This week's Sunday Scribblings writing prompt is "follow". I'm not much of a follower, and never was. I can follow instructions, and I will most often do what I'm told, but I don't enjoy it. I have a stubborn streak and much prefer to do things in my own time and in my own way. That also means that I've had to learn most of life's important lessons the hard way - sometimes repeating the same mistakes two or three times before the futility of the situation sinks in and I begin to consider the wisdom of choosing other options.
To follow in someone's footsteps or follow their advice is a choice, and not usually the choice I've made, though at times it would have been so much wiser. I'm not terribly proud of many of the choices I've made in my life, and for some the only plausible explanation is temporary insanity. :-) But I have also learned a great deal by taking the winding path instead of the straight one. I have experienced so much more than some my age. I have known and befriended people of all ages and from all walks of life. I have witnessed how brutal life can be, and how ugly people can be toward their fellow human beings, but I have also witnessed moments of transcendent beauty and love. I have learned first-hand not to judge another if you haven't walked in their shoes and lived their life. It's always so much easier looking from the outside in.
While I have acquired an array of emotional baggage and battle scars by choosing to march to my own drummer rather than following the norm, I have also learned the greatest lesson of all... compassion for others who are struggling on their own paths.
I observe my co-worker who at 27 conducts her life more like I did at that age than I would like to admit. Sometimes I have to smile, knowing now what I didn't know then, and remembering how clever and wise I thought I was at the time. Sometimes I have to cry, knowing how she really feels inside and how some of the choices she is making hurt her and others. Sometimes I just shake my head realizing that all the talk in the world probably won't influence her enough to prevent her from making some really bad choices that will impact the rest of her life... but talk to her I do.
"Don't follow in my footsteps", I tell her. "Don't make the same mistakes I did." Don't limit your choices and close doors to your future by stubbornly refusing to see the obvious, and neglecting to consider the long-range ramifications.
"You did that when you were my age?" she inquires, at first doubtful, and then shaking her head in laughter. She has come to know that the dowdy middle-aged woman sitting next to her has been around the block more than a few times and has lived a fairly colorful life - and a relatively foolish one... too many unwise choices, too many lost opportunities, too much time trying to force situations that were never meant to be, too much acting out without first really thinking it thru.
"How did that work out?" I ask after her latest failed love affair. "What were you expecting to happen?" " Did you really think he would leave his wife for you?" "How successful were you in your plan to not let your heart get involved?" She listens to me, and quietly considers her answers, and she smiles in the awareness that no matter how she replies, I know the reality of her experiences. She knows that I will challenge her, encourage her to think harder, to consider her own worth more. She also knows that I will not condemn her.
I do not truly regret anything I have done in my life, or anything I have experienced, because all of that has combined to make me who I am... and I am not ashamed of who I am. I have learned, and I have grown, and I have finally in my 50's arrived at a place of peace and understanding.
"Don't wait until you are 50 to start making wise choices", I admonish her. "Don't follow in my footsteps, don't live my life. Be smarter, love yourself more, care about others more, consider where you want to be and what kind of person you want to be. Don't be afraid to love, and don't be afraid to believe that you are lovable. Respect yourself, respect others, respect the wisdom of those older who understand what you are going thru better than you can imagine."
"Don't follow me, don't do as I did. Your life doesn't have to be that hard. You can learn the lessons younger, you can arrive at my age with less baggage and fewer scars. You can have more fun along the way. You can feel more successful. Listen and choose wisely... don't follow me."