The best advice I’ve heard in a long while came from a baboon.
It’s in the last scene of the second season of Bojack Horseman. Bojack is running up the hill outside his Hollywoo home, out of breath, complaining about how everything sucks and he hates running and why do people do it, before he collapses on the ground at the top of the hill.
Bojack had a rough go of it throughout the season. After getting his dream role as Seabiscuit and meeting an amazing owl woman named Wanda, Bojack goes on a self-improvement kick, listening to personal development tapes and trying to change his outlook on life.
Change is hard. He runs up that huge hill outside his home, and he gets passed by an older baboon man.
He remains positive, but change is still hard. Later his mother calls and tells him he’s broken, absolutely broken, always has been and always will be broken. After a good, hard tear-down from her, things take a sour turn for Bojack.
A change in directors alters the tone of the Seabiscuit film. His relationship with Wanda comes with its set of challenges, and he has to work at it, if he wants to keep Wanda in his life. And he’s so wrapped up in his own drama that he completely neglects his relationship with his best friend, Todd, who very nearly joins an improv cult.
Bojack has everything he ever wanted, yet he continues to suffer. He tries to become a better person in spite of himself,
Meanwhile the baboon man runs up that hill. Every day.
Bojack, however, runs away from his problems. He runs away from the Seabiscuit movie set and from his relationship with Wanda, believing that his life will be better if he can start over, only to have it fall apart. Again.
At the end he returns to LA, to the Seabiscuit movie set, and makes things right with Todd. He’s on a self improvement kick, again, and that’s where we find him at the top of the hill, collapsed on the ground. He’s right back to where he started, yet its no easier than it was in that first episode. Hovering over him, he sees the baboon man, who leans in and says:
“It gets easier. Every day it gets a little easier. But you got to do it every day, that’s the hard part. But it does get easier.”
The baboon man may have been talking about running, but more than anything it had to do with Bojack being a better person.
Any big change is easy to do when you’re starting out. Its the honeymoon period, and you feel as if you found the thing!, the thing you have been searching for that is going to solve all your problems and make them go away.
But something bad happens, and the honeymoon period is going to be over. You’re going to get a call from your critical mother, who reinforces the idea that you’re a broken person. You’re going to get a new boss or a new director on the Seabiscuit movie set. Your relationship with your partner is going to fall on tough times, no matter how amazing that owl woman is. And you’re going to be a jerk to your best friend in spite of yourself.
It doesn’t matter whether or not you have bad days. What matters is how you cope with them. The thing! isn’t some kind of charm bracelet or talisman. Its a mindset.
I’m finding it hard for me to tell you about these things, while also offering some story from my own life. In 2016, I have gotten fired from a client, broken up with a man I wanted to to marry, beaten back bouts of depression, have been struggling to get out of debt, and had a recent breakout from too much junk food. Not exactly a person you want to model your life after.
Yet despite the setbacks I am nearing the end of 2016 healthy, sane, and clear-headed.
Bojack crumbled, because he still believed he was a broken person. Its a story his mother instilled in him that continually haunts him.
The “broken” narrative is destructive. People who believe in it become intoxicated with it. They believe that it protects them, but in reality its toxicity poisons them from within.
Instead of believing it, I choose another story with a different mindset.
That mindset is to never stop questioning myself and the choices that led to my mistakes, to practice a sometimes brutal self-awareness, to constantly ask myself, What can I do differently.
Those are the few things that I have control over, and I don’t trouble myself with the things I can’t control.
Seven years ago I started practicing meditation, and six years ago I started running. Since then I’ve sat a lot of zazen and run a whole mess of miles. Both things vastly improved the quality of my life and made me a better person. And there were some hard days in there, where depression and resistance did not want me to meditate or run or be healthy or self aware.
But the changes are incremental. The work doesn’t stop just because I started doing the things. I have to work at them every day.
The baboon is right, but it doesn’t get easier, because the problems go away or you never have another bad day again or you’re perfect at it. It gets easier, because you learn how to cope with it. It gets easier, because you change your mindset around it. Every day it gets a little easier. But you got to do it every day, that’s the hard part. But it does get easier.