Life is a minefield.
We navigate through it, getting bruised and battered and weary, enjoying a few successes, a few setbacks, and a lot of changes. Some changes we want. Some we don’t. They’re upon us either way.
Some of us put our heads down, duck and hope we stay out of the line of fire. Some of us jump with both feet into the middle of things, take the fire and hope to forge our own way. We know it takes a lot of heat to temper steel—and us, too.
But most of us find our place somewhere in between ducking and jumping. We choose which battles to fight and go for it, and we choose not to fight other ones. We win a few, lose a few, and at some point, we discover our life is out of control. We’re not mastering it, it is herding us—and we don’t like where it’s going.
This epiphany makes us aware in a way we can’t ignore, so we stop and take stock, but more often than not, we look at all that needs work in our life to reclaim it and we feel overwhelmed. When overwhelmed, we unfortunately tend to do nothing. The work is too hard, too time-consuming, too daunting or tough to tackle.
That marks us. It means we’ve given in (or up) and the next time we pause to take a look, we find ourselves in the same rut or tough place that we don’t like or want even more than we didn’t like or want it the first time we took stock while aware. Our life, we can’t deny, has spun so far out of control we don’t recognize it anymore—and we’re not sure we recognize us.
Scary stuff. The kind of stuff that forces us to make a choice. Duck (again), jump in and embrace change, or try everything in our personal arsenal to be content where we are, ignoring the fact that we don’t have the life we wanted and we’re not the person we want to be. It’s our call, and honestly, some of those choices appeal, even though we know we’ll be stuck looking at our whirlwind life and the stranger in our mirror and not liking either. So eventually we have to act. We have to do . . . something. But what?
We need to call the question and be brutally honest with ourselves in answering it. What question? Do we really want to reclaim our life and go on as we are? Or do we want to build a different life—a different us?
Either we do or we don’t. Claim this life or the one we really want. We must choose.
Neither answer is right or wrong. And the answer is up to us. Either way, odds are good that we’ve got to do something different or we’ll end up in the same place with the same results. That, we don’t want.
Life is a series of ups and downs and if we gain nothing through those ups and downs . . . well, something’s got to change to make the journey worth making. Of course, life is all about the journey and definitely worth the trip, so how do we assure different results?
We take a different approach. We start building ourselves from the inside out. Looking honestly at who we are and who we want to be. We know that to move forward and attain better, long-lasting results, we need a solid, sturdy, strong foundation.
That doesn’t start with where we work or what activities we do. For most, it doesn’t start with what or how we do what we do. It starts with what we think. And so we begin by defining what we think about the big things:
Each moment of each day we choose who we are and what we believe. With the power to change in our hands, what is to regret? Learn from mistakes, resolve not to repeat them, and then move on, wiser for the lessons learned and grateful for the ability to change. So how do we avoid regret? We hold ourselves to our highest standards. Regardless of what others do, say, or how they act, we set our own standards and live by them. This is right since we live with the results.
What we do today defines our future tomorrow. We create our reality. If we plant good seeds, we’ll reap a good harvest. If we don’t, we won’t. It’s that simple. So we need to know what our reality is, what we want it to be, and how we can get from here to there, and then act on those things. That fosters a different result. We inch closer and closer with each measured effort.
Doing the Wrong Thing
It is a rare occasion when we discover we’ve committed a wrong after we’ve done it. We wanted to do it so we did, and only later (after being caught or exposed, or after suffering the weight of a guilty conscience) do we regret it. The thing is, we all pay for our actions. Now or later, we pay. So before we act, we need to exercise self-discipline. If it’s wrong, choose not to do it. It spares you the recriminations and repercussions later—and we’re more content without the drama and upheaval—and we have more energy without drama and upheaval to focus our energies on creating what we really want in our reality. I know no one who wants the fallout of doing wrong in their life. It’s destructive. Choose to be constructive instead.
The Company You Keep
Choose your friends and associates with care. You will be judged by their actions. If they behave like thugs, you will be assumed a thug or you wouldn’t befriend thugs. If your friends and associates are ethical, you will be assumed ethical or you wouldn’t be befriended by those who are ethical. If you’re striving to be a worthy human being in your own eyes—and that is the ultimate mortal measure—then surround yourself with worthy people you respect. Some say they don’t care what others think, but we live in a world where we’re interdependent—remember that saying that no man is an island? Well, no woman is either. Our standards and ethics, our way, which is one in which we are content with our behavior and conduct. No regrets, no remorse. That’s the path to contentment. When it comes to peer-pressure, remember: You are the peer. Set the example. At the core, it’s not so much what “they” think as it is what “you” think. Still, you share a world with “them.”
Respect is an innate right, given freely, but retaining it requires constant renewal earned through conduct. Be respectful, worthy of respect—especially your own. If meeting your own eyes in the mirror makes you cringe, then it’s time to take another look at yourself and fix what’s broken. Your goal is to meet your own eyes and others’ gladly and without hesitation, reflecting your respect for yourself and for others.
We all get sad. Life is hard on us all. You can either wallow in sadness or work through it. A tip I learned long ago: When you’re down, look outside yourself to others. Someone is always suffering more, enduring more, coping with more than you. If you want the finest armor against depression, count your blessings. With an attitude of gratitude for the good in you and in your life, you shift focus off what’s wrong and onto what’s right. Hold it there, and then look for someone else to help. When you seek to brighten someone else’s world, you often succeed and brighten your own. It doesn’t take much. A smile, a kind word, a little compassion—all go a long way to lift someone who’s been knocked to their knees.
Be reluctant to judge or condemn others. Their choices might not be your choices, but that doesn’t make them wrong, only different. Honest evaluation is required, and not having the “inside track” on why that person made the choice s/he made, you can’t honestly assess the best choice another should make. You might conclude their choices aren’t right for you but unless an act is grievous and causes harm to another, it isn’t your place to condemn or to “fix” them. They have their own path to walk, and you have yours.
Happiness means different things to different people. We’re all human but individual and that should be respected. No one is happy all the time. Don’t expect to be. Instead, seek the joy that lasts—contentment and peace with the sum of your character. What makes you happy might drive another person up the wall. Be happy for others when they’re happy. Console them when they’re not. Ask the hard questions of yourself so you know what you need (not what you want or what someone else thinks you should want or have).
The world has and will always be challenged, but that doesn’t mean that peace is elusive. It is attainable by every single person. It resides within. If it eludes you, seek it by being the person you want to become. Work at it. Invest in it. Behold it. Have your dreams and aspirations, but be at peace wherever you are with who you are. That’s the peace that lasts.
Simply put, to have a friend, be a friend. That pretty much covers it.
Some relationships are long-term, some are for a season. You come together for a purpose and are close while seeking to fulfill it. When you have, the season is over. You don’t necessarily part so much as drift in other directions. This is a normal, recurring event in life. Long-term relationships are a series of hills and valleys—good and bad times. You each have a role to play, and often exchange roles. Sometimes you’re the strong one, sometimes you lean on the other. The breaks in long-term relationships often occur when the balance of wants and needs is off, or one person loses their commitment to the other. Does that mean all is lost? Of course not. It means, you’re trudging through a valley. You can hang on to each other to get through it and make the climb together up the hill, if both commit to the climb. A lifetime together never promised a bed of roses. It promised better or worse, baldly stating that there will be plenty of both. Sometimes, in the end, one person turns away from the relationship and by common sense should. But most often it’s easier to walk out than work at the relationship. If that’s the case, before you turn away, turn toward the other and work together. Relationships are messy because every person in them is messy. Together, snag a broom and clean them up. Remember, hard times forge deep bonds.
A story about this. There was once a couple who decided to divorce. They couldn’t afford one. So they sat down, developed a plan and worked together to save the funds needed. They celebrated each success toward their goal. And then they reached it. But by then, working together, they rediscovered each other and got reacquainted with all the reasons they’d married in the first place. And neither still wanted a divorce. Their broken relationship had mended. They’d worked through things together, renewed their appreciation for one another. It can be done.
Success is in the eye of its seeker.
Your success might be my vision of hell, or mine yours. Identify your vision for yourself, seek it for yourself, enjoy it yourself. Walk your own path, and enjoy your own journey. Ultimately, you are responsible for your thoughts, actions and deeds. You’re accountable. So shouldn’t you seek your vision of success rather than anyone else’s?
Make your own choices—with your head and your heart and your conscience. You’ll live with them, good or bad, and either be at peace with them or regret them. They should be yours, not imposed on you by others.
Seek wisdom with all your might. Fortune and fame come and go, but wisdom endures forever and shapes your life eternally. Think of celebrities from twenty years ago. How many can you name? Forty years ago? Five years ago? Fame is fleeting—a mere twinkle in time. Fortune makes as many people miserable as it does happy. But wisdom… we all are blessed by wisdom. It gives us insight, understanding, balance and perspective. We know what most matters and why, and what matters not a whit and why. That’s a broad canvas with lots of room for lots of life!
Love endures and honors. Love is…
Civility is seated in respect—for yourself, for others. It does not mock, does not inflict, does not adopt the guise of humor to do or say things that cause others pain. It does not set out to shock, degrade, or belittle others. To do those things exhibits a profound lack of civility and respect for others, but even more so for oneself.
Trash talk is the sign of a weak mind. Your mind isn’t weak, it’s powerful. You can, or can learn, to express yourself clearly without degrading yourself by indulging or engaging in trash talk. Lift yourself and others. Don’t disrespect them or yourself. All deserve better.
When slammed with hard things, give yourself a few minutes to emotionally react. Then switch focus to constructive solutions to the hard thing. Put your energy there. Then put your actions behind your resolutions. That gets you through the hard things intact—and often has you coming out of them stronger. No one ever solved a problem complaining about it. Find a solution and implement it. That solves problems.
You can be miserable with or without it, which means it’s good only for what you do with it. If it helps you achieve your deeper purpose, great. If not, you don’t need as much of it. Basic needs met, it’s how you use it. Wisely, and money’s a good thing. Unwisely, and it’s not. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking money is the answer to all problems. It causes just as many or more as it solves.
So now it’s time. Ask yourself the big questions. What do you think? Is your foundation strong? Are you the person you choose to become? What must you do to become that person?
We change and grow. Some say a person gets this foundation when young or not at all. I don’t believe that. Once you become an adult, regardless of what’s happened in the past, you become aware that there are different paths and different choices available to you. It is up to you to exercise the will to embrace them.
If your life is out of control, you have the ability to reclaim it. Before you rebuild your house, get reacquainted with your foundation. If it’s strong, you’ll never suddenly stop, feeling forced to ask yourself: Where’d I go? And that foundation will hold whatever house you choose to build.*