After this past week of editing leading up to press, I woke up this morning so tired of words and seeing them on a page, I couldn’t bear the thought of writing this column today. More words! My mind this morning was simply a blank slate. I usually have some idea of at least a topic for my column before now. I believe I used the word ‘stupor’ to a friend I was messaging.

One of the thoughts that came to me while I was in the shower (because isn’t that where all the best thoughts come to people?) was that one single encounter with a person or persons can change the very course of your day… for better or worse. Substantially. It’s a very obvious point, but I guess I never pondered it. A person or people can have an astonishing effect on your life, good or bad. It could happen at any time.

From the friend who called you out of the blue to find out how you’re doing to a coworker who helped you with a project without being asked—from an incredible staff at your company to a super friendly and courteous checker in a grocery line who took extra care packing your items… all these encounters can warm your heart and turn a mundane or even bad day around in an instant. Conversely, a grumpy boss, grouchy postal worker or server in a restaurant, who makes you feel bad for even being in his/her presence, can sour your day. From a recent experience of mine, a healthcare professional completely lacking in compassion and any sort of bedside manner can also have a pretty negative impact on your life. And, worse yet, receiving one of those dreaded phone calls from someone with truly bad news—a report of an accident or death in the family, or bad news from a doctor’s office regarding your own health—is pretty scary and definitely life-changing. That interaction with one person has probably just changed your life forever! 

What I have come to know in my six decades on the planet is that, yes, all interactions have the potential to affect you. And you want the good ones to. But with the bad interactions, I feel like maybe we have choices. Of course, one of those choices is to actually start minimizing the chances of contact with others altogether: avoidance, in other words, or becoming a recluse. I know several people in my inner circle who have chosen this path, and I’m always wondering how well it really works for them. Since we humans are social creatures, I personally don’t feel like that’s the healthiest option for mental wellbeing.

Another option is to simply focus on your reaction to any negative exchanges. You can never control what others say and do, but you can always control how you react to it. That lesson is one of the hardest to employ on a day-to-day, minute-by-minute basis, but it is also the most powerful, useful tool of personal growth there is. I find that I relearn it over and over every day, and apply it to different situations all the time. 

As Albert Einstein said, “Once you stop learning, you start dying.”

May you all have more good encounters than bad, and may you all learn to handle the bad with grace and ease at every turn.