My Own Senseless Expectations

A couple of days ago I held a door at work open for someone who was pushing a cart full of computer equipment.  As I held the door, he gave a broad smile, walked through, and didn’t say, “Thank you”.   That kind of bothered me.

In my mind, I immediately had thoughts of:

  • Giving a sarcastic “You’re welcome”
  • How I should have let him get the door himself
  • How he must obviously be a self-centered jerk

Pretty petty, huh?

It was amazing how fast these thoughts flooded my mind.  Perhaps that says more about me and areas I need to work on than it does about him.

About 10 minutes later I saw the same guy pushing the cart heading my way.  As we got close enough to make eye contact, he gave me a big, kind smile, as if to say, “I remember you and what you did for me a few minutes ago!”  I smiled and nodded.  I now felt like it was me who was the jerk.

As I thought back on our earlier encounter at the door, I realized that my negative thoughts toward him arose because he hadn’t responded the way I thought he should have in that specific situation.  I felt a verbal, “Thank you” was in order, so that’s what I expected.  However, his, “Thank you”, came in the form of a broad smile.  My negative reaction and thoughts were totally unwarranted and robbed me of several minutes of joy I could have otherwise been experiencing.

It was a clear reminder that the world does not operate according to my interpretation of how things should be done.  Also, it made me check my motives.  Was I holding the door open to receive praise and thanks, as I saw fit, or was I don’t it because it was the kind, honoring thing to do for a fellow human being, regardless of whether I received a positive response?

When we get frustrated because people don’t respond to something exactly as we would like them to, we are setting ourselves up to potentially damage relationships.  Instead of realizing the uniqueness of others and allowing them to express their uniqueness, we box them into our own expectations.

I know I wouldn’t appreciate others boxing me in like that, so what gives me the right to do that to others?  The answer… is “nothing”.

Let’s work at dropping our senseless expectations that everyone should and respond the way we think they should.  Let’s instead start appreciating the uniqueness of others and allowing them to express it.  Because, wouldn’t we all like the seam kindness shown to us

On Becoming Wise

How do you become good at a sport, a musical instrument, a craft, or anything else you’d like to excel at?  That path to achievement in any endeavor involves:

  1. Learning about your chosen area.
  2. Applying what you’ve learned.
  3. Evaluating the outcome.
  4. Making adjustments and reapplying what you’ve learned.
  5. Proceeding back to Step 1.

Not only is this a good process for learning new skills, it’s also a great process for becoming a wise person.

Much like learning a new skill, wisdom comes from learning new principles, applying them in real-life situations, evaluating the results, and making the necessary adjustments to achieve a better outcome.   It is through this repeated process that a person becomes wise.

If you’d like to work on becoming a wiser person, I’d suggest reading the book of Proverbs in the Bible.  Regardless of where you are from a religious or spiritual standpoint, Provers is LOADED with valuable knowledge and insights for successfully navigating through life.

I’d suggest picking a couple of proverbs that resonate with you and begin applying, evaluating, and reapplying them in your own life.  Then, get in the habit of picking 1 or 2 new proverbs to focus on every week.  You’ll be amazed at how quickly your wisdom will increase.

Enough

The topic of “enough” has been a recurring theme this week.  Whether it’s what we have, what we do, or what we are, there seems to be this sense that it’s never enough.  I would argue the contrary:  We have enough, we do enough, and we are enough.

I think the sense of “not enough” comes from our own unrealistic expectations.  The seeds of these expectations sprout from many sources, including:

  • Advertisements showing all the things we supposedly need, and lack, in order to be happy.
  • Unkind comments (intentional or otherwise) from people around to us.
  • Societal and cultural definitions of success.
  • Comparisons we make between our own worst experiences and someone else’s highlight reel.
  • Expectations placed on us by others or ourselves.

When we focus our thoughts on unmet expectations, how can we feel anything other than inadequate, or that we are missing something?  How could we possibly have the satisfied sense of enough?

Fortunately, we can change our perspective!  Instead of focusing on our unmet expectations we can choose to:

  • Appreciate and enjoy where we are right now.
  • Enjoy the process of improving, learning, and growing.
  • Remind ourselves of the abundance we do have in our lives and be thankful for it
  • Realize that someone out there (likely several people) would look at our situations and think that we have, do and are more than enough.

It’s important to have a desire to improve and strive to do and be our very best.  This pursuit is one of the great joys of life.  However, let’s be sure we’re not missing out on this joy by remembering that while we are striving to improve we are currently, and wonderfully enough.

The Investment of Time

Tuesday afternoon I went to visit a good friend that I hadn’t seen in a few years.  We spent several hours talking about what we are currently doing, what we had been doing recently, and reminiscing about shared history.  My friend’s son also joined us, and the 3 of us had a very enjoyable (and sunny) spring evening shooting the breeze on the front porch.  It was a great time!

That experience again reminded me how valuable time is and how similar it is to money.  Both can be wasted on things of little to no value or they can be invested in something that yields a great return.  The big difference between time and money is that we can always get more money.  Time squandered cannot be made up or recaptured at a later date.

This thought is sobering, and causes me to be intentional about making sure I’m investing significant portions of my time in things that yield a good return in my life and the lives of others.  So what does investing our time look like?  It can take the form of:

  • Consuming good books, spiritual text (the Bible for me), blog posts, podcasts, or any other content that improves your thinking, expands and enhances worldview, or develops your character.
  • Connecting with people who build you up, encourage you, and cause you to strive to live a better life.
  • Learning a new skill.
  • Being active on a daily basis in order to ensure a healthy body that will function properly for many years to come.
  • Connecting with people who could use your encouragement, support, skills, and experiences.
  • Supporting causes and people you believe in.

The options for investing our time are numerous!

Just like with money, we are not required to invest our time in things that will yield a lasting return.  Our time is ours to do with as we please.

I think it’s important to make sure that we are indeed making significant investments of our time over the course of our lives.  How sad it would be to look back at the end and see a life defined by the mishandling of our time.

Taking a Different Path

OpenRoad

Exploring new paths

My wife and I were recently in Southeastern Arizona around Tucson and Bisbee visiting new sites and exploring the area.  Neither of us had been there, so it was energizing to experience new sites and surroundings every day and travel down paths that we had never experienced.  It got me thinking:  Why aren’t I making a greater effort to break out of my daily routine and experience new things during my non-vacation days?

It is incredibly easy to develop routines in the midst of our everyday lives.  Deciding where we go and what we do can become automatic to the point that we actually don’t decide on these things, but rather succumb to the routines we’ve already established.    While there are some benefits to a well-established routine, I think we could also benefit from shaking up elements of our routines that are keeping us from new and potentially enjoyable experiences.

Here are a few small examples of how we might go about changing up our daily routine:

  • Do you always eat at the same restaurant or go to the same coffee shop every day?  Instead of going to the same national chains, why not trying something different and visit a locally owned establishment.  Maybe even get in the habit of not eating at or getting coffee from at the same place within the same month.
  • Instead of driving the same route to work, school, or while running errands, consider taking a new route, or even a new mode of transportation like a bike, walking, or public transit.
  • Are you always watching the same types of shows or movies? Why not instead attend a play or go to the symphony or a concert in a genre that is different from what you usually listen to.
  • Get to know people beyond your current comfortable group of friends.
  • Read books or listen to podcasts from people or on topics you wouldn’t normally consider, or whose views might be a little different from your own.

Why can’t every week be filled with excitement and new experiences that stretch and grow us?  Why can’t we travel down new and interesting paths during the course of our everyday lives?  The good news is we can, if we choose to do so.

Look for opportunities every week to experience something new and different that will expand your understanding, increase your knowledge or just make you a more interesting person.  They’re out there.  We just have to break out of our routines to find them.

Spending Your Time

My wife and I both had this last week off from work together.  Although we usually use time off as an opportunity to do some traveling, this week we decided to stay in town and do some work around the house and enjoy spending time together.  We have had a relaxing week and a great time being together.

While it was fun to wake up each day with nothing specific planned, I though how boring life would be if I woke up EVERY day without having a plan or purpose for the day.  I think we’re at our best when we have a purpose or a contribution we want to make in the world.  At some point, a focus only on our own needs begins to feel hollow, leaving us bored and disconnected with the rest of the world.  At least it does for me.

Just to be clear, I think it is extremely important to regularly step back from our busy schedules and take time to slow down, relax, and recharge.  This is a great way to get reconnected with those around us and to examine how we’re spending our days, to ensure we’re still in alignment with our goals and passions.  It is also a great way to ensure that we’re being intentional with our days; and with our lives.

We’ve all been blessed with time, skills and talents.  It’s important to make sure we’re not just using them, along with our time, strictly for our own benefit, but to share them with others.  This not only helps those we share them with, it also gives us a feeling of purpose and contribution.

Let’s Not Lose Sight of Reality

I was listening to a podcast yesterday about Augmented Reality (AR) and the role it will play in our lives in the future.  Similar to Virtual Reality (VR) AR involves wearing a set of goggles that allows you to see things that aren’t really there.  The difference between AR and VR is that while VR shows you a view of an environment that doesn’t exist, AR allows you to see your actual environment, but also shows you things or people that aren’t physically present.

For example, I could be wearing AR goggles and look down at my wrist and see a wrist watch, even though I’m not actually wearing a watch, or I could see a flat screen TV or computer screen on the wall that isn’t really present.  In addition to objects, you would also be able to see people, who were also wearing AR goggles, as if they were in the same spaces as you, even if they are miles, countries, or even continents away.  It sounded pretty amazing!

The host of the podcast went on to talk about the application of such technology and how it could transform everything from how people attend conferences, train for skills, and even attend Thanksgiving dinners with family.  In his opinion, this technology was about 3 years away.  He made that comment that when this technology becomes available, it will very shortly begin impacting all of our lives.  One comment he made was that once this technology is mainstream, we will likely feel naked if we leave the house without our AR goggles.

That last part struck me, and has haunted me to some degree since hearing it.  I think AR and VR technology will be amazing and will have significant application and promise to improve many aspects of our lives.  However, I also see how it can further isolate us from one another as humans, much like our smartphones have the capacity to do today.  If we as users of this technology are not wise enough to put healthy boundaries around its use, I can see how we could easily become a society that is more focused and interested in the things in our lives that are NOT real, while neglecting the things (and people) that are.

Let’s take a lesson from the adoption and impact the smartphone has had on cultures today.  As new technologies become mainstream, let’s be aware to set boundaries around their use; boundaries that are designed to maintain, and hopefully strengthen, the relationships we already have with those around us.   It would be a shame to think that we would rather gravitate toward a piece of technology over interacting with people that are present in our lives.  But as history has shown us, if left unchecked, that is exactly how we would lean.

Being Real

So much of our days are spent looking like we have everything put together.  We often don’t let people around us know what we’re struggling with, what we’re being challenged by, or where we need help.  Certainly in America there is the thought that we should be “pulling ourselves up by our boot straps” without requiring assistance from others.

I don’t think this is always the case.  While there are times when we need to make an individual effort to drive change, I think we often overlook the benefit of sharing parts of our life with other individuals or a small group of like-minded people.

I am fortunate to be involved in 3 different groups of people ranging in size from 2 to 7 people.  These are informal groups that get together on a regular basis to discuss a topic that has significance in each person’s life.  One thing that has amazed me about each of these groups is how once people learn that the group is a safe place, how quickly they are to get real about their struggles and challenges.  In addition, people are also willing to offer encouragement to others, often borne out of their own experience with the same challenge or struggle another group member is facing.   These groups are also a great place for people to share their success with others who are genuinely excited to see others in the group succeed.

I don’t know if most people have a group, or an individual, they can be real with and with whom they can encourage and be encouraged by.  My guess is that they don’t.

Regardless, I think we each have the capacity as individuals to provide opportunities for others to be real around us.  It can be as simple as:

  • Actually listening to someone when they are telling us about what’s going on in their life instead of quickly jumping in and telling them what we’re up to.
  • Asking probing questions about what/how they’re doing, if you feel like there’s more to what someone is telling you, and it seems like they’d like to share
  • Sharing a similar struggle you’ve had that they are currently experiencing, and how you either have or are overcoming it. This lets them know that they’re not the only one who has struggled in this area.

We all have struggles and challenges.  We also have the capacity to lighten these burdens others carry by listening to them, encouraging them and celebrating the victories that often follow.

Be aware of the conversations you’re having with those closest to you and look for opportunities to get real with them.  It’s likely to result in a deeper relationship as well as the sense that you had a positive impact in the life of someone else.

How To Be A Great Conversationalist

On Monday I had the great pleasure of meeting my sister for lunch.  It’s not something we do as often as we’d like, but when it works out, I always enjoy the experience.  The reason lunches, or other outings with her are so much fun is because my sister is one of the best conversationalists I know.  During our recent outing, my sister’s example reminded me again what makes someone a great conversationalist.

Some of the attributes of a great conversationalist include:

  • They are attentive. Great conversationalists are present in the conversation. They are not looking at their smart phones or staring off over your shoulder to see what else is going on.  They are looking at you and giving you their full attention.  In our technology tethered world, I think that our attention is one of the greatest gifts we can give another person.
  • They are great listeners. Great conversationalists are willing to wait during a silent pause so the other person can finish a thought or think about what they want to say.  They don’t interrupt in mid-sentence to change the topic, nor do they feel the need to dominate the conversation with their own monologue.  Instead, they actively listen to what the other person is saying.
  • They bring something to the conversation. Great conversationalists don’t just sit there silently through the whole conversation, but rather they bring their own positive thoughts and insights into the discussion.  They ask clarifying questions, share ideas, and even challenge assumptions, all with the intent of gaining a deeper understanding of the topic and the other person’s perspectives.
  • They care. Great conversationalists care about the person(s) they are talking with and demonstrate that by not judging them, and by creating a safe and trusted environment where people can talk freely and feel they are actually being heard and understood.

What a gift it is to be in the presence of a great conversationalist!

If you want to be a blessing to someone practice the attributes of great conversationalists the next time you are visiting with someone and see how it positively impacts the conversation.  It’s a skill that will yield more gratifying conversations and deeper relationships with others.

Filling Up Your Mind

Have you ever considered how what we allow into your mind directly impacts our thinking and outlook on life?  Similar to how the types of food we allow into our bodies directly impacts our physical health, the material we watch, read, and listen to have a direct impact on our thinking and how we view our current situations and overall view of life.  Therefore, it is imperative that we are not only aware of what we are filling up our minds with, but that we are also taking an active role to ensure the content we consume is positive, useful, and improves our thinking, rather than polluting it.

For example, I’m currently conducting a job search to find work closer to where I live.  This can be a challenging process with no shortage of opportunities to engage in negative thinking.

In Scripture we’re told…

“[…] whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”  — Phil 4:8

Therefore, before I started the job search process, I found some positive words to use daily to keep me focused and to thwart of negative thinking when it would begin to show itself.  Some of those positive words I use include:

  • The greatest cure for anxiety is action.
  • Show me the right path, O Lord; point out the road for me to follow. – Psalms 25:4
  • Do what others aren’t willing to do.
  • Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. – Phil 4:6-7
  • Take action every day.

These words are certainly not the only positive choices and may not be for everyone, but they work very well for me in my situation.  The important point is for each of us to find our own encouraging words that we can use to positively influence our thinking.

What about you?  What are you filling your mind with?  Could you benefit some renewed and positive thinking?  If so, begin collecting quotes, phrases, gems from religious text, or just kind words from others and put them in a place that will cause you it intersect with them several times a day.  As you see them, spend a moment to read them, think about them, and apply into your daily life.  This habit will not only cause your thinking to change for the positive, but your life will follow as well.