I learned a long time ago to keep my mouth shut about major decisions.
Once you share your plans, it builds expectations and people wonder if the job came through, you got the house or the pregnancy test turned out positive. Once people are in the know, it opens to door to questions, unsolicited advice and opinions.
I wasn’t always this way. When I was younger, I was notorious for having a very big mouth and trouble keeping secrets. Just ask my mother, who recalls me asking older relatives embarrassing questions at family gatherings, including this one: “Why don’t you like each other?”
But with age, I’ve learned the value of keeping quiet. There’s nothing worse than opening your mouth, and then having to explain that you didn’t get the job, or the promotion you expected went to someone else. As my paternal grandmother used to implore me after filling me in on something, “Don’t say nothing.”
My best kept secret was my son. After 10 years of disappointment and stories of adoptions that fell through at the last minute, I told only my parents that we were about to bring him home. I brought him to my parents’ house and my sisters were shocked to see him in my arms, mainly because they couldn’t believe I kept such a big secret.
This has been on my mind lately because my daughter is applying to colleges, and applied to one early decision. She told five of her friends where she applied early decision, and even had a friend take a photo of her sending in the application. I told her I don’t think it’s a good idea because she’ll have to explain herself if she doesn’t get in.
After screaming and telling me I’m old and out of touch with today’s kids, she defended her decision. This brought to mind the famous John Lennon quote:
It’s true, isn’t it? Not many people’s lives go perfectly according to plan. Most of us are living our own version of Plan B, making the best of what’s in front of us. But it’s hard to drum cautious optimism into a teen-ager with a stubborn streak.
“This is how I’m wired,” she said. “My friends are supportive, and I want them there if I don’t get in.”
Fair enough. But we’re living in a society where people overshare everything on social media, and I still believe some things – like your college plans – should be kept confidential.
Back in the dark ages when I applied to colleges, you never told anyone where you were applying for fear of jinxing it. I looked up the origins of this superstition, and found that it’s rooted in ancient Mediterranean cultures that believed the evil eye would be cast on those who boasted about their good fortune.
I don’t know why humans are programmed to anticipate the worst, but apparently it traces back to our ancestors. I guess we can blame them for this spirit of pessimism and superstition, along with a host of other less than desirable traits.
I know other people in my age group share my belief in jinxing things by discussing them. Several months ago, a friend confided to me her plans to pursue her dream of buying and operating a business. She’d been in discussions for months and wanted to share her news, but worried that discussing it might make the deal fall through.
She asked that I keep our conversation confidential and I did. If the deal fell through – which it didn’t – I didn’t want to be responsible. But I was honored that she trusted me enough to keep quiet. It was clear she had no idea what a big mouth I’d been in my youth.
So far, neither kid has followed my advice about keeping things close to the vest. They do what they want, dismissing me as old-fashioned and out of touch. But I hope one day they’ll see the value in the saying, “Silence is golden.”
Postscript: She learned last night that she got accepted to Catholic University in Washington, D.C., where she applied early decision. So the agony is over, at least until we drop her off and pay her tuition bill.