How a fortune cookie taught me to deal with transitions

Updated Oct 12 2015
Guest post by stealmystapler
By: Canned MuffinsCC BY 2.0

Small-town Chinese food outings were part of the fabric of my college days. I fondly remember nights spent deciphering menu typos and misspellings. The food was always delicious, regardless of the spelling, especially when flavored by good conversation and laughter. Fortune cookies offered a final opportunity for a smile — especially when followed with "in bed."

Once a friend got "Everyone knows you are the best." While that still may be the best fortune, I've come across a contender…

Sometime in the years after college, my tastebuds and friend group tended away from Chinese. I don't remember where or when exactly, but about three and a half years ago a new fortune entered my life: "Relish the Transitions in Your Life – They Will Happen Regardless."

fortune cookie philosophy

My time in graduate school was waning, and no words could have been sweeter. It was exactly the bit of philosophy I needed then, and perhaps still do. The magic of it finding me was oddly comforting. I stuck it in my wallet, just over my ID. There, it has served as a near-constant reminder, grounding me through a slew of transitions: an engagement, my first place-based heartbreak, long days of job hunting, a wedding, new jobs, moves, new places, and a multitude of daily trials.

Whether by nature or nurture, I'm a planner. My way through transitions has always been to make lists, plan logistics, and control change through over-management. The fortune's soft whispers from my wallet have reminded me to stop, breathe, and pay attention. It is hard to relish today when you are already planning tomorrow.

I don't know where the fortunes come from. Perhaps they're all copied from random websites, or there's a person who sits and writes random phrases all day. (What a fascinating and exhausting job that would be!) Maybe they're duplicated thousands and thousands of times. But one way or another, this bit of wisdom made it to my wallet to cover my birthdate, much to the chagrin of grocery and liquor store clerks. The small slip of paper might fall out in a hurried exchange of cards or become so rubbed as to be unreadable. Even if the artifact disappears, the words that have become a mantra of sorts never will.

Perhaps I'm biased because I'm still young, and change seems to come from all directions, but I'm beginning to think that life is all transitions. And honestly, I can't wait to see what's coming next.

What words ring through to you? I'd love to hear them!

  1. I used to work in HIV/AIDS organizations in youth prevention. My idol, Stephen Lewis, was giving a presentation at my university. During the Q&A I asked him what advice he had for those of us working in ASO's. He said: "Don't loose heart. The world needs you." I was very moved by the simple words. So much so, I had them tattooed on the back of my ankles to spread the love. The sentiment has meaning regardless of the situation. I've had people stop me in the street ad tell me they were having a bad day but that the saying lifted their spirits.
    Never underestimate the power of simple statements.

    • "Never underestimate the power of simple statements" – YES. What a wonderful way to think about it.

  2. While transitioning from full time worker to full time student (all the work, none of the pay) I happened upon a left behind coffee cup at the office that read, simply "Reinvent".
    I used that cup daily for months and kept it at my desk even when it wasn't in use just so I could look at it whenever I got anxiety. It also reminded me where my head & heart were when I made my decision (which was based on months of research, long conversations with the SO and agonizing self doubt).
    On my last day, I took a photo of the cup (to look at when I needed it) then placed it back in the cupboard for some other soul to hopefully get inspiration from.
    I still look at it now and then. It always reminds me that change is inevitable and reinventing ourselves is what we humans do best.

  3. I collect fortunes (along with movie ticket stubs). Right now I've got them all in a cup, but someday I intend to do an art project with them, as soon as I figure out what that project should be. On every January first, I write myself a letter to be opened on the first day of the following year, and I include a fortune with it.
    This year's fortune reads, "You discover treasures where others see nothing unusual."

    • I also have a collection of good/inspirational/ect fortunes waiting for an awesome craft project! No ideas yet though.

      • I'm planning on gridding mine out and labelling the axis with months/days so you can pick a day and find a corresponding fortune. Then again, I really like "art pieces" that people can interact with in my house.

        A friend of mine just pinned a bunch face-down to a bulletin board and had people pick one when they came over, but I want to do something more subtle and reusable.

      • I, too, have a good-sized collection. I actually even photocopied a portion of them, which is somehow cheating, but it allowed me to use them more casually even though I didn't have "the ultimate project" figured out yet. Up to now, I've only used them for greeting cards.

  4. Mine happened in middle school. I was a ballet dancer and was dancing the role of a butterfly in our spring concert, and I had these MASSIVE canvas wings on the ends of wands that I held onto and fluttered as hard as I could. They were so big and heavy that I had a lot of trouble getting around the stage at all, and I was bawling backstage the first time I rehearsed with the wings.

    My sweetheart at the time came over to comfort me, and I said "I feel like a sailboat!" He just shrugged and said, "Learn to sail."

    I haven't seen or talked to that boy in years, but I still remember the impact his response had on me: whatever's happening, adapt to your circumstances and deal with them.

  5. In my early twenties a boyfriend of mine was teaching me how to snowboard. The hill we were on was quite steep and I was terrified that I would fly off the path or do one of those insane head over heels rolls all the way down the mountain. He looked at me and said "Listen. You know how to slow down and you know how to stop. Both of those can be done in about ten feet. You don't have to worry about the whole thing, all you've got to be concerned about are those ten feet."

    The ten feet analogy only lasted until I built up speed and I had plenty of head over heels moments in the years thereafter. However, it has since served as a strong reminder to not worry about the future. For someone who has a lot of anxiety, it's a comforting reassurance that I only have to concentrate on the present, or rather the next "ten feet".

  6. As you go through life, you will come to a large crevasse. Leap. It's not as far as you think.

    I have so many stories in my life that go with this quote. I even bought a fridge magnet that shows a cartoon woman that looks vaguely like me, stepping off a cliff with the words "I can learn from this" as it was the closest I found to the above quote.

  7. I needed this today. I've been fighting a transition that I haven't wanted to happen but is happening anyway. And it's great advice, to relax and look for the good points because If it's going to happen anyway I may as well be happy instead of making myself miserable. Thanks for the post!

  8. I was in the booby hatch after trying to kill myself, and was really frustrated by all the councilor's "think happy thoughts" lectures. Really? If that's all it took, no one would be there. I'm irritated just thinking about it now. One day, during one of our group therapy sessions, the councilor said something that literally saved and changed my life. He told us to go ahead and do the daily affirmations they were instructing us to do, just make them more reasonable. He said every morning look in the mirror and think about the day before, then say to yourself "I did good yesterday, because I made it through it. Today I'm going to do a little bit better." That's it. The only goal for each day is to do a little bit better. Maybe today you'll brush your hair for the first time in a week, and that's a success. So now, "Today I'm going to do a little bit better" is a way of life for me.

    Maybe as important, I carry a fortune with me all the time. "A good home is happiness."- IN BED!!!

  9. I was in a bad, but comfortable relationship. Staying together seemed inevitable but I had recently met someone else (still a friend) who made me want to believe that things could be better. Talking to my (now) ex-boyfriend while drinking an iced tea, I looked at the cap. "The universe always has other plans." I realized that everything wasn't mapped out. Things weren't inevitable and things could change. I still have that 7-year-old bottle cap somewhere. I'll always remember it because it gave a young, naive me permission to take another path.

  10. I had a bad job that got worse when I was demoted. It was also 3 weeks before my 40th birthday. I came across this fragment of a larger quote from Mark Twain and it gave me the oomph to quit without even starting the first steps of a job search.

    "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do."

    I KNEW that I would regret working there one day longer than working out my two weeks.

  11. Firstly, I love all of these stories! thank you all for sharing them, they really are inspiring. I don't think I currently have one, but all of these made me smile.

    The cookie also made me think of this book. If you ever are curious, about where the cookies came from, you aren't alone! I read this years ago, but it stuck with me:
    "The Fortune Cookie Chronicles" by Jennifer 8 Lee

    Just wanted to share 🙂

  12. When I was struggling in college, feeling overwhelmed and guilty for being behind in my work (chronic procrastinator), a very good friend of mine told me,

    "There's no hole."

    I asked him what that meant and he explained, "There's no hole where they throw the people who don't finish their homework on time."

    It put things in perspective and always served as a reminder that I could get through whatever was going on. It seems so simple, but in its essence, it also reminds me that what I make of things is up to me. No one will come and throw me in a hole for not being responsible – it's my own guilt (and maybe a few other consequences) that I have to contend with.

    In the end, it reminds of a common phrase: what's the worst that could happen? Only in this case, instead of thinking of all the bad things that could happen, you just skip ahead and ground yourself at knowing there's no hole.

    Basically it's a reminder that even if you are feeling horrible, you need to cut yourself some slack because whatever you've done or not done is probably not THAT bad – at least not bad enough to be thrown in a hole for. 😉

    • Whenever I used to worry about a frivolous situation, as a kid, both of my parents would tease, "what are they going to do, take away your birthday?" It was annoying at the time, but helped mold me into who I am today. Not to worry about things or people you cannot change/control.

      I've now started saying that to my husband and stepson. God help me, I *am* becoming my parents.

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