(Via sunnyydoodles.tumblr.com; outdated since Stanford charged $90 in 2012. Random photo online for illustration purpose, because I waived the $80 application fee)
This morning, my phone shuffled to a song that invariably reminded me of a college that I really wanted to but didn’t get in. I don’t know why I haven’t deleted it from my favorite playlist yet, but usually I will skip whenever the playlist comes to the song.
That makes sense right? I won’t be reminded of my failure. I notice that I make excuses “oh it’s really hard to get in. Oh it’s out of my control. Oh it’s pure luck” so that I won’t consider not getting in as a failure. Whether these are indeed excuses to avoid the blame on me or these are facts, I still keep these thoughts because they make me feel better without harming anyone else. If I think like this, chances are I’m not a failure.
But how about pain? Even when I don’t consider rejections as failures, they are still painful somehow. Thus, I should still be justified in skipping the song, for it reminds me of all the wonderful things that I could have had if only… Ah, here comes pain’s close friend, regret. “I wish I spent more time on my essays instead of slacking around”. That sort of thought can actually ease my mind, for it tricks me into thinking that I know how to “get in”. Well, obviously not. No one knows. Now that’s the real comforting thought. That is a fact even. The serenity prayer suddenly comes to my mind “God, grant me serenity to accept the things that I cannot change, courage to change the things that I can, and wisdom to know the difference” (I’m not a Christian, but I’ve heard this before).
The difference this morning is that I was brushing my teeth. Perhaps I was too lazy (or busy? <- catch myself making excuse right here) to change song. The familiar melody played on, and a very strange thing happened.
I still liked it so much. I liked the melody, the voices, the script. I still sang to each word of the lyrics in my head just like I did last year in the exam hall. What on earth is wrong with the lovely song? What has transformed love into hate, if it ever happened? I realized how my mind worked: I associated something irrelevant like a song to a decision made by a bunch of people who cared about anything but that song. The latter repulsed me, and so the former was affected. Irrational as it was, it worked pretty well in soothing me.
Then, what has transformed hate into love again? Clarity of mind, which comes from time and adaptation. It needs time, for time dilutes memories and thus allows me more room to think. It needs adaptation, for the more I try to think clearly, the easier it gets. I think the saying “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is slightly misleading. Adversity doesn’t make me grow; the process of recovery from it does.
As a creature who loves to overthink, I inevitably imagine this scenario and I’d like to invite you to do so, just for the fun of it. It maybe even more fun if you are in a romantic relationship when all the passion is driving you crazyyy (I’m not and so I’m super curious to hear your thoughts). Imagine you just break up with your partner after for some reasons. Depending on your personality and genetic disposition, you can tell yourself that it is not your fault and wonder why you fell in love with such an a**hole in the first place. Or you can take all the blame and feel absolutely terrible.
Regardless of your reaction, you will still have to move on in the face of the unpleasant experience. Will you throw away all the photos and gifts or delete the favorite songs that the two used to listen together – anything that can remind you of the memories? Will you try to shift the blame away to soothe yourself? I’m tempted to say yes now; I know resisting my natural reaction is tough. Yet, after the weird realization this morning with the college song, I hope I will remember to remind myself then that some pains and regrets are perfectly okay. Attachments make me vulnerable, but on hindsight I’m willing to trade some vulnerabilities for humanness and the potential to bounce back stronger 🙂
Really curious to hear what you think of this thought experiment.