes. " A young boy was talking to an elder one day and the elder told him inside all of us are two wolves. One represents love, joy, and everything good in life. The other represents anger, sadness, hate, and everything that makes us unhappy in life. The elder told the boy they are always at battle with each other. The boy asked, "then what one wins"? The elder replied "the one you feed".
We will always feel both sides of emotions it is up to us to over come what we have been through and feed the emotions that help us grow and become stronger people. Then the feelings of anger and unhappiness are to weak to every even show.
As always you have touched us as your readers Dan. Again a very good post...
I hope you are still making sure if the Juice is worth the squeeze...
This is absolute truth. My life was a hot mess a year ago, and then I lost it all. Everything fell apart, one knocking over the next like dominoes. When I finally hit bottom, I stopped with the glue and the more, more, more. With the stark realization that it was all falling apart because I had put the pieces together incorrectly to begin with, I finally had the courage to step out of my comfort zone and try a different arrangement. And here I am... happy.
You absolutely have the right idea here. We have to stop being the victims in life (everyone's out to get ME!) and take responsibility for ourselves - our failures and our successes. I am a very happy, positive-thinking person, and for me the key to that inner peace was removing drama from my life, mainly by distancing myself from those who love to wallow in personal drama and bring everyone down with them. Obviously, the choices you had to make were much more earth-shattering and shocking to those who knew the old you, while my choices have been much quieter and probably not even noticed by others, but the message is the same - there is always a choice, you don't have to live your life in a way that pleases everyone but you, and (I believe) finding your own happiness will result in all the messy details working themselves out in ways you never expected.
I think this is the beginning of some really great dialogue and an excellent beginning to the series. For the first time in my life, I am making decisions based on me and my needs/desires. But this has taken a lot of work, a lot of looking at my own patterns and behaviors. I completely identify with the feeling of needing to control people and situations in order to "live" in our unhappiness. That never works very well and always leads to more unhappiness, whether that control comes in the form of pushing my own agenda or bending to the will of others. I can't *make* other people happy any more than they can *make* me happy. The reverse is also true, of course.
I am absolutely the common denominator. I have to take responsibility. I have to remember that anything/anyone I am uncomfortable with, angry at, or unhappy about, I have to first look to myself and see what part I play. Every other person holds a mirror up to us, and our job is to look and make sure what we see there is a true representation. It is a constant and awesome responsibility, but the results are so worth all of the work.
I look forward to the rest of the series.
I used to be the common denominator as well. And, as you say, it's amazing what changes once you decide that you need to be the one to change. Now I'm still working like mad, but now I'm splitting that effort between a job that makes money and college, so I can finally stop talking about becoming a doctor and can actually say I'm working towards it. I still get just as few hours of sleep, but I'm 1000 times happier.
Like so many of your posts, this really resonates as this theme came up repeatedly over the past week. But it's not as simple as *I* was the common denominator in my choices. I found if I took the time to be really be open and recognize the similarities in the situations that I kept choosing, it told me a lot more about myself. Such as settling for something that seems secure or accepting love at face value without doing the hard work BEFORE you get in a relationship. It's kinda easy to self-blame and then fall into the trap of depression/victimhood. It's a bit harder to take real responsibility and figure out what the choices were and WHY you made them, and commit to changing that. And that's just for YOU! Then you look at others that are in your life and wonder, what makes them make THEIR choices, and why don't they see the patterns or have an interest in changing them? Especially when it impacts your life... keep writing and pondering and building a new life, Dan. We are all reflected back from each other.
The question posed to you by one of your followers seems a bit judgmental. Of course WE are the common denominator in the equations that represent our life's decisions. If the decision was not a good one, then the equation should be altered, correct?
Couldn't have said it any better myself Stacey. I work in a field where I am constantly taking care of others (by choice and I love what I do) but I always forget to take care of myself, and always second guess as well.
My biggest issues are being a 'people pleaser' and not acknowledging my own self worth...something I struggle with every day.
I write in a blog inspired by my experiences with my Ex and raising my children as a single parent: www.parentingforsingles.blogspot.com. Come join me!
Dearest Melissa - Good for you! I think we all have those defining "aha" moments where we look in the mirror and say, "enough!" Whether it's a marriage gone bad, a job that no longer holds meaning, or a set of beliefs and thought patterns that we learned all too well at the hands of family that we can no longer believe - we come to that point in the road where we choose to live or die. And any choice that is not self-affirming is a choice to kill our self-esteem and -worth. I wish for you all of the love that being the mother of a toddler can give you. You deserve nothing less. Happy healing, dear one. ~Martha
@deleted_2131978_Sarah Mickalson I just have to say that was such a good comment. As a person coming from divorce i am sorry. I hope you are stronger from it. Your comment was so very true and honest. Very well put....