John D. Spooner is an investment adviser, author and novelist. His most recent book is No One Ever Told Us That: Money and Life Lessons for Young Adults. Here, he responds to queries from advice seekers of all ages. Send your conundrums to email@example.com.
You know what causes aches in our bellies? It’s often from bottling up our resentments and gripes about others’ behavior. Much of the time it’s about family or friends. And our stomachs also suffer because we feel guilty. Guilt is a dangerous emotion, and in instances like this there is nothing to feel guilty about. Not everyone loves or likes us all the time, and no, you can’t “have it all.” Don’t harbor your feelings. Let them out. “I’m getting to be an adult,” you say to your roommate. “And I’m getting to know what I need in life. It’s space. I’m not in college with roommates anymore, and I really feel the need to live in my own space. No parents, no roommates.” Then give him a timeframe that’s specific. “I’d really like you in a new place within a month, and you have to make an effort to search. It’s not about you. You’re my friend. But it’s time for me to make my own nest.” Your tummy, and your brain, will find big relief.
Here goes: It’s “all about” what it’s always been about, having the safe, happy life for you and your family. It’s about strong friendships, and making love. And sappy things, like how you feel after showering post-exercise, or hearing from an old friend after years of absence. Certainly for many it’s about children, particularly when they’re babies, and I know it’s about grandchildren because they’re mostly someone else’s problem.
So I think “what it’s all about” is moments, some that come out of the blue and are unexpected. It has to be moments because so much of life is hard and disappointing. I gave a speech last week to all the staff at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Boston. These people work intensely to make a difference in the lives of kids facing challenges throughout the city. They are noble and inspirational, and the work they do makes me feel inadequate and somewhat of a fraud. But they laughed and smiled and gave me a standing O. And it gave me a thrill. That’s what it’s all about.
No good deed goes unpunished. Sometimes the old cliches are the truest ones. You’re totally right to be annoyed.
We live in a world of cluelessness on so many levels, including civility. Whenever this happens to me, I use it as an excuse to teach the clueless. For instance: Some years ago, I got a call from a peripheral friend, not a close one. He was in the media business and asked if I could get his daughter a job in financial services. I did get her a job in our office, not with me, but in the firm. She fit right in and did fine. Two years later she left for greener pastures and moved away. She never said goodbye or thanked me for helping her get the job. I called her father and told him, “Everything changes in life. Fine. But never burn bridges if you can help it. Obviously your daughter left. But she didn’t have the sense to touch base with me or thank me for my assistance. This isn’t about me. But it is about her future. She cannot come back and ask me for anything else. Do you understand why?”
He said, “I’m so sorry. You’re right.”
He was thinking, “I never told her the things I should’ve told her as she was growing up.”
Don’t let people slide on their responsibilities. Give them a lesson on manners. And in life. Maybe it will help them not to make the same mistakes again.