Posts Tagged perspective
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.
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.
- Look past their disadvantages.
- Don’t assume that they’re helpless and want your pity.
- 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.
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.
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.
Dayton University’s basketball coach, Archie Miller, is nearly ten years younger than I am. Despite his relative youth, and in just his third year as head coach, Miller took his team to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Quick, high-level success like that earns awe, respect, and often, envy.
I felt all of those emotions in about thirty seconds the other night, as I watched the Dayton Flyers defeat the Stanford Cardinal in the Sweet Sixteen. The awe came from Miller’s team’s performance. The respect came from the classy way he conducts himself. And the envy? That came from a moment of personal weakness.
Envy is respect’s evil, ugly twin brother. We’re naturally envious of people who have achieved what we wish we could. Ironically, envy causes us to feel bitter toward the source of our envy, when we should actually feel respect.
When we’re envious, we often want to discount another’s success, sometimes rallying against the very success we wish for ourselves. It’s a foolish effort to make ourselves feel better, and it’s made worse when we act on it.
Sadly, I saw this happen twice at high school athletic events in just the past two months. At the Nebraska State Wrestling Tournament, the crowd lustily booed when wrestlers from Omaha Skutt Catholic High School won or were even merely announced. Skutt was on its way to another team state title – they have won almost all of the last 15 state championships in their class – and it was evident that many in the crowd were weary of seeing them win, though they eagerly would have traded places with the champions.
The same thing happened the next week at the Nebraska State Swimming Championship, where Omaha Creighton Prep High School was subjected to the same boorish behavior. In both cases, young scholar-athletes were achieving their dreams, and reaping the rewards of sacrifice and countless hours of intense training. When their success should have been applauded, they were hearing boos.
“Envy is ignorance.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Booing and other envious acts broadcast our insecurities to the world. When we act out of envy, we’re showing that we’re not living up to our ideals or that our ideals are unrealistic, given our limitations. We’re also showing that we’re not mature enough to take corrective action within ourselves.
Corrective action should start with honest self-evaluation. The inferiority we feel when we come up short in comparison to others causes mental anguish, but anguish is often misplaced, if the subject of our envy has elite talents that are beyond our reach. Most who booed these high school athletes couldn’t compete at their level. It’s like me booing my friend Jeff during one of his procedures, because he’s a better interventional radiologist than I am. (I barely passed freshman biology in college.)
Be honest with yourself. Is the subject of your envy uniquely talented? If so, be happy for her and admire what God has created. Besides, you probably have some special talents too. It’s hard to be envious and appreciative at the same time, and one of those emotions sure makes you feel better than the other.
Archie Miller is an impressive coach who has managed to capitalize on his talents through hard work and dedication. Though I’m not perfect, I’m comfortable that I too am capitalizing on my blessings, and that helps me squash envy. I hope the same for you.