Shared Experiences

On Wednesday June 15, 2016 I left an organization I was with for almost 19 years to pursue a new and exciting opportunity.  In the days prior, as I was reminiscing about my time there, my thoughts were not primarily centered on accomplishments and successes, but rather on the people I’d worked with and the memories we’d made.

While I was going around saying my good-byes to friends and colleagues I noticed that they too were recounting shared experiences.  I couldn’t help realize that the shared experiences we have with others are what people remember.  Whether the experience was good or bad, the fact that it was shared in pursuit of a common goal seemed binding and provided a sense of team, connection and togetherness.  I like that because it shows that I didn’t go through my 19 years there unnoticed, and that I had an impact on the people I worked with, as they also did on me.

Shared experiences not only bind and connect people in the context of the workplace.  Have you ever sat around with a friends or family members recalling events of the past with laughter, gratitude, frustration, or even disbelief that you all made it through?  Often, it’s these kinds of conversations that we have with friends or family we haven’t seen in a while as a way to reset the relationship and begin reconnecting.

As we bump along with others in our day-to-day existence let’s make sure we’re mindful of the shared experiences we’re creating and when the time comes, remind others of the experiences we’ve shared with them and what they meant to you in that experience.

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

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.

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.

26 Tiny Building Blocks

I’m blown away by the English alphabet!  From these 26 tiny characters, these building blocks, come great works like the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, or the “I Have a Dream” speech.  Here’s what’s most extraordinary to me:  we all have access to these building blocks and we get to choose what we create with them, simply by how we arrange them.

A colleague of mine once told me, “Paper will just lay there and let you write anything on it you want.”  Letters of the alphabet are the same way.  They don’t care how you arrange them or what you create with them.  They’re not good or bad.  They’re just available to us to say or express anything we want.

They can be arranged to form something great or to express love and gratitude toward someone we care about.  They can also be arranged to spread hate and fear.  The choice on how we arrange these building blocks is totally up to us.

The next time you have the opportunity to use these building blocks, whether it’s writing a letter, sending an email, or making an update on social media, think about what you’re creating.  Is your arrangement of the 26 building blocks something that will add value to others and lift them up?  Are you creating something that you would be proud to have your name on next week, month, or year?  Does your arrangement make the world, or does it darken it just a little more?

With access to a tool as powerful as the alphabet comes great responsibility in how we handle it.  Let’s be aware of what we’re building and choose to arrange these building blocks for purposes of good, rather than to harm.

Someone Would Gladly Trade With You

Life is good, but occasionally we get frustrated and begin to complain.  This isn’t all bad, because frustration can often be the spark that causes us to take action to improve our life.  However, we get into trouble when we focus solely on what is frustrating us and develop an attitude of complaining.

We may justify our complaining by pointing out how bad things are, but here’s a thought to consider the next time we feel like complaining:  someone in the world would gladly trade places with you.

Consider this:

You think… Someone else thinks…
My job sucks. I’ll trade with you!

I’m currently unemployed and would love to have a job right now.

My marriage stinks. I’ll trade with you!

I’d love to be married and willing to work out our differences with a spouse.

I’m old. I’ll trade with you!

I’m 32 and have been diagnosed with terminal cancer.  I’d love to look forward to growing old.

I’m fat and out of shape. I’ll trade with you!

I live in a country where we rarely have enough to eat, let alone have the ability to choose a healthy lifestyle and a nutritious diet.

My life is boring. I’ll trade with you!

I’d love to have the freedom and resources you have to choose how I live my life.  There’s so much I want to do, experience, and learn.

As you look at your frustrations through the lens of how others view them, your situation starts to look a whole lot better.

The next time you find yourself having adopted an attitude complaining, stop and consider how many people would love to trade places with you.  This thought will likely give you a new perspective on your situation as well as refocus your attitude.

Slow Down

The day after Thanksgiving my wife and I went for a hike to Cascade Head on the Oregon Coast.  The weather was sunny and in the low 50s with a very light breeze.  We hiked up to a favorite spot where we had unobstructed views of the Pacific Ocean and the town of Lincoln City.  For an hour we sat there observing the view, watching some whales spouting nearby, and just taking in the peaceful scene before us.  It was one of those experiences that left me feeling refreshed and recharged.  Neither one of us wanted to leave.   We could have sat there all day.

CascadeHeadNov2015

That experience reminded me of the importance of slowing down and enjoying moments like that when they present themselves.  Unfortunately with busy schedules, constantly beeping electronic devices, and any number of life’s other distractions, these moments are easy to miss, unless we slow down, and actively look for them.

Begin looking for opportunities during your day to slow down and do something that may not be considered productive, but leaves you feeling recharged, refreshed, connected, thankful, or just content.  The opportunities are numerous and can range from enjoying a beautiful scene outside to spending time with a good friend.

These opportunities are out there.  We need only slow down and look for them.