Please Stop Saying This
How a simple phrase can become an excuse for complacency.
I grew up in a really cool family. I’m incredibly grateful. I had parents who instilled in me a love for people, hard work, and the land. I had three older brothers who taught me how to change the oil in my own car, throw hay bales, and throw a witty comment into conversations. I had a sister who helped me learn to stand up for myself, who I could always count on to be my cattle-showing partner (even when we disagreed about how to wash the cows), and who sacrificed a great deal of her dreams so I could pursue some of my own.
One thing we didn’t do was talk about our feelings much. We weren’t big on birthdays, holidays, or other celebrations. In many ways, I’m grateful for that, too—I think it’s helped us all be a little more down-to-earth and perhaps made it easier to focus on others than ourselves. Yet, as we’ve all grown older, my siblings and I have started to see we probably could be a little bit more open with our emotions and create space in order to do so. I think it’s taken us longer than it should have, and I think the following phrase is probably the culprit:
“That’s just not who we are.”
How many times have you caught yourself saying something like this? It’s a conversation-ender, isn’t it? We might use it when talking about why our families don’t do x, y, or z, or why we just can’t help but procrastinate, or why we get impatient when someone doesn’t put the dishes away the “right” way.
“It’s just who I am,” we say.
But, who ever said that because it’s been who we were in the past means it’s a life sentence on who we always will be? I would argue the only time this is a good reason to keep doing what we’ve been doing is when there is another good reason that has nothing to do with what we’ve always done. For example, you may have a strong conviction that it’s wrong to cheat on a test, so you never do. When a classmate tries to convince you just this one time, you should cheat off their answers, what’s your reason not to? It’s true you’ve always done it that way, but the real reason has to do with your convictions. When we let the easy reason be our stake in the ground, we can miss out on the chance to make changes for the better. Sometimes, there are no good reasons to stay the course.
“That’s just not who we are” came under attack in a pretty neat way for my family this fall. As my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary crept up, my siblings and I began plotting. We’d never done much to celebrate our parents, and since our father passed away 18 years ago and we didn’t typically like to dwell on it, we didn’t make a big deal of their anniversary when it rolled around. But, this year, it hit me: just because my mother has never asked us to celebrate it doesn’t mean she doesn’t want us to. We did know she loved sharing memories of our dad and their love story, and she loved having all her kids together, and she deeply valued the time she did have with our dad.
So, we celebrated those truths. Our sibling group chat blew up as we made plans for a surprise dinner and collected memories of our dad from each other and from others who knew him. The planned night arrived, she walked in the door of my apartment, and her eyes lit up as she scanned the room. Instead of just me, she saw her sons in lively conversation about their latest tractor-fixing escapade and her daughters wrapping up dinner, and a night of much-needed memory-sharing began.
I don’t share this story to pat my siblings and I on the back; in fact, it took us far too long to realize we should be doing things like this for our mom. Were it not for some dear friends of mine who, over the last few years, have helped me learn to be more deliberate and thoughtful in my actions, it wouldn’t have crossed my mind. Were it not for my dear sisters-in-law showing my brothers a new perspective on how to love one another as family members, we wouldn’t have all jumped on board the way we did.
If my family can become the family who throws surprise anniversary parties and collects memories of lost loved ones, I promise you, anyone can become what they hope to be. Maybe you just need to pause for a moment and reflect on where you’ve been saying “that’s just who we are” and where you can decide to change who you are into who you could be. Perhaps, you’re the person who can be the encouraging voice to someone else in your life that they can change, too. No matter where you’re at right now, I hope you remember: just because you’ve always done something doesn’t mean you always have to keep doing it. Our lives are full of too much potential to keep hitting repeat.
Journal Prompt of the Week
What’s something you’ve kept doing simply because you’ve always done it? What’s something you’ve never tired because you’ve just never done it before? Reflect on what might be worth trying (or quitting) to break the cycle.