I never realized it before, but there you have it. I was oblivious to the fact that I was — and by all accounts still am — oblivious.
And I could not be more pleased with myself.
Let me explain….
A few months ago and for reasons irrelevant to this post, I asked about 15 friends, colleagues and family members to describe me in 3-5 words. I received all sorts of replies and words, almost all of which, temporarily at least, made me feel great about myself and who I am in the world.
I say “almost all” because there was one reply that I didn’t understand. I wasn’t sure what the word meant in the context of me and frankly wasn’t sure how to even take it: Was this a bad thing? A compliment? Something so obvious about myself to everyone but myself?
My brother-in-law, who knows me well and with whom I am close, had this to say about me:
“Oblivious (in a positive way)”
Of course, first thing I did, to make sure that what I thought “oblivious” meant was actually what it meant, was go to dictionary.com:
Oblivious [uh-bliv-ee-uhs] (adjective)
unmindful; unconscious; unaware; forgetful; without remembrance or memory
Like, I am the first to admit “stuff” about myself – good and not good (and really bad, too). But oblivious? I really didn’t see it. In fact, if anything, I consider myself too focused on detail, too attentive to minutiae, too good at remembering absolutely everything.
If anything, I’d love a bigger dose of oblivion (that’s the noun form of the word, by the way) in my life.
To get to the bottom of the Oblivion Issue, I decided to go to the source. The next time I saw my BIL, I asked him directly what he meant by the description.
First, he tried to backtrack a little and seemed worried that I would take the word the wrong way or negatively. Not the case at all. I really just wanted to see and understand. (What, me defensive?!?!)
So once he finally stared to explain what he really meant, this is what he said (I paraphrase):
“Well you just aren’t like most people I know. You don’t care that something isn’t the safest route or the way that everyone else is doing it. You know what you want and you do that anyway, even if people tell you you shouldn’t or you are wrong or you aren’t making the best choice. I could never be that way, yet I’d love to have just a little of that in my own life.”
Ok, I get it.
Maybe “oblivious” wasn’t the exact right word, but I was starting to get what he meant.
And I started to smile.
Because what he thought was maybe something I would bristle at or not fully embrace was, in my opinion, a great compliment.
I — someone who had spent the greater part of my now-39 years playing it safe and doing what I thought “they” expected or planned for me to do and being hyper-aware of what I believed were the opinions, judgments and preferences of everyone around me — was being told that it seemed like I did my own thing, like I acted despite all of the opinions, judgments and preferences of those around me.
Was it weird that I was flattered? Did that feeling of flattery further reflect that label of “oblivious?”
In the few months since this all happened, I’ve thought back many times to that word and to our conversation. I thought of things I did, said or wrote that smacked in the face of doing the right or proper or non-oblivious thing.
And each time I started to think about this stuff, without fail, I give myself a tiny but strong virtual pat on the back. For without that oblivion (or whatever it is/was), I may still be that person who was more trapped and caught than free and productive and expressed. Without that oblivion, I may still be living someone else’s life or at least a life not meant for me or not best for me.
What am I actually talking about? A few “Oblivious Turning Points” that come to mind include:
“Allison, don’t even think of getting divorced. You will ruin your kids forever and, besides, you will probably be alone for the rest of your life. I mean, who at your age finds real love anyway? Be realistic.”
“You have never visited New York City for more than a few times, and now you want to move there after college and actually live there!? Do you know how expensive it is? You will never find a job there. And those subways, so dangerous!”
“Most businesses fail and especially those run by one person and especially those run by women and, c’mon, a home office? Everyone will think you are watching Oprah and eating Bon Bons every day. No one will take you seriously and you won’t make any money. Get back on your feet and go find a real job.”
“If you put your kids in daycare, they will be sick all of the time, they won’t learn English, someone else who is a stranger to you will bring them up, they will have long days, they will be angry, the guilt to you will be overwhelming and they won’t have the proper social skills when they get older.”
“Florida?! Are you nuts? You don’t even know anyone there. Only old people move to Florida and you are like 50 years too early. Plus the schools are terrible and your kids will never get into Ivy League universities.”
“You waste so much time with your fake friends on twitter and text. Would they even be there for you if you really needed them? What could you possibly have in common with these people?!”
And the list goes on. The list of ways in which people (myself included, my Ego included) use various forms of fear (“what if” “how could you” “just think” “should” “need to” “have to” “no one” “everyone” “them”) to keep us back, to prevent us from shining or taking chances or soaring or, yes, even to protect us from failing spectacularly.
Mistakes and crashes are inevitable. And the more you go for it, the more “oblivious” you are, the more mistakes you will make. Yup. But oblivion is about knowing that and moving forward anyway. It is about understanding that “no guts, no glory” actually means something. It is about knowing that you know yourself better than anyone else ever, ever, ever can or will. It is about trusting that knowing and then just freakin’ doing something about it.
You see…oblivious is a choice. It is a way of life. It is not a way to disregard those things that could be dangerous or stupid to the point of danger. Oblivious is a way of being strong and in action and taking over control of the reins on the one and only life you have. Now.
So now when I think of my BIL telling me I am “Oblivious (in a positive way),” I have to smile.
First, because I am thrilled to be thought of in that way. Thrilled that he didn’t say that I cut corners or take the easy way or that I am predictable.
And second, I smile because of the “in a positive way” part. Now that I know what this word really means in the context of my life, could there be any other way but positive for it?
No, of course not.
Special thank you to Anna for unknowingly inspriring me to write this post 🙂