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Miserable Months or Contentment Ahead: Your Decisions Decide

Three uncommon, necessary choices guide you.

Key points

  • Without learning to be assertive, we may end up with life's crumbs.
  • Mistakes happen, so it is best to assimilate them rather than rationalize or become defensive.
  • Humility is a key to resilience, even with the Navy SEALs.

If you’ve ever felt stuck or come to a crossroads in life, you may know the discomfort of choosing the next path. Or not.

Who gets mired in misery more? Who forges ahead either with courage or confidence?

From decades of life experience, coupled with 18 years as a licensed counselor, I’ve narrowed a vast expanse of choices to three vital ones that will lead to a happier, healthier you. So read on, please.

Guard Your Cookies or Accept Life’s Crumbs

While intended for kids, I’ve read from the book Too Nice to help countless clients from teens to adults. In one story, Amy offers a small cookie from her lunch-sized bag to a friend. Sharing rocks is kind, for sure. Yet when everyone else around the school lunch table asks for one, Amy lets the bag get passed around. Stopping with her, Amy now swipes a dampened finger across the inner foil. She’s left with only crumbs.1

Has anyone ever told you that you’re too nice for your own good? Have you pleased others while passing over your own needs and desires? Has your failure to speak up when stressed resulted in a pattern of undesirable outcomes?

What’s lacking in Amy and possibly you is assertiveness—the ability to stand up for yourself in a positive way. Aggression hurts others. Permissiveness smacks of enabling, sometimes indulgence with ineffective results.

Asserting your own rights, on the other hand, conveys honesty, respect, confidence, and problem-solving. Communicating directly to another (not through someone else or through indirect body language), actively listening, and with direct eye contact whenever possible are central. I statements, not “you did this,” start an assertive sentence, as in “I feel that it’s important that we recognize…”

Assertive people accept accountability, taking pride in themselves and others. They embrace “we” as well as “our” and a shared goal plus a willingness to work together to that end.

Refuse To Be a Repeat Offender

How often do you make the same mistakes or give up when the path seems daunting? What prevents you from learning along the way or persevering?

Might the messages obtained from the family of origin, where mistakes were punished and not embraced as learning opportunities, stall you? Perfectionism? Or an inability to be wrong if someone points out a mistake you made that sparks defensiveness? Defensiveness, after all, is just an indirect way of blaming another person.

Tim Murphy, Ph.D., writes in The Christ Cure: 10 Biblical Ways to Heal from Trauma, Tragedy and PTSD: Arrogant people, while boastful and blaming cannot learn from mistakes and often wallow in self-pity from failure. He explains this is central to resiliency and humility as shown by the highly trained and disciplined Navy SEALs. “Who would you want beside you in battle?” Murphy asks the reader. Arrogance or humility?2

If at First: How Great People Turned Setbacks into Great Success is another book I frequently reference.3 Oprah didn’t quite live up to anchor desk expectations in Baltimore, Maryland, back in the day, but was demoted from a prime news spot to a homemaker’s favorite People Are Talking show.

It took 16 literary agent rejections and more than thirty publishing houses to pass on John Grisham’s talent. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was scolded at Harvard for “taking a man’s spot,” denied first jobs because she was either a woman, a Jew, a mother, or God forbid, too threateningly smart. Facing difficulties with major universities, she taught at Rutgers (with a longer commute) and represented the underserved with the American Civil Liberty Union (ACLU).

I can save space and not really complete these resumes because they’re all well-known, household names, right? Failure, fate, or misfortune could have grounded them all, but each dusted themselves off, and kept learning and trying.

Pete Linforth/Pixabay
Source: Pete Linforth/Pixabay

Don’t Abandon Your Values

For a kinesthetic activity, I engage clients who are trying to figure out life and sometimes career with a card sort I’ve made specifically to tap their value system. You see, we make choices from our values—what we believe in, and what mission or motives we live by.

Ambivalent people, as I write in Overcoming Passive-Aggression, sit on the fence, forever unsure.4 Deciding. Often, they fit above into the people-pleaser category or in the second repeating-mistakes one.

If others throw shade, rewrite a narrative to gaslight their own shortcomings, or cast you with accusations, how do you respond? Many might meet bad behavior or anger with the same. Or not.

When you are certain of your values, your choices come more readily, without much wrestling or hesitation. And, without reactivity, I might add. That is part of defining a strong sense of self and living a congruent life.

People obtain that strength of character and self by continual work via counseling, reading, prayer, journaling, and healthy living.

“Attend to your life. Operate within your values recognizing that no one ‘makes’ you do or say anything,” I write with my co-author in Overcoming Passive-Aggression. “Your behavior is your choice.”4

Copyright @ 2023 by Loriann Oberlin, MS.


1. Too Nice by Marjorie White Pellegrino, illustrated by Bonnie Matthews. (Washington, DC: Magination Press/American Psychological Association, 2002);

2. The Christ Cure: 10 Biblical Ways to Heal from Trauma, Tragedy and PTSD: by Tim Murphy, PhD. (West Palm Beach, FL: Humanix Books, 2023); ); and

3. If at First: How Great People Turned Setbacks into Great Success by Laura Fitzgerald (Kansas City, MO: Andrews McMeel, 2004);

4. Overcoming Passive-Aggression: How to Stop Hidden Anger from Spoiling Your Relationships, Career and Happiness by Tim Murphy, Ph.D. and Loriann Oberlin, MS, LCPC (New York: Hachette/DaCapo, 2016); and

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