I like working to improve different areas of my life. Whether it’s learning a skill, interacting with others, maintaining healthy habits, or following the teachings of Jesus, there are so many opportunities to get better every day. I find that encouraging!
However, occasionally (actually, more often than I’d like to admit) I find myself acting in a way that is contrary to the improvements I’m trying to make. To keep from feeling frustrated and defeated when this happens, I remind myself that although I missed the mark this time, I will do better next time.
I’m so grateful that missing the mark doesn’t condemn us to forever-failure status. We have so many opportunities to do better, because there is always a “next time” right around the corner.
If you’re working to make improvements in your life, but find you’ve been missing the mark, that’s OK! Simply think about what hitting the mark would look like, and commit to doing that the next time.
Several years ago I got a birthday card from my co-workers. It was a nice card filled with kind words of birthday cheer. Of all the notes written, there was one encouraging message that really stood out. It simply read, “Make the most of the next 12 months, for you will never be this age again!”
I’d never thought of birthdays like that. Sure, I know how the calendar works, but I‘d never really considered that we get the privilege of being a certain age for only 12 months. This encouraging note reminded me that I get to decide how I want to spend the next 12 months of my lives.
It’s easy to think of birthdays as a reminder that we’re getting older, but my co-worker’s wise words continue to remind me that we have a role to play in what we do with the days between our birthdays. We can choose to become “old” by complaining that we’re getting old, or we can choose to be grateful for the days we have and get about the business of living them well. It’s absolutely up to us.
Many of the choices we make don’t require a great deal of thought. For example deciding what you’re going to wear today, what you’re having for dinner, or where you want to go on vacation this year, while important, are not life changing decisions. If, in fact, you do make a bad decision in one of these areas, the consequences are pretty insignificant. (Your life isn’t going to change a great deal if you had chicken for dinner instead of salmon!) However, for those decisions where the stakes are much higher, we must make sure we’ve gathered sufficient information and given ample thought to our decision before we pull the trigger.
One of the most important decisions we make is the primary person we decide to do life with. Whether it’s a spouse, a life partner, or significant other, this person will have a very substantial role and impact in our life. As such, this type of relationship should be entered into slowly. Only after we’ve gathered significant experiences and information about the other person are we about to make a good decision.
If you’re currently in the process of making this decision about someone, before you decide, you should have answers to the following questions:
- Do you know what your own goals and dreams are and what you, specifically, want out of life?
- What are the other person’s goals and expectations from life? Do they align with yours?
- What are the non-negotiable character traits and attributes you’re looking for in another person?
- What are the non-negotiable character traits you are unwilling to settle for in another person?
- How does this person align with the previous 2 questions?
- No, really! How do they align?
- What’s their worldview and outlook on life?
- How does the other person handle conflict?
- How do they handle money?
- How do they treat other people?
- How do they treat you?
- How do they respond when life gets tough?
- What guides them in how they make decisions and live their life?
The only way you will get answers to these questions is through conversation and time together. Lots of time together, so don’t be in a big hurry. The questions above are a list you can check off in a weekend, a week, or month. To really answer these questions, I think it’s important to observe someone for at least a year, if not longer.
Nothing will affect the quality of your life more that the primary person you decide to do life with, so spend the time to seriously answer these questions, lest you rush into a bad decision.
Here’s a quick mental exercise. See if you can think of an area of your life that gets better instead of worse as a result of being neglected. Here my attempt at a list and whether or not these areas get better when neglected:
- Relationships – No
- Health – No
- Finances – No
- Career – No
- Family – No
- Personal development – No
- Possessions – No
- Outlook on life – No
- A garden of wild weed – Yes
Most areas of our life don’t get better as a result of neglect, they usually get worse. I know, that’s obvious, but here’s what may not be so obvious. While we may not intentionally decide to neglect an important area of our life, neglect is what happens when we fail to give something our attention.
To make something better, or to at least keep it good, requires our effort and attention. With so many things clamoring for our attention it’s essential that we purposefully give attention to those important areas of our life, lest they be unintentionally neglected.
Here’s a piece of information I find liberating: None of us are perfect, nor are we expected to be. While I make an effort to do my best at whatever it is I’m doing, in my imperfection I often miss the mark, screw up, or fall short.
While knowing that I’m not perfect frees me up to try, fail and improve, knowing that I’m imperfect also reminds me that with imperfection comes responsibility. When we screw up or say the wrong thing, or a host of other things imperfect people do, we should be quick to:
- Apologize to those we’ve hurt or negatively impacted
- Own our mistakes instead of giving excuses or looking for someone else to blame
- Ask for forgiveness when needed
We should also be quick to avoid expecting perfection from others and be equally quick to show grace to others when they fall short, because isn’t that what we’d like from others?
Let’s work at being responsible with our imperfections, and graceful to others in theirs.
On Thursday my wife sent me an email letting me know that my mom was having some people over for dinner that night. One of the people attending was a person from Guatemala that my mom thought my wife and I would be interested in meeting, so she invited us to join them for dinner. My initial thought was to say no for a bunch of lame reasons, (it’s been a long week, I’ve got stuff to do, blah, blah, blah). Fortunately for me, my brain saw this as an unexpected opportunity that I shouldn’t pass up.
I’m always interested in meeting folks and hearing some of their story (everyone has a story!!), especially if they come from a different background, country, or culture than I do. The person from Guatemala is the daughter of a pastor, who happens to lead a Guatemalan church in the same denomination as the church we attend. Already had some common ground for good conversation! So I emailed my wife back and told her to let my mom know we’d be there for dinner.
An unexpected opportunity to meet someone different from me lands in my lap on Thursday and I was about to say, “No”. What would I gain by staying home, except for some free time? As I thought about it, I realized that I get a lot more opportunities for free time than I do to meet an interesting person with a common interest.
This experience reminded me that I’m trying to take advantage of opportunities that present themselves. It’s too easy to automatically settle for our routine and, as a result, let these unexpected opportunities go by. That’s a great way to maintain a routine, but it’s no way to live an exciting life.
The dinner and the conversation on Thursday was a lot of fun! I’m so glad that I went and didn’t settle for the perceived comfort of my routine. There is a lot that happens when we step outside of our routines.
Last week we were on vacation in Denali National Park. While the landscape and wildlife were spectacular, what stood out most to me was how easy it was to start a conversation and connect with other people.
Whether it was on the park bus or standing in line somewhere, it was so easy to start up a conversation with people by simply asking a question like:
- Did you see any wildlife in the park today?
- How long have you been in Alaska?
- How long will you be in Alaska?
- Where are you from?
- What are you going to see next?
It was equally easy to start conversations with folks based on a sports team, a geographic location, or some other familiar identifier on a person’s clothing. (“Go Packers!” seems to be a good conversation starter with people wearing Green Bay gear.)
It got me wondering why we don’t start conversations with people around us when we’re not on vacation. When I look at my own life, it seems easy to avoid connecting with those around me, even though there are so many of the same conversation starters in everyday life.
Why not start initiating conversations with people around us, even when we’re not on vacation? We might be surprised with you many interesting and friendly people we cross paths with each day.
It seems like much of the world is divided, distrustful, and fearful of one another. It’s evident on the evening news, in social media, and out in public. But does it have to be like this? Is this really the type of world we have to live in? I don’t think so.
So how do we start to change the culture of our communities, our countries, and our world?
I was at a black history month event on Tuesday evening when I heard someone give their answer to this question. Simply put, they said, “Get to know someone who is different from you.” I love this response because it is so simple, yet so significant.
When we earnestly get to know someone different from us, with the motivation to understand them better, we become less fearful and distrustful of them, because we now have a frame of reference. It’s easy to fear and distrust what we don’t know or have never come in contact with.
Here’s an interesting thought to ponder: There is probably someone who is fearful of you, because you are different from them. Wouldn’t it be great if we could alleviate the fear in others simply by being open, welcoming ambassadors of whatever group we represent?
Here’s some life-long homework for all of us:
- Get in the habit of regularly interacting with someone who is different from you.
- Become a welcoming ambassador for whatever group you represent.
We can either increase fear or distrust in ourselves and others, or we can do our best to decrease these feelings by doing our homework.
The world could use a lot less fear and distrust among its inhabitants. Let’s all make sure to get our homework done.
Have you ever started a new undertaking and quickly realized, “I’m really not sure what to do first… next… at all”?
I’m glad I’m not the only one!
Whenever we feel like this, I think the best thing we can do is to seek out someone who has already been where we currently want to go, and ask them questions about their experience.
The unknown can be a scary place that keeps us from new experiences or reaching new heights. However, when we hear someone tell us about how they navigated a path that is currently before us, somehow it seems less mysterious. We begin to see our own journey take shape. We’re able to see the steps required, as well as potential pitfalls to be avoided.
If you’re starting down a new and uncertain path, and you’re not sure what the journey looks like, find someone who has already traveled down that road and task them to tell you about their journey. Not only will you gain valuable insight from their experience; they’ll very likely be eager to share with you what they’ve learned.
2017 was a good year, filled with learning, new experiences, and good times with family and friends. But with all the good memories and experiences I can recall from the past 12 months, I wonder how much of what I did in 2017 I have completely forgotten.
I did some quick math. Did you know there are 525,600 minutes in a 365 day year? (I think there’s a song from the musical Rent that mentions this.) That’s a lot of minutes! No wonder we forget so much.
While I’m not interested in remembering every one of those 525,600 minutes, I do want to make sure I preserve more of the significant and meaningful memories I’ll make in 2018 and the years beyond. Doing so not only bring joy, it also improves the quality of our lives.
In an effort to better preserve future memories, my plan is to regularly do the following:
Journal: While it has been an activity I have struggled to parlay into a daily habit, I really enjoy the act of journaling. What I enjoy even more is reading, in my own words, about an experience I have forgotten. It is a great tool for triggering forgotten memories
Take pictures: Pictures can instantly take me back to a time, place, or experience and instantly fill my mind with great memories. Therefore, it is also good to display the most meaningful ones so that you intersect with them often.
Recall memories with the people you made them with: Beyond simply preserving memories, this is a great way to strengthen relationships.
What are some things you can do to preserve the memories you’ll make in 2018 and beyond? Find a couple of methods for recalling memories and be diligent in employing them. Then, go and live a life worth remembering.