Mick Jagger was popular when I was a teen, and he was my favorite rock star. When he sang, You can’t always get what you want but…you get what you need, I knew he got me.
Growing up, I rarely got what I wanted. I was the invisible, second child in my family, and mostly what I wanted was to be seen.
By high school, I had become accustomed to being invisible and resigned to it. I had given up on wanting much of anything. Instead, I tried to make peace with what I got and worked on readjusting my expectations to meet my reality. I had realized that the way to get what I wanted was to want what I got.
My lowered expectations meant I was rarely disappointed and often pleasantly surprised. I learned to accept what was and tried to make the best of every situation.
It has not always been easy.
“I didn’t sign up for this,” was a thought I had early on in my friend Jim’s illness. When we first became friends, some twenty-five years earlier, I could not possibly have foreseen that this was how we would end up—Jim having brain cancer, moving in with me after his surgery and me becoming his primary caregiver. Those were very difficult days—taking care of him and knowing that he was going to die soon, all the while keeping my full-time job. It was not what I would have wanted.
Don’t get me wrong, I was happy to step up to help him and it was my pleasure to care for him. It was just not the way I would have wanted things to be—not the cancer nor the caregiving nor the dying.
But I learned so much from that experience—about Jim and myself and cancer. I became much better at asking for help and accepting what was offered. I learned to let go, and I discovered a deep well of courage that I could dip into for Jim’s sake. Perhaps most important for me was that I learned I was the kind of person who would step up—something we only find out when we are actually presented the opportunity.
Lots of people have life experiences they didn’t sign up for—accidents, illnesses, lost jobs, betrayals—just to name a few. Accepting the situation, adjusting expectations and creating a new normal are key to being able to learn from those experiences and move on.
Someone recently said to me, “I am grateful for my cancer because it has taught me what is important in my life.” It was a reminder that we don’t always choose our teachers, and our teachers are often those very things we wouldn’t want.
That Mick was a smart man. We might not get what we want, but if we try, we can see that we got what we needed.