Last week my wife and I were in Acadia National Park in Maine at a little cove along the rocky shoreline. As we entered the cove we saw a young girl standing about where the waves would come ashore. With the arrival of each wave, she would stand her ground with determination, and not move back until the water had actually covered her feet. At that point, she’d scream with glee, run back a short distance, and, when the water had receded, she’d return to the point where she thought the water from the next wave would stop. She seemed to be having a great time, captivated by the surf and the environment around her.
This went on for several iterations, each time with her parents calling her name and suggesting that she move further back so as not to get wet. It was as if the girl didn’t hear her parents, or didn’t care about getting wet, because after each wave she would return to stand her ground. It was cool to see her so engaged in her present environment.
As I watched her I couldn’t help but wonder if this child’s life was being changed in this moment. Was she developing a love with the Atlantic Ocean or oceans and beaches in general? Would this moment cause a desire for her, as an adult, to want to spend time at the beach? Was I looking at a future marine biologist, or someone who will devote their life to protecting our oceans, or perhaps just a young girl who was enjoying the moment?
Regardless, I enjoyed watching this young person being so engaged with their beautiful scene they were in. And just maybe, I was fortunate enough to witness an event that will forever change her life.
We all aspire to great things, but there’s a difference between aspirations and positive results, and that difference is effort.
Most things that are beyond the ordinary require effort to achieve. Whether it’s developing a skill or talent to an extraordinary level or building a strong and sustainable marriage, lacking effort, no progress will be made.
Here’s a quick way to tell how committed you are to achieving extraordinary results in your life:
- Think of something you have wanted to improve in your life
- Ask yourself, “What effort have I continuously made it bring it about?”
If your answer to bullet number 2 is, “Not much”, then you’re not really committed to making the change. You just like the idea of the change, but aren’t committed to putting forth the effort to get you there.
While that may sound harsh, it’s that type of questioning that is crucial if we’re serious about improving ourselves.
So, you know that area of your life that you want to improve? Yes, that area! What effort have you made toward its achievement?
It’s easy to procrastinate when I feel like I have a lot of time to complete a given task. The problem I often run into when I procrastinate is that when I finally start the task, I often feel rushed and like I’m not doing my best work. Yes, many people say they work better under pressure, but from my own experience, that just hasn’t been true for me.
When I wait until the last minute to begin, I don’t have time to consider alternative approaches or solutions. Because I’ve left myself little time for the task, I need to go with the quickest solution I can come up with and complete in a short time. There’s no room to ponder, to consider different options or even to change direction when I have an “ah-ha” moment. The time I could have dedicated to exploring options was instead spent procrastinating.
I’ve realized that I do my best work when I have time to think. This realization causes me to start projects and task sooner rather than putting them off. If waiting until the last minute to start tasks has been working for you, then who am I to tell you to change? But, if you’re a chronic procrastinator, who’s not always happy with the results you get, consider starting tasks earlier. It would be worth seeing if your output would benefit from having some additional time.
I’ve got 2 fiends, each of which are on opposite sides of the political aisle, and each one has a lot to passionately say about the position. Fortunately for me, these 2 friends don’t know each other, so I won’t be finding myself in the middle of an ugly shouting match between them.
While I have my own opinions, when talking with either of these 2 friends, I find I learn more about them and their beliefs by asking questions related to why they believe what they do, and then listening to their responses. By doing so, I can quickly determine what’s important to them, what they value, and whether or not they are doing anything constructive with their opinions or merely parroting someone else’s talking points.
I’ve always been curious as to why people think and believe they way they do. While discussing heated topics, I’ve also found that when I ask the other person questions about their beliefs, they are usually more ager to at least hear an opposing or challenging belief from me.
I’m not naïve enough to think that I’ll be able to convince someone against their will. However, I do think questioning, listening to understand, and sharing thoughts is a more favorable approach to challenging conversations than the screaming and yelling that seems so pervasive in conversations today.
In 2017 I did a 3 day backpacking trip across the Grand Canyon. We started at the North Rim and hiked to the bottom of the canyon, across a suspension bridge over the Colorado River and hiked up the other side to the South Rim. It was a memorable trip that I will never forget. Especially the last 3 hours.
As you can imagine, cell phone reception in the canyon is non-existent, so we were totally off the grid, which is always fine with me. Three days without the distractions and technology was a welcome treat. All my smartphone was good for during that time was taking picture. No email, no notifications, no bombardment of the world’s affairs continually clamoring for my attention. It was great! Everyone on the trip seemed fully engaged in the hike and on enjoying the surroundings.
However, with about 3 hours left of our trip, people began checking their phones for coverage and, realizing they had it, they began checking email, getting on social media, and seeing what had been going on in the world for the last 3 days. I could tell that people were already distracted from the hike by concerns of next week’s schedule, the US decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord, and other details of everyday life.
I left my phone in airplane mode, wanting to enjoy every last minute of solitude and natural beauty this hike still had to offer. I wanted to yell to the others in the party, “Put your phones away and be alive in what we’re experiencing! All those things will be waiting for you when we get to the rim, but who knows when you’ll have an experience like this again! Don’t waste it!”
I love technology. I even work in IT, so I’m surrounded by it every day. Yet for me, I think there are times when technology can detract from an experience. It’s at these times when I decide to voluntarily take myself off the grid in order to remove distractions that would lesson my experience.
So how about you? Would you benefit from voluntary venturing off the grid?
On Tuesday evening I heard former Secretary of State Madeline Albright speak at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in Portland Oregon. It was interesting to hear of her experiences and get her take on current events. She has most certainly had a front row seat at historic events, and worked with the biggest names in world politics. As I heard more than one person comment at the end of the event, “What an extraordinary life!”
The thought that has stuck with me since that event is that we can all live extraordinary lives, based on the choices we make. Ms. Albright didn’t just happen into an extraordinary life by accident or by chance. I heard nothing from her experience that led me to believe she sat around waiting for the extraordinary to come her way. Rather, she pursued something she was interested in and continued to improve along the way. Doing so created opportunity that she was willing to take advantage of. Over time, it was this process that led to her extraordinary life.
This event left me encouraged that anyone is capable of living an extraordinary life by the choices they make. While we may not be Secretary of State, we can choose what we do with our lives, the things we pursue, the decisions we make, and the people we surround ourselves with. We can choose how we treat others, and what we invest or efforts toward.
On the contrary, we can also choose a path of minimal resistance, one that is easy and well within our comfort zone, or we can just wait to see what happens to come our way.
For me, I choose an extraordinary life. What that means to me is I’m choosing to spend my life pursuing things that are meaningful to me and by doing so, will have a positive impact on others.
Let’s all decide today to live an extraordinary life.
Most worthwhile goals we have require a degree of consistent effort in order to achieve. Consistent steps. Said another way, achieving our goals requires work. For me, there are some days where I, for whatever reason, don’t feel like doing the work.
When I feel like this, I remind myself that I’m either moving toward my goals or farther from them. I find this thought motiving because it reminds me that:
- I want to be making progress toward my goals and not falling behind
- Even small progress toward your goal on a specific day is better than no progress at all
With this in mind, I’m compelled to at least show up and make minimal progress versus making no progress at all. While it may not be my best effort, I’m at least making progress toward my goal.
Be aware of the days when you may not feel like putting the effort toward an important goal of yours. Instead of punching out and doing nothing, decide to at least show up and give something toward your goal, no matter how small. And remember, even small progress is better than no progress at all.