Firstly, if you haven’t already then please read part 1 of this letter here so you know where these lessons came from and why I wrote them. This is also where I put the first and most important lesson I learnt while I was trying to stop my life crumpling up like the bonnet of the car I crashed. This second lesson is about perspective, and the difference your words make.
I talked about happiness first, because it’s something you need to own and control every day. Difficult times and adversity are when it’s easiest to lose that control, so here’s a couple of lessons I learnt about perspective and shifting reality in a way that let’s you face those challengers with a home advantage.
2 . THE PERSPECTIVE YOU LOOK AT CHALLENGES AND PROBLEMS THROUGH IS YOUR REALITY. YOU CONTROL THE CAMERA.
As weird as it sounds to me, there are people that would love for my car crash to be the worst thing that happened to them. From my perspective based on the experiences I’ve had in my life, that Saturday was the worst day in the last 11 years. But there are people that have experienced much, much worse. Truly putting yourself in someone else’s shoes is hard, and being mindful enough to think outside your own self to put your trials and challenges in perspective while you’re in the midst of them, is even harder. But the way you look at those problems doesn’t just make a difference, it makes your reality.
For the first 5 years after the accident I had the newspaper clipping of the car I was driving (the picture in part 1) on my desk at work with the words “it could always be worse” penned in red to remind me that whatever I’m going through today, is not that bad comparatively
That accident report could have easily said ‘both drivers dead at scene’.
Instead of my comfortable seat, in my comfortable job with a comfortable future, I could have been sitting in a jail cell.
On as many days as I could, that’s the perspective I tried to look at life through. Having props like the picture to remind me helped. But it only worked because I made the decision to use that perspective to create my reality, and took intentional steps like putting the picture up. Decisions without actions are just thoughts. I decided before you were even born that I wanted to write down these lessons that I paid to learn, so you wouldn’t need to. But it took the actions of me buying the book I talked about in my post about journalling, writing my first page, then buying this blog and hitting the big publish button on the right, to turn that decision into reality.
Before you tell yourself today is a horrific car crash, take yourself out of the picture for a minute and ask yourself what it would look like to future-you from 5 years forward. Make the decision, take action and own your perspective.
Optimism is a big, often-used word, but a lot of people underestimate how powerful it is as a mind state and the difference it makes to your perspective and interpretation of barriers/challenges.
Don’t look at barriers, look at solutions that can be solved. Those are two different pictures.
The next step once you’ve taken control of your perspective, is deciding what words you’re going to breathe life into that picture with. That’s the third lesson I learnt.
3 . CHOOSE YOUR WORDS CAREFULLY, EVEN WHEN YOU’RE TALKING TO YOURSELF
Alongside the obvious emotional pain there was financial stress for me too. The car I was driving wasn’t insured, and because I crossed the centre line I arrived home from hospital to a neatly typed letter from the insurance company, politely letting me know I was liable for the money they had paid out to the woman’s family, and to please make arrangements to pay that money now.
It was around $45,000
That was a bit more than I had on hand as a 21 year old student. So I saved every fortnight. That $45k was the one debt my mistake left me with that I could actually pay back, so even though I was paying money to a global insurance company that meant nothing to them in the scheme of things, I was pretty motivated to clear it.
I chose my perspective and talked in a way that made it real. Even with that fortnightly reminder of the hurt I’d caused, whenever I talked about the debt with my friends or family I placed it in the perspective of how lucky I was to survive. So the negative outcome of paying a house deposit to a huge insurance company for something that I didn’t remember doing, turned into a small price compared to the alternative of dying. Rather than getting depressed about the seemingly never-ending financial penalty (setting aside the real pain I caused her family), I chose to let those automatic payments be my fortnightly reminder that I was only alive to even own a bank account because of my seat-belt and the angle my head hit the steering wheel.
I chose the same perspective and wording to avoid talking about the accident in a way that made me feel worse. I showed off my scars (I was a young dude, what can I say), but there was never any “poor me” in my explanation to others or myself.
- I was never a bed or wheelchair bound patient; I was the lucky survivor of a high speed head on crash, with a 4-5 month opportunity to focus on music and time with family.
- I wasn’t crippled by debt I couldn’t imagine ever seeing the end of; I was paying off what I could, and while I didn’t know when I would clear it, I had a plan and told myself it would happen one day (I paid it off nearly 2 years ago today).
- I don’t complain about the arthiritis I have in both feet, or the pain after a day of too much walking; the doctors told me I could have easily never walked again.
- I don’t think about how I can’t open my jaw wider than 3 cm or get self conscious about my changed eating technique and how messy it gets when I’m in a rush; I think about seeing the surgeon a year later and him telling me they thought they’d lost me at one point on the table. Who cares if I make a mess.
You won’t always have a say in the things that happen to you, but you will always have control over the way you react and respond to them, nobody owns that but you
How I process causing the woman’s death is different because there’s no optimistic way to think about taking someone’s life away from them and their family. I give her memory the respect it deserves by grieving and making the most of the life I was lucky enough to keep. The anniversary of her passing will always be a sad day for me as it should, but I choose and control how and when I do that grieving so it doesn’t affect the parts of my life when I should be smiling. Your crashes won’t always be something you can explain away through your choice of words, sometimes you’ll need to process them and grieve. That might mean hours or weeks depending on what or who it is you hit, what’s important in those instances is that you DO process it and grieve on your terms and keep smiling outside of that process
I’ve been especially grateful for that lesson over the last 19 months since you arrived in this world with your ladybird backpack full of smiles for me and your mum.
I talked about about Martin Seligman’s explanatory style theory in a post here (this one wasn’t addressed to you but it’s worth reading). However you decide to talk about your reality, that’s what your reality becomes. If you tell yourself today is the worst day ever; that’s what it is. If you tell yourself you’re too sick to move; you are. Visualisation is when you picture the end outcome of something you want, in order to make that a reality. It’s kind of like when you’re learning to ride a motorbike, one of the weirdest things you notice is that when you’re turning, the bike goes wherever you look. It’s the same thing. If you visualise, imagine, and talk to an outcome being the way you want it – those sub-conscious actions and decisions you make, will move you in that direction. The opposite is true if you talk about negative outcomes.
Don’t hurt yourself with your own words. They carry more weight than you might realise. Use them wisely.
PS don’t learn to ride a motorbike!
Books to read: