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“The secret of joy in work is contained in one word–excellence. To know how to do something well is to enjoy it.” ~ Pearl S. Buck, The Joy of Child …
We have the ability to enjoy nearly everything we do… it is merely a matter of choice. I know individuals who like to complain about their jobs and their professions in life. For some, they do not like the hours or the pay, or they cannot get along with the management or their coworkers. For others the environment or atmosphere is not pleasant enough, or perhaps some other complaint that removes the burden of making work enjoyable from the individual. However, the deeper truth is probably much closer to this: they do not like their jobs because they do not give their all to their job, and for this reason, they never reach the level of excellence that brings about great amounts of satisfaction, fulfillment, and joy. Getting by doing the bare minimum required will never be fulfilling work.
As a boy, each year I would spend a month of my summer detasseling corn. This required me being up at around 5am every morning and working in the dewy, muddy, heat through some of the hottest times of the day. Most would admit they do not enjoy detasseling if asked, yet here they all were, coming back each day along with me to get out in the field again. The trick, I found out, was to not think of it as work–if I am going to be doing it, why not enjoy it a little bit. After all, I found a way to enjoy weightlifting three days a week, and I managed to enjoy football practice in the intense heat for two hours a day. And if I can enjoy that, I can certainly find some enjoyment in being outdoors in the sun, with the gentle breeze blowing upon my face; or in burning calories and keeping healthy and being paid to do so. Or even for the simple fact that I was helping farmers to produce something beneficial for others.
I demand excellence from my children when it comes to their schoolwork. I know that the difference between success and failure is simply the amount of effort put forth. An accomplished Olympics distance-running coach named Jack Tupper Daniels once said that what surprises him most about runners in a race is that when they start to feel tired, almost none of them actually think about speeding up as a way to work their way through the fatigue. He mentioned that in his experience, speeding up offers the legs a new pace and a new stride that can help a runner do their best in a given race. When we get tired of our work in life, rarely do we think of pushing harder in order to make the work more interesting.
We can gain a lot of joy and satisfaction from doing something well–it gives us a feeling of fulfillment and offers us a sense of accomplishment. In this way, we all can enjoy our work in life, for such enjoyment is due not to what the work is, but rather what we give to it. This dynamic can set us apart from those who are unhappy and do not put forth much effort.
Complete a task that you do not enjoy. Do so with purpose and enthusiasm, and then at the end of the day, reflect upon how you feel.
Questions to consider:
How might we start to give all we can to our work, even if we sometimes find it tedious or annoying?
Why is it so easy to start focusing on other things at work if we are somehow bored with the work we are doing, instead of putting ourselves into the work more?
What are some of the benefits of giving our all to our work and starting to enjoy the work and the results?
For further thought:
“There are four stenographers in my office and each of us is assigned to take letters from several men. Once in a while we get jammed up in these assignments. One day, when an assistant department head insisted that I do a long letter over, I started to rebel. I tried to point out to him that the letter could be corrected without being retyped–and he retorted that if I didn’t do it over, he would find someone else who would! I was absolutely fuming! But as I started to retype this letter, it suddenly occurred to me that there were a lot of other people who would jump at the chance to do the work I was doing. Also, that I was being paid a salary to do just that work. I began to feel better. I suddenly made up my mind to do my work as if I actually enjoyed it–even though I despised it. Then I made this important discovery: If I do my work as if I really enjoy it, then I do enjoy it to some extent. I also found I can work faster when I enjoy my work. So there is seldom any need now for me to work overtime. This new attitude of mine gained me the reputation of being a good worker. And when one of the department superintendents needed a private secretary, he asked for me for the job–because, he said, I was willing to do the extra work without being sulky! This matter of the power of a changed mental attitude has been a tremendously important discovery to me. It has worked wonders!” ~ Vallie G. Golden
“Shall we make a new rule of life from tonight: always to try to be a little kinder than is necessary.” ~ James Matthew Barrie, The Little White Bird …
Kindness is always appropriate… in all situations in life. As a boy, I was taught many different forms of it: in baseball, my coaches taught how kindness through sportsmanship shows far more of our character and humanity than any other expression in sports. And in school, my teachers taught the importance of manners–saying please and thank you and holding doors for others. Even in the hunter education classes I took, I was taught to practice kindness by attempting to kill the game in the most humane way possible. If there were one human quality that could truly transform this world in which we live into a much more positive place, kindness would be it. After all, we are the stewards of this Earth, and love in action usually manifests itself as kindness.
Unfortunately, many individuals seem to want to ration the kindness they give out, or to only offer it to those that they feel deserve it. But kind acts are an extremely important part of all of our lives–everyone deserves them and there can never be an over-abundance of them. Even when others ask a favor of me and it seems like they might be using me, if I really do not know their motivations, I have the opportunity to choose to put more kindness out into the world. And even though I may not receive any monetary compensation, as from a normal job, someone might really need the help that I can offer. As a steward of this Earth, I feel a personal responsibility to offer my help and kindness to those here with me in life. After all, I have the capacity to be kind… so why not be? It may be something simple to me, yet mean the world to someone else who needs to see, hear, or feel that another human cares.
Imagine what life would be like if we could live by this rule? How differently we might speak with one another, and how the responses we received back might change. The ways in which others would treat the next person they met would change after having been the recipient of our kindness. How the manner in which we see and feel about ourselves and about life might change. Kindness is perhaps the strongest method of influencing the soul; and it is certainly something that tends to be passed on, regardless of whether we ever see those ripples in the pond.
There are countless moments throughout the day, in which we can become a conduit of kindness in this world. And it does not have to be something complex or on the large scale–it can be simple and modest–for kindness is never wasted. It always makes a difference, whether we see it or not. Sometimes it takes time, just as it may require thousands of drops of water to wear away at a stone, a person may need to experience kindness over and over again before they finally let it in. So even though we may not witness all of the results of our kindness, it is still an important and powerful force that we contribute to the world, either by adding to it, or by passing it on once we have received it.
Perform an act of kindness for three individuals throughout the day.
Questions to consider:
Why do so many people consider kindness to be a sign of weakness?
What do you think the world would be like if all people were to focus on being kind to each other instead of being afraid of each other?
In what ways can you show kindness today to the people with whom you interact?
For further thought:
“You have it easily in your power to increase the sum total of this world’s happiness now. How? By giving a few words of sincere appreciation to someone who is lonely or discouraged. Perhaps you will forget tomorrow the kind words you say today, but the recipient may cherish them over a lifetime.” ~ Dale Carnegie
“To force myself into a single role, to decide to be just one thing in life, would kill off large parts of me. Rather, I recognize that I live now and only now, and I will do what I want to do this moment, and not what I decided was best for me yesterday.” ~ Hugh Prather, Notes to Myself …
Hugh is simply telling us what many others have said throughout the course of history: to get the most out of life, the most out of each day, we must live in the here and now. Ralph Waldo Emerson similarly instructed us to “Speak what you think to-day in words as hard as cannon-balls and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict everything you said to-day.” He also said that “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” In other words, it is not good to continue to do the same things we would have done yesterday just because they are the same things. Right now calls for this moment’s actions, this moment’s words, this moment’s living. And the only way we will see what we need to see, do what we need to do, and feel what we need to feel, is if we enter the present moment with an open mind and an open heart.
In this particular moment of our lives, we are further along than we have ever been before, and the things we thought to be right yesterday are not necessarily true today. The fact of the matter is that yesterday we did not know as much as we do today–things that we could not foresee have now become known to us. Perhaps we had something planned to do today that might now be less helpful than it had previously seemed, or something to say that now seems less wise or unnecessary. There is nothing wrong with changing our minds and allowing ourselves to be wholly in the present, listening to the signs and hints that the current moment is giving to us.
Even when our days become quite busy and filled with so much activity that living in the present moment is a constant struggle, we have the ability to simplify them–to let go of everything that have no purpose in our here and now. After all, why should we bother ourselves with things that are not currently involving our time, energy, and concentration? It is actually quite a liberating thought: to allow the present moment to let us know what is demanded of us and release whatever is not. Such reasoning allows us to let go of any obsolete rules and attitudes that might not serve us well today, since yesterday had its own requirements and stipulations, and everything and everyone has grown and changed since. To truly live in the present, we must first realize and accept that the present has its very own sets of rules, and then make our best effort to recognize what is positive and necessary for ourselves–and for those in our lives–right now, and then do it.
Take time to pause throughout the day and reflect upon what is most important to you at that very moment.
Questions to consider:
Why do so many of us feel that each day goes by the same rules as the other days? Why do so many of us seem to want this to be the case?
Do you follow Hugh’s advice to do “what we want to do this moment” instead of what you have always felt you should do? How?
What is the present moment calling on you to do?
For further thought:
“Only one person in a thousand knows the trick of really living in the present. Most of us spend fifty-nine minutes an hour living in the past, with regret for lost joys or shame for things badly done (both utterly useless and weakening), or in a future which we either long for or dread. There is only one minute in which you are alive, this minute, here and now. The only way to live is by accepting each minute as an unrepeatable minute, which is exactly what it is: a miracle and unrepeatable.” ~ Storm Jameson
“Being defeated is often a temporary condition. Giving up is what makes it permanent.” ~ Marilyn vos Savant …
I love this quote! So much of who we are–our attitudes, our character, and how we perceive life–can be witnessed in how we approach defeat. Throughout our lives, we all face it. And the more risks we take by putting ourselves out there and trying, the more defeats we will have to experience. In addition, because most of us have tasted defeat before, when we are confronted with the prospect of failure and defeat again, that bitter taste comes back and we fear it–often times choosing to avoid taking the risk. Yet when we have grown accustomed to only attempting things we feel that we will succeed at, we are left in a place of very little growth.
But we should not let the possibility of defeat determine our decisions in life. After all, the majority of defeats we will face in our lives will not be final. Often times we have hit a dead end or the path we are on needs changing; other times we were simply outmatched by someone bigger, better, more talented, or perhaps just trained harder than we did. Usually, defeats are just life’s way of teaching us what we need to work on, what we need to improve at, what we need to change if we want to succeed and reach our goals in the future. Every time I lose a hockey game I take time to sit down and figure out how I might have made different plays, skated harder, took a bit more time to make cleaner passes. One of my favorite quotes for athletes and defeat comes from Michael Jordan: “I have missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I have been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
In truth, failure is often God’s way of helping us to grow stronger and wiser and to help point us in the right direction–a new direction that is not the end, but a potential beginning. And if we can simply find the determination to persevere in spite of failure, we will discover that there exists limitless possibilities and unimaginable potential within us. Of course, we also must be open to the possibility that we are potentially attempting the wrong thing. For instance, when I was going through college, I worked in computer sales at a local electronics chain. I tried to do a good job and was extremely friendly and knowledgeable, but I was a terrible salesperson–I always tried to help people find the absolute best deals that I would seek myself, which led to lower profits for the company. And although the customers loved me, and my manager came to me for answers all the time, I was constantly reminded that my goal was to be selling more profitable systems and bundles. Thus through this experience, I was able to learn that I am not a good salesperson, and that I should pursue other lines of work better suited to who I am.
In 2003, I contested to represent my people at theNigerian National Assembly and was defeated under very “painful undemocratic” circumstances and I “gave up”. With the benefit of hindsight and better knowledge and life experience I’m blessed with today, giving up on it remains a big mistake on my part.
Every day I am faced with failure, defeat, and rejection, and I am ok with that. I have made it a part of my life, just as I have success. And in doing so, I have made room for tremendous opportunity. If you have a passion, do not give up, for if you do, the final defeat is coming from within you, not from outside. But if you persevere, then you can say that you gave it your best, and you did not stand in your own way, and win or lose, you faced defeat and came out the victor.
If you find yourself failing anything today, give it one more shot.
Questions to consider:
Why is it so easy for us to give up? What is going on in our minds when we do?
How might we reframe defeat in our minds in order to look at it as a lesson?
What kinds of strategies might you use to deal with a defeat and turn it into a learning experience?
For further thought:
“In every adversity there lies the seed of an equivalent advantage. In every defeat is a lesson showing you how to win the victory next time.” ~ Robert Collier, Riches Within Your Reach
“We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the life that is waiting for us.” ~ Joseph Campbell …
Many of us have a tendency to desire a certain level of control in our lives–to be able to plan them out in accordance with how we see fit. And because we want so badly for certain things to happen, we do everything in our power to make them so–even it that means swimming upstream. From the classes we take and the subjects we study, to the jobs we pursue and the places we go, the longing to be in control of our lives is a very real thing. Yet life is not always what we expect, and often times it does not turn out at all like we had imagined it would. And coming to terms with this reality can be quite difficult and might even require us to seek healing and fulfillment in areas of our lives that we rarely visit and know very little about, such as the physical, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual aspects of our being.
Many of us spend the majority of our lives believing the narrative that we are in control of our lives, but this is just a myth. We all have a great deal of opportunity and ability to influence our lives in ways we see fit, however, we are definitely never in control of them. God is in control, and He has plans for us that are far beyond anything we could ever imagine. That is why we must be willing to accept a life that is not necessarily what we have been planning for or hoping for, and live that life to the fullest–as best we can.
I realized that although my life has not always turn out as I had planned, it has always seemed to turn out exactly as I needed it to for me to find the growth, happiness, understanding, and truth that I needed to experience. And that is perhaps the greatest blessing to be discovered within our acceptance of life: necessary growth. Losing the life I had planned opened up many doors that would have otherwise stayed closed, and I have experienced a plethora of things since then that I never would have experienced had life not forced me to give up the life I had planned.
God knows what is best for each of us… and life brings that to us. And if we really want to grow and to learn, then we must pay attention so that we can recognize when it is time for us to let go of the old and embrace on the new; when it is time for life to reveal a new direction for us–one that will be new, stimulating, and important for our becoming.
Let life lead you somewhere today you had not planned to go.
Questions to consider:
What does it mean to you to “get rid of the life we have planned?” How do we accomplish this?
Is the life you are living now the one you foresaw twenty years ago? Will the life you are leading in twenty years be the same one you foresee now?
What life is waiting for you? How do you know?
For further thought:
“We must learn to let go, to give up, to make room for the things we have prayed for and desired.” ~ Charles Fillmore
“Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those that sang best.” ~ Henry Van Dyke …
Listening to the birds is such a unique and wonderful experience. Every species has their own rhythms and sounds, and each bird has its own unique pitch and song. We are each much like birds in this regard–we all have our own songs to sing, and they are truly unique songs. While some people sing of business or financial success, others will sing their songs of having touched lives through teaching, medicine, or volunteering with those less fortunate. Someone else may sing their songs of raising children or raising a parish community–it truly matters not, for all are necessary in this symphony of life we are experiencing.
There are times in life we fall into thinking that we may not be as good as someone else–that our own personal contributions are somehow lacking and that what we give is not worth as much as what some others are giving. Often times this may be a result of us seeing what others are giving and then feeling that what we are giving is inferior and of much less value. This type of thought really does a great disservice to us though, as it discourages us from using our many talents to make something beautiful or to do something positive and far-reaching for ourselves and for others.
You have a unique and authentic voice… and it would be such a shame it was silenced and was never heard. Likewise, it would be a shame if no one ever saw the things that you are able to do–and make–that are unique to you, your vision, and your perspectives on life. I am not the best writer, but I do not let that bother me. When I write I try to write from my heart, and if someone reads it and enjoys it, well, that is wonderful. And I may not be the best speaker, but when I talk to others, I just try my best use the talents that I do have to make a difference in their lives.
We each have been blessed with beautiful and unique gifts, some perhaps stronger than others, and some less obvious than others. Yet no matter what we choose to do with our lives, it is of the utmost importance that we use those gifts to the best of our abilities, as well as encourage others to use their gifts, too. By doing so, we offer our most precious contributions to the lives of those around us. And each time we sing our unique song, and allow others to sing theirs, we make this world a slightly more positive place.
Do something for someone else today that involves your unique talents.
Questions to consider:
Why do so many people choose not to use their gifts and sing their songs?
How might we encourage others to make their contributions to the symphony of life through which we are living?
Why are so many people so quick to judge and criticize others when they do sing their own unique songs? What drives us to criticize rather than encourage?
For further thought:
All the talents of God are within you.
How could this be otherwise
When your soul
Derived from His
“The best part of the art of living is to know how to grow old gracefully.” ~ Eric Hoffer, The Passionate State of Mind …
As we get older, age tends to be something that many of us do not like to consider, let alone discuss. Yet despite our aversion towards it, and whether or not we care to acknowledge it, we all continue to age every day of our lives. And I have come to believe that our ignorance of this fact, and the lack of healthy discussion about it, often leads us to having more difficulty in accepting the truth that we are growing old, which in turn leads us towards an inability to “grow old gracefully,” as Eric puts it.
Perhaps you know someone who refuses to allow themselves to “grow gracefully” beyond a specific age–the individual who insists on dressing like they did as teenager or young adult, or who shirks the responsibilities of their present condition in life; or someone who continues to try to speak the same vernacular of their children and the much younger generations. My intentions are not to sound judgmental–for I was quite trendy myself during much of my young adult years–but to bring up the reality that most of these types of tendencies almost always make the older person look or sound somewhat silly, if not downright ridiculous. Yet despite this, some individuals are still unable or unwilling to accept the fact that they are indeed growing older, and try fruitlessly to demonstrate to others that they are not. Sadly, in doing so, most simply lose their own identity as they stop showing their authentic self and instead force out awkward and unrealistic actions.
We all tend to gravitate towards our peers and elders who are comfortable with themselves–those who are not trying to be something they are not. Because these individuals are growing old gracefully, they offer us a sense of balance–someone to look up to, something to aspire to as we age ourselves. For this reason, it is important that we offer to others–especially those who are younger than we are–a positive role model in the art of aging. This, of course, does not mean that we must resign ourselves to growing old, for there is fun to be had in the world no matter our age. In addition, as we grow and learn true appreciation, the possibility for fun simply multiplies.
Make it a goal in your life to grow old gracefully. And as you do so, allow it to be with limitless possibilities–with dignity, peace of mind and heart, a lot of fun, and acceptance of who we are and how we fit into the world.
Take a moment to reflect upon and celebrate your age today–research what others your age have done, tell a close friend how old you are, be open to the possibilities of the wisdom of the ages.
Questions to consider:
Some people are unable to grow old gracefully because they are bitter and angry at the world. What might they do to make their worlds more pleasant?
Why do some people have so much trouble accepting the fact that they are growing old?
How can we be sure that we are growing old gracefully? What are some of the most important indications?
For further thought:
“How can anyone be anything but their age? The trick is to love your age. Love it when you’re young and strong and foolish. Love it when you’re old and wise. Love it in the middle when the challenges come and you can solve some of them, maybe most of them. If you love your age, you’ll never go around wishing you were some other age.” ~ Arthur Gordon, Return to Wonder