The Luck of Learning Life’s Lessons

Diana Staresinic-DeaneBy Diana Staresinic-Deane, Blogger of the Month for March 2015

For my last post about luck, I want to write about the luck of learning life’s lessons.

A few years ago, a mental health colleague commented on how we often learn the most from those mistakes that leave us feeling a little sick in the stomach thinking about them. When those things happen, we can either beat ourselves up and feel bad about them indefinitely, or embrace them as learning experiences.

I’ve been lucky enough to have a lot of learning experiences.

For today’s post, I offer you four life lessons that became a lot more meaningful after that punch-in-the-gut learning experience.

frosted clovers
Sometimes blessings are hidden under life’s most uncomfortable moments.

Lesson #1: I am not the best at everything.

My soon-to-be husband and I started planning our wedding right after I moved to Emporia, and we needed cash. I took a second job waitressing at a local restaurant. To my surprise, I was really, really bad at it. Serving customers in a busy restaurant is not the same as preparing a meal for your family, and I dropped things, screwed up orders, and got in the way of the servers who knew what they were doing. I was embarrassed and appalled by my inability to do a good job. Being a good server is an art, and I, well, sucked. It turns out there are lots of things I’m not good at, and that’s okay. But it’s important to appreciate and respect those talents in other people, and I am much more generous with tips and gratitude now.

Lesson #2: Don’t be a jerk.

Sometime after our wedding, my husband realized he had not heard from an old friend in a long time. I made a snotty comment about this friend, thinking I was being funny. And then we found out the old friend had been out of touch because this friend was busy having a brain tumor removed and learning to walk and talk again. I felt like slime. It was a pretty strong reminder that we don’t always know what’s going on in the lives of the people around us.

Lesson #3: Be gracious.

When I was in high school, my mother became more and more debilitated by multiple sclerosis. I took over a lot of the household duties, including preparing meals. I wasn’t much of a cook back then, and I made a lot of simple meals using chicken breast, and my mother graciously ate whatever I put in front of her. It wasn’t until after she died that I found out she didn’t even like chicken, but she appreciated that I was cooking and, coming from a poor childhood, she ate what was served to her.

As a kid, I was a fussy eater, and I complained all the time about my mom’s food. Which is why I felt pretty crappy when I realized that she’d been eating food she didn’t like without complaint because she didn’t want to hurt my feelings. It was a big lesson in at least acknowledging the efforts of others, even when you’re disappointed.

Lesson #4: Sometimes there are heartbreaking explanations behind the strange things people do.

Way back in my library days, I encountered a library patron with an overwhelming passion for collectible dolls. She would spend hours looking at dolls on the internet and dolls in books. She didn’t have the money to buy any of these expensive dolls, and none of us librarians could understand her obsession with them. Then one day, she called me over to admire a doll she was reading about. “It looks like my baby,” she said. “My baby died, and I never had any other babies, but I can always look at dollbabies.” As you can imagine, this broke my heart, and it reminded me that we just don’t have a way of knowing the struggles people face and the coping mechanisms they create to survive.

I can’t say that I’ve mastered these lessons yet. I can be a fault-finding, sarcastic woman on my best days. But every once in a while, right before I open my mouth, something in my brain flashes to one of these life lessons just in time to remind me to be a little kinder, a little more compassionate, and a little more gracious. And that’s why I count these lessons as blessings.

Diana Staresinic-Deane is a Kansan-gone-Californian-gone-Kansan, former library assistant, county history museum manager, writer, history junkie, cemetery photographer, and guinea pig enthusiast. Fascinated by little Kansas towns and their histories, she’s happiest when she’s digging through old newspapers and exploring old cemeteries. She is the author of Shadow on the Hill: The True Story of a 1925 Kansas Murder and she blogs at Diana Staresinic-Deane: Unearthing Stories on the Prairie.