Steve Martin and teenage heartbreak and the consolation of life’s routine

On my long drive yesterday I listened again to one of my favorite audiobooks, Steve Martin’s Born Standing Up.

When Martin was describing his teen years, he mentioned this conversation with an older coworker in his job at Disneyland:

“One day I was particularly gloomy, and Jim asked me what the matter was. I told him my high school girlfriend (for all of two weeks) had broken up with me. He said, ‘Oh, that’ll happen a lot.’ The knowledge that this horrid grief was simply a part of life’s routine cheered me up almost instantly.” –Steve Martin, from his book Born Standing Up

I remember being crushed by teenage heartbreak. It lingered like a cloud over me for way too long.

If only I had a Jim to tell me it was no big deal; heartbreaks are part of life; they’ll happen a lot.

Maybe I would have cheered up a lot quicker. (Or maybe not.)

Now, I regularly have young people seek my counsel about the uncertainties in their lives. “What path should I take?” “Why don’t I have answers to my hard questions?”

I want to tell them—and sometimes I do—”You will never be certain. Ever.”

That sentiment should be reassuring, right? If you don’t have it figured out, don’t fret because you never will. This horrid confusion is simply part of life’s routine.

I’m 51-years-old, and I am not close to having my life figured out. I’m totally winging it. (You are, too.)

I used to think there would come a point in my life when I would have “arrived”, when I would be sure and supremely confident and oh so wise.

Now I’m sure that point is perpetually receding into the horizon of my life.

I look at people two or three decades older than me and see just as much uncertainty.

Quarter-life crisis. Mid-life crisis. Late-life crisis.

You will face a lot fewer crises if you’re not expecting that your life will eventually resolve into blissful certitude.

The secret to happiness is low expectations, or at least realistic expectations. Expect heartbreak and uncertainty and loss and failure, and when you encounter them they won’t seem so dismal.

This is not pessimism. This is honesty. This is steeling yourself to meet life head on and make the most of whatever comes. And heartbreak and loss and uncertainty are coming.

But so is joy and delight and kindness and opportunities to grow and embrace all that your unscripted shot at life has to offer.

Step back and see that whatever gloom you’re facing is merely temporary. Everything is temporary. This is life’s routine, and you get to be a part of it. How grand.

Cheer up and get back at it.