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Bad is the New Good

From the dawn of time, man has sought to minimize pain and maximize joy.   If it hurts, it must be bad;  stop doing it.  If it feels good, it must be good;  do it more.  This strategy probably worked great for our cave-dwelling ancestors, and it works great for my neighbor’s dog who wears a shock collar, but for the rest of us we should consider embracing the possibility that many things that appear painful might actually make us happier.

We spend a lot of time avoiding bad outcomes.   We fail to take risks at work because it’s safer. We fail to take chances with personal relationships to avoid the pain of rejection.  We are so risk adverse that we often either continue to do the same things we’ve always done (“Yeah baby, I’m in a rut!”), or are paralyzed into inactivity.

Instead of finding new adventures, we stay home, eat the same foods, and watch the same TV.

If you’re like me, you often prefer to just stay home;  and if you have to do something, you choose something you’ve done before — beause you know how it will end.   Safely.  Predictably.  Comfortably.

You know where the pain is, so you avoid it.

We’d prefer to stay home because it’s rainy, or because we’re too tired, or because we have a big day tomorrow.   We don’t try new restaurants opting instead for the mediocre-but-comfortably-safe McDonald’s option.  We take vacations to the same locations every year because who wants to risk going somewhere horrible?   Do something new?  Nope…. it might be bad.  Let’s stay in our cave!

It’s human.  It’s normal.  I do it all the time.

So what’s the problem?   It’s boring.   And it’s making us boring.   And whether it’s your work life or your home life, boring is NOT good.  “Playing it safe” was never the mantra of Henry Ford, Bill Gates, or Evel Knievel*.

These folks were never in a rut.  Ruts are comfortable;  but they bore us and make us boring. And no matter what it is you’re after, being boring won’t help you get it.

The solution is knowing that Bad is the New Good.   We need to give ourselves permission to have some bad experiences because even bad experiences are good.

Lem explain by staring with a small example.  Imagine you’re driving across the state and lunchtime rolls around.  You see two restaurants:  one is a chain restaurant.  Perhaps it rhymes with Schmennys.**   You know what to expect, where the restrooms are located, and even which Slam you’ll order.  It’s easy.  It’s comfortable.

But right next to Schmennys is Auntie Bobbie’s Restaurant.  It’s local.  It could be amazing with local charm, home-made pies, and a special-of-the-day that you’ll talk about for weeks.   Or, it might be horrible, have lousy service, bad food, and dirty restrooms.

Schmennys is less risky.   Going there takes less energy.   It’s boring. I admid that I’ve gone there plenty.   (Hello Schmrand Schlam!)

But by never picking Auntie Bobbie’s Restaurant not only do we eliminate the chance for an awesome experience, but we eliminate the chance for bad times.  Remember: bad is good, and I’ll prove it.

Think back to any vacation, family outing, or adventure in your past.   What do you remember?  What do you laugh most about when recounting the stories?   The bad stuff!   The time you were late and got the flat tire in the rain and ended up in Hotel California.  Or that horrible motel with the velvet Elvis painting and the crazy woman behind the desk.  Or the time you took that “shortcut” that accidentally ended up as a 1/2-day adventure through the paint-ball camp.  Ouch!  Horrible!  Funny!

When my wife and I remember the our kids as babies, we talk about the difficult times—like the time we were on a walking tour in London with a 5 month old baby who literally exploded poop all over her clothes and her stroller. Even the outside of the stroller. *** It wasn’t fun. We hated it.  But now it’s hilarious.  At the time, those incidents sucked.  But over time, they’ve become cherished memories.  (Okay, maybe not the actually cleaning up the monster poop part with only three BabyWipes.)

Comedians use a terrific formula to create jokes.  Tragedy + Time = Comedy.   After enough time passes,  tragedies become funny.  If something isn’t funny, comedians will tell you that not enough time has passed.

This comedy formula is the key behind the concept that even bad experiences are good.  (Sometimes, if we wait long enough, the bad times become the best times.)

But it isn’t easy for me either.  As I age, I notice that I like to be more comfortable.  I take fewer risks.   I tend to stay in my nice comfy home.  And I end up at Schmenny’s instead of Aunt Bobbies more than I’d like to admit.

But I’m fighting it:   I’m learning to speak Spanish.   My family is planning an extended stay in Mexico. (Not in a resort…in a small town.)   And our family just finished up the most intense month ever as a first time foster family to two young girls.****

Nope, I don’t love studying Spanish.  I’m worried about an extended trip to Mexico.  And foster parenting was exhausting and emotionally draining.   But when we come up for air, my wife and I agree:  We are psyched.  We’re pumped.  We’re doing new stuff that is making our heads spin.  We’re learning about ourselves and each other.  We’ve chosen activity over inactivity.  And not just any activity–SCARY activity.  And we’re happier for it.

We wonder what all of this craziness will do to us and for us. And that’s fine.  In fact, that’s the point.  With any endeavor, if the outcome is a joy, good for us! If it stinks, the stories and the laughter will be that much more intense.   As long as we are actually doing something, we can’t lose.

So, where does this leave you?  Next time you’re faced with risk, take it*****.  Next time you wonder if something you’re considering might end up bad, remember that — with enough time — it will be good.

When you avoid even the chance for tragedies — both at work and at home—  no matter how much time passes, you’ll never find the comedy.


*Ok, so maybe Evel Knievel should have been MORE boring.

** Schmennys is NOT related to Dennys, which is a run by some nice folks who I hope will hire me to speak to their managers one day soon.

*** We didn’t think it was physically possible either.

**** This isn’t funny yet.  (Not enough time.)  Small tragedies require less time to be funny.  Seeing your brother-in-law slip on a banana peel can be funny in 42 seconds.  The Grandad’s funeral with the WORST possible preacher was funny in a few weeks.  Foster care will be funny one day — hopefully soon.

***** Unless you’re referring to sub-prime loans, bungee jumping with Claude’s Discount Jumps, or any type of armed robbery.

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Ruts are comfortable;  but they bore us and make us boring. And no matter what it is you’re after, being boring won’t help you get it.

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Finally, some readers love to find typos, grammar errors and other sundry goofs. I occasionally leave them in just to make those people happy. So if you found some… Yippee! It’s you’re lucky day.

If you’re still reading this far down, you REALLY need to find a hobby. It’s over! All done.

Seriously dude. It’s time to get back to work. Don’t you have some email to return or something?

Ok, now you’re just pushing it. You need some serious help with time management. Move on baby! This thing is over!

Since you’re still here, here’s a video of a flash mob performance in Seattle. I love it for two reasons. One, the energy is undeniable. I’d love to be part of one, and I’d love to witness one. Second, what killer marketing for the TV show. Hire some dancers, and let YouTube have it’s way. I wish I had thought of it.

You must be craving more. Why are you here? I bet you have something that you SHOULD be doing but don’t want to. Clean your desk. Get coffee. Call your mom.

There has to be a better way to procrastinate than this!

Since you’re here …might as well check out my blog. (Hey! If you can’t fight it, embrace it!)