Living With the Consequences

Posted on March 27, 2015


“Being an adult is not about making sensible decisions, it is about living with the consequences.”  Elisabeth Wood

“We are trying so hard to live in a consequence free world.”  Curtis Eklund

“’Cause growing up is awfuller than all the awful things that ever were, I’ll never grow up, never grow up, never grow up, not me.”  Peter Pan (as written by Carolyn Leigh)

A woman shared with me about how she was feeling bad about something she had done that might have “ruined someone’s day.”  It seems that she had often been frustrated by other people parking in her assigned space at her apartment.  She had complained once before to the office, but had not received much by way of response.  Upon arriving home, she found another car in her parking space.  This time when she called the office, the response was “the tow truck is on its way.”  Once the car was towed, she felt bad that perhaps she had ruined the owner’s day or even month.  The car was an older model with some body damage so it could be that it would be a real financial hardship for the owner to pay to get it out of impound.

I could certainly see both sides of this issue.  On the one hand, it would be frustrating to continually find others taking your assigned space leaving you searching for street parking.  On the other hand, I don’t know what it costs to get your car out of impound, but it does feel like the punishment is bigger than the crime.  Sometimes we make our choices and the consequences are what they are.

The situation brings to mind two conversations I had a couple of months apart.  The first was with my daughter who made the first of the profound statements with which I started this post.  I wrote down the quote for later use, but then I couldn’t remember the context in which she said it.[1]  Never wanting the facts to get in the way of a good story, I will do the best I can with it.  The point as I remember it had to do with my suggestion that with maturity we should make better choices.  To that she made the observation that being adult is really about living with the consequences.  Healthy adults have to live life on life’s term.

The second conversation was with my colleague Curtis Eklund who pointed out how hard we work at trying to live in a consequence free world.  This is, of course, the proverbial “we.”  The collective “we” continue to try to find ways around consequences.  We sign up for mortgage payments we can’t afford and then either sue the lender or look to the government to bail us out.  I remember a Jacoby and Meyers law firm commercial from the 80’s showing a man working in his garden talking about using bankruptcy attorneys to protect himself from creditors.  I was, of course, a banker at the time.  My thinking was, “If I loaned you money in good faith, you need to hold up your end here.”[2]   We develop medications to treat the STI’s to escape the consequences of our sexual choices.  We develop pills (or eating disorders) to help us lose weight rather adopt a healthy lifestyle.  We divorce (blaming our partner) rather than come to terms with our own part in the marital problems.[3]  We look to the school system for providing our children with life lessons they should get from parents.

Maybe what is at play here is a collective effort to avoid adulthood.  It makes sense why we would want to.  Adult life is difficult.  It takes a lot of courage to be responsible for yourself and all of your choices.  If you have kids, this also includes taking responsibility for their lives as well (when they are minors).

Twelve step groups do a good job of addressing these issues when they talk about living life on life’s terms.  Well known in those groups are the first three lines of the Serenity Prayer.  The complete prayer includes “accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,” and “taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it.”  Hardships are a part of the deal.  We get fewer of them when we make good choices, but some will still be beyond your control.  This is part of the human experience.  The world is not as we would have it be.  We deal with what is.  We grieve our losses.  We come to terms with our own imperfections, triggers, and shortcomings.

It takes a lot of courage to own your story and live with the consequences.  It’s hard.  But you can do it.

[1] I called her to ask and her memory of the conversation was no better than mine.

[2] Just as an aside, this kind of thinking is a great way to get kicked out of jury service.

[3] Another aside…research has determined that 69% of the problems couples argue about are unsolvable.  They are due to differences in personality, temperament, values, worldview.  When you marry someone, you marry into a certain set of unsolvable problems.  If you divorce and marry someone else, you just get a new set of unsolvable problems.  What separates the masters from the disasters is the ability to dialogue around the unsolvable problems.