6 Ugly Truths You Need to Accept to Get Unstuck
1. Love Is Not a Stative Verb
In elementary school, we were all taught about stative verbs. Perhaps you remember them? Statives are those verbs that describe a state of being or mental condition, such as "to feel" or "to be" or "to believe." Love, for example, is classified as one. You feel it.
Now let's look at a few situations that have me questioning how this grammar plays out in life outside the classroom. Example #1: My friend who keeps sending his mentally unstable mother $2,000 a month even though she is young enough to still work and racks up debt on credit cards that would make a gambling addict panic. Example #2: My 42-old-year girlfriend who keeps meeting the same 42-year-old man over and over and over at 1 a.m. at which point he shyly, drunkenly, adorably reveals that she is his soul mate, only to go back to his 27-year-old fiancée at 7 a.m.
These kinds of dynamics—and others like them—have recently persuaded me that love is not a condition or a state of mind. Love is not a stative verb at all. Love is a dynamic verb. Love is action. Love is dumping the 27-year-old fiancée. Love is refusing money from your son because he's taken on two moonlighting jobs to support you and he can't afford his rent, much less the black Lab he's always wanted. Love is sprinting, struggling, splatting, crawling, kick-boxing, climbing, leaping into the thick of the battle for your own—and somebody else's—happiness.
2. To Learn Is to Watch...and Ask
Like many Americans, I am a teach-it-yourselfer. So is the rest of my family. When I wanted to learn how to play tennis, my dad dropped me off at the local high school with a racket and a tube of three green balls and told me to hit the backboard "until I got the hang of my swing." As an adult, when I need to screw on a ski rack or create a Google spreadsheet or cook an obscure Chinese green, I figure it out via trial and error. Why? I think I'll understand the task more profoundly by teaching myself. A recent study at the University of Louisville, however, found that figuring things out yourself takes longer—with far less accurate results—than observing and communicating with others in the know. Watching the experts—and asking them for their expertise—results in a faster, richer learning curve.
3. Pig Newtons Are So Fig Newtons
Be they disempowered toddlers or exhausted parents or fed-up coworkers or confused, random, mentally unstable strangers on the street, our fellow humans sometimes make up insanely stupid points—then fight fiercely in defense of them. Only Louis C.K. can make this funny. But he does have a point. People—and not just kids—will insist Fig Newtons are actually called Pig Newtons. They will claim Mississippi has seven s's in it. They will swear the sun covers the moon during a lunar eclipse. Your job is not to argue or present the truth to them. You will not get anywhere and you will turn into the crazy person trying to argue your case. Your job is to go to the bathroom and laugh. Or write down your insanely correct points on a piece of a paper towel—and then flush them down the toilet.
4. When Overwhelmed, Cache and Drag
During the Gold Rush days, on the famed Chilkoot Pass between Canada and Alaska, each traveler was required by the Mounties to drag one full ton of "adequate" food and supplies up the 32 miles that lead over the icy summits. Some of these travelers, by the way, were women wearing corsets and long, full skirts. And yet, they succeeded. How? By caching (read: storing) 950 pounds of their supplies by the side of the path, then dragging (read: dragging) a mere 50 pounds for a half a mile forward, then returning to the cache for another 50 pounds, and the process is repeated. When it all worked out, a person might walk 80 miles for every single mile they moved their provisions—which sounds discouraging. But in this way, they were able to move—literally—a mountain of food, pots, tools, water and everything else they needed to build a new life. I'm not suggesting that any of us pack up the contents of our house and drag them in 50-pound bundles through the streets. But sometimes, it can be helpful to put an idea or dream to the side for a while and then, in full defiance of our relentlessly go-forward-at-all-costs culture, to go backward and haul the crucial supplies necessary to make it come to fruition.
5. You Don't Have to Go to the Gym to Work Out
At home, I have a set of free weights, two yoga mats, an elliptical trainer, three yoga videos and a nifty package called OM Yoga in a Box. I haven't touched any of it in months. The workout that I do is pushing my 35-pound 4-year-old two miles each morning over to "Super Hero Camp" in the 90-degree heat. I exercise my arms and legs. I sweat off five pounds. The news that you don't have to go to the gym to work out should be a wonderful truth instead of a hideous one. You can run up the stairs to your office. You can pick up your husband and put him down over and over. Right now, you could be running in place while reading this article. Amazing! Wonderful! But think about it: You don't have to go to the gym to work out. That means you can work out anywhere and anytime—which means all those lovely lies about not being able to work off your stress and take care of yourself are now officially unutterable.
6. You Already Dreamed the Dream
I'm not sure who is going to invent a machine that will inventory everything that goes through our brains, and until this is actually invented, this last truth may have to be reclassified as a hunch. But it does seem as if so many of us worry that we don't know the one crucial thing that we should be doing in life, the thing that will fulfill us more than any other. Even if we were given all the time and resources in the world, we still wouldn't know what to do.
This is ridiculous. From what I have seen in life, I don't think we need to go looking for some new "mystery" dream. The most important ones we've already had. Sure, at a very young age the idea of being a sea captain or ballet dancer occurred to us. But at an older, wiser age, we thought, "I should own a bookstore!" or "I love jam so much I should make it" or "Wouldn't it be fun to be a tour guide it Italy?" We just failed to tie our lives to it. We let it float off, where it eventually ran out of air, sank and got buried by a thousand other more practical or less scary or far less specific dreams.
It feels a little horrible to confront the truth that you knew what you wanted to do (even for .04 seconds) and didn't do it. Then again, understanding or maybe just believing that the dream exists and that we just have to root around for it—not invent it into being—does something amazing. It calms us down. It takes away all the side worries like, "Maybe I'm not creative enough to dream" or "Maybe I'm just one of those people who don't dream." Looking for it becomes like looking for a missing house key while still at home; there's no need to panic. You just have to find what's already there.
Leigh Newman is the deputy editor of Oprah.com and the author of Still Points North: One Alaskan Childhood, One Grown-Up World, One Long Journey Home.
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