The Not-So-Bad Bad Day

Rob at Green Garage in Denver understands the art of telling someone how expensive their car repair is going to be: You can’t deliver the news with the same gravitas that you would telling someone they have a terminal illness.

“You ready, man?” he always asks me whenever I take my van in for an oil change. And I brace for the impact on my wallet, which can be anywhere from $250 to $1,500. We go over it, and I shrug my shoulders and say ouch, OK, can you do it today, when can I pick it up, sure thing.

We have such a contentious relationship with vehicles sometimes: we beat the crap out of them, and we feel hurt when parts of them break, even get angry. We accuse manufacturers of building “lemons,” or we take it out on repair garages who we think are trying to rob us blind. I try to take everything in stride and not get too worked up about car repairs. I drive a van with 180,000 miles on it, and I put 25,000-plus miles on it each year, I live in it, and its pedigree … well, it ain’t a BMW. Whenever I take it in for a checkup, I mentally prepare myself for what I call my “surprise car payment,” which sometimes is just an oil change, but sometimes is four figures.

Last fall, I got the bad news that a bunch of repairs needed to be done, costing about what two round-trip flights to Switzerland would cost. It was a particularly large bill, in a year of lots of large car repair bills. I did something I try to never do: I started feeling sorry for myself.

My friend Craig DeMartino has a saying he is fond of: Life is 10% events, and 90% your reaction. This is actually a paraphrase of a longer quote from a book by Charles Swindoll, but I like to think of it coming from Craig, because he’s missing the lower part of his leg, has a fused spine, is in chronic pain, and still manages to climb harder than most people with all their limbs.

We sometimes think we have a lot of bad news, but what we often have are small problems plus a huge amount of first-world entitlement. Usually nobody’s dying. Most of us don’t have to walk two miles every morning to get water from a river. Most of us don’t have a huge risk of a suicide bomber stepping onto the bus we take to work every morning. Twitter went down for an hour. The barista obviously didn’t get it when we said “extra hot extra foam.” Someone pulled out in front of us on our way to work and we had to decelerate 8 miles per hour for almost three seconds. And then we get angry. Or entitled.

OK, so it’s a big car repair bill, or a rejection letter, or a bad this or bad that. But hey, my checking account still has enough money in it for a burrito and an ice cream cone, so it’s not that bad, is it? And there’s a dog with its tail wagging, and a construction worker telling another construction worker a joke and they’re both laughing. And someone out there is having a good day that’s far quote-unquote worse than my bad day.



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  1. February 27, 2014

    LOVE IT! thanks for keep us all in line Brendan. lets get ice cream soon.

  2. February 27, 2014

    Thanks for helping us keep everything in perspective Brendan! Love that quote, “Life is 10% events, and 90% your reaction.”!! So true…. but so hard to remember we really need to. Long live Semi-Rad!!!!

  3. matt-cr
    February 27, 2014

    right on! some people walk in the rain, others get wet.

  4. Elle
    February 27, 2014

    With me sitting here this morning waiting for *that* phone call from the Ford place where I dropped off my truck last night, this came at a particularly timely moment for me. It’s just in for an oil change, but……………………I promise to remain calm, and be grateful I have a truck to take care of!

  5. February 27, 2014

    My husband and I spent last week in Mojave and Joshua Tree. On our drive there we listened to your interview with Marshall Moore and also you interviewing Chris from Enormocast. We arent climbers and never have been but we are a family (we have two daughters ages 9 and 6) who LOVE to be outside. We have always loved your blog. I bought my husband your semi rad shirt a few years back for his birthday.

    I think I have left a comment to you one other time. But I wanted to leave a comment now, after hearing you talk about some of your posts that just didnt seem to go over like you thought they would. I have a blog, too and rarely does any one ever leave a comment (granted, I have like 30 dedicated readers)! But when they do it is so GREAT to just get a little feedback.

    So, here I am, supporting another blogger and letting you know that YES, I love your post. I have been on my own personal journey to love myself more and in turn I have learned to love life and everything about it more.

    Last week we got back from an 8 day trip to desert to discover that someone had stolen $1800 of outdoor gear out of our shed. Every one expected me to be mad or angry or upset. But this was my reaction (possible because I have been working to live in more peace)

    “How great is it that we were on a trip and had all our ESSENTIALS with us!!!” It could have been worse.

    Thanks for what you do.

  6. L.G.
    February 27, 2014

    Thanks, Brendan! I needed this.

  7. Peter
    February 27, 2014

    I thought this was worth posting since it embodies the heart of the post:

  8. February 27, 2014

    Great perspective! I try to run through almost that same list (health, water, burritos and ice cream cones) when things start to look “bleak” and it doesnt take long to get happy again.

  9. Riley
    February 27, 2014

    This post stands out among the rest. A wonderful reminder. Keep it up!

  10. matt
    February 27, 2014

    I worked with a guy from Sudan, Fikru. Fik had scars on his back that were deep and shiny. He said he was very lucky growing up. When soemone would get frazzled in the restaurant he would look at them and ask, “Is any going to die? Are there Lions, or men with guns? Is someone in your family sick? …. No? Then there is no problem”


  11. Tom G.
    February 27, 2014

    Its amazing how often you write exactly what I needed to hear that day. You are a gentleman and a scholar, Mr. Leonard. Thank you for this reality check and the weekly inspiration.

  12. February 27, 2014

    Good post Brendan.
    My philosophy is similar (a mish-mash of other familiar quotes that I tend to lean on):
    Keep calm, carry on & don’t sweat the small stuff.
    It can help with the little annoyances and bigger bummers – what ever comes up:

  13. Lo
    February 27, 2014

    This is perfect! It makes me smile and feel really happy and encouraged about the things I am trying to prioritize in my life; I sometimes get bogged down in it all and start to slip into feeling sorry for myself. I know how good life is when I am thankful, stoked and maintaining perspective. This was an excellent reminder. Thank you :)

  14. greg
    February 27, 2014

    Spot on and just in time…..thanks BL!

  15. February 27, 2014

    Great post. Reminds me of the Louis C.K. video that went viral a while back about the world being amazing and everyone being unhappy.
    Smiling that Chuck Swindoll got quoted in your blog.
    Enjoyed your book too. It was a beautiful little piece of heartache.


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