I’ve been laughed at a lot this summer. Not in a dramatic or upsetting way—just smiles born from amusement, chuckles, and head shaking from my boyfriend, my family, and some long-time friends. According to my boyfriend Kyle, it’s not me that everyone is laughing at, just some of the out-there/funny/wild ideas I propose.
Like when I recently stated that my ideal work situation would be one where I have the freedom to travel and vacation for more than one month a year. “Things don’t work that way,” people said and patted me on the arm. Or when my artist brother and I said we’d like to spend a summer living on Santorini and being paid to write and paint. “Don’t get your hopes up,” read the facial expressions. Or when I asked for a side of rice and beans at Chronic Tacos and the woman behind the counter said, “We can’t do that,” despite the fact that the rice and beans were situated three inches from her gloved hands in steaming metal trays.
Why don’t things work that way? Why can’t we make them work that way? And who declared many of these self-imposed restrictions to be one-size-fits-all universal truths?
So you want to take a 3-week vacation, but that kind of stuff doesn’t fly in the corporate world. Or you want to start a business of your own, but you’re told the resources and experience you have just won’t do. Maybe you want to be promoted or receive a pay raise, but you assume it probably won’t happen because you’ve never seen it happen before. Cue the resigned aww-shucks-but-what-can-we-do-about-it smile.
There’s actually so much we can do about it—so much we can do to improve the quality of our lives. As I mentioned before, we have three choices in any given situation: change it, leave it, or accept it. Usually acceptance is the last resort and change is the go-to option.
When my mom was balancing her career and early motherhood in the beginning of the 90s, she couldn’t afford to stop working but also couldn’t bear the idea of not being with her children forty plus hours a week. So she dreamed about working from home. When she shared this ambition with friends, they dismissed her idea, declaring it lofty. “It won’t happen,” they said. “Everyone works from the office.” But my mom didn’t care what the standard of the time was or how she would be perceived for asking for what she wanted. She considered the logistics, proposed the idea to her boss, and he agreed.
As the adage goes, you don’t get what you don’t ask for. Similarly, you don’t get what you don’t open your mind to.
Since when did there become an immovable set of rules applicable to everyone on what works and what doesn’t, on what is achievable and what isn’t? People who use the phrase, “things don’t work that way” have perhaps never tried to make things work that way. Or maybe they’ve never even wondered if there was a feasible alternative to the widely accepted reality they live in. Things generally work the way you make them work and I refuse to take discouraging and critical advice from people who have never done what I hope to do.
“Things don’t work that way” is a weak and hasty conclusion that allows us to admit defeat to a challenge or an obstacle before we’ve even attempted to overcome it. It’s a combination of words that perpetuates our laziness and stunts our critical thinking. It’s a way of expressing hate for the system without actually trying to compromise with the system. It’s an excuse to remain unmotivated or unwilling to do the work it requires to get somewhere you want to be.
Most of all, it’s the best thing to say and convince yourself of if you want to remain exactly where you are.
Yes, it is true that sometimes things don’t work. Maybe you tried to negotiate the parameters of your life and nothing came to fruition the way you hoped it would. That’s okay. You took a stride toward what you wanted and lost nothing in the process. Moving forward from there is the simple part; with one path closed, you either try a new one or adjust your perspective on where you stand.
Regardless of where our efforts take us, whether we experience success or setback, we need to remember a few things: to question traditional roads of achievement, to tune out the inevitable negativity people spew forth, and to tune in instead to our own intuitive sense of what we need to feel fulfilled.
The day that my request for rice and beans was declined at Chronic Tacos, the woman I spoke to came up behind me just as I was pushing open the exit door. “Here,” she said, and handed me two hot plastic cups of red Mexican rice and gooey refried beans. This was one scenario where I dreamed it and I did it.
As for the whole job/traveling thing…I’m still working on that.
Has someone ever told you: “things don’t work that way?” Did you listen?