Thriving Amidst Constraints

Last Monday morning I was enjoying a beautiful sunny walk through the neighborhood before work when I noticed a plant growing out of the asphalt.  “Must be a weed” I thought to myself as I approached the spot in the road where the plant was growing.  I was shocked when I got close and observed that it was not a weed, but instead, a small, beautiful flowering plant!  Its purple and yellow petals a striking contrast against the charcoal colored asphalt.  It was a wonderfully unexpected surprise!

Tenacity

I love the tenacity of that little plant!  Not only the plant, but the seed from whence it came.  That seed was dropped in the least likely place for it to grow.  None the less, it literally took root and found a way to thrive within the environmental constraints it had been dropped into.  No greenhouse.  No potting soil.  Nothing more than an opportunity to succeed.

That plant was a great reminder to do my best with the opportunities I’m given.  Even when conditions might not seem optimal.

Breaking Through

I started playing the electric bass 3 years ago and I’ve really enjoyed the process of learning how chords are made and fit together with other chords to make bass lines and fills.  While I’ve enjoyed the learning process, I’ll also admit that I’d been frustrated by the slow pace at which improvement has come. However, I have to remind myself that consistent effort leads to breakthroughs, whereas quitting does not.

For the past 3 months I’ve been focusing on the pentatonic scale and how to use it with other scales.  What’s been frustrating is that I’ve been learning and practicing these concepts, but have been struggling to put them together in the context of a song.  I’ve practiced the chord shapes, but feel like I have a mental block when it comes to putting it all together.

However, tonight (Thursday) when I sat down to practice, I noticed that the concepts I’ve been learning had come together and I was actually using them in the context of a song!  It’s like my brain finally said, “Oh, I get it now.”  What a breakthrough!  And it’s all the result of consistent practice, even when the results were slow.

Is there something you’re struggling to learn or accomplish?  Are you not seeing the results you’d like as quickly as you ‘d like?  If so, I encourage you to stay diligent in your practice, even when it seems you’re not making headway.

There are 2 things I know for certain:

  1. If you keep at it, you’ll eventually have a breakthrough
  2. If you quit, you wont

Stop Trying

“Do or do not.  There is no try.”  ~ Yoda

I’m a firm believer in trying.  By trying, we explore and discover new things, create new experiences, and live an interesting life.  We often:

  • Try our hand at…
  • Try our best
  • Give it a try
  • Try something new

But sometimes we need to do more than just try.  Sometimes we need to actually “do”.

Trying sometimes feels like taking a chance, rolling the dice, or making an attempt without the expectation of a definitive outcome.  Doing on the other hand, has a more decisive feeling.  When we say we’re going to do something, it shows intention, purpose, forethought, and the expectation of a pre-determined outcome.

Here’s what I mean.  Check out how different “try” and “do” sound:

What “try” sounds like What “do” sounds like
I’ll try to get to the gym this week I’ll be at the gym at 5:30 every morning this week
I’ll try to make it I will be there
I’ll try to get that done today I’ll have that done by 3:30 this afternoon
I’m going to try to and save for retirement I’m going to put X% of every paycheck into a retirement account

 

There are certainly times when just need to try; like trying a new type of food or listening to a new type of music.  However, there are other times when the stakes are much higher or the outcome much more important.  This is when we need to do better than just try and actually do.

Is there anything you’ve been trying lately that you really should be doing instead?  If so, make the jump and begin doing.  Determine the outcome you desire and do what’s required to make it happen.  Because according to Yoda, we’ll either do it or we won’t.

It Gets Challenging

The arrival of summer in Oregon ushers in blueberry season.  I love this, because fresh-picked Oregon blueberries are for superior tasting than anything I could buy in a grocery store.  Aside from their superior taste, picking your own berries from one of the local fields is a summertime activity that is not to be missed.

The beginning of the picking season is the best!  All of the bushes are loaded with big clusters of ripe berries.  This makes for easy picking.  You don’t have to work very hard and in a short time you can be done picking and on your way with several pounds of blueberry goodness.

The scene is a little different as the season progresses.  The picking gets more challenging as more people get out and hit the field.  Gone are the huge, numerous clusters.  This is when you have to start searching the branches for smaller clusters that are hidden from site.  The more the season passes, the more you have to work to get the results you want.  The berries are still sweet and delicious; you just have to work harder for them… but it’s worth the effort!

I think it’s a lot like that when we’re learning new skills.  Starting out, we often see results quickly because we’re going from total ignorance on the topic to acquiring the most basic skills.  We go from knowing absolutely nothing to knowing something about the topic.  Although this basic knowledge often comes quickly, we soon realize that there is a whole lot more that we don’t know about the topic.  We also realize that if we want to get beyond a beginner’s skillset, it’s going to be challenging and require significant effort on our part.

I think it’s here that people often give up pursuing something they want.  They’ve gotten past the initial easy steps and arrive at the point where it’s going to take more effort than before to get where they want to go.  If that effort seems too great, they give up.

We’ve all been here in some form or another. It’s where we ask ourselves just how badly we want it.  How much do we want to:

  • Improve upon or learn a new skill
  • Learn a new language
  • Be able to use a new piece of technology
  • Improve a relationship
  • Become a better leader
  • Or simply pick enough blueberries to fil the large container we brought with us

Knowing that the challenges increase after starting is helpful, because we can anticipate them and be ready to address them when we might otherwise be caught off guard by them and give up.

Anticipation

I can’t wait for bright, clear, sunny days to become the norm!  After a long gray fall and winter in the Pacific Northwest, most everyone here is eager for the sun to make an extended appearance.

The clear days of late spring and summer in Oregon are extremely beautiful.  I think it’s the anticipation of their arrival that keep people going through the gray and rain.  At least it is for me.

I find life more interesting and exciting when I have something in the future to look forward to.  Whether it’s an upcoming trip or event, a scheduled connection with others or the changing of the seasons and the activities each one brings, the anticipation of these events enhances my enjoyment of them.

Anticipation is also a great positive motivator.  For example, if you’re earning a degree or learning to play a musical instrument, there will be times when your progress feels small or slow.  This is where you can get frustrated and consider giving up.  However, if you can anticipate the excitement of receiving your diploma or being able to skillfully play that musical instrument, you’ll be much more likely to successfully navigate through your frustration and move on toward completing what you’ve set out to do.

So what are you positively anticipating in your not-too-distant future?  What outcome can you see in your mind that you haven’t attainted yet?  If the answer is “nothing”, begin thinking of something you’d like to do or achieve and take steps to make it happen, all the while keeping the anticipation of its arrival or completion in your mind.

Positive anticipation is a pulling force.  It pulls us in the direction we want to go and keeps us on track, even when the path ahead feels gray and rainy.  Our anticipation reminds us that sunnier days are just ahead.

Answer the Call

Last Saturday, three friends and I completed a hike that has been on my list for a couple of years.

The hike was to remote Golden Lake in Oregon’s Three Sisters Wilderness.  About a mile beyond Golden Lake was a glacial tarn at the base of Broken Top that was the ultimate destination for me.  Ever since I first saw pictures of this tarn I have wanted to experience this beautiful setting for myself.  So last Saturday I finally did!  The beauty of this tarn was greater than I imagined.  It did not disappoint!

Glacial_Tarn

I think it’s important to have a list of goals we’d like to accomplish, whether they’re personal, professional, financial, physical, or any other type.  Life is more interesting when we have goals and take steps to make them happen.  Not only does it make life fun and exciting, it makes our world, as well as us, more interesting in the process.

Do you have any goals or activities you want to accomplish?  If so, take a step today that will move you closer to making it happen.  And once that goal has been achieved, set your sights on your next goal and take action on making it happen as well.

Your life is calling.  Will you answer?

What a Difference A Week Makes

My wife and I got a new cat 2 weeks ago.  We named him Chewy.  The 1st week was rough!  Chewy had a traumatic introduction to our house and also destroyed a piece of furniture via bodily functions.  I was extremely frustrated.  All I could see was a future of destroyed furniture and a cat that didn’t like being in our home.

In an effort to start over, we moved Chewy into the spare bathroom with his food, water, litter box, bedding, and toys.  We also spent time in there with him every day and re-started the slow process of building trust.

Since being in his own space, and coupled with our consistent effort, Chewy has become very comfortable and affectionate with us.  He is adapting well and is a totally different cat than he was a week ago.

This experience reminded me of other times when I have been in frustrating situations, or ones that were not what I was expecting.  In those moments, it can be hard to see past the present situation and into a brighter future.  However, I think being able to have a long-term perspective while in the middle of a bad situation is crucial.  Keeping a longer-term perspective helps us stay motivated to take the necessary actions today that will lead us to the brighter future we envision.

As we all know, not every difficult situation is rectified with a week.  Some situations require a longer timeframe.  Others require much longer timeframe.  But nothing happens, nothing changes our situation, when we fail to take the necessary action to move us forward.

Today’s frustration can be distracting and, if we lack a long-term perspective, that frustration can keep us from doing the work required to pave the path to our better future.  That’s why it’s so important to see beyond our current situation.  For it is multiple days of consistent effort in the right direction that will one day cause us to look back and say, “Wow!  What a difference a <insert timeframe> makes!”