Recently I was reminded about the importance of choices and attitude. It took a while for me to learn the lesson, but once I did, the evening made so much more sense.
I had volunteered to do a talk for a group of teen moms in my area. My cousin had asked me to speak to them, and honestly, I was not looking forward to it. I speak to business professionals and adults—a completely different type of audience. I didn’t even know what I would talk to them about, but the woman at The Salvation Army convinced me I had something to offer these young ladies and we decided that I would talk about stress management.
These young women were younger than my own children, so I was worried that my examples and solutions wouldn’t resonate with them and that my ability to help them would be limited.
During my talk I felt like I was wasting my time. These women needed an opportunity to vent and to share experiences with each other, not listen to advice.
Little did I know that this session would offer me some lessons.
Each of the teen moms in the session had more than one child. One girl was 18 and was expecting her third child. I’m guessing most of them hadn’t finished high school because they wanted to “axe me a question” and wondered how “youse guys were doing.”
I felt sorry for them. I felt they had a lot of problems that could have been avoided. I initially felt that if they’d made better choices, their lives would be much better.
Shame on me. I was judging them. I was applying my standards to people I didn’t even know. Who was I to judge them and the choices they’d made? How did I even know they’d made “choices” at all? That was lesson number one for me.
The next day I was telling my girlfriend, Marion, about the night; I explained my horror at their lives and my gratitude that neither I nor my children had walked that path. Marion joked and said, “I see a newsletter article coming on!”
I couldn’t see a newsletter article in this situation initially because where was the lesson in that kind of life? Yet there definitely was one! That was lesson number two—I needed to be more open to seeing the possibilities in a situation.
When you were growing up, what did you want to be? Is it what you’re doing now? For most of us, this isn’t what we’d planned. Not that it’s bad; it just isn’t what most of us thought adult life would be. But we made choices, for good or for bad.
I’m guessing that these girls didn’t plan to start their families quite so young, to jump into the world of adulthood before they were ready. But they did. And some of them fought their situation tooth and nail, while some of them embraced it.
Danica is 18, is expecting her second child and seems to really have a good life. She is happy, very proud of her daughter and handles the stress of being a teen mom quite well. As we talked about stress, she said she fully understood the concept of choices and consequences, about making changes when things aren’t giving you what you need and about being happy with what you have (and not comparing it to what others have). Those are important lessons that I teach about dealing with stress and I’ve met many adults who can’t understand choices and attitude.
Julie was like many more of the adults I see. She spent the evening complaining that her boyfriend wouldn’t help around the house, and that her six-month-old baby cried all the time and would only sleep 10 minutes at a time. She complained that her two-year-old son would come home from his dad’s house exhausted and spoiled rotten. She felt that her life wasn’t fair—why did she get all the terrible boyfriends, misbehaved kids, money problems, etc.?
When we spoke together about changing things that weren’t working in her life and taking control of her stress, she was a fountain of excuses. She knew why every solution wouldn’t work for her, and felt that her life was different from that of the other women in the room.
I know there are many days when she regrets her decision to start her family so early. I know because she was very clear on how she felt about her children, her boyfriend, her son’s father, her everything. She held nothing back.
I teach that we need to avoid getting stuck in the negativity of our situation. We have to recognize the connection between our choices and attitude, and our happiness.
Take a good look at your attitude and ask yourself whether you are contributing to your own problems. I could really see Julie that was stuck in the trenches of her own negative attitude. She was unwilling to change her patterns.
I could also see that Danica was taking responsibility for her choices and was quite happy with her situation.
Do you want to go to work in the morning? (So you can buy your own groceries, have independence, not rely on the government, and feel good about your life, potentially even improving it?) Or do you have to go to work in the morning? (Because you’re being “forced” to?) The difference is attitude, and your attitude affects the way the deal with your choices.
Do you enjoy your co-workers’ company and comradarie, or do you tolerate their annoying habits? Are you focusing on the positive or the negative of the situation?
Are you proud of what you do? Even if your job is serving fries at a fast food restaurant, are you good at it? Do you make people smile? Do you get any satisfaction from it? Or do you hate every minute of it and wish you had done something different with your life?
How you feel about what you do makes a difference.
It took me 12 hours to learn the lessons of last night, but I did, thankfully.
1) Don’t judge others based on your choices.
2) You can benefit from every situation life puts you in. Look for the lesson and the benefit; sometimes it takes a while, but it is always there.
3) You are as happy in life as you decide to be.
4) Your situation will improve the minute you stop making excuses.
5) Embrace your choices and instead of focusing on what you don’t have, focus on what you do have.
Looking back, I am grateful that I had the opportunity to speak to those teen moms that night. When I consider that I went into the night with a negative attitude, I am quite embarrassed.
I thank them for showing me that I need to demonstrate more gratitude for all that I have, that I need to embrace the decisions that I make, and that I need to take responsibility for my choices. Above all, I need to have a good attitude about the choices I have made.