Posts Tagged appreciation

I’m NOT Jealous!

jealousy

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?

mosquito

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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How Are You Driving Through Life?

One of the greatest benefits of being an early riser is beating traffic on my way to the office each morning. Generally, because I am substantially ahead traffic, I don’t have to think too much about driving, as my brain warms up to the day’s tasks. The other day, a truck running a red light changed all of that.

When my son started driving, I taught him to check both directions every time he entered an intersection, even if he has a green light. You can’t assume that people are going to stop for red lights, I told him. They could be texting, drunk, falling asleep or otherwise distracted. It’s a good thing that I heeded my advice that morning.

My light turned green, and as I entered the intersection to turn left, even before I could turn my head to look farther up the road, I caught a flash in the corner of my eye and had just enough time to slam on my brakes before a truck sped past my front bumper. Fortunately, there was no one else in the intersection, because I sat frozen at a complete stop for a moment, making sure that my light was green, and his was red. My hands were shaking, and my heart was racing as I drove on, thinking about what had just happened.

It could have all ended in that intersection. The huge truck never slowed down, and was probably exceeding the 45 MPH speed limit. If I hadn’t hit my brakes or had he been in the lane closest to me, he likely would have nailed my driver’s side door.

Everything that I wanted to do that day, that week, that month, that year – my hopes and aspirations, my worries and concerns – would have been gone. My wife and children were still in bed, and however I left them the night before would have been how I left them permanently. I felt like I was in a life insurance commercial or made-for-TV movie, but this was very real. I had been awakened to my own fragile mortality.

Every day, people are killed in accidents, like the one I narrowly avoided. Every day, many more die from illnesses or even as victims of crime. Our brave men and women in combat zones face this daily. The soldier never knows when he’s tied his boots for the last time.

Like the soldier, many of us never see it coming, and it’s terrifying to think about how quickly our lives can be over or permanently changed. Even if we do everything correctly and carefully, as I was doing that morning, there is virtually no way to be 100 percent safe. That realization can be debilitating, but it shouldn’t keep us at home. A sheltered life is an incomplete life.

Instead, the realization that we’re owed no warning on how much time we have left should heighten our awareness of how we are living our lives. Since this incident, I am much more aware of my surroundings as I drive, but that awareness doesn’t end when I’m in my garage. I am also much more aware of how I am “driving” through life.

Am I like the busy mother rushing her children to school, so focused on a destination that she doesn’t see spring blooming in the roadside bushes? Or, am I like my late grandfather on a Sunday, driving his home county’s gravel roads with the windows rolled down gazing in awe at the only landscape he ever knew?

Likewise, am I cursing life’s detours, instead of seizing on the opportunity to try something new? Do I allow life’s everyday traffic to negatively influence my mood, instead of properly assigning it inconsequential status?

Several days have passed since my intersection experience – several days that could have been taken from me. None of them have been perfect, but all of them were gifts. In fact, the experience itself was a gift – albeit one that I never want to receive again.

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Where I Park, Not Who I Am

I’ve been qualified for a handicapped parking placard for as long as I’ve been able to drive, but I drove for nearly 20 years before I got one. During that time, I’ve watched people with far less challenging disabilities than mine use them, and I’ve heard people with no disability at all boast about using them to get a better parking place. I’ve limped past both.

Friends who went to NASCAR races with me admonished my stubbornness. “Why the hell do we have to park way out here?” they asked. “Because he’s too stubborn to get a handicapped placard,” my wife would answer for me.

I resisted the handicapped placard, because I didn’t see myself as handicapped. Sure, if I paid attention to such things, I would have noticed the obvious, but no one really treated me any differently, so I wasn’t forced to acknowledge the obvious. Ironically, I convinced myself that parking in one of those reserved stalls would alert the world that I had a handicap, as I limped by. Such is the power of self-image.

Obviously, my self-image was overly optimistic, but far too often, self-image is overly pessimistic. We see ourselves as failing before we even try. We feel inferior to others, though we’ve never really looked for our own worth. We become our own worst enemy, because we let doubt and negativity cloud our thinking.

I believe that we often develop negative self-images when we focus on our weaknesses and past failures instead of our strengths and potential. Everyone makes mistakes and has weaknesses. We doom ourselves to negative self-images if we fail to realize that failure and weakness are parts of being normal, and that we need to learn from our past and put it away, while focusing on our strengths and potential.

So, how do we optimize and nurture our self-image?

  1. Develop selective memory. Decide which memories are positive and affirming, and hold onto them. Learn all you can from the negative memories and then throw them away. When I reminisce about college fraternity date parties, I don’t dwell on the five rejections I received for my first date party; instead, I focus on the incredible first date I had a few months later with the lady who would become my wife. (Fortunately, I’m not easily discouraged.)
  2. Feed strengths and starve weaknesses. We often give our weaknesses more attention than they deserve. Sometimes, we even focus on them, to the detriment of our strengths. Discover what you are good at and do more of it.
  3. Blend humility with appreciation. A healthy dose of appreciation puts weaknesses where they belong – out of the spotlight. When you are feeling down, take the time to be thankful for your blessings. This isn’t always easy, but it’s almost always necessary.
  4. Associate with positive people. We all have those people who leave us feeling refreshed. They refuse to let us wallow in self-pity and help us direct our thoughts to positive areas. Spend more time with them and less time with the whiners and those who encourage whining.
  5. Eliminate negative self-talk. Most of us have a silent, but active internal dialogue that we’re often only faintly aware of. Stop and think about it. What are you telling yourself about yourself? If our self-talk repeatedly tells us that we are unworthy of success and happiness, we start to believe it. If there were a little creature sitting on your shoulder constantly criticizing everything you did, you would smash him within minutes. Why let him live inside your head?

I use the heck out of that handicapped parking placard now, not because my self-image surrendered, but rather because it became stronger. Now, I could give a rat’s rear-end about what judgments people might make about the way I walk or where I park. I owe that attitude to a positive self-image that I’m careful to nurture, and I hope the same for you.

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