Today, on my daily walk, I met a woman who complimented my colorful dress and fuchsia lipstick. Rarely do I wear lipstick brighter than neutral, but decided to do so to add a little spark to my challenging day. The woman told me she had purchased bright lipstick but never wore it; and seeing me in mine made her happy. As we continued to talk, she shared things she said made her grumpy and sad, namely a difficult divorce some years ago. We discussed how dwelling on her past was dictating her future, and that she could choose to journey on a new path. Since she said my lipstick helped to brighten her day, I suggested she go home and put on her own. It's not monumental, but a small step in a different direction. I also shared how I sometimes leave post-it notes on my bathroom mirror and refrigerator containing messages of encouragement and empowerment. And often on my daily walks, I look for opportunities to brighten others' days--such as smiling and saying hello; paying someone a compliment; holding open a door, etc. They're small things, but sometimes it's les petites choses (the little things) that can make a difference in someone's day or life--including our own.
From time to time I hear people entertain the thought of starting their lives over with a clean slate. They talk about the places they would go, the things they would do, the profession and/or business they would have, the dream(s) they would pursue, etc. Mostly, they speak of hopes dashed, or dreams unfulfilled, and the accompanying regrets.
Sometimes when people are deeply entrenched in their circumstances they have a fatalistic view of life. It can be difficult, if not impossible, to think in terms of hope and possibilities. But those of us who are able and available can make a real difference in the lives of those who have lost hope, feel intimidated, or need encouragement to pursue their hearts' desires. It might be as simple as lending an ear, offering a kind word, or letting them know the types of resources available. It's a first step, a baby step. But it may provide a glimmer of hope and change a life.
What if we:
Yes, what if?
Back in the day, it was common to hear it said that someone sounded "like a broken record" if they discussed the same issue, circumstance, or problem whenever one saw or talked to them. The idiom--"like a broken record"--was apparently borrowed from the description of a scratched vinyl album that, when played, continued to repeat the same words and/or music each time it reached a particular groove. We sometimes experience ruts (scratches) in our lives--times we feel there's no forward movement, and nothing new on the horizon. In response to queries about how things are going, it's not unusual to hear/say the refrain, "same stuff, different day". As a result, interactions with us may come to be described as sounding/being "like a broken record".
We don't have to remain stuck in our ruts. As with scratches on vinyl records we want to restore, we can seek solutions to get us to the other side of the scratches in our lives. While we may be tired and frustrated, it's within our power not to become resigned, discouraged, or complacent when we're in our ruts. Sometimes, we look for encouragement from others, but it's important that we learn how to encourage ourselves. It may not change our circumstances, but it can certainly change how we view our circumstances. Each day is a gift, and how we receive it and what we do with it are up to us.
It doesn't take much time to change how we handle getting to the other side of our ruts. It's sometimes a matter of deciding and committing to change our daily habits, our defaults--for example, not spending each day talking about what has us in the rut; not turning another's challenge into an opportunity for us to talk about our challenge. How can we see anything beyond our rut if our sole focus is inside of it day in and day out? We can use the time we would use focusing on our rut to try something new, such as take a foreign language class, try a new form of exercise, volunteer, etc. Or, we could create new habits of listening to music, reading scripture and/or daily affirmations, taking a walk, riding a bike, writing, etc. Doing something new or different, or creating new habits makes room, and provides opportunities, for interactions and conversations that have nothing to do with our problems. It may not change our problem(s), but it may help us feel better. And with better perspective, perhaps we can move beyond our rut and the broken record.
We must sometimes remind ourselves that even if we cross the finish line later than we wish, we still finish.
Years ago, I expressed to someone close to me feelings of frustration and exasperation that I was facing a difficult challenge so soon after surviving a major illness and surgery. Much to my surprise, the response was, "What makes you so special that you get to decide when you have problems? Do you think you deserve a pass because you just dealt with something serious?" Well, obviously!!! After all I'd been through I wanted to be offended, but those words--spoken in love--immediately resonated with me. Sure, I had been through a great deal, but no one ever promised that life would be easy, or that we get to deal with our problems one at a time or at "convenient" times. There I was about to throw a pity party, and the response in essence was, "don't invite me." Now I know many people would think the response lacked compassion, but I saw it differently. It was just the reminder I needed since I thought I had already learned the lesson that the "woe is me" approach has no redeeming value. As I've said fairly often on this blog, I'm not big on the approach because I haven't reaped any benefits from it--it's a time and energy drain as nothing changes for the better because I'm feeling sorry for myself, and pity parties usually attract only those who are likewise feeling sorry for themselves.
I'm now committed to throwing a different kind of party when challenges come my way--that is, a praise or gratitude party. I may not get there immediately, but I can always find something for which to be grateful--for example, that yesterday I didn't have the issue, or I had the freedom of not being aware of it; that this too shall pass; that I have more blessings than problems; that no matter the challenge, I don't ever have to walk alone. Getting to this approach took practice, but the more I used it, the easier it became. Now when I want to feel sorry for myself, I give it fifteen minutes. Beyond that, I find it's a colossal waste of time--time I could be busy living; using to seek solutions, if any; and/or to celebrate all that's right in my life. Party over here!
In life there are days/weeks/months/years when we feel challenged, maybe overwhelmed, by our circumstances--maybe in our marriage, with our children, as a result of the death of loved ones, on our jobs or due to periods of unemployment, because of illness, as caregivers for loved ones, etc. When the circumstances continue for an extended period of time, we may begin to believe things will always be that way. But as older people used to say when I was growing up, "there's never been a storm that didn't end." Of course, storms can leave damage in their wake. While we may not be able to control the storms, we can control how we respond to them and their damage.
One way we can control our response to life's storms is by asking for, or accepting, help--something that seems difficult for many of us. But why? Maybe we genuinely believe we can handle things on our own. Maybe we're control freaks and believe no one can handle the situation as well as us. Maybe we're private and prefer not to share our problems. Perhaps we're ashamed of our circumstances. Maybe we're too proud to let others know we need help. Maybe we're more comfortable giving than receiving help. Or, maybe we like to play the martyr and want everyone to know the sacrifices we're making. Maybe we don't know how to make room for others to help. Maybe we just don't know how to ask for help.
No matter the situation, it's important that we ask for and accept help, when needed. As it's said, no man/woman is an island. We need each other. It's a blessing to give; it's a blessing to receive. When we try to do everything on our own, we take the risk of becoming angry, bitter, resentful, frustrated, discouraged, and mentally and/or physically drained. So, let's let others know we want and/or need help. Perhaps seeking help during our storms will encourage others to do the same.
It's been said that what others think of us is none of our business. But many of us spend a significant amount of time worrying about what others think and/or trying to please others, many of whom mean well and/or want the best for us. As a result, some live in bondage, full of fear and insecurities, unable to make decisions on their own. While there are times in life when we need guidance, support, and encouragement, it's important that we learn how and when to forge our own paths, without seeking validation/approval. We're all unique. How can we find our life's purpose or forge our own path if we don't learn to appreciate and rely upon our own faith, gifts, skills, strengths, values, talents, sensibilities, creativity, etc.? Always concerning ourselves with what others think may result in others dictating our life's journey. That makes it their journey, not ours. If we follow their path, anger, resentment, and dissatisfaction may result.
When we forge our own path, there will be mistakes, setbacks, and challenges. They are part of life's journey, and I don't know anyone who hasn't experienced them. Even if we're not successful on a path we take, it's the path we chose. That means we must accept responsibility for it, and the lessons are ours to learn. Is there the possibility of hearing, "I told you so", and "Oh, well", if the path we take turns out to be a bad one? Absolutely. And is it possible we'll need help? Yes. But it's important to bear in mind that just like we chose one path, we can choose another. It may not be easy, but we shouldn't allow that to deter us. If we want to accomplish something, we should take as many paths as necessary to get there. Many successful people experienced some of their greatest successes after suffering disappointments and defeats on a path they chose. They succeeded because they stayed focused on their end game, and changed or corrected their course as necessary to get there.
In my own life, I've found it's easier to swallow the bitter pill of mistakes, challenges, and setbacks when I'm minding my own business--that is, forging my own path. Truth be told, those who may offer opinions have been there themselves.
Despite my best efforts, I continue to receive junk mail. The goal of those who solicit us with junk mail is to entice us, whet our appetite, pique our interest, sway our opinions, so we will accept or seek out what they're offering. If they can just get us to open the envelope or read the pamphlet, card, or insert, they may be successful in their pursuit. Some people appreciate receiving mail that solicits them for money, various products and/or services, participation in groups, etc. After all, it's possible something about which they weren't aware turns out to be of interest to them. Sometimes, it might be something they wouldn't be interested in under normal circumstances, but it reaches them at a time they're particularly vulnerable.
There's another type of junk mail we may receive--that presented to us via gossip, negativity, backbiting, discouragement, etc. Sometimes, we see it for what it is and immediately discard it. But what about when we're feeling vulnerable--for example, when someone hurts us and we hear gossip about them, or when we're struggling while pursuing a goal and someone discourages us? Acquiescing to this type of junk mail has a cost. It can permeate our spirit; cause us to make unwise decisions; and/or change the way we feel about someone/something. Personally, I try to treat it like any other junk mail and discard it. Otherwise, I'm allowing something worthless to distract me, and that has the possibility to detract from my joy.
As we age, many of us have the "pleasure" of experiencing gray hair. Some of us consider it rude, as it imposes itself on us like an unwelcome guest. Stubborn and confrontational, it appears--seemingly out of nowhere--in places it should not be seen. And while to others it may look silvery, bright, and sophisticated, we see it as dull, lifeless, gloomy, and aging. So, in a constant battle, we may pluck it, tuck it, pull it, curse it, cut it, color it and/or cover it--only to have it and "friends" (as if it were lonely the first time) come back again. But there are some of us who accept having gray hair as a natural progression of aging, while still others actually embrace gray hair as a welcome symbol of age and beauty.
Our life issues/problems can be like gray hair. Forces to be reckoned with, they often make their presence known at inopportune times. We can pretend they don't exist or attempt to cover them up, but they will re-appear until adequately addressed. And when we are able to accept that they're a part of life and deal with them head-on, we build character, gain wisdom and, hopefully, welcome the lesson(s) as part of our maturation process. Those grays . . . those pesky, pesky grays.