Posts Tagged appreciation

Use Perspective to Gain Appreciation

Last month, I wrote about my inspiring afternoon with a young man struggling with a progressive illness. Seeing his struggle, but more important, his positive attitude, inspired me to shrug off my own challenges. If he could stay positive, why shouldn’t I?

Finding inspiration in seemingly less fortunate people is delicate and can be counter-productive, if we don’t balance it with appreciation. Without appreciation, it’s not really inspiration at all. It’s simply pity.

Think about the last homeless person or panhandler you saw. Did it make you uncomfortable? Did you look away and try to block the image from your memory? Or did you move your blessings to the forefront of your thoughts? Most of us, myself included, shield ourselves from dwelling on sad scenes like this, when we really should be using them to appreciate our blessings.

People with visible handicaps get this a lot. Strangers glance at us and then look away from or through us. It’s dehumanizing, but I get it, because that’s the way I look at homeless people. It’s easier and safer that way.

There are much better ways to address our discomfort when encountering someone we believe is less fortunate than we are.

  1. Look past their disadvantages.
  2. Don’t assume that they’re helpless and want your pity.
  3. Gain appreciation for your blessings through their perspective.

Last week, a guy at the gym was complaining about how hot it was in the gym. Naturally, I spun his complaint a positive direction and told him how I used to work out in an un-air-conditioned gym located above a basketball floor in the North Carolina heat and humidity. “This is nothing compared to that,” I said.

“You would say that,” he said. “Is there anything that can keep you down?” He went on to tell me that he and many others there find inspiration in my tenacity. He said that seeing me push through my struggles makes him feel guilty when he skips work-outs or doesn’t put forth much effort. “Not that I think that you have it that bad,” he tried to qualify, but I interrupted him and thanked him for his kind words.

It’s hard to know to deal with the struggles of others, but try. You can learn a lot. Some of the most inspiring and optimistic people bear struggles that seem unimagineable, and through these struggles, they teach us perspective that shines light on our blessings.

I found inspiration in Ty’s attitude. His handicap was just a backdrop that amplified that positive attitude that I’ll always remember. I didn’t look at him and tell myself: at least I don’t have it that bad. I listened to him and learned that a positive attitude is possible and powerful, even in extremely challenging situations.

As we wheeled away in opposite directions from our one and only meeting, I was thankful, not because I thought I had it better than Ty. I was thankful that I had the opportunity to grow as a person and to take those lessons forward with me to share with others.

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What Should You Be Doing, While You Still Can?

Just outside my office is a golf course that provides amusement and distraction during my work day. When the windows are open, I can hear golfers smack the ball. Occasionally, I hear them use interesting combinations of four-letter words to convey their enthusiasm for their performance. I’ve even heard a window or two break.

Though few golfers impress me, I admire all of them, because they are doing what they should be doing – enjoying the opportunity to golf.

I used to be one of them. In fact, I was a varsity golfer on my high school team, mostly because there weren’t very many good high school golfers in my hometown. When I competed, it was best to start at the bottom of the results, if you wanted to find my score. For a while, I thought that I was the inspiration for the term “handicapped scoring.”

In an odd twist of fate, that forgettable golf career earned me a job coaching high school golf, when I graduated from college and became a teacher. Just a few years removed from stinking up the courses in Central Nebraska, I was leading high school golfers, most of them far better golfers than I ever was. Due to no fault of my own, those teams were largely successful, mostly because I was sufficiently self aware to get out of the way. That and the fact that I never drove the van into the ditch were my largest contributions to that success.

Though I was never very good at it, I enjoyed being around golf. When I played and coached, I had an occasional good shot or even a good round, but I almost always had a good time. I envisioned golf being a part of my life for many years to come. Like my grandfather, who didn’t start golfing until he retired and then was never very good, I saw myself golfing into my 80s. Unfortunately, I barely made it into my 30s.

I got busy with kids in my late 20s and early 30s, and didn’t golf regularly. Some years, I didn’t golf at all. I probably could have and should have, but it felt selfish to leave my wife at home with chaos. When I did make it back to the golf course, my body no longer bent and moved like it used to. I backed off and resolved to work on improving my weaknesses in the hope that I could still swing a club. A few months later, it was no better. In fact, it was even more difficult to make contact with the ball, let alone direct it in a safe direction, and the very motion of swinging hurt. I was done.

Like I do with pretty much everything out of my reach, I blocked golf out of my mind. I’ve learned that it’s pointless to dwell on things that are no longer an option. We’re all going to get there eventually. I just got there more quickly. I tell myself that a lot.

But sometimes I don’t listen. Lately, when I catch myself watching the golfers outside my office, those old golf fantasies cross my mind. One day, I even stood up from my chair and attempted a swing without a club. I wanted to see what that felt like, hoping that maybe I could find a way to get back out there. I took one swing that probably didn’t look much like a swing and nearly fell over, much like the last time I tried that on an actual golf course with an actual club. It wasn’t going to happen.

I share this story not to make you feel sorry for me – I don’t even feel sorry for myself – but to make you think about the things that you should be doing and aren’t. I see way too many people wasting opportunities far too often or making excuses that result in lost opportunities.

Perhaps you’re postponing travel, because everything isn’t perfect, when perfection really isn’t necessary. I’m proof that the opportunity you assumed would always be there sometimes isn’t there when you expect it to be. Can you live with the regret of missing it?

Maybe you’re frustrated that age has reduced your physical prowess, and because you aren’t what you once were, you quit trying. Don’t do that. Reduced physical prowess is better than no physical prowess.

If I could travel back in time to 1999, I would make the time to golf more. It probably wouldn’t affect my ability to play now, but I would be satisfied that I squeezed everything I could out of the game before it was taken from me. Do yourself a favor and try to live your life in such a way that you don’t have the same kind of regret.

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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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