Posts Tagged appreciation

Live Like the First Snow Just Blew by Your Window

The first snow of the year arrived on Halloween afternoon this year. I caught it blowing past my window as I worked in my office. Not wanting to believe it, I stared out the window for a minute, trying to wish it away. Defeat conceded, my mind jumped from resignation to panic as I contemplated the implications of the coming winter.

Due to my gait, a slippery surface of any kind is almost always unnavigable. Snow, ice, sleet, rain, rain that turns into ice – any of these elements on any surface makes walking extremely dangerous. In a cruel irony, the treatments (salt, sand and gravel) that well-intentioned people use to deal with winter precipitation are often just as dangerous. Even worse, they stay behind much longer than the precipitation. After a few rounds of snow and the ensuing treatments, I feel like I’m trying to walk across a shuffleboard table, desperately trying to reach spring.

As the snow and winter treatments pile up, my world shrinks. I miss days at the gym, church and lunches. I hesitate when friends invite me over. I quit planning things, because I don’t want to be disappointed when the weather keeps me from them. In particularly bad winters, I might as well be under house arrest.

At this time of year, I know that snow will soon negatively affect my lifestyle, and that’s what makes each day before the first snow a valuable gift that I cannot squander. Never do I appreciate good weather days more than in the winter.

We all do this – maybe not with winter weather – but we all suddenly become more appreciative and mindful of our gifts, when something threatens them. We learn that a loved one has a terminal disease, and we scramble to make up for lost time and lost opportunities. Our children near the end of their time with us, and we finally prioritize family time. Our bodies start to fail us, and we become interested in diet and exercise.

Why do we do this? Each day and each experience is a gift, and those gifts shouldn’t have to be threatened for us to appreciate them, but that’s what we often insist on doing. Imagine if we lived every day and seized every experience with the urgency and appreciation that we feel when the end nears.

I spent this last weekend deer hunting with my dad. Though every deer season since 2003 has found me in the field, I had planned to skip this year. My son left for college this summer, and it didn’t seem worth the hassle to hunt without him. I could spend the weekend lounging around my warm home and catching up on projects, instead of driving for hours and subjecting myself to the cold. All of my lame excuses almost won, but one thing changed my mind: how many deer seasons do I have left?

By the time my son graduates, I’ll be over 50, and my dad will be a few years past 70. Things typically don’t get any easier physically when you pass those milestones, and none of those years are guaranteed. That realization was like the snow blowing by my window, awakening my appreciation of what I can do now and prompting me to act.

My reward was a trophy buck and an incredible experience. Though I’ve taken nice deer before, since I didn’t start big game hunting until my 30s and my dad isn’t a big game hunter, I had never taken a deer with my dad. It was an experience I almost missed and probably would have missed had the prospect of impending snow not awakened me.

I pray that God will give me a few more days or even weeks before the first substantial snow, and I plan to do my part by enjoying all of them. The bigger challenge is to sustain this attitude when spring arrives, and the next winter seems so far off.

Think about and appreciate your life’s gifts. Don’t wait for the snow to rattle you awake.

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Driving Home Perspective

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I can make the trip from my office to my home in 17 minutes, if traffic and lights cooperate, and in 22 minutes, if they don’t. I’m embarrassed to admit how much anguish that five-minute gap has caused me.

When I leave my office, my mind is often dulled from a day of recruiting talent. Though I enjoy what I do, being an executive recruiter can be very frustrating. Because we deal with rejection and disappointment daily, recruiters must be extremely persistent and remain unshaken by failure. Almost as important, they need to be able to switch off negative emotions at the end of the day. That’s often a challenge.

When I get into my truck and head into traffic, I often take the frustrations of the day with me, and that causes me to lose perspective. When I should be unwinding from the day and looking forward to the blessings that await me at home, I dive right into frustration, which is insane, because so little of my commute is within my control.

I can’t control how many red lights will stop me or how many blue-hair-driven Buicks will slow my pace. In my saner moments, I rationalize that God controls Buicks and red lights, and he uses them to remind me who’s in charge and what’s really at stake – 300 seconds. It’s easy to see that when I’m not staring at taillights, but when I’m on the road, those five extra minutes seem so much more important than they really are.

I believe that unbalanced perspectives like this are common in many areas and that they cause us way more stress than they should. Maybe someone doesn’t return our phone call as quickly as we think they should, and we assume that they’re indifferent to our relationship. Perhaps a temporary illness slows us down or causes us to miss something important to us. It can seem like a rain cloud hovers over our proverbial parade, if we lose our perspective.

I recently saw a sign that said, “Did you really have a bad day or have 15 bad minutes that you allowed to ruin your day?” We have all had truly bad days, but fortunately, the truly bad days are few and far between. Most of the time, a bad day is the result of our reaction to a disappointment, and we made it a bad day because we carried that disappointment with us through the rest of the day when we should have left it in place.

I’m currently reading a book that I highly recommend to anyone who recognizes this misbalanced perspective in their own life. The title is “The Gift.” It’s written by Rhonda Byrne, and is a sequel to her popular book, “The Secret.” The theme of the book is that appreciation shields us from negativity. When we’re truly appreciative, we’re impervious to negativity.

If we take time to count our blessings, we don’t have time to tally our frustrations and disappointments. When we’re truly appreciative, even if we recognize our frustrations and disappointments, we’ll put them in their place – deep in the shadows of our blessings.

I try to do that now, when I feel those frustrations bubbling up on the road. Instead of focusing on other drivers who don’t drive to my expectations, I think about the blessings that await me at home. Instead of focusing on the minutes ticking by as I wait for a light to turn green, I am quietly thankful for the comfort of my transportation. Without it, I wouldn’t have the freedom to travel virtually anywhere I want, at any time and in any weather.

If I’m successful in being truly appreciative, before I know it, I’m home and happy, because I didn’t let those 17-22 minutes pollute my mood. That sure beats the alternative.

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I’m NOT Jealous!

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My kids have never skied. Because their dad gets around on the snow and ice about as well as a three-legged giraffe, we look for warmer climates for winter outings.

The ironic thing is that I have skied. In fact, I went several times as a kid when my body was much smaller and more limber. I loved flying down the slopes, feeling the cold air and warm sun on my face. Though it’s been more than 30 years, I can still vividly remember racing my dad down the slopes of Summit County, Colorado, and beating him. Recent Facebook pictures and videos of my friends and their kids on ski trips have brought those memories back.

It is frustrating to realize that I’ll never share the same memories with my kids, but I’m not jealous. I’m happy for people who are able to do things like this, and, at the same time, thankful for all that I can do.

Life has taught me that, if we get caught up wishing for things that are out of our reach, we become blinded to the blessings around us. My always-appreciative grandfather embodied that attitude.

Growing up during the Great Depression without his mother who died when he was four years old, my grandfather was on his own by age 14, stowing away on trains and getting by as a migrant farm worker in the beet fields of Western Nebraska. That harsh existence made him appreciative of the simplest things in life that most of us take for granted. Roast beef was his favorite meal, and he never used credit, even to buy a house. He was never a wealthy man, but what he had, he loved and appreciated.

My grandfather found something good in almost anything and anyone, because he knew what it was like to have nothing and no one. Sometimes, we need to experience the discomfort of limitation in order to benefit from the comfort that appreciation provides.

Recently, a good friend went on a hunt I’ve dreamed about – to New Zealand to hunt red stag. He invited me to go, but my wife and I have a lot of expenses coming up with the house and kids, so I didn’t want to spend the money on something that would benefit only me, though I absolutely have done that before.

On the day before he left, I started to send him a message that began with “I’m jealous.” It’s a cliché that many of us use when we see someone with something we want. We use that phrase without even thinking of what it implies – that someone else is experiencing joy that we feel somehow entitled to, and we’re not happy about it. When we say “I’m jealous,” we’re making it about us and our own frustrations, even if we don’t intend it that way.

Yes, I do want to hunt red stag in New Zealand, but the fact that I wasn’t going on this trip shouldn’t create the negative emotion of jealousy. In fact, it should be just the opposite. I should be happy for him, because I know how much the trip means to him, and I know that he would be happy for me if the roles were reversed. Jealousy has no place in that equation.

I thought of those things as I used the backspace key to correct my message. Mostly though, I thought about all of the blessings in my own life and how jealousy unfairly minimizes their value.

I’m not perfect, but I try never to say, “I’m jealous.” If I’m fortunate enough to catch the words before they spill out of my mouth, I use the occasion to count my blessings. I even count my limitations as blessings, because they shine a spotlight on all that I have and all that I can do.

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Using Adversity to Gain Perspective

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We should be two tournaments and a dual into my son’s penultimate season of high school wrestling, but we’re not. A knee injury in the last football game of the season has him sitting impatiently on the sidelines.

That first tournament was going to be tough. Two guys in his weight class will be D1 FBS scholarship linemen next year. One of them is a defending undefeated state champion, and headed to Nebraska. The other is 6’5” and 285 lbs, and headed to Arkansas. Patrick lost to him last year, 7-1. The defending champion and last year’s runner-up would be in his brackets in several tournaments this season. Undoubtedly, this wrestling season was going to be challenging, but after finishing third last year, he had prepared for that, and eagerly anticipated the challenge. Now, it’s not going to happen.

Multiple sports seasons relatively free of injury probably gave us a false sense of confidence. Last wrestling season’s bout with mono was challenging, but the time away from the mat was brief, and Patrick was able to recover in time for the important season-ending tournaments, winning 17 of his last 20 matches. This time, we weren’t as lucky.

At the exact moment his coaches and teammates were posing for the annual team picture, he was being wheeled into the operating room.

Optimism is the rule in our house, and in the few days between the injury and the prognosis, we clung to the hope that surgery wouldn’t be necessary and that time away from the mat would be short. It was tough to see that snatched from him, but we’re treating the experience as a powerful lesson in perspective.

Missing a wrestling season, while disappointing, barely registers on the list of possible health-related challenges. While we were learning that knee surgery would be necessary, some people were getting dire cancer prognoses. While he’s in physical therapy, they will be in chemotherapy. When he’s competing again in a few months, their battle will wage on.

It’s hard to feel sorry for yourself when you think like that. It also gives you a reason to be thankful for everything that you do have. Gratitude is important any time we face life’s inevitable challenges and setbacks, because it helps us push back self-pity.

When we face these setbacks, it’s tempting to feel like helpless victims of circumstance. Why me? will cross our minds, if not our lips. It’s hard to accept the reality that God sometimes puts us on the sidelines so we understand the game better when our number is called. It’s even harder to treat these experiences as blessings, but they are, if our attitudes are right.

I’ve learned from experience that it’s important to face adversity with faith and optimism. With that attitude in place, setbacks can give us an opportunity to fully reach the depth of our potential. Maybe things have come too easily for us, and only with a unique challenge will we be forced to “find that extra gear.” At other times, setbacks force us into thinking, thinking about how we can live better, more effective lives. Almost always, setbacks give us the opportunity to take an inventory of our lives and a chance to rearrange our priorities so that the most important things get an appropriate amount of our attention.

Though this wrestling season won’t go the way we hoped, we’re making the best out of the experience. Instead of dwelling in the negatives of recovery, we are focused on the positives. The unexpected off-season will give him extra time to build himself in the weight room. It will also provide an opportunity to observe the emotional roller coaster of a wrestling season and be better prepared for it next season. Most important, he is learning to fully appreciate everything and everyone around him. For that, we’re thankful.

 

* Thanks for all of the notes of support. Patrick’s injury was a meniscus tear (fortunately, no ligament damage) that required some sewing. He has to be very careful in rehab and diligent in his exercise, but 100% recovery is expected.

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Don’t Wish Away Windshield Time

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I used to dream of the day when I’d no longer need to drive my kids around. Now that it’s almost here, I’ve begun to think about what I am losing.

I’m not only losing early-morning wake-ups and late-night pick-ups; I’m also losing precious time with my children. While I maybe didn’t enjoy driving to and from practices, games and sleep-overs, I was with my children, and I had their attention. We were each other’s captive audience for the few minutes we spent on the road together. It’s harder to get those moments now.

My daughter, my youngest, is now learning to drive. Like her older brother, she will soon have a school permit that will allow her to drive to and from school events. No longer will I be with her when she leaves the house for an early-morning practice or waiting for her when the bus drops her off after an evening event. I have to admit, having my son drive himself for the past two years has been tremendously convenient, and that convenience probably blinded me to what I was missing – time to catch up with my kids, to learn about their activities and interests, to meet their friends.

I made the mistake that many people make – I wished away part of the life I was given.

Wishing away life’s activities is mining for fool’s gold. Unfortunately, by the time we realize this, it’s too late. We might get what we were looking for, but we might wish that we had back what it cost us.

Maybe we’re convinced that we can start enjoying life once the mortgage is paid off and the kids are through college, not realizing that we’ll never get back the time we spent wishing and waiting for those things to happen. Maybe we can’t wait until we can quit our jobs and do something we really like, not realizing that the job we don’t like is setting us up for an opportunity we haven’t even imagined yet. Maybe we’re counting days until our child’s sports season is over, not appreciating all that she is learning from participating.

When my kids were young, I remember thinking that it would be so great to have the entire house to myself for even just a little bit of time. I wouldn’t have to worry about anything or anyone except myself. Now, I often find myself alone in my house, wishing that I was still central to my kids’ lives.

Likewise, I rushed through college, thinking that something better was on the other side. Because I was tired of living on little money, I focused on graduating as quickly as I could – cramming as many credit hours as possible into each semester. When I wasn’t in class, I was working so I could afford all of those credit hours. I was only on campus to attend class, never getting involved in extra-curricular activities that can enrich the college experience.

I achieved my goal of graduating from college in four years, without debt and with a teaching job already lined up, but a year later, I was wishing that I was back in college – that I had spread out my experience and took advantage of unique collegiate opportunities. Like driving my kids around, I was too focused on the destination to enjoy the journey.

Life is like that. As the destination begins to fill our windshield, we also start to see more clearly through the rearview mirror. The sooner we can figure this out, the happier we will be.

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Are You Really Going to Complain about That . . . to Me?

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The typical Facebook feed is a peculiar convergence of people, ideas and weirdness. Mine is no different. When I log on, it’s like I’ve taken a hallucinogenic that allows everyone from my mother’s third cousin to my closest childhood friend to flash pictures and words in front of me with no regard to their importance or my interest in them. If you pay attention, this random nature occasionally yields remarkable juxtapositions that make you back up and think a bit.

That happened the other day. One friend wrote a touching tribute to her husband who had unexpectedly died earlier in the year. In the next post, a different friend complained about her Starbucks order. Taken apart, these two posts are fairly unremarkable, but when paired together, a glaring spotlight shines on the trivial complaint.

The same thing happens in our daily lives. When someone asks us how we’re doing, and we launch into a litany of grievances, we might not be aware of how small and petty we sound, especially if the other party is dealing with something more significant. Imagine complaining about your mild headache to a friend who you didn’t know was on her way to a chemotherapy treatment.

Unfortunately, because complaining is so habitual, we often aren’t even aware that we are complaining. If we backed up and thought about what we are saying, we would probably be embarrassed, and that is what we should do before we complain – back up and think.

I’m trying to teach my children this concept: before you run up to me or anyone else and complain about something, think. First, do I even need to complain? And second, how will my complaint affect the other person and his opinion of me?

Most complaints are stopped in their tracks by the first question. Except in special circumstances, complaining simply isn’t necessary. Complaining is only helpful if it leads to problem-solving. If your doctor asks you where it hurts and how often it hurts, go ahead and complain. It will help him solve your problems. Too many times though, we complain to people who can’t help us and about problems with no solution.

Nebraska, where I live, gives its residents many opportunities to complain about the weather, which is the most pointless of all complaining. Until we figure out how to control the weather, whining about temperature extremes, snow, ice, hail and the like will never lead to problem-solving, so why complain? Unless you are going to move to a more agreeable climate, put on a smile and deal with it.

Complaining about the weather isn’t the only pointless complaint. How often do you hear people complaining about being tired or busy? Often the complaint is just an excuse for poor performance or inconsiderate behavior.

Lastly, complaints negatively impact the energy of human communication and make the complainer significantly less popular. I think of complaints and complainers like mosquitoes at a backyard party. No one wants to be around them. When you hear one buzzing in your ear, you swat it away, and if that doesn’t work, you walk away. Whatever you do, you don’t unleash more of them and ruin everyone’s good time.

If you look hard enough, the world is filled with irksome opportunity, and there are many people ready and willing to point it out. Don’t look for irksome opportunities. Look for opportunities for positivity, and when others can’t see them, don’t hesitate to point them out. Make yourself that cool evening breeze that keeps the mosquitoes away.

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Selling Grand Island to Las Vegas

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The Bellagio in Las Vegas is one of the most opulent places I’ve been fortunate to visit. It’s massive, with more than 4000 rooms, and full of extravagance, from its marble floors to the spectacular water show in front. When I’m there, I feel like I’m in another world. That’s why I was stunned when I saw the Grand Island Nebraska Tenderloin Steak on the menu at Olives, one of Bellagio’s elite restaurants.

I was born and raised about 50 miles from Grand Island, in a small little town without a stoplight, much less a movie theater. During my childhood, Grand Island, population 35,000 at the time, was the big city. It’s where we went to go shopping, to a movie or on some other type of adventure. With its restaurants, movie theaters, miniature golf and roller skating, I felt like I was in another world when we went to Grand Island.

Grand Island is not the Bellagio. It’s not even an island, but according to the waiter I asked in Las Vegas, it’s where the best beef in the world comes from. He didn’t get an argument from me, but I laughed to myself when I thought about how others, who had no other exposure to Grand Island, might think of the city.

The Bellagio hosts visitors from all over the world, not just the United States. Many likely couldn’t find Nebraska on a map. They sure wouldn’t look in the middle of the country when they looked for a grand island. When they read “Grand Island,” what goes through their minds? Does some Japanese guy from Okinawa picture a massive island full of premium beef cattle?

Obviously, the marketing team at Olives intends just that – an idealized image that makes wherever we are and whatever we’re eating or doing feel special. Imagine if we were our own marketing team and did that for ourselves.

Imagine doing your weekly grocery shopping at “Gourmet Heaven,” where tens of thousands of fresh items are available for immediate consumption. The meals you can prepare with the ingredients there are limited only by your imagination. If you still can’t see past the many stocked aisles, think of it from a North Korean’s perspective, where supplies are rationed and resources to purchase are scarce. A North Korean in an American grocery store would have a hard time believing his eyes, yet we go to that same store with a sense of drudgery.

Imagine if you saw your job as an important opportunity to contribute to your organization’s success while working toward your goals, rather than something you have to do five days per week. It might not be your dream job, but it very well could be an important step in your journey to your dream job. Wouldn’t thinking like that make the drive in each morning a little easier?

Imagine going to a child’s game, concert or recital with an appreciation for the opportunity to share a fleeting moment with them. Sure, there are things that you might rather be doing at that moment, but instead of wasting mental energy on regret, invest that energy on enjoying the moment

Imagine marketing your life to yourself. It’s not that hard. It’s really just a matter of creating an optimum image of what we do and where we are, by focusing on the positives. Don’t wait for someone else to do it – sell yourself the Grand Island Nebraska Tenderloin Steak.

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