10/25/2013 10:23 pm ET

5 Mistakes You Can't Afford To Make

woman having bowling accident
woman having bowling accident

By Amity Gaige

A few key things to avoid in life, by the author of Schroder: A Novel.

Mistake #1: Accepting crisis as your M.O.
I have an older friend who once told me, "When I was younger, I used to feel so stressed out. I thought I'd never make it through life. And then I gave up the drama." She was telling me this as I was taking care of both my young child and my dying father, and on the verge of unemployment. This was -- okay, it really was -- a time of great stress. But after it passed (my kid survived, I got a new job, I said goodbye to Daddy), I noticed it took a long, long time to stop feeling like I was desperately late somewhere. Because my body was still speeding, my mind started to look for new crises. But it's dangerous to accept crisis as your baseline. It gets harder and harder to see the anti-crises that are so requisite to happiness: the quiet times, the crucial pauses -- like those in a poem.

Mistake #2: Complaining (except in jest).
Let's admit it; the only use for complaining is to make people laugh. It's fun to get together with friends and kvetch. So when you feel the need to moan and groan, laugh with woeful recognition and eat flaky pastries. If you hear yourself taking the art of complaining a little too seriously, ask yourself what you're trying to accomplish exactly. I mean, if you could literally rid yourself of your problems by voicing them, I'd be all for it. But since that isn't so, why not reserve the spoken word for functional interactions and witticisms, if not declarations of love?

Mistake #3: Zoning out while eating something delicious, and then wondering who ate it when it's all gone.
Some things (e.g., salted caramels, ceviche) just deserve your complete attention.

Mistake #4: Trying to "capture" a moment.
Usually, we try to take a picture of the moment. The gussied-up baby, the record-breaking fish… but outside of a half-dozen randomly beautiful instances throughout the year (never the expected ones), isn't the desire to document distracting from the snippet of time we're so desperate to preserve? When bathing my young child several years ago, his sopping-wet face full of joy and love, I lamented, "Oh, that look! I wish there was a box I could keep that look in." My husband came to the doorway and said, "There is a box to keep that in. It's called your heart."

Mistake #5: Letting the pilot light go out.
Speaking of my husband, one night not too long ago, after not having had a decent conversation with him for days, and not having written or read anything or even had a daydream, I peeked into his study. He looked overworked, and hadn't done anything exciting or eye-opening for days, either. He seemed very far away there, at the other end of the room. I walked over to him and hugged him. He smiled sympathetically and said, "Just don't let the pilot light go out." Maybe he meant the pilot light in our marriage -- the love and the belief -- but I like to think he also meant the pilot light I was born with and that we're all born with: the potential to be lit up, the potential to be inspired. Never let the great extinguishers (disappointment, boredom, real estate) get to that pilot light. Worst. Mistake. Ever.



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