There’s a line from the movie Castaway that has always stuck in my mind as one of profound depth and wisdom. After being rescued from a deserted island where he’d spent years struggling to survive, the character played by Tom Hanks described how he was able to get through the ordeal. He said simply, “Tomorrow the sun will rise.” Despite terrible hardship and abject hopelessness, he could always return to that one simple truth. Tomorrow the sun will rise.
It’s impossible to appreciate the poignancy of that statement until you’ve reached a point that seems completely hopeless; a time when there seems to be nothing there to keep you moving forward. Despite the desperation you might feel and the desire to give up, you can’t escape the truth of the statement. Tomorrow the sun will rise.
Perspective matters. I’m told that distance runners often focus simply on reaching the next telephone pole. Once they reach it, they focus on reaching the next one. That process goes on for the length of whatever distance they’re running. They focus on the process rather than on reaching the end of the race.
I tend to focus on the horizon; I go for big goals, but in doing that I seem to ignore each small step that it takes to reach them. I ignore the process. I’ve tried and failed in significant ways on many occasions. I’ve gone ‘all in’ on business ventures and lost everything. I’ve put myself and my family in seemingly hopeless positions, even getting to the point where I literally forgo buying medication for myself. When it seemed as if things couldn’t get any worse, my car broke down.
It’s painful because as circumstances become more challenging, the horizon that I tend to focus so hard on becomes invisible to me. I’ve fallen down, the sun has set and I can’t see the path forward. But that horizon, appealing as it may be, was never a reality. It may yet become a reality, but it isn’t right now. The circumstances of today however, are reality.
If you’re like me, you tend to view the goal as an end and once that end is reached then things will be better. Say it out loud and the true nonsense of the idea will ring in your ears. If I reach my goal, then I’ll be happy. Put in that context, the problem becomes crystal clear: When the goal becomes the be-all, end-all of our lives we lose sight of the goodness of today. Consequently, the contrast between the sky blue end concocted in our minds and the challenges we face right now can make today seem far more miserable than it should. But the end that we envision is likely an illusion; there will always be struggle. And there are good things in life right now that we’re ignoring. So, what value does focusing on the sky blue end give us if it clouds our eyes to current blessings?
Rather than focusing on what might have been but for our failures or other obstacles, we have to focus on what is. When you’ve bottomed out, you have to remember to take things one day at a time. One step at a time. Take some time to focus on the right now. Count your blessings and start over if you need to. Tomorrow the sun will rise. A new day will begin.
Being true to ourselves helps build self-confidence, create deeper connections and encourage creativity and ambition.
A few years ago my children welcomed a new grandmother into their life. Like most grandmothers, she’s loving and proud of her grandkids. She attends their events, bakes them cookies and cakes and loves them unconditionally. She’s everything a kid could want in a grandma. She’s also a big fan of death metal music, occasionally dragging my father-in-law to such concerts as Five Finger Death Punch, Slayer, Anthrax and Lamb of God. She doesn’t fit perfectly into the grandmother demographic. She doesn’t fit perfectly into the death metal demographic either. And that’s exactly what I love about her. She lives her life in ways that work for her instead of trying to fit into someone else’s mold.
I see her as a great example in how to live a fulfilling life. Approaching life in this way leads to improved self-confidence and deeper connections with others. When you’re authentic, you’ll find there are people you truly connect with and others that you don’t connect with as much, and that’s perfectly ok. It’s those real, deep connections that demonstrate that people will like you for who you really are. Not a filtered version designed to appease them. With real connections featuring your authentic self, your self-confidence will soar in regards to developing quality relationships.
I struggled for most of my life as a people pleaser. Every interaction I had involved a clear personality change. I wanted to fit in so badly that I genuinely forgot who I was and had to reinvent myself with each interaction. The adjustment to being a more authentic person who didn’t try to fit in wasn’t easy. In fact, it involved a very real willingness to stop caring what people thought of me. But the result has been a much greater level of comfort and confidence in my interactions.
It’s none of your business what other people think of you.
There’s a hilarious stand up bit from comedian Mike Birbiglia that illustrates this pretty well. Birbiglia felt snubbed when he tried to shake someone’s hand and subsequently confided in baseball legend Dennis Eckersley. Eck’s advice? “Eh, f**k ‘em!”. I imagine that being an elite professional athlete, Eck had to take this advice to heart himself in dealing with the endless line up of critics. But the same applies to you and I. It's no use wasting our limited time and energy on pleasing folks that you simply can't please. We're better off devoting that energy to pleasing ourselves and our loved ones. You can watch the bit here.
But there’s more to it than self-confidence and connection. Attempting to fit in comes with overtly negative consequences including a moving set of personal standards because our behaviors are influenced by whomever we’re currently with. Peer pressure affects adults as well, and it’s not just pressure to do something “bad.” Its pressure to conform regardless of what our inner voice says.
This pressure to conform stifles individual creativity and ambition. We don’t want to stick our heads above the crowd and expose ourselves to the criticisms of the people we want to fit in with! What a tragedy! Not only does the desire to fit in inhibit our ability to feel happiness and joy, it inhibits our ability to add value to those around us!
The moral is this: be yourself. Be authentic and don’t stress any more than you need to in order to win approval from others. Start by telling yourself that someone else’s opinion of you simply doesn’t matter. Accept yourself for who you are. While you’re at it, don’t forget to drop off the fresh baked cookies for your grandkids on the way to the Anthrax concert...
Varying experiences lead to different ideas and opinions for different people. By embracing this fact, you'll find that there are things to learn from everyone.
Have you ever talked with someone about a shared experience and found that you each remembered it very differently? Perhaps you’re both absolutely certain that you remember it correctly and the other person is mis-remembering. It’s happened to me many times. In fact, as my wife and I get older and grow the number of our shared experiences it seems to happen more often.
Memories are a funny thing in that way; they exist only in the mind of the individual experiencing them and, as time goes by they evolve. Memories are constructs of the mind. Every time we reach back and access a memory, we change it based on the collection of experiences we have had since the memory was stored away in our brains. Since every individual has built a unique set of experiences, even shared memories evolve differently within separate minds. One person might be right and the other wrong.
As off-putting as it may feel to know that cherished memories may not reflect reality, there’s also reason to rejoice at the notion. After all, the exact reason we remember things differently than someone else does (a unique set of experiences) is the very thing that makes us different from them. For all that we have in common, no one else in the world experiences life in exactly the same way as you. Those experiences result in different strategies, opinions and ideas. And those differences create extraordinary opportunities to learn from others.
“In my walks, every man I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn from him.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
This is a difficult suggestion for many people to accept. It takes serious humility to appreciate that there are ideas and opinions just as valid as our own that stand in stark contrast to ours. Sadly, I see social media posts all the time that say something like “If you think (insert opinion), you should unfriend me now.” It’s sentiments like this that make social media the great echo-chamber of our day. Instead of discouraging different opinions, we should encourage them and exercise our own critical thinking skills to understand why they think differently and perhaps learn something from it.
For example, there is a great deal of “discourse” that devolves into name calling and shaming. One tribe likes to label the others as driven by hate or greed or some other negative motivation. In the echo chamber, it’s easy to jump to those conclusions. Those who share our opinion will back us up after all. But what if it isn’t hate or greed or laziness that motivates their opinion? What if its fear or anger brought about by a past experience? Perhaps it’s something else entirely.
If we can accept that individual’s thoughts and opinions have been influenced through their unique experiences and have the humility to acknowledge that their experiences are just as valid as ours, then it’s possible to start a dialogue and try to understand them. It’s either that, or call them names and filter them out of your world, closing yourself off to a breadth of experience that you simply don’t have. Put in this context, the choice seems obvious.
A few years ago, I had the privilege of learning this lesson from a man who said that sometimes the greatest magic words you can utter during a heated debate are, “You might be right.” It’s humble. It doesn’t acknowledge that you’re wrong. And it allows you to quiet the conversation and seriously consider why they think the way they do.
At least, I think that’s what he said… A lot has happened since then. I may be mis-remembering.
The following is an excerpt from my book “The Way of the Harvest: 15 Lessons on Reaping a Life of Abundance". Click here to order your copy.
In 2004 a projectile crashed through the windshield of Victoria Ruvolo’s car and smashed into her, breaking nearly every bone in her face. She would be in a medically induced coma for weeks while undergoing surgeries to rebuild it. What was it that caused such damage? A 20 pound frozen turkey, purchased with a stolen credit card, hurled from an overpass by an 18 year old boy. It was a miracle that she survived the ordeal, but what she did with her new life is one of the most profound and touching lessons on forgiveness that I’ve ever seen. Victoria Ruvolo asked the district attorney to work out a plea deal for a lenient sentence, which ultimately amounted to 6 months in jail and 5 years’ probation. She forgave the young man who caused her so much pain. At the sentencing hearing, Ruvolo embraced the young man and instructed him to “do good with your life.”
I have imagined what it must have been like to sit in the courtroom when she hugged that boy. I can’t fathom that there could have been many dry eyes; the poignant example of forgiveness she showed in that moment must have been overwhelming to witness. But why did she do it? The course of her life had been inexorably altered by the thoughtless act of a careless young man. Few would have thought her wrong if she would have cursed him and pleaded the court for a much stiffer sentence. But she didn’t. Ruvolo later said, “If I hadn't let go of that anger, I'd be consumed by this need for revenge. Forgiving him helps me move on.”
To her, forgiveness meant forgetting the past and moving forward with life. Here, the phrase “move on” means to stop dwelling in the anger. In my mind, this is a necessity for a person to have lasting happiness.
Why do we hold grudges in the first place? It’s a confusing question, and a difficult one to answer. It boils down to two things: 1) the grudge becomes part of our identity; 2) our desire for compassion and empathy as the victim of a wrong. We hold a righteous authority for our feelings of victim-hood, and therefore believe we are entitled to be treated a bit differently, a bit better. Nancy Colier wrote in Psychology Today:
We have a definition and a grievance that carries weight. To let go of our grudge, we have to be willing to let go of our identity as the “wronged” one, and whatever strength, solidity, or possible sympathy and understanding we receive through that “wronged” identity. We have to be willing to drop the “I” who was mistreated and step into a new version of ourselves, one we don’t know yet, that allows the present moment to determine who we are, not past injustice…our grudge, and the identity that accompanies it, is an attempt to get the comfort and compassion we didn’t get in the past, the empathy for what happened to us at the hands of this “other,” the experience that our suffering matters. As a somebody who was victimized, we are announcing that we are deserving of extra kindness and special treatment. Our indignation and anger is a cry to be cared about and treated differently—because of what we have endured.
What this means is that grudges are our natural way of trying to feel better. The problem is, they don’t work. Grudges hold us in place; they stifle our growth and ultimately suppress true happiness. They weigh us down.
What are your thoughts on forgiveness? How has it helped you? Please leave your comments below!
Critical thinking and humility are the seeds of wisdom.
It’s a funny thing that so many people have misunderstood the lyrics to the classic Jimi Hendrix song Purple Haze. No, he wasn’t talking about kissing someone. “‘Scuse me while I kiss the sky” are of course the correct lyrics. If you’ve never heard that incorrect interpretation before, don’t be surprised if you find yourself singing it every time you hear the song from now on. When I was a kid I misunderstood the lyrics to Steve Winwood’s song “Higher Love” and 30 years later I still find myself singing “bring me a pile of love” every time I hear it. Even though I know that what I’m singing is wrong, I still do it. It takes effort to correct myself.
The same is true for so many other things in life. Experiences, ideas and strategies become so ingrained in us that changing them takes real effort, even if we know they need changed. It’s this tendency that makes critical thinking such an important skill to develop, and humility an important trait to cultivate. To improve at anything, we have to be willing to question what we think we know. It’s this very willingness to think critically that serves as the seed for growing wisdom. To gain wisdom requires thought and humility. It means accepting that, at the very least, we might be wrong.
Unfortunately for many people that’s simply too difficult a task. “The invisible gorilla” experiment has become relatively well known for demonstrating how fixated humans can become fixated on a single factor while missing out on the bigger picture. In the experiment a viewer watches a video of six people, three of whom are in white shirts and three in black shirts as they pass basketballs between each other. While watching, the viewer must keep a silent count of the number of passes made by the people in white shirts. In the midst of this, someone in a gorilla suit saunters into the middle of the action, faces the camera, thumps their chest and then leaves. The costumed actor spends a total of nine seconds on screen. Here’s the kicker: only half of the viewers ever actually see the gorilla! You can watch the video here.
The lesson in all of this is that very often we don’t see the entire picture. There are billions of human perspectives, why is mine the only correct one? We miss the gorilla’s meandering about in plain sight. Not only do we hear “‘Scuse me while I kiss the sky”, we embrace the error and sing along with it anyway! Without thought and effort, we keep making the same mistakes.
The longer we’ve lived with a certain set of beliefs, the harder they are to think about in new ways. And, if we can’t think about them we certainly won’t be able to change the ones that ought to be changed. Don’t get me wrong, convictions can be a very good thing. Having a specific set of beliefs to guide our lives provides direction and comfort. What I’m suggesting is that developing the ability to critically think through them is a major factor in personal growth because it forces us to consider alternative perspectives.
Here’s a challenge: over the course of the next week try and force yourself to understand a perspective that’s counter to your own. Try and truly understand it. You may very well find that your opinion doesn’t change and that’s perfectly ok! But, going through the practice of critically thinking through it should produce a greater degree of empathy for others and a better understanding of why you hold the opinion you hold. You’ll be wiser for it.
Now, I’ll leave you to ponder. In the meantime, ‘scuse me while I kiss the sky.