One of the most important memories I have of being a teenager involves my Dad and I.
But first, let me preface this by saying I was a shit of a teenager. I was angsty, moody and arrogant. I did well at school, didn’t misbehave much, hell, I was even school captain.
But that didn’t stop me being a basketcase. I’d fly off the handle, had more than one screaming match in the playground and the temper on me was… abundant.
I was also ridiculously sensitive, introverted despite evidence to the contrary, a bit boy-crazy and constantly felt misunderstood.
Ugh. What a pain in the arse I was.
(I am also acutely aware that many people I went to high school with are reading this. Hi guys. Sorry I was such a nutter.)
But I digress…
It was after one of my not-uncommon outbursts – possibly boy- or frenemy-related – that my Dad sat me down for a talk.
I was expecting a firm verbal smackdown. I certainly deserved one. But I got much more than that:
“Do you know what the most important lesson I’ve learnt is?” he asked.
“Uhh…” I thought it was a trick. My Dad is a high-achiever. He’s studied at Harvard, ran large corporations, he’s the guy anyone wants in a crisis. How the hell could I, a 15 year-old smart arse, know anything?
“You choose how you’re feeling. And you choose how you behave.”
“But… ” I wanted to interject with an excuse. To blame someone else for my over-reaction. To justify being a shithead.
“No. It’s as simple as that. You are in control of how you feel and you are in control of how you react. You cannot blame anyone else for that.
“You are choosing to be angry. You are choosing to be upset. You are choosing to lash out. You are choosing to be unhappy.”
We went on to dissect my situation in depth, but once he left my room I sat and thought about what he said.
And it really pissed me off.
How could I be in control of my happiness when someone was being mean to me? They were making me angry.
How could I not get upset by bitchy playground gossips? They were making me unhappy.
Not me. I wasn’t doing anything wrong.
But the penny eventually dropped…and it’s changed my life a hundred times.
It took a long time to roll around in my hormone-drenched brain. In fact, I don’t think I even truly comprehended what he was saying until I was in my 20s.
But slowly, slowly, it started to sink in, and it is now one of the main foundations of my personal philosophy*.
You choose your feelings. You choose your reactions. You have the power to choose your own happiness – regardless of what is happening in your life. Regardless of what is happening around you.
You are making that choice.
(*That’s not to say I live by it all the time. As much as anyone, I need this reminder often. Really often. But the difference is, I understand it now. And I understand the power that it brings.)
Yes there are times when you feel sad. Or angry. Or betrayed.
And it’s completely fine to feel those things. We need to feel those things. And you will react to those feelings in your own way.
But you still choose what that reaction will look like.
And as you learn that and apply it, you begin to take ownership of not only the negative feelings and thoughts and actions, but also the positive.
Yes. You get to own your positive feelings too
There are always reasons you could feel bad. You didn’t get the job, you want to lose weight, you feel trapped in your life, there’s something missing. You could easily blame any of these for feeling low.
Because, it’s just what life has dished out to you. It’s a matter of luck. A matter of chance. Isn’t it?
Yes and no.
You may not be able to change the circumstances you find yourself in. But you can look past them. You can choose to be happy or upbeat or joyful or motivated regardless of those circumstances.
And when you do – you get to own that. It’s all you. Your strength. Your character. You are not relying on luck, or chance, or other people to build you up and keep you up. You are not a victim. You become a do-er.
And I’ll be damned if that’s not the most important lesson I’ve ever learnt from a pain in the arse teenager.
What were you like as a teenager?