Welcome to Stuff I Learned Yesterday! My name is Emilee O’Leary and this will be my final installment in the last season of Stuff I Learned Yesterday. I believe that if you aren’t learning, you aren’t living. In today’s episode of Stuff I Learned Yesterday, I am going to share a story about an attitude wake-up call I received over a decade ago that is still helping me to make behavioral adjustments.
Since this week wraps up the final season of Stuff I Learned Yesterday, the Friday Forum is actually on Thursday this week. If you’re listening to this on the day it was released, Wednesday December 28, you have until 8 PM Eastern TONIGHT to get those contributions in! Please use our feedback page on our website or call our voicemail at 304-837-2278 to drop some wisdom on us. And, while we’re on the topic, I just wanted to take a moment to thank all those who’ve contributed over the years in making the Friday Forum such an amazing source of wisdom and inspiration. It’s been a pleasure to share in the stories and lessons so many of you provided, thank you for that experience.
I would be remiss not to give you one last word of the day for my fun fact segment! Today’s word is epilogue. This word is probably familiar to most of you, it’s seen often in novels. Epilogue is a noun and identifies the concluding part to a literary work or a novel, or even, sometimes, in a speech. The intention is to leave readers or listeners with a final commentary on what they’ve just read or listened to. Unlike a lot of the words I’ve shared on Stuff I Learned Yesterday, the usage of this word has gradually risen over the last 150 years.
Now, you may think that I’m happy about this trend… but you’d be wrong. I feel like, at least throughout my adulthood, the term has grown to mean something like, “Here’s an extra couple lines about the people you’ve just been reading about but I didn’t know where to put this information into the story so I’m putting it here at the end and calling it an epilogue.”
Shakespeare said it best in the epilogue of his comedy As You Like It: “’Tis true that a good play needs no epilogue, yet good plays prove the better by the help of good epilogues.”
When I reach the end of a book or a movie, I usually don’t want it to end. But nothing is more satisfying than a good ending to a good story. When epilogues detract from that ending, or try to wrap up confusing storylines, or have so much information in them they should have just been included in the story in the first place… that’s when they don’t work for me.
My last story here on Stuff I Learned Yesterday occurred nearly 13 years ago. I’ve told this story a couple times over the last couple weeks, drawing out different applications each time I tell it. In hindsight, some experiences become more meaningful the older I get. At the time they’re awkward and hard, but time eases the pain of their acute sting and I draw more insight about who I was then because of who I am now.
I want to set the stage for you a little bit before I tell you the story.
I started attending college full time when I was a junior in high school. I was unhappy with school since entering the seventh grade and it had taken a great toll on me, so when I was presented with an opportunity to get out of high school and start college, I jumped at that chance. My first semester of college was rocky and I struggled academically while adjusting to the culture shock, but I started to get a handle on things and in the following semester life began to improve.
Even though I was finding a new place in the world, discovering new hobbies and acquiring the skill that would eventually become my career, I wasn’t resolving the underlying emotional damage I’d undergone while in the public, secondary school system. I was still unhappy and angry a lot of the time, saved from the worst of what depression can be by a family who loved me fiercely. I was in a deep funk and spent way too much time inside my own head.
In the second semester of this first year of college, I was starting to make friends. It wasn’t a new place to me anymore and I started to enjoy the courses I was taking. Most of the students were several years older than me, but I came to find it didn’t really matter to anyone how old I was… and there was tremendous relief in that.
There’s some context. Now for the actual story.
One day after my late-morning nutrition class, I was ambushed. I distinctly remember needing to finish a paper due later that afternoon, so I left my class preoccupied with packing up my bag and heading to the library.
This girl gets in my face and starts throwing questions at me: “What’s your deal? Why do you hate me?”
I was totally taken off guard. I had no idea what she was talking about. I had no idea who she was! I kind remember looking around and wondering if it was some other blonde with a ponytail she was meaning to assault.
“Sorry,” I told her, “but do we know each other?”
That did nothing to appease her anger. She got even more huffy and pointed at the door I’d just exited from, explaining to me that we have nutrition together.
“You were glaring at me the entire period!” she told me.
I laughed… and not in the fun-loving way. It was a pity, humorless laugh. “I’ve never seen you before in my life,” I told her. “If I was glaring, I wasn’t glaring at you.”
I wish I could say that this experience made me snap out of my funk, change my ways, and shower everyone around me with hugs and smiles. But honestly, it mostly irritated me and provoked some arrogant and selfish thoughts inside my own head. Who does she think she is? She has no idea what I’ve been through. She wouldn’t get so angry if she knew how hard life was for me.
Being the introspective introvert I am, that moment consumed me for a very long time. As awkward as it was, it was a much-needed slap in the face. I was deep in my funk, but I wasn’t in so deep that this experience rolled off callous shoulders. As I thought about it, a lot of realizations began to form. If this was how some random girl in my nutrition class perceived my behavior, what did my closest friends think? How had I been treating my parents? My siblings?
Here’s what I learned
It was about this time that I discovered the difference between faking happiness and choosing joy. It seems obvious, right? But it’s not really that clear cut. On the one hand, sometimes I want to pretend nothing is wrong and put on a smile so no one will know my pain. That is faking happiness. But choosing joy isn’t a mask we put on in order to shroud truth, it is an active, intentional decision to find and express happiness in the midst of my circumstances. It wasn’t putting on a smile because everything was suddenly alright in the world, it was putting on a smile because I was looking to bless others with a positive attitude.
What I realized, well after the fact, is that for a lot of that time I spent in a deep funk, all I wanted was someone to understand and sympathize with me. My attitudes manifested in depression and I was desiring recognition and validation. I was heavily focused on the me aspect to life while neglecting the pain and misfortune of everyone around me. Disrespecting the people immediately around us is not acceptable simply because of our immediate circumstances, and the more we choose, as a society, to believe that it is acceptable, the more we will see divisions and prejudice.
Sometimes I get too caught up in my own stuff. I putz, I find hobbies that are very solo activities, and I get deep inside my own head. This story I shared about being ambushed is probably the most bizarre or unusual experience of all the ones where I’ve been told I have a bad attitude, but it is far from being the only one. It can be hard to accept or hear the critiques of our attitude from the people around us, whether they’re living in the same house or are random people in familiar places. But I’ve been learning so much, even just lately, about how direct an affect our attitude and behavior has on everyone. And choosing joy, choosing to be happy and find happiness even when circumstances might be contradictory to that choice, can make an enormous difference.
My name is Emilee O’Leary and this has been Stuff I Learned Yesterday.
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