Category Archives: Personal Growth

A Slower Kind of Busy

Be busy, but don’t rush. The difference seems to be small and pedantic, but in practice the two are very different. It is one thing to have a very full schedule. According to Dictionary.com, to be busy is to be, “actively and attentively engaged in work or a pastime.” Whereas to rush is, “to move, act, or progress with speed, impetuosity, or violence.” Being busy is about how much we are doing; rushing is one way we can do it.

When I was in high school I was heavily involved with student council. During an especially busy couple of weeks I was trying to balance school, social life, sleep, and planning/directing school events. It was a very busy time. I was also rushing through my day from one task to another. I ate too quickly, nearly ran from place to place, and moved throughout my day with an impending sense of deadlines and unfinished tasks. My mind raced constantly and I had the physical effects to go along with all of this. I broke out with pimples, had constant heartburn, and felt like I was in a blur.

We have all done this from time to time. Unfortunately, we usually call this “being busy” and simply hold on with all of our strength until the busy time passes and we can finally relax. But what if we could learn to relax in the middle of of our hectic schedules? What if we could move with grace and a clear mind from task to task? We might find that we are actually present to ourselves, others, and the moment. This is a much better way to live when our lives become demanding.

We need to change a few things in order to become calm while staying busy. We need to learn our own limits better so that we can know when and how to say “no.” We need to pay better attention to ourselves, knowing how we are feeling and how we are handling stress. Stress is not bad, but it can cause some pretty bad things. We also need to develop practices which can help us refocus ourselves when we start rushing. Things like silence can be incredibly helpful, but friends and family, hobbies, a good meal, watching tv, or many other practices can help us to unplug and reset. Perhaps most important is the realization that the fate of the world does not rest solely on our shoulders. Yes, our work and responsibilities are incredibly important, but we are not alone in our endeavors. We are surrounded by other people who struggle with the same things as us – we need to find a way to reach out to them for support, advice, encouragement, comfort, and more. We also need to lend a hand to others.

I hope that you are busy in your life most of the time. A busy life is often one filled with opportunities, meaning-filled interactions, and satisfying work – if we are able to slow down and appreciate these things while we are surrounded by them. May you “stop and smell the flowers” and move deliberately throughout this day.

How Do You Fill Your Days?

I hate being asked, “Where do you work?” when meeting someone. Whether I have a job, am a student, or am not working the question seems to imply that a job is the most important part of a person’s life. In some ways our jobs are central to who we are. For many people, jobs are a means to an end. We are not always passionate about our work and it does not always reflect who we are. “What do you do?” is a better question, but even that implies that it is somehow necessary for a person to “do something” which is beneficial to others. Doing important work is worthwhile and has its place; I wonder if we might be able to ask a different question instead.

When I meet someone I like to ask them something like, “How do you fill your days?” Asking in this way about what the person does takes the focus off of work and allows them to explain what their priorities are in life. I’m sure there is a better way to ask the question, but the answers I get are usually more interesting than asking where someone works. In some ways it is more important for us to be concerned with how we fill our entire day than what we do while we are “on the clock.” Do we define our lives by our family relationships, by our social groups, by our hobbies, by our passions, or by the work that we are paid to do? There is not a correct answer here; it is important to realize that each person has the right to define the meaning of their own life.

It’s important that we ask ourselves this question as well. How do we fill our days? Are we merely passive observers in our own lives, or do we take an active role from waking to going back to sleep? Are we doing the things, seeing the people, visiting the places, and experiencing what we desire each day? It is easy to get caught up in life and just try to get by one day at a time. What direction are we going in life? Are we becoming the person we want to be?

Perhaps the frustration and irritation we sometimes experience when asked, “Where do you work?” or, “What do you do?” comes from our lack of intentionality. Maybe it is long past time for us to switch jobs. Maybe we have lost the appreciation we once had for the work that we do. Maybe we value ourselves for what we can produce and have found that we never measure up to our own standard. Maybe we cannot work. What do we value in our own lives? If we can set goals and values for ourselves, we can work toward them and hold fast to them as we go through each day no matter where we do or do not work.

We need to think critically about how we value ourselves and others. Is the most important thing about ourselves what we produce, or is it something else? Maybe our relationships, our integrity, our passion, our consistency, or something else about us is more important than what we are paid to do every week. We might find that our work is the most significant thing that we do, and that is great! For those who assess their lives and find that something else is most important to them, perhaps it is worth rejoicing in that.

How do you fill your days?

Skilled or Stupid?

There’s no honor in being stupid. True, we cannot all be genius inventors, scientists, artists, or other great figures. But that does not mean we shouldn’t try. Each of us has a responsibility to ourselves and to the world to become the best version of ourselves that we can be. There is an unnerving and surprisingly popular sentiment that it is somehow noble to be ignorant. Some people will brag about how little they read, how they only get their news from one source, or how they only consume entertainment and nothing else. This is not good.

Each of us has the capacity to become an expert in some area of life. Even if we have not been gifted by birth with the ability to understand complex ideas, each person has an aptitude to gain expertise in some area of life. There are many different types of intelligence and different kinds of aptitude. Some people are excellent at caring for children, others excel at decorating, while others excel at making sales. These kinds of intelligence are equally important and valid. Whatever our area in which we possess a certain aptitude, we have a responsibility to ourselves and to others to develop our skills to the best of our ability.

It is easy to struggle with the notion that, “I’m not good at anything.” Most of us have felt this way at one time or another. I have never met someone who is good at nothing.  I have, however, met quite a few people (myself included!) who have felt at times that they are not good enough at something. It is easy to feel this way when we are surrounded by others who know more than we do and have developed greater skills than we have done. We owe it to ourselves to realize three things about ourselves. First, each of us has at least one area in which we are intelligent and capable of becoming an expert. Second, that area is incredibly important. Third, we can get better.

Becoming an expert is not a small task. Those who pursue academic paths to expert status must first undertake an undergraduate degree (4 years), then perhaps a graduate degree (1-3 years), finally completing a doctoral degree (3-8 years, depending on the field). This process takes anywhere from 8-15 years, and results in a person who meets only the bare minimum requirements to be called an expert in a teeny sliver of knowledge! To truly become an expert requires further research and writing beyond the completion of a doctoral degree. A person can only be considered an academic expert if they continue to read and write in their area. Learning and growing never stops.

If other types of intelligence are equally valid then they deserve equal dedication. If it takes a minimum of 8 years to become an expert in an academic area, it seems reasonable to expect a similar amount of time to become an expert in photography, caring for children, resolving conflicts, cooking, designing websites, or anything else in which we might become expertly-competent. Being an expert takes hard work and dedication, but it is something that any of us are capable of becoming. And it is something worth pursuing.

Where do we go from here? First, we need to know ourselves well enough to know where our strengths lie. This can be a difficult task on its own. Luckily those who are closest to us can be helpful in identifying where our passions and strengths lie. Second, we need to identify the resources and path(s) necessary to become an expert. Books and classes are great, but experience in actually doing whatever we want to become an expert in is most important. Third, we need to work hard. Knowing our strengths and how to develop them, we must use the resources we have identified. Then we are well on our way to achieving expert status. It is likely that others will be better than us, even when we are finally able to claim the title of “expert.” This should not discourage us, but instead encourage us to learn more and to get better. Being an expert means that we are always learning and improving.

There is no honor in being stupid, but there is great honor in identifying our strengths and developing them until we reach expert status.

Pursue Your Foolish Dreams

As a Millennial, I grew up being told that I could be anyone and do anything. “Follow your dreams!” we were told. Then we grew up, went to college (or didn’t) and found that our dreams don’t pay the bills. Some of us worked hard, got lucky, and ended up in careers doing what we love. Most of us didn’t. It turns out that following our dreams was not necessarily a good idea. Some of us abandoned those dreams, others continue to pursue them – consequences be damned! But there is a middle ground.

Instead of giving up on our dreams completely or ignoring reality, we can have passion and ambition while still having a less-than-ideal career. In my case I went to school for religion and then developed a shaky relationship with religion. I was trained to be a pastor, but now I do not know if I will able to be one. I am still passionate about the work that a pastor does. I want to give counsel to others, lead, teach, preach, be an administrator, and create a team of people working together toward a common goal. The challenge we face is taking our passions and finding where they provide value to society so that we can be paid to do what we love.

Recently I had an idea for a project. This project involves creating a pretty significant website. The issue is that I have no idea how to do that. The last time I messed around with HTML was 18 years ago and a lot has changed since then! I know very little about programming languages and all the various facets of web development. I could be realistic and give up on my idea. Even if I put forth great effort to learn how to make this project work, I might not be able to finish it. Worse, maybe I’ll finish it and it will not be useful. The safe bet would be to say that the risk is not worth it and give up.

What if we shifted the focus from results to process instead? This project could potentially yield excellent results, but the odds of that happening are pretty low. However, the process necessary to complete the project will be guaranteed to have benefits. If I pursue this project I will learn not only how to create a website, but also how to ask for help from others, how to find resources online, and countless other skills along the way. I will encounter new people and communities and discover new things about myself. Our dreams may not succeed but perhaps pursuing them will enable us to earn wisdom, skills, relationships, and more.

If the alternative to pursuing our dreams is to do nothing but coast through life, perhaps it is better to pursue our dreams – even if they are foolish. It is possible to pursue foolish dreams in a foolish way, but it is also possible to pursue a foolish dream wisely. We don’t have to quit our day jobs or let our responsibilities go to the wayside. The pursuit of our dreams can happen evenings and weekends, on vacations, or even through our jobs or education. If we set our expectations correctly, pursuing our dreams will be a win-win situation. Even if we do not arrive at the goal we set, the process of working toward what we hope for will bring us new skills. We will meet new people. We will be better equipped to define our dreams less foolishly and more realistically. Maybe we cannot be an astronaut, but we could end up working in the aerospace industry. We might not become a Top 40 musician, but maybe we can become a local favorite at open mic nights and local music festivals.

If we can learn to celebrate the journey toward our dreams and be realistic about what we can and cannot do to achieve them, we set ourselves up for success. If we reach our dreams, fantastic! If not, look at the progress we have made and all we have gained along the journey. If we are creative and a bit clever, we can put our new resources to use to get us closer to living the life we are dreaming of living. If we hold in one hand the needs of the world and in the other our passions, we have the potential to walk the path of success – not that we will reach the goal, but that the process of trying to reach it will make us into the kind of person we were longing to be all along.

Stuck in the Present

A picture is worth a thousand words, but they are lies. Photographs certainly do tell a story and can bring memories flooding back into our minds, but they can lead us into believing that they tell the truth about life. Photographs are static. In a picture we never change. We are forever the same age, knowing the same things, believing the same things, and doing the same thing. In reality we are constantly changing. Even from moment to moment we do not remain consistent.

I’m not trying to say that photographs are bad or evil, but we should pause to consider whether we view life through a static photographer’s lens or whether we are aware of how our lives are constantly changing. Do we feel that we are basically the same person now as we were a decade ago? Do we sometimes think that nothing in our lives changes? Do we feel stagnated and that every day is the same thing over and over? If so, then we have fallen into the trap of seeing life as a photograph and have failed to grasp the ever-changing present.

We might think of the cells in our bodies and how they are constantly dying and being replaced by new ones. Perhaps we could talk about friends and family who move in and out of our lives. Maybe we could try to measure our mood from day to day and hour to hour. Looking only at these factors, we can see that we are constantly changing – how much more when we think of the multitude of variables in our lives!

We might agree intellectually that our lives are dynamic – that life is constantly changing and we are constantly changing. This does not change how we feel – stagnated. We want to experience something new and different. Sure, things are changing, but they are not the kinds of changes that we want to see. It might be the case that we need to put our efforts into making life change in the way we desire, but that is not what this post is about. Striving to make a change can be necessary at certain times. At other times, all we need to do is to change our perspective – to see the beauty at work all around us. Do we perceive the ways that we and the world around us are changing?

Although I do not have solid evidence for this claim, I believe that life always moves forward and upward rather than backward or downward. An evolutionary force is at work not only genetically but socially, emotionally, and even spiritually. That which brings forth more life flourishes, while that which does not fades away. Maybe we have our missteps and failures in careers, relationships, and our inner life, but we learn from them and move forward having been made just a little stronger, more clever, more mature, and more capable. Even our failures and our feeling of stagnation can push us to become better. Doing the same thing over and over might not be very exciting, but it is changing us.

I’m a stay-at-home dad. Every morning I wake up around the same time with the same routine. Every afternoon I give my daughter a nap. Every evening my wife returns home and plays with my daughter. Having a child is wonderful, but it can be dreadfully repetitive. What makes it wonderful in spite of all the repetition is that every day my daughter learns to do something new. Every day I find that I am a little more patient. Every day I love her a little more. Every day I learn how to care for my daughter a little better. If we were static beings in a static world, repetition would be boring, but we are dynamic beings in a dynamic world. Life is always changing both in and around us and it can be a beautiful thing. Sometimes the beauty is right there on the surface. Other times it is buried deep within pain, suffering, frustration, or even boredom. What is important is knowing that it is always there and we can find it if we are willing to look. Just be sure you don’t trust a photograph. It tells the truth about yesterday, but it knows nothing of today.

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Crawling in Darkness

This post is dedicated to those who are stuck. To the ones who feel they have stagnated, who have come so far and yet it now seems that they will go no further – you are in good company. This is for those who have lost their motivation and who no longer see the path set before them. To those who are ready to give up or to pursue a new path because this one is clearly going nowhere, this is for you.

Ambition is a fickle mistress. It seduces us with promises of greatness and success. Ambition springs up when we are content. It pushes us forward and dangles the carrot of a new adventure in front of us. We begin with joy, our hearts beating faster, ready to take on the world. Woe to those who are ambitious, for they will taste the sweetness of success before the bitterness of working for it.

The journey is exciting. The path is full of new challenges which we conquer one way or another. We seek advice from those around us. We receive encouragement, congratulations, praises, and satisfaction for being brave enough to do something different and difficult. The new task need not be slaying a dragon, beginning a colony on Mars, or inventing something which changes the world. It is usually something much more mundane – having a child, beginning to exercise, attending school, or changing careers. Maybe it is something even smaller, but to us it is a great new adventure. Millions or billions of people might have undertaken the same journey, but this is our journey. It is new to us and it is exciting – in the beginning.

Time goes on. We fight one battle after another. Some days are a challenge, others a joy. We persevere through difficulties at first because of our motivation brought on by the clear vision of being successful. Later we keep going because it has become our habit. Over time, we find it more and more difficult to press on. Our feet grow heavy. The light around us dims. The praise, encouragement, advice, and support of those around us fades away. The darkness begins to set in and our ambition is nowhere to be found. We question ourselves and our journey. Maybe it’s time to give up.

So here we are. Those who began this journey with passion and vigor, who had the support of others and who saw clearly before us the victory which would come very soon. But it has not. We have worked hard, been loyal to our cause, and fought bravely. Certainly we have faltered from time to time, but in each instance we managed to find our way back to the path and to move forward. But now it is difficult – nearly impossible. We have lost our way and there is no help for us. We are alone.

Is this greatness? Is this success? No, this feels like failure. We have become disappointments to ourselves and to others. We are ready to give up and change course. Let us count our losses, lick our wounds, and find a new journey which will perhaps this time yield better results. Surely this is what we must do, for those who are successful and who finish what they set out to accomplish do not face this much hardship and darkness and misery.

There is good news for us who dwell in the darkness. Day is coming. No failure is permanent unless we allow it to be. We may be lost, frightened, and alone today, but tomorrow is coming. As sure as the sun will rise in the morning, those who are lost in the darkness on their path will see the light once again. We have a term for what is coming next – a “breakthrough.” Think about that. If we encounter an obstacle, we must break through. Think of the forcefulness in this language. Inventors, leaders, visionaries, entrepreneurs make breakthroughs. What are they forcefully moving through if not the very situation of apparent failure and loss in which we have presently found ourselves?

What if our success lies just ahead? If so, we must not give up now. We are closer to finishing now than we have ever been before. Perhaps we are still some distance from our goal, but we are much closer than we were yesterday. Certainly we are closer than when we began this journey. It would be safer, easier, and more comfortable to stop now. We have no guarantees of success. Maybe the next hundred attempts will be failures. We may need to find a thousand ways not to succeed before we find one way which works. Maybe our path to achievement is not straight and paved but winding, hilly, and overgrown. But the path is still there even if we cannot see it.

Blessed are those who persevere, for they will be rewarded. Perhaps not with the object of their pursuit, but by being transformed into ones who are not dissuaded from stumbling forward toward their goal even when the way seems impossible. How many persons in history were on the verge of great discovery or success or achievement but stopped short? We may never know, because their stories are not told. Let us be among those who persevered and found the end of our path. If it was worth beginning, it is worth finishing. Who knows what we will discover?