I Was an Accident

joe —  Sat 16-Oct-10

I was an accident, but then again so were Post-It Notes and look how much better our office lives are for that.

I remember the very day that my mother gathered up all of the courage she could, probably doing so every day for the previous 17 years to finally break it to me that I was the accidental result of a short lived affair she had before she met and married the man I knew as Dad. She then explained how Dad then legally adopted me and blessed me with my very complicated last name. Apparently I was the last one in the family to know this secret including my younger brother.

What amused me most was how scared everyone in the family was with how I would react. Even months after the news I would still have relatives come up, do that little head bob that seems to always accompany the question, and ask “How are you doing with the news?” Their reaction confused me much more than the original confession. As a matter of fact I think I responded to my mom with “Hmmm, that explains a lot”. (My brother and I are total opposites.) The news, while interesting, didn’t really matter much to me.

Somehow in our world we have muddled up the word accident to be the combination of the actual event as well as its unintended result; Post-It Notes were an accident, that pregnancy was an accident, Joe was an accident. No, Post-It Notes were the result of a failed designed. Post-It Notes themselves are amazing! The fact that my mom made a choice at the time that brought on an unexpected pregnancy was an accident. I, like everyone else, am amazing and clearly not an accident.

The problem comes when we look to our past and frame the elements of our lives. How much of a painting’s beauty is affected by the frame that surrounds it? I bet if you took one of Salvador Dali’s watercolors and placed a thick, black, broken plastic frame around it and left it in a garage sale that there is a good chance that the dogs playing poker with a handsome wooden frame would get taken first.

Dogs Playng Poker.pngHow we frame our past is critical to how we design our future. If all of the artwork in our mental attic is ugly, it is very difficult to see everything else as anything but ugly. It’s like going into a music store (remember those) and trying to remember that cool new artist you just heard on the radio as the music from the store is blasting Everybody Hurts. As Daniel Gilbert elegantly explains in his book Stumbling on Happiness, “You cannot easily imagine a penguin when you are busy inspecting an ostrich because vision is already using parts of the brain that imagination needs.” In other words, your current reality drastically affects your ability to imagine.

Imagination is important. It is very difficult to become what you can’t even imagine in the first place. If so, then designing your future is limited by your imagination. Then as Gilbert demonstrated your ability to imagine is severely affected by what you currently see. If what you currently see is a direct result of how you choose to frame the events of your past it sounds like the incredible possibilities of your future are directly limited by how you choose to frame your past.

So what does that mean? —- I don’t know.

Ugly COusin.jpgFor some reason I was blessed with this incredible, natural ability to put beautiful frames around all the events of my past. I see all of my past failures, life threatening events, and generally bad situations as neat pieces of art each having its own special wall to hang on in my mental museum. However, I do know that many of my acquaintances that seem to have the greatest struggles seeing a bright future or holding a big dream or even progressing to a better place all seem to spend a lot of their time talking about their very negative past. They can’t seem to find the right frame.

While some of us are natural framers many are not and require the help of others to achieve that. Some artwork is extremely ugly and truly requires the help of a professional framer or psychologist to work through. However, I think there is an extremely large population of mental art that just requires a person to realize how powerful a new frame is and to be given permission to try and build it themselves. That permission is granted when one sees it work in others.

So if you are a framer find a way to share it with those that are not. If you have not yet recognized that this choice is yours accept this as a call asking that you consider giving it a shot. If you don’t know where to begin, start by finding a friend that is a framer.

Back to my original story – I have a confession to make. I lied when I told you that I was an accident. I wasn’t. I was a beautiful 8 lb baby boy that was born to an unwed mother that loved me so much that she was willing to sacrifice everything for me to become me. I was conceived by little known, full blooded Native American father that I never met but yet gives me great pride every time I tell someone that I am of Amerind blood. I was adopted by a man two years later that had nothing to do with my birth but yet was willing to share his last name with me. All so that I could one day sit in the stands this week at our son’s high school football game to hear the announcer say “interception by #4, Jared Killenwacker.”

Those are my frames and that is no accident.