Gratitude For Christmas

For myself, the expectation of Christmas has changed over the years. When I was young, my brothers and I hardly slept. My parents gave up on sleep somewhere between five and six in the morning. Our present opening ritual ran from the youngest to the oldest, each opening their gift, while everyone else looked on and made appreciative noises. The next gift was not opened until the current object of attention had been given its full due. Still, as I participated in our family tradition, the focus was always on my next present and anticipating what it would be. As I have aged, I have shifted to giving – the receiving doesn’t excite me as it once had.

This change over the years has increased my gratitude for Christmas, even though I have received less. I am grateful for is the relationships that I have with my family. Not everyone is blessed enough to be born into a good family, but I was and I appreciate it immensely. Yet, most people have at least one person that they consider to be part of their circle of close family and friends. This is a special time of the year to reconnect and strengthen those bonds – a time unlike any other.

Love and connection are critical elements of having a life of gratitude. These characteristics are essential to being alive. Most, if not all personal development experts put love and connection as important elements of fulfillment and as a key motivational factors. I think one of the reasons for this is that love expands with use and it has an innate ability to attract other virtues to one’s life as well. People who express and demonstrate love also develop greater optimism, joy, enthusiasm, and zest for life. It sharpens the senses and makes people value their life and the lives of the people around them more.

Also I am grateful for the gift giving. As I mentioned before, I no longer look at the season as a time to receive. I don’t say that to receive attention, but more to recognize a change in mindset – I like the feeling of either making or buying a gift that I believe that the other person will enjoy. The price of the gift isn’t the issue either – I recently gave a book on personal development that I had bought second hand – and one that I treasured – as gift. My wish was that they’d get half as much out of it that I had – or more. Their improvement as a person, as great as they already were, was my only goal.

Lastly, I am grateful that Christmas is an excellent time to reflect on the past and to set goals for the upcoming year. This may be because it is naturally a time for introspection and gratitude and that lends itself to review and looking forward to the next twelve months. Many people tend to see the new year as the time to set goals, but new year’s resolutions have gotten a bad reputation. I remember reading a real life anecdote in Reader’s Digest some years ago that hit this home for me. The story told of a regular swimmer at their local YMCA who noticed that there was an increase in the number of people in the pool at the beginning of the year. The individual mentioned this to the lifeguard on duty. The lifeguard said, “These are people who made resolutions to be more active. They’ll be gone in a few weeks. ” A sardonic response to be sure, but it has the ring of truth.

For myself, one of the main reasons I don’t keep to my goals is that they aren’t rooted to solid anchors. Many experts talk about having a strong enough ‘why’ or going through an activity often called ‘the seven levels of why.’ Other people have gotten more out of those exercises than I have – perhaps because I didn’t anchor my why to specific virtues of the heart. After all, they are the motivations that speak most directly to the soul.

An alternative to this technique is something called future planning. I imagine that it is the end of 2020 and I am looking at what I was able to achieve during the course of the year, as well as what I was able to cut from my life. I then figure out how to put into practice the two or three goals that spoke the most to me. This includes the steps I need to take to make each goal a reality. I work out a schedule and include set timers on my phone to go off when I am to actively work on these goals. Even when it comes to eliminating activities, I still set times to engage in them, but I set limits for the duration of the activities, and have them decrease in duration over the course of weeks.

That way, when the Christmas of 2020 rolls around, I’ll have even more to be grateful for and more to celebrate.

Gratitude For Tears

Jim was reading in the living room when his younger daughter entered. She dropped onto the couch where he was sitting and let him know that his older daughter Diana lay in her room sobbing. Jim knocked on her door, but she didn’t want to talk. Earlier, after a miscommunication, he got after her, while he was in a fit of frustration. Later, her brother came in and chastised her for something else. The two events were more than she could bear and she fled to her room. Why should she be grateful for this burden put on her? What was great about this flow of tears?

The benefits of tears come from the reason behind them. There seems to be three main reasons why we cry. First, it is to dislodge particles or foreign objects in our eyes – such as a speck of dust or small motes in the air. Second, they may form in reaction to the environment, such as when we cut an onion. The third type is in response to an emotional event. While I am grateful for the biological reactions of the first two types of tears, I am especially thankful for emotional tears. Hopefully, I will be able to explain the why of it.

As I see it, emotional tears stem from two main sources: joy and loss. On the side of joy, I may shed tears when I have a high level of happiness for myself or for those I feel an emotional connection to – although I may not even know the person at all. A movie may show a protagonist struggling against enemies and obstacles as they work towards their main goal and when they have overcome all, I have to wipe the wet emotion from my face. Contrariwise to this, sadness, despair, and depression, which often entail some form of loss (real or perceived) also cause me to feel the effects of the situation. This is played up in stories and I often cry along with the characters as they experience their darkest moments.

Half of the reason that I feel gratitude for tears of joy is that they often come when I have gained something of value or I hear of another’s experience and it touches my heart because the experience is in line with one of my values. Often this happens when I hear of an example of selfless service. I am convinced that giving without a desire of reward is an expression of love of the highest order. Too often, my ego gets in the way of my giving and these stories are reminders that I can do and be better.

I am also grateful for tears from loss and fear as well. These two emotions come from a belief that something of value is being taken away. It is possible to say that there is no such thing as loss or gain, as all possessions, whether intellectual, emotional, or material are on a spectrum of ownership – some days I feel on top of my game and on others, it feels as if the world is out to sabotage me. However, nothing is static: it is all flux and change. The thing is that if I believe that I am losing value in an area of mylife, that is what makes the difference.

The other half of the reason that I am grateful for tears and crying is that they act as a release valve. While I know that there is some controversy on this, I think it is true for two reasons. First, the physical act – the sobbing, the shaking, and the physical crying becomes an like exercise for the emotions. Like a good workout, there is a sense of completion when it is over. The second reason is that I believe that tears act as a governor on my emotions. That is, they bring me back to a happy middle. They become a measure that the body has of keeping my emotions from entering too radical an extreme and bring them back into balance. That said, I don’t think there is anything wrong with feeling strong emotions and I need to feel deeply – just shouldn’t live there.

Gratitude For Worry

Jim watched as Jennifer talked to a co-worker. Jennifer talked softly with a soft inflection of humor. Jim thought it was curious and told another associate that when Jennifer talked to him, she spoke confidently with assertiveness – not with the humor that he noticed in the earlier conversation. A moment later he looked around and spotted Jennifer twenty feet away. He was sure that Jennifer heard his exchange and worried that she would take it the wrong way. He wasn’t sure if he should ask her if they were good or just leave well enough alone.

I am grateful for worry because it lets me know of the things that I care about. I can only worry about the things that I have an emotional connection to. It is the anticipation of loss and the warning system that lets me know of what is at stake. Worry only activates when there is something of value that is at risk and we are unsure of the outcome. There are many variables to everyday life and it is impossible to say with certainty what is going to happen. Of course, I can say what I believe is going to happen, but such statements are infused with assumptions and presuppositions that don’t always line up with the reality of the situation. Sometimes it is a wonder that anything I think is going to occur actually ever does.

Uncertainty happens to all of us and happens on a frequent basis, which causes worry – not the uncertainty itself – but what it represents: loss. This takes many forms, such as material goods, safety (ours or someone that we care about), our emotional state, or our relationships. Also, our egos may be on the line as well, as we may worry about what others will think of us, our ideas, and suggestion. In this case, the loss is one of influence with others.

Keep in mind that it isn’t the loss itself that sparks the worry, but the fear or the anticipation of it that causes the worry. To me, this indicates that worry is a reaction to my mindset and self-talk. If I maintain a positive mindset and I am focused on what I am going to gain from an event, then the amount of worry that I feel will be minimal, if anything at all. Those that think in positive terms are like cliff climbers that are focused on the next hand hold and the summit. Compare that to the negative mindset, where they are focused on the distant ground below, the pain and death that will occur if they fall, and so forth. In both cases, their exact location may be the same, but their ability to reach the peak will be very different.

So why am I grateful for worry? There are two reasons. First, worry tells me what I truly care about. Since I only worry about those people or events that I may experience loss with, it means that I worry that I may lose that which is dear to me. Sometimes this can come as a revelation – I didn’t realize that this thing had such a strong pull on my heart. This is important because anything that I care about, even if it is on a subconscious level, impacts my decisions and behaviors on a daily basis.

Second, All emotions exert energy – the more powerful the emotion, the more energy is created. It is primarily exhibited in my focus. This means that the more intense that I feel an emotion, the more focus I have on that emotion and what the emotion is centered on. Therefore, the more that I worry about something, the more energy I am creating from the worry and the more focus I am exerting on it to the exclusion of other events or priorities in my life. I have to decide if the effort of the expenditure is worth it.

One of the most effective ways to reduce worry and restore focus to positive emotions comes from Brendon Burchard and his book “High Performance Habits.” He talks about a technique called “release tension and set intention.” Although I strongly suggest reading the book to get the full description (there is also a youtube video on the practice as well), it essentially means breathing in through your diaphragm and breathing out through your mouth while saying “release” as you release the tension in your body. Once you feel that your tension is gone, then you address yourself in the third person, which psychologists cal and tell yourself what emotions that you want to feel. It is an excellent technique and one that I use at least four times a day.

Gratitude for Inspirational Quotes

Last week, at Thanksgiving dinner with my family, someone brought up Robin Hood movies and specifically the Costner version. One of my brothers quoted the cousin of the sheriff, who, after the sheriff threatened to gut a foe with a spoon, was asked by his henchman“Why a spoon, cousin?” I quickly responded, “Because it’ll hurt more, you twit!” Everyone at the table chuckled and talk tangented to Mel Brooks’ comedy “Robin Hood: Men In Tights.”

The reason that I bring up this incident, is to highlight that quotes add spice to conversations – they make us laugh, make us yearn, and make us think. These quotes are often concise, and their specific word order often has us wishing that we had been the ones to come up with the saying. They can be great fun to share with others, but there is a subset of quotes that I am particularly grateful for. These are inspirational quotes, which I take to mean quotes that stir the heart and make me want to act, to be better, and to propel me to action.

For this post, I am going to share five such quotes and why I am grateful for them.

  1. “Perfect is the enemy of done.”

I was attending an ESL (English as a Second Language) conference and the keynote speaker shared this quote and I wrote it down immediately. I have often been a victim of seeking perfection in my writing, abandoning projects because I felt that they weren’t good enough or editing them into oblivion, trying to get the words perfect. It made me realize that it is more important to get the writing done and out than to find the absolutely best way to share an idea. At the same time, I want to make sure that what I am putting forth is an excellent representation of what I am capable of – not use this as an excuse to slap something together and call it good.

Another way that this quote has helped me is that it is a reminder not to let my fears take over. Sometimes I procrastinate a task because I’m afraid that it will flop and I will have wasted my effort. This quote reinforces that it’s okay to make mistakes and write horrible drafts and even embarrass myself in front of others. The important thing is learning from those attempts and progressing in my ability and my skill. As long as I am not treading water in whatever activity I am engaged in, then I am fine with that.

  1. “If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit down for a month” – Theodore Roosevelt

I am a fan of the quote collection site www.brainyquote.com and in preparation for this post, I scrolled through all of my collected quotes and laughed out loud when I came across this one. The laughter was bittersweet as the humor came with the knowledge of the truth of this statement. It is easy to place the blame on others for my misfortunes, rather than on myself. Part of the problem lies in this current culture of victimhood, where it is always someone else’s fault for what is going on in my life. While it is true that no every obstacle is due to my own thoughts and behaviors, refusing to analyze what part I play in these issues is unwise. Any growth in my life depends on knowing where I am at now so that I can figure out how to move on to the next level.

Similarly, if I don’t take responsibility for my actions, then I cannot develop as a person. Personal development depends on a core belief that I am in charge of the changes in my life. By playing the victim, I am waiving any ownership of the negative events in my life. Once this becomes part of my identity, then I have no need to improve because I am perfect just the way that I am. It is others that are the source of my problems, so they are the ones that must change – not I.

  1. “The foundation stones for a balanced success are honesty, character, integrity, faith, love, and loyalty.” – Zig Zigler

I am grateful for this quote for a couple of reasons. First, the metaphor is apt and visual. My understanding is that when they lay the foundation of a building, they set the corner stones and these stones set the stability of the entire structure. Second, the qualities that Zig mentions are virtues of the heart that I need in order to have a fulfilled life. These virtues are interconnected with each other as well. For example, honesty sets the baseline – where I am now and where I need to go – and being honest with others allows me to develop integrity. As I develop my integrity, others know me as a person whom they can trust and will keep any promises that I make to them. That is the hallmark of character, which incidentally reinforces self-esteem, and blossoms into greater appreciation for myself and others.

Appreciation is a lesser form of love, providing warmth but not a wealth of passion. It is a state of static emotion. For love to take hold, I must take action. The old saying that love is a verb is true and I believe it. It’s a funny thing, but from my experience, I increase in my love for others when I serve without a hope for compensation. It’s not easy to do, especially if I have no real feelings for the person at the outset, but it is worth it.

  1. “Some people dream of success, while other people get up every morning and make it happen.”

– Wayne Huizenga

I am grateful for this quote because it reminds me that decisions are thoughts put into action. Most people have aspirations , but unless they get out of their chairs and do, the thoughts remain in the ether of our minds and nothing more. Another aspect of the quote that touches me is the deliberate use of the word ‘morning.’ I have found that the vast majority of successful people get up early, usually by five o’clock. They have regular routines, such as drinking a liter of water as soon as they get up, meditation, reciting passages that have great personal meaning, exercise, and so forth. They keep their electronic devices on airplane mode for the first hour of their day. Only after they have secured the foundation of their daily success, do they take on the world.

The final part that grabs me is that Wayne talks about making success happen. Those that achieve are distinctly aware of what success means for them – and they take action to make it a reality. Too often, I delay putting my goals into action. Each minute passes by this way but once and ill-used moments waste away my potential for greatness.

  1. “Expect problems and eat them for breakfast.” – Alfred A Montepert

To me, this is a mindset motivator. When I wake in the morning, I am hungry – sometimes ravenously so. That gives this quote extra meaning for me as it indicates that problems must be handled with gusto and erased from my agenda. Taking a timid approach to problem solving leads to weak sauce solutions. Band-aids. Problems are going to crop up. No matter how successful a person may become, no matter how much cash is in the bank, they are inescapable. As I see it, the key is to expect issues and stumbling blocks – that way I can prepare for them. When I see these challenges as part of the journey, I can eat them eagerly and with excitement. Overcoming these obstacles lead to greater strength, giving me the ability to handle the ups and downs with equal equanimity.

The Soul Of Thanksgiving

When I decided to do a post on what makes Thanksgiving Day special to me, I spent a long while pondering the subject. At first, the three main pillars stuck out to me: family, turkey, and football. Of the three, family is the most important and I have a great family to celebrate it with. Also, the stuffed bird in the center of the dining room table is an iconic staple that I grew up expecting on that day. On the other hand, ours never was a football family and I am fine with that.

Yet, I felt that something was missing, as if there was a blindspot in my vision. Not to the back and left, like when I’m driving, where the rear and side mirrors refuse to show me that vehicle right behind my wing. No, this was a spot in the center of my vision that my thoughts skittered across without really seeing. It was a curious thing, both uncomfortable and troubling, that I would have this difficulty discovering what made this holiday important for me. Certainly it lay in a virtue that I repeatedly skipped over, conscious of it or not. There was a pain tied to this virtue and by ignoring it, I attempted to avoid staring it in the eyes.

However, I knew that if I continued on this course, greater personal issues were in my future. Comfort zones are great and I have spent years in mine – but deliberately avoiding anything that pushes the edges of these zones causes our positive natures to shrink, where they become weak and anemic. Strength comes from facing resistance, not sprinting from it. Not confronting this blindspot, this aspect of my nature, was an attempt to run from myself. And the funny thing is that you can run, but you can never escape yourself.

Anyway, after a week of contemplation, I think that the virtue most associated with Thanksgiving is love. There is no gratitude and thankfulness without love. The most important love is that which is not focused on the self, but on serving and loving others, which is true for any virtue. If my life is based on a self-centered end, then yes, I can develop that skill or ability, but it will fall short of its potential. If instead, I develop myself so that I can assist and serve those around me, then my skills will surpass anything that I would have thought possible. Perhaps I feared the power that love brings.

At its heart, love is the freedom of communication, of sharing through vulnerability and (hopefully) reciprocity. It has to be returned, not through force or threats, but by free choice. Love is an expression of freedom – an openness of the heart. Love must be freely given and freely received to reach its greatest power. Anything less is a shadow.

I hope that this Thanksgiving Day you have those that you can express love to and demonstrate it – and receive it back in kind. Because behind all the pageantry, the turkey, and yes, the football, this is what Thanksgiving is all about.

Gratitude For Self-Esteem

Jake has a problem. He’s a popular kid in high school with many friends and acquaintances. His eye found an attractive young woman that he shared a couple of afternoon classes with. After discussing it with his closest friends, he asked her out to the upcoming prom. She agreed and they joined three other couples for an evening of dining, pictures, and dancing. They both enjoyed themselves, but for some unknown reason to Jake, she declined to go out with him again. Surprised, he took it hard and he succumbed to a slow spiral of self-doubt and negativity. How could something that seemed to go well end up Jake to question his self-worth and confidence?

I am grateful for the amount of self-esteem that I have for myself. Although I have good and bad days, I am usually positive about life and about my options. In a certain sense, it all comes down to self-regard, or the value we for ourselves. It is difficult, if not impossible to value others more than we value ourselves. We have to see the positivity, the possibilities within ourselves before we can recognize them within other people. Put another way, we only develop the outward nature of ourselves to the degree that our inner, private selves are developed. Although we can develop a facade to hide the hot mess of our inner lives, it cannot last and it is only a matter of time before the cracks in this shell become apparent. In Dr. Covey’s classic work, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” private victories or the development of character proceed more obvious areas of success that are visible to the masses.

This leads me to a second area that I am indebted to self-esteem: it is the precursor to achievement. Jake’s preoccupation with his prom date and pessimism led him to withdrawing from school and sapped the very energy that used to drive him. Self-esteem drives competence, or at least the willingness to put ourselves in situations or with people that we would otherwise avoid. It is responsible for much of the success that we experience in life. Self-esteem creates energy and drive that we can use to fuel our futures. What I find truly fascinating is that although certain factors come into play in its development, it doesn’t have to be based on anything tangible. In fact, people can develop self-esteem when they have nothing to base it on at all.

Another reason that I am grateful for self-esteem is that we can choose to have this sense of worth and we can choose what to base it on. The important thing is to anchor it to something that is not going to change and leave us defenseless. For example, if a person bases their self-worth on putting forth their best effort into everything that they do, they will lead a better life than an individual who bases their life on what others in their social circle feel about them – or what the individual thinks that those others feel about them. Unfortunately, most don’t take the effort to consider the foundations of their self-esteem and often find that it rests in the temporary and the fluid.

A fourth reason that I am grateful for self-esteem is because it governs the quality and the depth of my relationships. Just as a pitcher of water can only fill a cup if it has the requisite amount of liquid within it, we can only develop relationships to the degree that we posses enough self-worth. If we lack self-esteem, then we are not able to forge deep interpersonal relationships because we lack the emotional resources that it needs. True relationships require vulnerability and openness and if we have low self-esteem, then we will lack the courage to expose ourselves to potential harm.

Lastly, our sense of worth, or in this case, a lack of it, limits our ability to be happy, to be fulfilled, and to feel satisfaction. We can’t give more than we have – either physically or emotionally. If we are a person who suffers from low self-esteem, then we are in a constant struggle against ourselves. We deny ourselves of the fruits of our labors because we don’t feel worth of the reward. This creates one of the true aches of low self-worth: satisfaction and fulfillment are emotional states that we experience when we believe that we have earned them.

But, as I wrote earlier, part of the beauty of of self-esteem is that we can have as much of it as we want. We are limited only by the constraints that we have put on ourselves. We cast off our shackles when we recognize that we are worthy and we accept it within our hearts.

Why I’m Grateful For Fear

Car accidents aren’t usually a source of gratitude. This one was the exception. My girls and I were driving back from a friend’s house when we entered the intersection heading north. A second later, a car entered the roadway, heading west. I was surprised and with what little wits I was able to gather, turned the wheel enough that after T-boning the other vehicle, there was enough forward momentum to get the car off to the side of the road. The fact that no one in either vehicle was seriously hurt was a miracle. I couldn’t say the same for my vehicle – it was totaled. Notwithstanding our lack of injuries, the accident awakened a fear of the intersection and an anxiety towards driving in general.

As curious as it may sound, I am grateful for the fear and the accident. Fear is a protector – a negative virtue that keeps us safe from harm. It feeds off of our imagination and past experiences. In our minds, we conjure up worst-case scenarios, which our subconscious, or inner mind, take as truth. These home movies that we’ve created inside our heads becomes the fuel that fear feasts on. This alone, is a good reason to make certain that whatever we are imagining as a possible future is both realistic and likely. It’s a waste of our lives to activate protective fear over something that has virtually no chance of occurring.

Another aspect of fear that I am grateful for is that it is also a keeper of mores, which are the cultural or social values of a group. As I see it, mores have two broad categories: personal and social. The personal mores are the cultural values that a person has internalized and exhibits, no matter where they reside at a given moment. If that is an accurate statement, everyone, excepting sociopaths, have lists, for lack of a better word, of acceptable and unacceptable behavior. When we contemplate actions that will violate our mores, then fear kicks in. Our primary motivator to action on one hand, and a resistor of action on the other, seems to be emotion; fear is one of the most powerful emotions that we have at our disposal.

This highlights an important aspect of fear: it is the gatekeeper of change. Or put another way, fear must be overcome if we seek to change ourselves in some way. Most of us prefer the ruts to the untraveled paths and fear keeps us on the well-worn treads of the past. Most of our thoughts are simple repeats of our personal histories. I remember hearing that the average person has, on average, 50,000 thoughts per day and that somewhere between fifty and ninety percent of those thoughts are a repetition of thoughts we had yesterday, last week, last month, and longer. This provides stability in our lives and for those around us. Can you imagine what it would be like if everyone you knew was completely random in every area of their lives? And yet all of our improvement comes from change. At the same time, it is important to remember an old saying: “All improvement is change, but not all change is improvement.” We have to be intentional about what changes we implement.

As thankful as I am for this gatekeeper of change, sometimes it holds me back from being my best self. When this happens, I do my best to apply strategies that minimize or eliminate fear. The most basic of these strategies is visualization. As the inner mind cannot tell the difference between a vividly imagined experience and a real one, the more that I visualize with as much positive emotion as possible, the greater my ability to overwrite the fear-based experience with a positive one becomes.

Another technique, one that I learned many years ago in a book called “Unlimited Power” by Anthony Robbins, I have named the slingshot method. First, I take the memory or the image of the thing that I fear. Then I change the colors within it to black and white. Next, all the sharp edges and clear aspects of the image are turned fuzzy, something close to what a legally blind person might see from a dozen feet away. Then I put a frame around the image. After that, I shrink down the image until it is smaller than a postage stamp. Lastly, I push the image as far away from myself as possible. Once that is complete, I create the image of myself holding a slingshot with a large rock ready to fly. I pull back on the rock in its leather cradle till it is at its breaking point, then let loose. I verbally let out a breath, saying “swoosh” as the rock smashes into the distant image. I watch as the image shatters and the shards fall into nothingness. I repeat the process ten to fifteen times. This usually kills the fear tied to the memory.

That was an important key to overcoming my fear and anxiety over that car crash. I also used a second strategy from that book. I imagine the scene, let it play out, then played it backwards, as if I were watching it in reverse. Then I turn it silly – put funny hats on all involved, have cartoon-like music playing in the background, and so forth. Next I play it at double speed, and then backwards at two times speed. Four times, eight, sixteen – doubling the speed of the playback, both forwards and backwards. At the end of all of this, I play it again at normal speed and review the memory. Every time, it has lost off but the most minor of the negative feelings that were once attached to it.

I still use that intersection often, both by myself and with family. I am still a little cautious, but I feel neither fear nor anxiety as I pass through. I feel gratitude for the strategies that allow me to progress, instead of being held back. I also feel gratitude for the great benefits that fear has to offer – protection and a safeguard against activities and people that would bring me harm.

What I Learned From Hiking

“Scott,” a young scout at the time, taught me a lesson about hiking, one that I’ll scarce forget. If the truth is to be known, that experience that loomed before us at the bottom of the switchbacks in northern Colorado stays with me still. I wonder if I could have handled it better and I have yet to receive an answer.

But first, a bit of background. My son was involved in scouting and at different times of the year, his troop went on week long camps. One such camp was taking place in Estes Park, Colorado in the Rocky Mountain National Park. The troop leaders asked if I could help out and I agreed. I had the time off from work and enjoyed camping.

I spent many weekends as a teenager, hiking and camping in my own scout troop. Most summers, the other scouts and I would spent Fridays and Saturdays exploring the mountains near our homes. I have many fond recollections of those camps – picking and eating wild fruit along the trail, watching a fellow scout attempt to catch prawns in a stream by sticking his BB gun in the water and firing it at the creature (the gun never worked after that), and eating what we then called hobo dinners: potatoes and ground beef wrapped in foil and tossed into the fire to cook. Those memories pulled me into helping my son’s camp.

After a two hour car ride, we located our camp site, set up the tents and other gear. Once settled in, the scout leader informed everyone that the culminating hike consisted of a twenty mile hike that ran over several ridges, making the whole trek a challenge. He wasn’t completely heartless though – he planned on several smaller hikes to get everyone ready. I was grateful for that as well – even though I was in good shape, the shorter trails made it easier to handle the challenge that the twenty mile hike would become.

The strategy to get everyone prepared for the long journey and the scouts handled the less grueling trails without much difficulty. I imagine that these treks first built stamina and the confidence in the scouts, so when they tackled the monster mountain, they didn’t quit. Still, in the back of everyone’s mind, the final hike crept ever closer until the eventful day arrived.

The hike started as each had before. There was a steep climb and the more active members of the troop shot ahead and we had to call them back before they disappeared in the distance. The excitement of the journey, the traveling upon a new trail adds a quickness to our steps. A start of the journey often does that – there is something special about a new beginning that quickens the heart.

Yet that elation does not last forever. What was once fresh becomes routine and we fall back into old habits. We plodded along the trail, up steep inclines and down the other side of the ridge. Breaks were doled out at the top of every hour, but unlike the others, I did not sit nor lie down. Long ago, I learned that when a persons sits for a while and then has to move again, legs and feet ache worse than if a person never rested in the first place. I thanked my wise Maori scoutmaster of my youth for sharing that knowledge with me.

We reached the halfway point, ate, and rested on the mountainside, enjoying the fresh breeze and camaraderie of our fellow scouts. Too soon, it was time to start again, but at least the group was refreshed and ready to tackle the second half of the journey. This proved to be the more difficult part.

By the time that I reached the three-quarters mark of the hike, most of the other scouts lay far ahead of me. Hanging back, I made sure that no stragglers were left behind. Three of us made up the tail of the hikers: the scoutmaster, myself, and Scott – a chubby and earnest young scout that struggled with the trail. I leaned heavily upon my walking stick and I looked ahead and saw that switchbacks zig-zagged up the side of the ridge. It was going to be a difficult climb.

Where I saw a challenge, Scott saw a brick wall. His heart failed him and fell to the ground, his hope drained. I sympathized with what he felt, but we had to get over the ridge to get back to the camp. The scoutmaster and I told him that we were going to rest and then take on the switchbacks. Scott didn’t budge. We let him know that we weren’t able to carry him and no rescue team was going to save us. He shook his head, refusing to listen. We yelled at him and told him to move. That stirred him a little.

Encouraged, in firm, more moderate voices, we told him the only person that would get him out was Scott. Eventually, he stood and we made our way up the mountain ridge. Slowly, to be sure, but we persisted. We made it back to the camp and celebrated.

I still wonder if that was the best approach to motivate Scott. I’d like to think that calm persuasion would have won out at the end. But hiking his taught me that you have to use what you have. Spending strength at the beginning of the hike makes the rest of the journey that much more difficult. And never expect others to carry you out if you still have options, even if you move at a pace that makes a tortoise snicker. That is what you do. And I’ll always thank Scott for that lesson.

October 28, 2019

Gratitude For Disappointment

Once upon a time, when I taught high school, I had a discussion with an English teacher I’ll call Cliff. We shared stories of our first experiences teaching. He told me that his first day was the hardest. I wasn’t surprised. He caught me off-guard with his next sentence – after the day’s classes ended, he shut the door, collapsed in his chair, and wept. The students were unruly, the classroom management difficult, and the lessons ineffective. I had known Cliff a long time, back before we taught our first lessons, and he always appeared confident and sure of himself. I never imagined it possible for him to break down. He experienced disappointment at the highest level.

To my mind, disappointment is the gap between expectation and result. Prior to his classroom awakening, Cliff dreamt dreams of classroom discussion where students participated, engaged in group activities,and gathered knowledge. This type of thinking happens to most, if not all of us. We set goals, imagine the outcome, and then make it happen. Only the reality is that the activity of life never matches what we envision in our heads. This because we make assumptions about what it takes to reach our objectives, and the assumptions are based on what I call “virtues.”

Other may refer to them as characteristics, attributes, or values, but I feel virtues best reflects their nature. We adopt them to assist us in getting the meat out of life. They can be grouped into two broad categories: virtues of the mind and virtues of the heart. Virtues of the mind are the aspects of ourselves that deal with our intellectual activities. They guide us in navigating the workplace, public interactions with others, executing personal habits, enjoying hobbies, and so forth. These virtues include creativity, risk tolerance, pleasure, entertainment, and financial success. The other side of the equation has the virtues of the heart, which attends to the emotional and relational aspects of our lives – with ourselves and others. A partial list of these virtues are love, patience, empathy, humility, and integrity.

Keep in mind that each virtue has an opposite, a negative aspect, if you will. Creativity has dullishness, financial success has poverty, patience has impetuousness, and love has apathy. The positive virtues create openness and vulnerability, while the negative virtues create walls and barriers to protect from the inevitable heartbreak.

Now, the question to ask is this: are these virtues I am building my expectations around pushing me towards my best self or away from it? People often embrace negative virtues because they cannot handle the pain and rejection that accompanies an open heart. However, choosing to adopt negative virtues may offer benefits in the short term, but they they stymie growth and deep personal connections over a lifetime. When one or both people in a relationship build walls around their passions, a superficial association is the only result.

Of course we are not going to throw open the gates of our emotions to everyone we meet, but we must be mindful of our virtues and where we have placed our default settings.

When we have taken this step and have developed an awareness for how we are installing our virtues in our relationships – then we can truly exhibit gratitude for our disappointments. If we focus on our expectations and their attendant negative virtues, then we can be grateful that we now know what we have sown into our hearts and minds. We possess the ability to alter our direction, to adjust our course to unite with our best selves. For we become who we want to be and there is much in that to be grateful.

Conversely, when we look at our virtues and find them to be positive and directing us towards our best selves, we have great cause to celebrate with gratitude. We are marching in the direction of our goals. And yet we often feel disappointment because the reality of our lives does not match our expectations of that reality. In most cases, if we are living according to the positive virtues, then the gap between the two is of time. If this is the case, it is an opportunity to turn an analytical eye to where we are. If we are on the path to where we want to go, recalibrate the expectations to match the speed of accomplishment to the ultimate destination.

However, it is possible that we can be living the positive virtues of the mind and heart and still never close the gap between expectation and reality. We must be at peace with that and we can be grateful for the freedom to stretch ourselves, even if that desired outcome, that treasured outcome, never materializes.