I’ve seen the movie Pee-wee’s Big Adventure more times than I dare admit. Suffice it to say, I can quote it at will and ad nauseam. There is a scene where Pee-wee’s waitress friend Simone is talking about her aspirations and then adds the dreaded word. Pee-wee replies, “Everyone I know has a big ‘but.’ C’mon, Simone, let’s talk about your big but.” I’m going to pick up that tossed gauntlet and do just that, albeit not specifically Simone’s.
I had come to a place where I hated the word “but.” The word itself has multiple meanings and uses, and I don’t find all of them offensive. Truthfully, there are some that are valuable and necessary to convey a message. I’m perfectly content and on pleasant terms with the noun form, or its adverb and preposition alter egos. However my personal struggle and thoughts for this missive are all about the conjunction. (Cue the music from SchoolHouse Rock for all of the readers old enough to remember “Conjunction Junction.”)
You’d think that a conjunction that is only three letters long would have little impact on the world. In fact, it can have as big of an impact on our psyches and self worth as the Kardashian versions of butts have on pop culture aesthetic.
Our brains are almost perfectly trained to hear the word “but” and effectively cancel out everything said prior to its utterance. It doesn’t matter how effusive or uplifting the previous praise had been, it’s now been flushed down the mental commode and the swirl of neurons has the same dizzying effect as watching the real-life water vortex.
We are now waiting on tenterhooks for the crux of the conversation, or what we see as “the truth.” Often times, however, the truth was actually what preceded the word and everything that comes after is merely opinion or perception.
One of my least favorites of the big buts is, “I adore you, but…” I’ve actually said and typed this as much as anyone. Often times I use it in a joking manner, or sometimes to soften the edges of what I’m about to say. Until you’re on the receiving end of the phrase, you can be unaware of the magnitude of its capabilities.
In essence, prior to the “but,” you’ve just prepped someone to hear what many of us long for and receive less often than we need…positive validation. Then immediately after, it is snatched away like a perfectly wrapped present shown to you, yet meant for a receiver other than you. A completely fictional receiver that our brains manifest and perceive as more worthy than we are.
That circumstance has a way of emotionally reverting us to our past failures. Moments where we fell short of living up to the expectations of someone we were trying desperately to please or impress. It’s the embodiment of our missed opportunities to be seen as achievers, or to feel like we’ve actually figured this “life” thing out for a change.
When we realize, however, that everything following that little word doesn’t have to be taken in as immutable fact, we can free ourselves from the mental prison in which we placed ourselves. We are the possessors and rightful owners of that key. Confinement has been self-imposed because, for whatever reason, we found the speaker’s perception of us more valid than our own knowledge of ourselves.
The perceptions of others can be helpful. In unknown territory they can be guideposts of experiences we’ve yet to have. We just need to take them in knowing that no two lives are exactly the same. We’ve all been moulded by our pasts. With each new day and experience we transform and adjust to what works for us. If you think of the number of encounters you have in one day alone, then multiply that over the days of your lifetime, you can understand how no one can know you or know what works for you better than yourself.
So, the next time you encounter a big “but,” remember that you have the choice to imprison yourself or to leave the door unlocked and wide open. Take every thought said after as was likely intended…advice or experiences of a completely separate and distinctly different being than you. If it works for you and helps you grow, take it in. If it doesn’t though, don’t bind yourself in it and devalue your worth. You have the power and the key…no ifs, ands, or big buts.