During my first few years of college, I worked at a record store, an art supply store and later a book store. I listened to Throwing Muses on the bus, painted expressionistic portraits of friends and wrote poetry in coffee shops while smoking cigarettes. I wore red lipstick and black eyeliner. My hair was wild and messy. I drank cheap wine and cheaper beer. My friends were rebellious and lost. We thought we were invincible.
To say that I had an attitude would be an understatement. My guard was up before people walked in the door. I ruthlessly judged myself and everyone else before they could judge me. I don’t think I looked at myself in the mirror without rolling my eyes or snarling at myself. I would have given Billy Idol a run for his money.
It’s not that I wasn’t kind, I just wasn’t comfortable in my own skin. Attitude gave me confidence to do things I might not have otherwise done, like read my poetry in front of strangers or tell that guy with the ocean blue eyes how beautiful I thought he was. But it also stopped me from discovering the world outside of my own limited perception. It’s hard to imagine why I should have said I would go out with that man in the record store who asked me out when I had already decided he was lame for buying the Cocktail soundtrack. (True story.) He could have been the greatest guy ever, but I will never know. (Probably not, since he liked that movie so much he bought the soundtrack.)
How does what we like and what we don’t like determine who we love and how we love?
When I was young, all of my relationships choices were based on a pretty basic criteria. Is he cool? Do I think he’s cute? Is he smart enough to carry a conversation? Is he friends with any of my friends? This limited most of my choices to financially and emotionally struggling musicians or writers.
While passionate and exciting, these relationships were usually filled with drama. I will admit I was occasionally to blame. I would withhold affection from the people I liked the most as if to punish them for liking me. I would be cold when I wanted to be warm. I would go out with them and ignore them completely when we got where we were going. I would praise them when we were alone and criticize them in front of their friends.
Ultimately, all of these shenanigans were ways of hurting myself. I sabotaged my own chances for happiness before any could come my way. That’s the way attitude works. While other people may have a lower opinion of you for snickering at them, the biggest wedge is the one you create between you and yourself.
The other side of attitude is discernment. I have learned not only to have an opinion, but why I had that particular opinion. I came to understand the power of my choices, the impact these choices have on my life and how to take responsibility for every decision I make. I take risks. Some of them have really paid off. Some of them haven’t. Life doesn’t happen to me, it happens because of me. I am never choice-less.
Now, I choose gratitude. Not only for the attitude that served me so well when I was younger, but for the clarity to see beyond my insecurities and failings now. I’m grateful to no longer be solely motivated by my attitude so that I can lead with love.