On monkeys, elephants, and clowns

“You can get the monkey off your back, but the circus never leaves town.”
– Anne Lamott

I believe many of us can relate to this quote, and it is quickly becoming a favorite of mine. I know I have a few “named monkeys” (e.g. procrastination, worry about kids, etc..) that I give piggy back rides to on occasions.

It seems like a good portion of our lives is spent trying to hold things together and/or combating the forces that seem bent on pulling them apart. There always seems to be something coming along that increases the degree of difficulty on what we are trying to accomplish. As Roseanna Roseanna Danna was fond of saying, “It’s always something.”

That said, there is much we can do to shape our lives in a positive direction. Good decision making, effort, and the determination to see something through can lead to many successes along the way. But our ability to influence what others do, say, or think is limited. Despite our best efforts I don’t think we can prevent difficulties from finding us anymore than we can stop waves from crashing on the beach. So very frequently we find ourselves reacting to situations not of our own making at work, socially, or even at home.

One thing that is in our locus of control is how we react to situations around us. I think in the long run this makes all of the difference. As a minor example of this close to home, my wife Pam and I go jogging on a trail near our house and we run into a lot of people walking, running, and biking on the same trail. We usually try to smile and say hello to our fellow recreants as we cross paths. Most reply in a friendly manner, but some are gruff or try their best to pretend that we don’t exist. We are sometimes put off by this response or lack of response, but if you think about it that is just silly. Why should we let our enjoyment depend upon their mood and/or social disposition of strangers we run into? That is giving somebody else a lot of power over our world. It is also true we don’t know what is going on in their lives. It is much better to give them the benefit of the doubt and not be bothered. Little things can add up to big things if we let them, and big things just show up on their own from time to time.

The bigger things are harder to deal with, but we just have to ask ourselves if there is something we can do to make it better. If the answer is yes then we should do those things and worry less. If the answer is no, we should also worry less because we have done what we can. I will admit this is easier said than done, but wasting mental energy on things that we don’t have the power to change is just that, a waste.

Anyway, maybe our monkeys can get together and commiserate over a beer or cup of coffee. And if you see clowns or elephants wandering in your vicinity, don’t panic they are just part of the show…

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