Posts Tagged appreciation

Don’t Wait, Get What You Deserve

The small community in which I live recently experienced a mind-numbing tragedy. Four teenagers were killed in a wreck, and a fifth was badly injured. They were all only a couple of years younger than my daughter, and because of their young, active lifestyles, it seemed like everyone in the community was affected some way.

As a parent, my initial thoughts were with the parents of these girls. When I first heard of the accident, I remember saying aloud to myself, “they didn’t deserve this. No one deserves this.”

Hardly anyone deserves the bad things that happen to them, but bad things happen to good people all of the time. In addition to the accident, in just the past year, I’ve seen a relative have a freak accident and become even more badly injured in the ensuing operation, to the point that he’ll likely never walk again. A couple of months ago, a good friend – one of the greatest and purest souls I’ve ever met – lost the home in which he spent most of his adult and childhood life to a catastrophic flood. And, I’ve helped a couple of people very close to me deal with heart-breaking ends to their relationships.

None of them did anything to deserve the anguish they experienced, and I was baffled by the injustice of it all – until I considered the futility of fretting about what we deserve.

We don’t get to decide what we deserve. We can live perfect lives, follow all of the rules and check off all of the virtue boxes, and bad things can still happen.

What we do get to decide is how we approach each day and every relationship, including the one we have with ourselves. Seeing tragedy should shine a spotlight on these things.

Because tomorrow’s happiness isn’t guaranteed, we need to see each day as a gift that shouldn’t be wasted. That’s easy on days filled with family, friends and laughter, but what about those days that, on the surface, seem full of drudgery and frustration? Those are the days that we need to look a little deeper for beauty.

I try to look for something positive every day, and it doesn’t have to be extravagant. Many times, it’s as simple as making someone smile or encouraging someone in need. I don’t wait for these things to happen. If they don’t spontaneously happen, I make them happen. I’ll look for someone who seems down, and try to engage them in an uplifting conversation. Some of these people might think that I’m crazy, but I care less about that each year. I aim for a smile, and I almost always get that.

I also try really hard not to complain. There is enough complaining in this world, and I have yet to find a meaningful purpose for it. If someone asks me how I’m doing, I respond positively and enthusiastically, even if things aren’t going my way. Most times, that positivity and enthusiasm bounce back to me, and lift my spirit.

It’s also important to pay attention to our attitude toward life. When someone has an accident or gets some bad medical news, their chances of recovery greatly increase if they have taken care of their bodies and are otherwise healthy. The same thing is true with our minds. If our minds are in a good place, we’re better positioned to withstand and recover from a downturn. If you’re not feeling particularly happy and fulfilled, do something about it, so you’re optimally positioned to handle whatever life throws at you.

While we might not always get what we deserve, we can always seek out the happiness we deserve. Embrace what you have today, because life can change in an instant, leaving us with regrets for the days and opportunities we wasted.

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OK, Can I Complain Now?

February 2019 brought record snow to the area where I live. Snow piled on snow, as every few days seemed to bring a new storm. Record low temperatures accompanied the snow, keeping it from melting as it normally would at this time of year. Even people who profess their love of snow were getting tired of the white stuff.

I don’t love snow. In fact, I intensely dislike snow. When I see flakes falling, frustration and anxiety creep in, since even a dusting of snow on a sidewalk renders me almost completely immobile. When frustration and anxiety creep in, it’s hard to keep a positive attitude. Without a positive attitude, it’s hard to resist complaining.

It’s tempting to justify complaining, especially when you are pushed to your limits. I’m not sure that this winter pushed me to my limits, but it got awfully close. It certainly made me think about complaining.

I’ve thought about complaining before. When he was coaching me before one of my first professional speaking engagements, a really good friend told me: you have every right to be a bitter, angry person, but you’re not. People expect that from people like you who have obvious physical challenges, and they’re disarmed when they meet you and find out that you’re not.

At the time, his words shocked and saddened me. People expected me to be bitter and angry? Why would I be bitter and angry? I know that he was talking about my disability and how I went from a child with no limitations to an adult with some significant physical limitations, but that’s not something that I dwell on.

Mostly, I was baffled that complaining could be justified. If I am justified in complaining, who isn’t? My cousin who suffered a spinal cord injury about a year ago and hasn’t walked unassisted since? My friend who is battling cancer and struggling with a failing heart? Another friend taking care of her Alzheimer’s stricken husband who no longer recognizes her? Friends with relationship challenges whose life trajectories hang in the balance?

Almost everyone I know can justify complaining, but I hear surprisingly little complaining. I’m not complaining that I don’t hear a lot of complaining, but the absence of complaining in my life is remarkable. I suspect that I don’t hear a lot of complaining, because of the way I approach life. I believe that staying positive and not complaining about your circumstances will subject you to fewer complaints from others.

Conversely, when we complain, we open the door for others to do the same, and everyone suffers. Shared misery is a weak foundation for relationships, because complaining erodes happiness.

The official weather station in my neighborhood tells me that 60.9 inches of snow, 37.8 inches over average, have fallen around the house in which I’ve been confined for many days this winter. The forecast for the next few weeks shows little change in the weather pattern with few melting opportunities. Every day, I resist the urge to complain about how the weather limits my life.

Instead, I tell myself that winter won’t last forever. The days are getting longer. The sun is getting brighter, and I’m gaining a stronger appreciation for warm weather. Furthermore, there are far worse places to hunker down than the house I share with my wife and daughter. Most importantly, these weather-related challenges pale when compared to all of the other blessings in my life.

So, no. I can’t complain. Not now. Not ever.

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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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