Why Even Run?

Spectators at this year’s Kentucky Derby saw the second biggest upset in the history of the race. In winning the world’s most prestigious horse race, Rich Strike beat incredible odds and showed us what is possible when you believe in yourself.

Only when another horse withdrew at the last minute did Rich Strike qualify for the race. Even then, few raised an eyebrow when the undersized horse, trained by an inexperienced trainer and ridden by a jockey who had never ridden in a big race joined the field. Nineteen other horses, many of them from established bloodlines and with multi-million-dollar histories, inspired much more confidence. This was reflected in the betting odds that put Rich Strike at 80-1. Though they obviously believed in the potential of their horse, the team surrounding him had to wonder if they belonged in the field.

When we’re facing steep odds like that, it’s hard not to feel like the longshot and wonder: why even run? In my day job as a recruiter, I try to find high-level talent for my clients. Locating talent is easy, when compared to getting that talent to take another position. As much as I try to suppress it, there’s often a voice in my head casting doubt on the likelihood of recruiting top talent. He’s never going to move. He’s been in his current job a long time. She probably gets annoyed by recruiter calls. Doubts like these creep in, because the odds are against me when I make that initial call.

Yet, I keep calling, because 1. my clients need me to help them succeed, and 2. I believe in myself.

Believing in ourselves isn’t easy. Even the most successful people struggle with self-doubt, albeit quietly. Abraham Lincoln wasn’t even quiet about it, openly sharing his feelings of inadequacy, even after winning the presidency of the United States. Self-doubt is not limited to those who don’t find success, which, in itself, is amazing for many reasons.

Successful people are typically more intelligent and self-aware, so they are quick to recognize the magnitude of the challenges they face. Furthermore, to be successful, they have typically failed more than most of us can even imagine. (Famous inventor Thomas Edison is noted for saying, “I have not failed 10,000 times—I’ve successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.”) Still, to achieve, they know that they must keep trying, even when the odds are against them.

When I find doubt creeping into my mind, I use these four methods to help me push through:

  1. I remind myself that I’ve found success before.
  2. I remind myself that I have prepared myself to be successful.
  3. I remind myself that I always have a chance, no matter how slim that chance might seem.
  4. Most importantly, I remain optimistic, because I know that if I think that I’ll fail, my mind will start looking for ways and excuses to fail.

What Rich Strike accomplished was the equivalent of an obscure back-up quarterback on an underdog team winning the Super Bowl. Everything had to go right for him to win the race, and that day, in that race, everything did. The favorites pushed themselves at an early pace that had them rapidly losing speed toward the end of the race, and a nearly perfect path through traffic opened up just enough for Rich Strike to make passes toward the front. Reset the field and rerun the race, and Rich Strike would probably finish toward the back almost every time, a reality that played out a little over a month later in The Belmont, the final race of The Triple Crown, when he finished in the back half.

Next year’s Kentucky Derby winner will likely be a favorite with all of the advantages to make him successful. Behind him will be horses almost as good, and behind them will be the easily forgotten “also-rans.” Still, when the gate opens, because they’re in the race, they’ll all have a shot at the win.

That’s why they run, and why you should too.

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Living and Thriving with Uncertainty

I was in Las Vegas with my son and some friends two years ago this month, when the world began to shut down due to COVID. It was the week before the NCAA March Madness – one of Vegas’ biggest events – and they were unplugging the slot machines.

If you have ever been to Las Vegas, you know that the slot machines run 24 hours per day every day all year long. Seeing them unplugged was jarring, and the note that was slid under our door to tell us that the resort was closing was alarming, but even in my wildest dreams, I couldn’t imagine what lie ahead.

I remember telling my son, who was starting his spring break in Vegas, to bring home enough clothes for a couple of weeks. It would be more than three months before he returned to campus. I remember thinking that there was no way that this thing was going to go past summer, that everything would be better once a vaccine was out, and that all that I needed to do was relax, and everything would be fine. Again, I couldn’t imagine what lie ahead, and that brings me to my point.

While it’s natural, and in some cases important, to imagine what lies ahead, about the only thing that is certain about the future is uncertainty. In that uncertainty, you will find both elation and disappointment, victory and defeat, frustration and encouragement. You’ll sometimes feel like you have it all figured out, while at other times, you’ll feel lost and clueless. Though life would be much less stressful without the uncertainty, there is no way to get around it, so we have to figure out how to live and thrive in uncertainty.

For me at least, that gets easier each year. With every trip around the sun, I become more secure in my knowledge that I really don’t know much about what lies ahead. What I do know is that I have survived every challenge that I’ve faced in 50-plus years. I know that I’ve hit some lows and that they never last. Same thing with the highs. I know that the future will be a roller-coaster. I know that I’m right where I’m supposed to be, even if it might not be where I want to be. I know that if I focus on my purpose, I’ll be happier. I know that happiness is a choice and not to let anyone or anything make that choice for me.

The two years of COVID were not among my best, but they also were not among my worst. Some really good things happened – things that I would never change. Because of that, I wouldn’t wish away those years. I really shouldn’t wish away years anyway.

When you’re over 50, chances are pretty good that you’ve lived more than half of your life and that youth won’t be on your side much longer. Because of that, each day and the opportunities it provides should be cherished.

The COVID years showed us just how uncertain the future can become. While that is admittedly unsettling, those years also taught us that we can survive and thrive, even in uncertainty. We just need to have faith in ourselves and not let external factors, like normal everyday ups and downs, threaten our happiness.

The slot machines are back on in Las Vegas, welcoming eager gamblers who plug money into them, though they know that the machines take in far more money than they dispense. Perhaps, at least in this instance, gamblers can teach us a little bit about optimism in the face of uncertainty. Go pull that handle and see what you can win.

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The Danger of Living in Fear

Because of the way that I walk, there is danger in every step I take. On the other hand, more than 99% of the steps that I take are uneventful. They might not be pretty or graceful, but those steps get me where I want to go. If I thought about the fraction-of-a-percent of steps that end in significant falls, I would be afraid to go anywhere and do anything. That would be a pretty sad existence.

When we let fear consume us, we doom ourselves to a pretty sad existence. Unfortunately, when fear is foisted upon us daily, it’s difficult to remain unaffected. I see a lot of that now as we near the two-year anniversary of COVID-19, and I’m not immune.

When my African safari with my son and dad to celebrate my son’s college graduation was cancelled two years ago due to the pandemic, I was disappointed, but hopeful that we would still be able to go. Two years later, we still haven’t rebooked. It’s hard to get excited about a trip, when regulations and limitations are constantly changing. Rather than dreaming about the trip, I resist thinking about it, because doing so just brings about frustration and disappointment.

Though I’ve been fortunate not to contract COVID-19, at least to my knowledge, it has affected me by casting a shadow of fear over much of what I want to do. That shadow of fear dampens my excitement, which in turn, robs me of the valuable psychological benefit of anticipation.

Studies have shown that the greatest psychological benefit of a travel is not the actual trip itself, but rather, the anticipation of the trip. I was fortunate to travel twice this month, to Nashville for a friend’s wedding and to Cabo for our annual family and friends vacation. Before each trip, my wife asked me if I was looking forward to the trip. Obviously, I was looking forward to the trips, but not with the level of anticipation I would have been, even a year earlier. Even as I was at the airport, I worried that something could disrupt the trip. That worry was especially evident when I need a negative test to return to the United States from Mexico. I spent much of my last full day at a beautiful resort worrying about what would happen if I tested positive.

I don’t want to seem indifferent to the struggles many have experienced due to the pandemic or to compare my travel worries to those struggles; I know people who have lost their lives and livelihoods to the virus. Rather, I want to point out that there are untold psychological ramifications of living in fear and that it’s time that they enter the conversation when pandemic protocols are debated.

I also don’t want to imply that I don’t think caution is needed; I’m double-vaxxed and boosted. Just like I’m careful not to walk in conditions that have a higher probability of falls, I’m careful to limit my exposure to the virus and to minimize the implications if I’m infected, within reason.

Reason is the key here, and it’s personal. I don’t want an indifferent entity who hasn’t walked in my shoes to monitor my steps. There are plenty of “experts” who would have me curtail my activities to minimize my risk, but what kind of existence is that? I know what I can do and what risks I’m willing to take.

I will not stop living the life I want, even if fear has tainted my thoughts. Instead, just like I do with my wobbly steps, I’ll continue to make personal evaluations of risk and to do my best to tamp down fear. Life is just too short and each day too precious, to waste it in worry.

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Reflecting on Ten Years of Blogging

This post marks ten full years of monthly blogging. That’s 120 consecutive months of posts for you mathematicians.

I’ve learned a lot about myself and my readers over those ten years. I began the blog at the urging of an intern who worked for my recruiting company in 2012, and the early focus was on career development. Though I believe that career-focused posts are valuable, that space is crowded and those posts didn’t score well, so I shifted the focus of my writing to my experiences as a physically challenged entrepreneur and father. That’s when I began to connect with readers and feel fulfilled with my efforts.

Stats aren’t everything, but they are effective indicators of a blog post’s popularity. Fortunately, blogging technology allows bloggers access to a number of statistics about their blogs. I can see such information as where readers are located and how they are referred to a particular post. Most important to me is how many time my posts are viewed. I want to write about topics that interest readers, and post views tell me this.

Below are the five most popular posts:

Eight Reasons Why Your Kid Should Wrestle. This one is kind of an outlier, as it has been shared on many sites. It currently has more than 340,000 views.

What Bo Pelini Should Have Said. This one went viral quickly, after the former Nebraska football coach’s rant to his former players became public. Though he is long gone, I still believe that these are messages that can help college students.

Aiming High, Missing and Still Smiling – about my son’s sophomore state wrestling tournament and his Vision Quest-like goal of beating one of the best wrestlers in state history.

You Don’t Have to be an Athlete to Recognize the Emotion – about the Walk of Champions at the state wrestling tournament.

Why the tears? – about the lessons learned of a tough senior wrestling season that culminated with a state championship.

The last three are related to wrestling, and their popularity was boosted immensely by the wrestling community who shared them on social media. Wrestling is a great sport for many reasons, and the tightness and shared passion of the wrestling community is one of the strongest.

My top scoring non-sport post was a piece I wrote about my kids starting to drive on their own: Don’t Wish Away Windshield Time. Other than sports posts, parenting and dealing with adversity were the most popular, and the most popular of the latter was Swallowing a Wheelchair.

The gym is where I come up with most of my ideas for the blog, but the most popular post of 2021 was last month’s post, which came to me as I waited in an emergency room to get part of my scalp reattached to my head. You can see that here, if you missed it: Be Grateful Even When It’s Hard.

There were times I considered quitting or at least taking a break from blogging, but (almost on cue) encouragement from readers kept me going. Even with some of the least popular posts, I heard from a few readers who told me how my writing helps them. In that way, blogging reminds me of my brief three-year stint as a teacher. You can feel ineffective at times, but you’re probably reaching far more people than you realize, and a timely post that helps someone is worth thousands of views.

In summary, my blog has helped me realize a major purpose in my life: to help others by sharing my story and my perspective. I believe that God has given me a gift for that purpose, and it is my duty to use this blog for that purpose.

Thank you readers for the support, suggestions and encouragement you have given me. Let’s see if I can string another 120 consecutive monthly posts.

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Be Grateful Even When It’s Hard

I had the opportunity to reflect on gratitude, the day after Thanksgiving, as I lay in an emergency room waiting for part of my scalp to be reattached to my head, True gratitude isn’t always easy, and it’s sometimes not pretty, as you can see in the picture at the bottom of this post.

Over the years, I’ve become fond of describing my physical challenges as coming from “the disability that I was blessed with.” I know that can sound warped – how can a disability be a blessing – so let me explain. I believe that all of our life experiences shape who we are, and if we want to accept ourselves, it’s important to be thankful for everything, even the negative things, like nose-diving off a curb at the end of a nice dinner date with your wife.

Granted, it’s a lot easier to be thankful for the pleasant things in our lives, but that isn’t the complete picture, and the complete picture can sometimes take years to see. Fifty-plus years of stumbling around this planet have made the complete picture progressively clearer for me.

I can now see that my disability has given me an extraordinary life. Sure, there are times like last Friday, when I might prefer ordinary over extraordinary, but that choice isn’t available to me. The choice for me to make is how to make the most out of my circumstances, and if I am to do that, I have to be grateful for everything. I have to consider how a life of overcoming physical challenges has sharpened my creative business mind and allowed me to be more successful than I might have otherwise been. The break-up with an ex-girlfriend, an experience from which I thought I’d never recover, has made me a better husband with an enhanced appreciation for my wife. I can look at almost all of the low points and frustrations I’ve experienced in my life and see how I’ve grown from them, and thus, why I should be grateful for them.

A little more than five years ago, I was blessed to read “The Gift,” by Rhonda Byrne. The book is a sequel to her popular book, “The Secret.” The theme of The Gift is that appreciation shields us from negativity. When we’re truly appreciative, we’re impervious to negativity. That idea was easy to accept, but Byrne challenges readers to dig deeply for gratitude. Most have no problem being grateful for the obvious gifts in life, like our family, friends and health. It’s when we go layers deeper that we struggle.

In one section of the book, Byrne suggests that we think about each part of our bodies and be grateful for it. As you might imagine, that can be difficult when some parts of your body are problematic, like mine are. To follow Byrne’s suggestions, I had to be consciously grateful for weak legs, a bald head and a shoulder that does little more than cause pain. On the other hand, my life is better with these things than it would be if I didn’t have them, and I’ve trained my brain to remember this when I’m tempted to dip into negativity.

Thanksgiving might be behind us for another year, but I contend that we should always be grateful, even when it isn’t easy. It wasn’t easy to embrace gratitude in the ER, especially when they were popping staples into my head. A great day was ending in a rather messy situation. Still, I had my loving wife at my side, and it wasn’t like this mishap was ending my career as a GQ model. In fact, other than a scar and a story, the entire thing wasn’t going to slow me down.

I don’t know how this incident will propel me forward, but I have faith that it will, like almost every other challenge I’ve faced, and I’m grateful for that.

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Can Positivity Be Toxic?

I have a lot to complain about, but I very rarely do. I never considered that not complaining can be off-putting to some, and possibly harmful to myself, until last month.

Last month, I wrote about the bad break I experienced while recovering from a surgical operation to improve my vision and appearance. In that post, I talked about how I initially struggled to avoid negative thoughts and emotions, but eventually found a modicum of peace about the setback. In addition to all of the reassurance that was sent my way in response, a few readers told me that it was understandable to be upset and that I shouldn’t hide from that emotion. One even brought up the term “toxic positivity.”

I understand toxic negativity, but is there such a thing as toxic positivity, and was I unknowingly guilty of it? In addition to the reader comment, I had recently skimmed an article about toxic positivity, so I decided to do a little investigating. Obviously, there is debate about what toxic positivity is, as well as what it does and how to deal with it. I’m not a psychologist, but I learned that toxic positivity is being so resistant to negative thoughts that you overstate the positive and refuse to acknowledge negativity in yourself and others. Among harmful effects are suppressed emotions and giving a non-empathetic impression to others. Yeah, that could definitely apply to me.

Complaining wasn’t tolerated in the home in which I grew up, nor in the home in which I raised my children. I believe that this aversion to negativity came from dealing with the disability with which I was blessed during childhood. As I struggled with physical activities that my peers mastered without difficulty, I became negative and bitter. My parents realized that my physical challenges were going to affect the life ahead of me, and they knew that life for negative people is harder than it needs to be, so they quickly shut down negativity and bitterness. By the definitions I found online, that could be considered toxic positivity; however, I’m extremely grateful for their guidance.

I understand the need to acknowledge and be rueful about negative experience – I often do that in silence – but we definitely don’t want to dwell there. Even in silence, negative thinking creates a negative life. Years ago, while out for breakfast after Sunday services with my family, I saw a quote in a diner, and I scribbled it on a napkin. It read:

“Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.” ― Lao Tzu

In essence, it all starts with your thoughts, and it’s impossible to lead a positive life, if your thoughts are negative. No matter how hard we try, if we harbor negative thoughts, they will emerge as negative words, actions, habits and character. Furthermore, when that negativity is visible to others, they will instinctually react negatively toward us, and the cycle will repeat.

This isn’t to say that we can’t acknowledge bad breaks and tragedy – they too are part of life; however, I believe that it’s beneficial to put everything in context and then to seek solace in gratitude. When something bad happens to me, I reflect on it, considering how to react, before reacting. I allow myself to be angry briefly, so long as I don’t impose that anger on those around me. Then, I wrap it up and let it go. Lastly, I look around me for reasons to be thankful, and the more that I do this, the easier it becomes.

Yeah, maybe I’m occasionally guilty of toxic positivity, and I’ll try to be more aware of that, especially when listening to others, but I’ll always err on the side of positivity. It just seems a better place to be.

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Using Perspective and Gratitude to Frame Disappointment and Heartbreak

This month’s blog entry was going to be about finding the courage to fix something that has hindered me for a long time, but after yesterday’s doctor visit, that isn’t going to happen. Yesterday, I got a gut punch that I wasn’t expecting.

Until yesterday, I enjoyed a little more than six weeks with normal eyes. It was the first time in 47 years, that my disability didn’t affect my appearance or my vision. Thanks to a surgical procedure that I had in August, I could finally look in the mirror and not see any trace of a disability, and as my primary care physician predicted, people reacted more positively to a guy who could finally look them in the eyes. I almost turned into a narcissist standing in front of the mirror and admiring my two symmetrical eyes, until it all went away.

For most of my 51 years, I’ve lived with droopy eyes, resulting from the disability that I’ve been blessed with since childhood. As opposed to my other maladies, droopy eyes seemed like a minor, cosmetic problem that didn’t merit much concern, so I accepted that I would just have to live with them.  Because my eyelids drooped, I almost always looked tired or intoxicated, even when I wasn’t, and it was difficult to make eye contact with strangers, which occasionally made for awkward social encounters. The latter was also problematic during my public speaking engagements, where eye contact can enhance messages. Still, compared to wobbly legs, a dysfunctional shoulder and a weak arm, the challenges that my eyes presented seemed rather inconsequential, until I felt their impact on my vision.

Initially, I started to feel uncomfortable driving at night. I even hit a deer with my truck on an evening last fall. The collision didn’t damage my truck, but it did awake me to how important vision is to driving. I began to feel that I needed more light than my eyes could gather, in order to feel safe behind the wheel, so I scheduled a surgical consultation. A few weeks after that, I had a procedure to lift both of my eyelids.

Almost everything was great for six weeks. I not only looked better; I could also see better. The only hiccup was a wound that wasn’t healing correctly over my left eye where the anchors helping to elevate my eyelid were located. The corresponding wound over my right eye had almost healed completely, but not much healing had taken place over my left eye. On Sunday morning, that wound erupted and exposed the anchors that were crucial to helping me fully open my left eye. It didn’t hurt, but two thin rubber strings suddenly emerged from my forehead. The surgeon said that he had never seen anything like it.

When I went in for my scheduled follow-up visit on Tuesday, I anticipated that the surgeon might have to tighten the system supporting my left eye, but that wasn’t an option. Since the main components of the system had been exposed, infection was a real risk, so the surgeon opted to remove the system entirely. Immediately, my eyelid drooped, and my vision dimmed.

I was pretty disappointed and heartbroken to lose most of what I had gained with the procedure, and I struggled to regain the positive mindset I have held tightly for most of my life. It all seemed tremendously unfair and cruel.

It took me a while, but I was finally able to summon some perspective that I used to quell my disappointment and heartbreak. While my disappointment seemed like a big deal to me, every day, people go to medical appointments and receive much worse news. Compared to what they’re facing, my problems were small. Additionally, I stacked gratitude on that perspective, and reminded myself to be thankful for what I have and not rueful for what I don’t have. Perspective and gratitude have helped me through challenging times before, and they’ll help me here too.

Note: There might be something we can do to balance my eyes again, but my surgeon says that we need to wait at least three months before exploring those possibilities.

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Shake Free of Habit and Familiarity

Last July, I walked out of my home away from home for the last time. Though I knew my gym was closing and that my membership would get me into a new location a few miles farther from home, I insisted on sticking with what I knew, until they literally locked the doors behind me. Honestly, if I could, I would still be a regular at a place that had fallen into disrepair.

And, I would have missed joining a new gym that has saved me anxiety, time and money. Even before rumors of the gym closing began, I suspected that I should consider other gyms, but habit and familiarity kept from making a change. Habit and familiarity, though comforting, can keep us in a rut, if we’re not aware of their limiting tendencies.

Think about jobs and relationships that you have held onto, though they were no longer fulfilling. You probably thought about looking for fulfillment in other places, but stayed right where you were, because change can be intimidating. Though it usually doesn’t get you anywhere, it’s easier to hang onto the status quo and hope that better days are ahead, than to accept and embrace change.

Long-time readers of this blog know that I make my living by recruiting top talent for my incredible clients who trust me to help them thrive and grow with quality employees. That type of talent is rarely found with their resume online, so I spend much of my day contacting passive candidates – people who are qualified, but who aren’t actively looking. In other words, I propose change to those who aren’t seeking it. As you can probably imagine, I’ve become somewhat of an expert in rejection.

I also feel like an expert in resistance to change, because that’s almost always the reason behind the rejection. Though employment polls suggest that more than half of working professionals are considering making a career move within a year, a much smaller percentage are interested in hearing about different opportunities.

Many of my initial contacts are met with resistance right out of the gate. “I’m not interested in making a move” is something that I hear many times each day, and I hear it before they even know what the opportunity that they are rejecting entails. I might be calling with their dream job or at least a job that pays more than they currently earn, but their knee-jerk reaction keeps them from hearing it. They are so averse to the prospect of change that they don’t even want to consider it.

When we’re sneaking away from change, we’re often forsaking long-term growth in order to avoid short-term pain. We don’t want to learn new things, meet new people or go new places, because we’re intoxicated by habit and familiarity, like I was with the prospect of changing gyms.

My old gym was nearly perfect when I first joined nearly 18 years ago. The facility and equipment were almost new, and the membership and staff were enthusiastic. In the past five years or so, all of that faded away. The facility was unkempt, and the equipment was rusty and often broken for weeks. Members and staff complained, and many left. In fact, at the end, the only features that kept me were comfort and familiarity.

Finally, I tried a gym that is considerably closer to me, vibrant and meticulously maintained. On top of all of that, I am able to park just a few steps from the front door, whereas I faced a long and uncertain walk at the original facility. Looking back, I can see that it is a move that I should have made years ago, and would have made if habit and familiarity hadn’t paralyzed me.

Don’t let habit and familiarity paralyze you. Know when it’s time to change, and embrace it.

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Be a Kindness Opportunist

I celebrated another birthday last month, and as has been the case for the past 11 years, I enjoyed a flood of Facebook well wishes. Not to sound boastful, but the number of messages I received was almost overwhelming, and that got me thinking about the effects of simple gestures, like a Facebook birthday wish.

 I know that not everyone is as nostalgic as I am, and that some people don’t even like acknowledging their birthdays, much less celebrating them, but I think that most of us enjoy people being nice to us. Our birthdays give people an excuse to be nice to us, and Facebook makes it easy to do so. I try to take advantage of that as much as possible.

For those not familiar with Facebook, the social media platform notifies users of their “friends’” birthdays daily. You click on a link, and a dialogue box appears for you to post a note on your friend’s wall. It’s simple, free and takes mere seconds to let someone know that you are thinking about them on their birthday.

It’s also simple, free and quick to spread that type of kindness in the real world, but we often miss opportunities to do so. Think of the people you see on a daily basis, like your colleagues, the person who checks you in at the gym every day or the cashier who sells you your morning coffee. Do you take these opportunities to spread kindness through your world or does self-consciousness gets in your way?

I’ll admit that I sometimes hesitate when I look at my Facebook notifications and see birthdays for people I haven’t seen in years and some I’ve never personally met. In those cases, I will briefly consider the possibility that I will look foolish for wishing them a happy birthday, but then remind myself that it’s a chance worth taking. The world needs kindness now, more than ever, and if I occasionally look foolish spreading that kindness, so be it.

It’s also important to encourage and reward kindness. Acknowledging kindness encourages kindness.

This year, I wanted to appreciate fully the birthday wishes I received, so I resolved to respond to each message with a personal note, using the well-wisher’s name while acknowledging the greeting. It would have been much easier to simply hit the ‘like’ button, as I had done in previous years, but I wanted to keep the good vibes flowing and to encourage others to do the same.

It took me all week to respond to all of these messages, and several times during the process, I caught myself mindlessly thanking someone, which was exactly the opposite of what I was trying to accomplish, so I forced myself to slow down and appreciate the kindness that I was blessed with.

We should all slow down and take the time to appreciate and share kindness every day. It costs nothing, anyone can do it, and it can make the world a better place.

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Remember How You Feel, Right Now

I felt liberated when I walked into a restaurant not wearing a mask for the first time in months. It was a few days before Omaha’s mask mandate officially ended, but no one stopped me, and I wasn’t alone in my rebellion. Even my rule-following wife left her mask in the car. We had regained our freedom to live as we wished, and it felt good.

A lot bothered me about wearing a mask, liked restricted breathing and foggy glasses, but what irritated me the most was the ambiguous reasoning behind the mandate. Still, I played along, until I was vaccinated. After interrupting my schedule to make two trips to a vaccination site, I felt that I was in the clear, so my resentment only grew as I waited for government officials to give me permission to ditch my mask. Finally, without fanfare, mandates began to expire, and our freedoms were slowly handed back to us.

For more than a year, we’ve had government officials tell us where we can and cannot go, how many of us can be there, where we can sit, and whether or not we need a mask and/or vaccination. Whether all of those restrictions were necessary is immaterial at this point. They happened, and we lived with them. While we lived with them, we didn’t really live. Precious opportunities to do things like visit elderly grandparents and celebrate momentous occasions were lost. While we can’t get those opportunities back, we absolutely must appreciate and embrace the opportunities ahead.

There are only so many days that we’re allowed to enjoy the lives with which we are blessed. Living through a pandemic should enhance our appreciation of each and every one of those days. That’s relatively easy to do now, when the memories of lockdowns and other pandemic restrictions are fresh in our minds, but what happens when we grow accustomed to living as we used to? How do we keep gratitude front and center?

I’m reminded of a time, nearly 20 years ago, when I was able to spend a morning in a motivational seminar. The speaker was particularly engaging, and I feverishly jotted down notes as I began to imagine how I was going to use my newfound knowledge to improve my life. By lunch time, I had no doubt that my life was about to change for the better in a big way. Sadly, that feeling was gone by the end of the week.

When I attended that seminar, I was working at my first sales job. That job taught me a lot about sales, but it was a burn-out job with very little potential, and it sucked away all of the momentum I gained in the seminar. Furthermore, we had just moved back to Nebraska, and had yet to sell our house in North Carolina. Two mortgages, two kids and a frustrating job occupied my thoughts and crowded out ambitious self-improvement.

Something similar can happen to us in our post-pandemic world, if we’re not careful. Many of us are already eagerly embracing our recovered freedoms and vowing to cherish everything a little bit more. While that’s great, the real challenge is maintaining that mindset, when the realities of life begin to drag us back into our tired routines and habits.

In order to get the most out of life, we must remind ourselves how we felt leaving our masks in the car for the first time, and take the time to be thankful for a life relatively unencumbered by restrictions. If we do this every day, our lives post-pandemic can be even better than they were before the world got weird.

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