Sometimes life is heavy. There is just no way around it. We lose people we love; our own bodies break down; and other personal or professional challenges appear unexpectedly. When this happens it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the adversity of the moment(s) and wallow in despair. You can sometimes feel like the famous statue of Atlas who carries around the weight of the world on his shoulders. When this happens you need to count your many blessings and seek out opportunities for joy, love and support.
Very few people are meant to take the full journey with you in life. Sometimes you outgrow people, lose the interpersonal connection and/or leave them behind. Instead of regretting the loss, cherish the time you had together and keep it as a fond memory. I’ve written before how I believe that everyone’s life is a novel and sometimes new chapters require new characters. It is all part of the process of growing, learning and evolving as a human being. Most every transitional point in our life involves bridging a chasm of some sort and other people are usually the means by which we cross over. However, they don’t all make the same crossing with us.
Naturally, so much of what we read about leadership and personal development is focused on us and how we can improve as an individual. There is no shortage of resources or ideas that one can adopt and apply to their own lives. I’m happy that for anyone who is interested in living a meaningful life that there is a bevy of material at their disposal. What I sometimes find missing in this quest for self-improvement is a focus on the other people in your life. We can spend so much time looking inward that if we are not careful we will miss opportunities to reach outside of ourselves to make a real difference. It is never just about you.
As far as we know, there are no “do over’s” in life. We get one chance to live our journey and make things right. While death bed conversions and family reconciliations make good fodder forHollywood, they are rarer then you think. You can’t make up for lost time or misaligned priorities in one final conversation or the last few months of your life – the damage is already done. Personal grudges have an unfortunate way of becoming firmly cemented with time. There is no better time than the present to assess where you stand in terms of your family and personal life and make positive changes. As I’ve stated many times in other blogs, remorse and regret are useless and unnecessarily painful emotions.
A life is built one day at a time. We literally live moment to moment. As you stitch together the moments of your day keep this in mind. I’m not saying this to put pressure on you, but rather to alleviate it. There are few things more stressful than trying to make up for lost time and/or missed opportunity. We don’t control how much time we have, however we have absolute control over how we spend it. Approach each day like it matters because it does!
As a boy growing up pretty much all my public role models were the strong silent types. John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Steve McQueen were all men of few words but vigorous action. Men didn’t show their feelings; they just dealt with whatever came their way in the most expeditious fashion. Problems were meant to be solved not fretted over. Real men weren’t vulnerable. They were strong for all of those around them and kept their feelings to themselves. My dad very much lived up to this expectation. I can’t remember even one example of him telling me how he “felt” about something. He just did what he was supposed to do and that was that.
There are way too many things competing for our time as adults. It’s easy to get lost in the fog of responsibility and fall behind. If we are honest with ourself, we end up using our time very inefficiently and often make it up as we go along. As a result, there is usually some level of imbalance in our life as we prioritize what is most pressing or convenient. The problem is that gaps unattended only grow with time and at some point the chasm becomes too difficult to navigate. The very thing we value most, our own independence and freedom, becomes victim to the personal stress created by not being disciplined about our decisions, time and activities. Paradoxically, we end up with the outcomes we most wanted to avoid.
While personal independence and self-reliance is a good thing, we live in a society that requires interdependency and cooperation. Children and the elderly are dependent based on the very nature of their situation. Physical and emotional vulnerability is a reality that confronts us all at the beginning and end of our lives. In addition, many close adult and professional relationships are co-dependent because we need other people to both experience life fully and get things done. You can’t just flip a switch and expect it to be there.
The problem is that life is complex not simple. There are many reasons why things do or do not happen. At some point we all are faced with difficult choices with no clear answers. Very often we make these decisions under some level of duress and/or with imperfect information or unclear guidelines. Life does just happen sometimes and navigating it can be as much of an art as a science.
Is the current situation salvageable and if so what would it take? How much would you grow and learn personally and how much stronger would your bonds be in life if you were able to persevere and work it out? There are few worse emotions in life than remorse and regret. Chasing rainbows is a fool’s errand, but successfully navigating the emotional roller coaster of life is a real and self affirming activity.
I’m just back from a family reunion and had a great time. It was nice to reconnect with people I haven’t seen in awhile especially members of my extended family who I don’t see all that often. It’s much more enjoyable to see people during times of fellowship and celebration than only when something sad has happened or to wait for a wedding. Unfortunately as we get older it seems to get harder to stay connected: people move away, careers get more demanding, kids keep us busy, and there is only so much free time.
There are few things more important than having priorities for what’s important in your life and how you choose to spend your time. We are all the architects of our own existence, at times struggling with the design challenges, however ultimately the adult life we build is our own. Happiness is a choice not just an outcome. It should also be an expectation.
Sometimes in the smallest ways we impact other people. Less frequently but more powerfully are those actions that over time have a significant impact on others.
I’ve always believed that a life is defined by the quality of your relationships. Whether it is at work or home, all of us should be looking to grow friendships and supporters along the way. The road can get rocky at times and you want to have others there to catch you if and when you stumble or fall. You’ll also need their helping hands and shoulders to stabilize you as you climb the next rung up the ladder.
Take stock of the people you are spending the most time with personally and professionally and make a conscious choice to maximize the time spent with the brightest, happiest and most capable people you know.
I’ve seen more damage done in organizations and families by people saying what they think the other person wants to hear rather than telling them the truth. The whole concept of “white lies” has become commonplace and most people go through life telling them on a daily basis. Instead of dealing with realty (or at least our version of it) we prefer to not to risk the discomfort and awkwardness of being honest.
Maybe it’s my age and being more aware of things, but I am convinced there are more egocentric people today than when I was a younger. You meet people like this all the time. Whatever happens is always about them regardless of the situation and its consequences (for others). Sadly, they have been buoyed in their attitudes by a cottage industry of self-help gurus and marketers that continue to reinforce the worldview that everyone should be the center of their own universe and each individual’s primary concern should be their own happiness and self-satisfaction.
In our very hurried and fast paced world these days it is often very difficult to be “in the moment” of what you are doing at any point and time. Distractions abound as people and responsibilities clamor for your time. There ends up being very few thoughtful focused moments in the course of a day where you can simply concentrate on the person, task or situation at hand.
Most of this unhappiness, conflict and stress I see in the workplace and life these days comes down to an inability to establish healthy boundaries. By their very nature boundaries define us and indicate what are willing and not willing to tolerate. They are also a means to carve out what is important to us. Without boundaries you are simply making it up as you go along and dealing with life reactively without a compass.
We get to decide what we focus on in life. The glass can be “half empty” or “half-full.” It all comes down to your perspective. Sadly, many of us end up obsessing over what we don’t have or how we are falling short rather than counting our multiple blessings. And, without question, there is always something to be grateful for.
Time does march on. There is nothing we can do to stop it or slow it down. All we can do is learn to appreciate the moments. One way to do this is to create rituals and traditions that add a sense of expectation and predictability of joy in our lives.