Some years ago, I heard a minister define faith as jumping off the proverbial cliff and finding your wings on the way down. Whether I jump or am pushed, that's what I call "winging it". When I'm winging it, I'm exercising my faith in God--believing that everything will work out for my good. While that doesn't mean I will get my way, exercising my faith in any given situation is trusting that there is a plan for my life. And, usually, that plan requires operating outside my comfort zone. Adapting to life circumstances I could never have anticipated or envisioned.
I winged it when I moved to Paris. After being misdiagnosed by several doctors in the U.S., a friend who lived in Paris suggested I seek out additional medical opinions there. During my visit, I was properly diagnosed. It turned out that the specialists in my illness were in France. So I moved to get the help I needed. While I know that moving to Paris sounds glamorous, the reality was otherwise given my circumstances. I was ill, heavily medicated, and spoke very little French. Talk about winging it, I flapped my wings so frantically I no doubt lost some feathers. Within my first month, I had to deal with: moving into an apartment without electricity (including heat) for two weeks because the landlord forgot to call the electric company; explaining my situation to various medical practitioners (without causing myself additional harm as a result of my limited French); and having to resolve a leak in my apartment (as I didn't know the words for leak or plumber, I thought my neighbor had written me a welcome note!). Honestly, there were times when I thought I was in for a crash landing. But I got my wings on the way down. As a result of winging it, I was blessed with neighbors who graciously helped me navigate the issues with my apartment, and my doctors understood me just fine (with much patience and humor).
I had a dream to live in Paris since I was 16 years old. Through illness, I learned the value of winging it. Had I not jumped off the cliff and moved to a foreign country, I would not have gotten the medical assistance I needed. And the bonus was that I got to realize my dream.
Even though winging it intimidates me at times, I have found a little more comfort in it. The more I do it, the more I know I can do it. Because of the exercise, my flapping isn't as frantic--my wings are stronger now. I still sometimes resist moving outside my comfort zone. It's scary out there. But it's outside my comfort zone where growth opportunities present themselves and blessings can be found. And every time I jump off the proverbial cliff and wing it, I may not be happy, but I have faith that I'll land exactly where I'm supposed to be.
How do you feel about winging it?
Before getting into today's post, I want to thank all those who have been sending emails of support and encouragement.
I glance into the rear view mirror of my life from time to time. It's useful for several reasons. First, for purposes of self-examination. I'm not big on denial, so I use my rear view mirror to examine if I'm exhibiting undesirable traits from my past that should have been left there. Unfortunately, the answer is often "yes" (it may just be me, but certain things have a way of temporarily setting me back), and I'm reminded that my life is still very much under construction. If I'm wise, I'll keep my construction gear at the ready for the rest of my life as there will always be areas where growth is necessary. Second, my rear view mirror provides encouragement. It reminds me how much I've grown--that despite my failings, I'm not the person I used to be. It's my past that helped mold me into the person I am today. And that same past should keep me humble and prevent me from becoming high-minded about where I am today. The rear view mirror also reminds me that I've overcome difficult and overwhelming challenges in the past, which encourages me in dealing with my challenges in the present. Finally, I check my rear view mirror to ensure nothing I thought was behind me is creeping up to create a problem in the present. Trying to confirm that lessons from the past have truly been learned.
But sometimes my rear view mirror needs adjusting because I have it fixed at the wrong angle. I can't see what I need to see because I'm focused on the ifs, buts, couldas, wouldas, shouldas of the past. Although this is not something I do often, doing it at all is a complete waste of time. Because while the past can be instructive, it can also be crippling--one can end up gazing into the rear view mirror like a deer in headlights. Like anyone else, I enjoy reminiscing about good times from the past. I have wonderful memories of people, places, and experiences. These aren't the glances back that create problems for me. It's the glances that relate to lost opportunities that are problematic. Isn't it easy to romanticize the past? Especially during times when life in the present isn't so rosy. We like to reminisce about the "good old days". But, in reality, plenty of those days weren't so good; they're just old. And, even if many of them were good, they're gone. As someone once told me, "your past is your past for a reason." The key is to figure out the reason and keep it moving. Whether it was a job, a relationship, experience, etc., it's in the past. The problem with hanging on to it is that it can skew your focus and wreck your present. You end up treating today as if it has little, if any, value. If I'm stuck focusing on the rear view mirror, how can I see what's right in front of me in the present? The present is all I have. The future is not promised. And since I want everything God has for me, I must not block today's blessings by staying focused on the past. Letting go of the unnecessary stuff makes room in my hands, arms, and heart to reach out and embrace what I have in the here and now. So I've got to keep my rear view mirror fixed at the right angle--that is, in the proper perspective. That way I'll be present for the present and all the joy it brings.
Is the rear view mirror of your life in its proper perspective?
Do you remember this line from the movie Shawshank Redemption? It's one of my favorites. Isn't that what we're doing every day--getting busy living or dying? Of course, from the day we were born we've been on the path to dying. That's a fact. But it's what we're doing on the way that's most important.
There was a time in my life when I was on life's treadmill, going nowhere fast. Just going through the motions. Busy dying. Living every day as if "life was too long"*. Although I was surrounded by love, had an active social life, and had accomplished my professional goals and many of my personal dreams, I had no joy. And my challenges were bringing me down. I had established residency in the land of the walking dead. But I knew I had to move to the land of the living and joy.
And I did move. But it required some housecleaning--of my soul. A move into the land of the living and joy was impossible without getting rid of some junk. Stuff on the inside that had to die so I could live. And there was plenty of that. But afterwards, there was enough room in my soul for the lesson(s) I needed to learn from my challenges. I learned that my life had to serve a greater purpose than me and what I wanted. My quest for joy taught me to think of "JOY" as an acronym for "Jumping Outside of Yourself".
The house of my soul still needs cleaning on a regular basis, but I'm now a long-term resident in the land of the living and joy. And if my life does not include serving others, I'm not living it to the fullest. As it turns out, after all of that work, to some extent I'm still busy dying. How ironic is that? Well, it's different this time. Now, I'm busy dying to live.
What about you?
*A line from the movie "16 Blocks", which accurately described my thinking many years ago.
Have you ever been underestimated and/or discouraged by others when pursuing your goals or dreams? Gabby Douglas was certainly underestimated. Listening to the commentators last week, you would have thought she wasn't qualified to be on the Olympic team. There was constant second-guessing, dismissive comments about her difficulty focusing, and expressions of incredulity that she earned a spot in the individual all-around competition over a favored teammate. Clearly, they didn't know what Gabby is made of. They treated her like a "scrub", but she showed them she is, indeed, a champion. According to Gabby's mother, Gabby Skyped her before the individual competition to ask if she thought Gabby could win. After her mother said she knew Gabby could win, Gabby went out and did just that. Despite the naysayers and the incredible pressure, she turned on her magnificent smile, remained poised, and excelled at her craft. Then she took the winners' podium wearing her gold and a smile. In the law we use the term "res ipsa loquitur", meaning the thing speaks for itself. Gabby didn't need to address the naysayers--the gold medals around her neck spoke volumes.
When I was in high school, my guidance counselor underestimated me and tried to discourage me from pursuing my dream to become a lawyer. In his opinion, since no one in my family had attended college, it was best for me to pursue a career as a legal secretary. Although I thought a career as a legal secretary would be interesting, it wasn't my aspiration. Thanks to the encouragement of my family and a different guidance counselor, I went on to college and law school, and have enjoyed great success in my legal career. I never felt the need to return to tell that guidance counselor he was wrong. I just used his underestimation of my capabilities to motivate myself and to encourage others to pursue their dreams.
So for those who need encouragement, I say to you today, don't let others deter your pursuit of your dream(s). Don't give up unless you choose to do so. Others won't always support your dream; learn to encourage yourself. Work hard, be determined, diligent, focused, and poised. Work toward your dream like there's no tomorrow. And once you've achieved it, smile and let your gold (your accomplishment) speak for itself. Give 'em the Gabby.