3. "He (or she) is a complete idiot."
This is a thought that passes through so many of our minds. Unfortunately, it's also a thought that's attached to the blimp that drifts over your head, where just about any human being in the world can read it—and instantly understand that you think he (or she) is an idiot, causing him (or her) pain that will rapidly change into a rabid, vindictive dislike of you for the rest of your relationship.

Worse, nobody is a complete idiot. They might be a half-idiot or a 14/15 idiot. They're an idiot at Scrabble but pretty brilliant at making homemade pasta. They're an idiot Monday through Friday, when you need them to back you up on the presentation, but a genius at home with their kid, whom they only get to see on weekends and who uses up all their IQ with endless one-color puzzles called Snow or Night. Calling somebody an idiot is one of those easy-to-enter mental prisons in which we ensconce ourselves at our own peril. An idiot, after all—be it our boss or ex-husband or the lady next door with the pet rooster—doesn't really have to be dealt with or learned from or recognized. We can check him or her off our to-deal-with list—leaving us more streamlined in our attentions, but not at all freer or wiser.

4. "I'm too old to go to big-animal vet school."
By big-animal vet school, I also mean tap-dancing academy or the Institute of International Hair Stylists. Because just about all of us have something extraordinary that we haven't yet done and still long to do. For example, I dreamed of a life birthing calves and owning a bunch of dogs and tromping around in the mud with my kids. And yet, while dreaming of it, I was careful to remind myself, "I'm 41; nobody goes to vet school at that age." So imagine my disorientation when Jess from the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine wrote to me, explaining, "We have several students who are 40+, and one who is over 60 (a former financial advisor).You're never too old to go to vet school."

Ding-dong, the big, bad myth was dead. But only then was I able to figure out the havoc it had wreaked. Yes, it'd kept me from going to vet school. But it'd also kept me stuck in the endlessly repeating cycle: "Want to go, too old to go, want to go, too old to go." Never at any time did I consider that I might not want to go anymore; I was too busy being denied (and mourning that denial). Once I understood that I could, in fact, go, I had to ask myself if I wanted to be a big-animal vet enough to uproot my kids and go back to college for prerequisites—and then, after a few years, apply to grad school. The answer was: no, thank you. That's the big joy of dispelling this particular untruth. You're freed to ask yourself, "What do I really want to do—now?" And leave the ambitions of the little girl who used to love James Herriot novels behind.

Next: The one thing it's definitely not okay to do


Next Story