Yes, the holidays are upon us. What a crazy mix of emotions and thoughts this time of year brings. It’s a time for shopping, cooking, decorating, preparing, gathering, giving, celebrating, and remembering. I enjoy this time of year because I get a special glimpse into the traditions, families, and histories of my patients, colleagues, and friends. I also like paging through the memories in my own mind as I watch my kids grow and reflect upon past holiday experiences with my own relatives. We are all living a story where we star as the main character.
I like to reflect upon the tale that I’ve written so far, and imagine what the next chapters will look like. Stephen Covey teaches us to “begin with the end in mind”. In his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, he invites the reader to imagine that they are a guest at their own funeral. He challenges us to envision four different eulogies. One remembrance will be given by a family member, one by a friend, one by a business colleague, and one by a church or community acquaintance. What would each of these speakers say about you and your life? I’m sure some chapters of our lives are more fun to revisit than others. It’s human nature to inflate that which brings us pride, and gloss over the chapters that reveal our weaknesses or failings.
Unfortunately we can’t always hide the unbecoming chapters in our stories. Just ask Britney Spears, who turned 30 years old today! Over the past 10 years Britney has captivated the world with her unfolding drama. Through a combination of both her and her mother’s efforts, Britney was launched into stardom as a child in the early 1990’s. Given her “fast” environment and intense personality, it is not surprising that Britney grew up quickly. At age 18 she shocked the world by appearing scantily clad on the cover of Rolling Stone, definitely NOT looking like a little girl anymore.
Britney enjoyed 5 years of pop-stardom before starting to unravel. First it was the 55 hour marriage to a childhood friend, followed six months later by her second marriage to the unreliable Kevin Federline, whom she had met only 3 months before. Five months later she was pregnant, and when her baby was only three months old she was pregnant again. Two months after the second child was born, Britney filed for divorce, and two months after that Britney’s closest relative, her aunt, died of ovarian cancer. What followed was a year of increasingly erratic behavior, a short stay in drug rehab, and then a string of longer stays at a variety of psychiatric treatment facilities. During this year Britney lost custody of her children and became estranged from her parents.
I honestly don’t think the writers for a soap opera could have scripted a more enthralling story. The world watched captivated when Britney fell apart because each one of us has either experienced, or lives in fear of being forced to endure even part of what was Britney’s reality. Have you ever felt intoxicating love followed by devastating heart break? Have you ever navigated a divorce or custody battle? Have you ever lost a close relative or friend to serious illness? Have you ever experienced what substance abuse, addiction, or mental illness can do to ourselves or those we are close to? Have you ever suffered the pain of having irreconcilable differences with a parent or your own child? Have you ever had two babies in one year and tried to string together a complete sentence while enduring hormonal swings and complete physical and emotional exhaustion? Have you ever gone from the height of your career to the depths of public humiliation?
I think we love to watch the personal failings of those we consider iconic because it makes us feel better about our own shortcomings. It’s easy to see that Britney made LOTS of poor choices, but she was so young with so many questionable outside influences, I think it’s hard to say that anyone under similar circumstances would have been less impulsive. I remember watching the paparazzi stalk Britney at her lowest point. I remember feeling both sorry for her, and shocked at how the public was salivating over her misfortune.
It was in February of 2008 that Britney was released from the psychiatric ward of the UCLA medical center and started to get her life back on track. After all the humiliation she endured, it must have taken some incredible inner strength to put herself back together again both mentally and physically. Isn’t it amazing that three years later she’s back on the stage and rocking the charts?
I think this is a perfect example of what Covey describes as “by design or default”. Covey eloquently points out that “in our personal lives, if we do not develop our own self-awareness and become responsible for (our choices and outcomes), we empower other people and circumstances to shape much of our lives by default.” In contrast, living “by design” means that by using our capacity for “self-awareness, imagination, and conscience” we can take back control over our story and create the outcome we want. As a close friend of mine has said, “I want to look back on my life without regret.”
So I invite you to slow down this holiday season and set aside some time to reflect on your story. Do you like the main character? If not, there’s no reason why you can’t rewrite your own script. As this year comes to a close, it’s the perfect time to imagine what next year might bring, and enact positive changes to make it happen. With the end in mind, you’ll soon find that you’re thriving, not just surviving.