I missed the bus on the first day of high school. Oh, I was on time and waiting at the corner, and it even stopped for me, but since my school had two campuses (one for freshman/sophomore, the other for junior/senior), I thought the bus number was the route number—which wasn’t mine—and so I told the driver to go on…

After waiting for several minutes, I walked home crying, and my dad drove me to school. What an awesome way to start that new life chapter! Aside from fostering a lifelong anxiety for successfully catching public transportation, it also is a bit of a metaphor to me of an unhealthy mentality that I battle called “once this, then that.”

It’s not an exact metaphor because I missed the damn bus, but doesn’t it make my little 14-year-old self sound pathetic? Yeah, I know. Listen, I never missed the bus again, so don’t cry too long, okay?

Please do not be confused--this is NOT me.
Please do not be confused–this is NOT me.

The “once this, then that” mentality goes something like this: “Once I get through this next ‘thing,’ then all will be better” (as in, once I get on the bus to high school, then all will be well…though you gotta actually catch the bus first!)

The “thing” could be a project, an event, a challenging time—whatever. It’s the belief that once a certain hurdle is crossed, then the road will be much smoother. But the truth is, the road never is…the bumps and ruts never go away.

Yet it’s a terribly tempting way to get through things. Once I make this job transition, then I’ll be able to get to the work I’ve always wanted to. Once I get through the holidays, then I’ll start eating healthier. Once I get a more workable schedule, then I’ll exercise regularly. Once I make this deadline, then I’ll take a deep breath and be more patient.

For me, the reason this kind of thinking can be so deadly is because there is enough truth to it that it lulls you into thinking it will be so. And the problem is that it’s still up to me to make it happen. There is no magic once the hurdle is crossed. And the truth of it is that, yes—we do get through things and come out the other side, and often we are able to take our necessary next, better steps. But the danger is in waiting for the hurdle to come and in thinking that all it takes is that—the mere passage of whatever.

And so I try to balance the feeling of reassurance that once I get through something things will be better with the awareness that…well, once I get through something, things may be…the same…unless I do what needs doing to make them different.

After the missed bus, I never again assumed I knew the difference between something like a route number and a bus number—I learned a little preparation in that regard can go a long way—literally—it can go so far as to successfully take me to school! And once I caught the bus, it didn’t mean that the rest of my life was gravy, either. High school was one heck of a ride, indeed—but not simply because I arrived there—it was because of the steps I took after I got off the bus.

Once this, then that…but only if I do my part to make it happen.