Often, when we make a mistake, our first response is regret. If we could go back in time, most of us would warn our past selves to avoid certain decisions. However, even if we could change our fate, we would probably make the same mistakes again. We would probably make them but in a different way.
Usually, something inside of us needs to be discovered. It wants to be discovered so it can teach us something. However, the path towards discovery can only be found by falling down a particular hole — it can only be found by making a particular mistake.
This mistake can take many forms. It can also occur at various times. But in the end, the result is the same — it will change us into someone we never would have been otherwise. It will turn us into the stronger and wiser person we are meant to become.
Usually, my dad and I go to dinner every Sunday. It has become a ritual for us over the past few months. I cherish these dinners. Growing up, my dad and I did not spend as much time together as we wanted.
My dad and his family immigrated to the United States from Jordan when he was fourteen. At that time, there were no opportunities for them. His parents struggled everyday to put enough food on the table for him and his siblings.
When my dad was driving me to high school one morning, I remember him telling me a story of how he made extra money as a kid. To help his parents, he collected bullet shells from the ground and exchanged them for coins. Apparently, people in Jordan could recycle them for money back then.
There was no such thing as ‘upward mobility’ in the Middle East. If you were poor, you stayed poor forever. In light of this, my dad and his family moved to the United States hoping to make a better life for themselves. They heard things were different over here.
When they got to the States, my dad and his family took advantage of every opportunity they could. One of the biggest opportunities they realized was education. My grandpa encouraged my dad to become a doctor because he believed this was their best chance at ‘making it.’ He was right.
My dad became the doctor his family envisioned. Once he saved enough money, he helped his brothers and sisters start their own businesses and careers. Eventually, they were no longer poor. They ‘made it.’ However, being a doctor was not easy.
Growing up, I felt my dad had the most demanding job. Some of my earliest memories are the sound of a beeper going off. I remember being at family gatherings, birthday parties and dinners and my dad’s phone or beeper would ring. It was usually the hospital asking him to come back to work. We never knew if he would make it home for dinner or before we went to bed. If he did, it was a pleasant surprise. My eyes would light up whenever I heard that front door open.
My dad’s sacrifice was worth it financially. Even though he came to this country with nothing, he was able to create a better life for his entire family. However, his demanding job left my dad and me longing for something. Deep down, we always wanted to make up for those lost moments.
My dad’s work schedule is still demanding but it is finally manageable. He got rid of his beeper and I cannot remember the last time he received an urgent phone call from the hospital. Now, if he wants to take Sundays off to go to dinner with his son, he can.
Unfortunately, I dampened our dinner plans one weekend. I woke up stressed the Saturday beforehand. One of my cousins was getting married the following week and there were a lot of family events we needed to attend. This meant I had to take off work. This made me uneasy. I was afraid I would fall behind.
To get ahead, I wanted to spend the Sunday before working. So I called my dad and asked him if we could cancel our dinner plans. He said that was fine. In fact, he thought it was a good idea. He had work he needed to finish too.
However, as I sat in my office that Sunday, I felt more uneasy than the day before. I felt guilty that I cancelled plans with my dad so I could work. Working too much is what we were trying to reconcile. This made me feel like a broken record.
Because of these thoughts, I was unproductive. I stared blankly at my computer all day. As I was sitting in my office chair, I looked out my window and saw a mother and daughter walking in the street. The two of them were holding hands. They were also laughing and smiling, it looked like the daughter said something funny. I then realized I gave up a beautiful moment just like that with my dad. This made my heart sink.
Right then, I realized I messed up. I regretted my decision and I wanted to go back in time. I wanted to tell myself to not cancel our plans. I wanted to tell myself that work can wait, it will always be here. I wanted to tell myself you only have so many moments with your dad, do not let any of them slip away.
Eventually, my nerves calmed down. As I was laying on my couch Sunday evening, I wondered whether this mistake was avoidable at all. After thinking things over, I realized this mistake was probably inevitable.
A part of me is a ‘workaholic.’ Before my dad and I started our dinner ritual, I used to work everyday. I would take breaks here and there but there was no schedule to them. This was the first time I dedicated an entire day each week to just living.
Since this routine was new, I was bound to trip up somewhere along the way. Expecting oneself to always be perfect is not realistic. The goal is not to never fall, the goal is to pick ourselves back up when we do.
I also think this mistake was inevitable because I grew up around other ‘workaholics.’ A part of that mindset is engrained in me. I hold nothing against my parents, they had no ‘real’ other choice but to work a lot. My dad and mom needed to support my siblings and me, as well as their own siblings. My mom’s family also immigrated to the United States from Jordan when she was a child. She was the firstborn too and her family came here with no money either.
Because of my family’s experiences, I know the importance of hard work and a part of me revels in it. I find satisfaction in seeing how far I can go. This mindset is not bad; in fact, it can be advantageous. Life is hard work, and no matter where we go, struggle will find us.
A part of finding fulfillment in life is realizing the beauty in our struggles; the beauty of pushing rocks up mountains. As the French philosopher and writer, Albert Camus, once said,
“The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart.”
When I was younger, words like Camus’ gave me fuel. They instilled in me a passion for appreciating the hard moments — moments we all experience in any career. However, as I matured, I realized these words need more context.
Life is not just work. Rarely does work in itself make life worthwhile. Most of us are lucky enough to have other things in our lives. Most of us have family and loved ones as well.
If you are reading this, then you have free time. You have the ability to appreciate the world around you. This means that a worthwhile life must include this precious gift you have been given. You must set aside time to appreciate the people and things you have been blessed with.
Through ever misstep, I understand life a little better. I believe I was meant to learn every lesson I have because a part of me needed to. In a way, many of the mistakes I made were bound to happen. Had I not fallen one way, I would have fallen another way at a different time. Each mistake has helped me to become more of the person I was meant to be. This does not mean we have no choice in our lives, however.
Life is a marriage between choice and fate. While we cannot choose what happens to us, we always have the choice as to how we respond. We can either become bitter and resentful, or we can see every experience as an opportunity to learn and grow. In the end, this is the only choice we need.
When we trip, we should be gentle with ourselves. We are bound to fall at some point. Usually, we fall because there is something on the ground we need to see — something we are destined to see. There is no way getting around this nor should we want to. Our only choice is whether we are going to learn and grow from our mistakes now or later.
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