Everybody dies, but not everyone has lived."
― C.S. Lewis
High achievers tend to be risk averse rule followers. To be fair, this is usually for good reason. Following the rules and staying within pre-set boundaries tends to pay off, or at least that is what we are socialized to believe. I agree that we owe it to the other humans with whom we share space to engage in prosocial and cooperative behavior. Society would not function properly if we did not. However, being a good citizen and living life in a manner that pushes past artificial limitations are not mutually exclusive.
We must be willing to take risks that are consistent with our purpose and/or calling. As an anonymous philosopher once said, “Your current safe boundaries were once unknown frontiers.” In other words, someone had to do it first. Someone had to invent a mechanism with four wheels and a motor that could carry people from one place to another at a time when most people were traveling by foot or horse. Someone had to invent a machine that could keep itself in the air and propel itself thousands of miles at a time when automobile production was in its nascent stages. Someone had to become the first female medical doctor at a time when women were generally not permitted to be educated. In short, someone has to both have the vision to see what others do not, as well as the courage to act upon it.
I challenge you to ask yourself if there is something in your heart that you feel called to do, but haven’t because of fear—fear of failure, judgment, disappointment, embarrassment or shame. I dare say that we all have a dream that we have buried in the recesses of our hearts and have tried to ignore because we are afraid of where the journey of exploration of that dream will take us.
What if the people who invented the first car and the first airplane abandoned their invention efforts because they were afraid of failure or other people’s judgment? It is probable that eventually someone would have developed a prototype for their invention, but their specific contributions and unique insights would be lost and their legacy would be omitted from the annals of history.
There is a time for everything under the sun: a time to study fastidiously, a time to diligently labor, and a time to quietly prepare, but if your heart is telling you that it is time to stand up, step out and do more, do not ignore that message. In trying to convince yourself that you are satisfied with the status quo, you may be limiting yourself from realizing your fullest potential and depriving the world of the blessing of who you truly are.
or looking for the silver lining in a bad situation. Practicing gratitude means acknowledging what is still good alongside the mess."
― Heidi Barr
Sometimes good things do not come in the packaging that we expect.
I have come to notice that in my own life when things I have prayed or worked for come to pass, but are presented in a form or in a manner that I did not expect, I often run the risk of missing the blessing.
I think this is because we build up in our minds how our dreams will come to pass, how our requests will be granted, and how our problems will be resolved. We develop an expectation of how things will look in the end—the proverbial ‘happily ever after.’ We get so singularly focused on what we expect to see, that we often miss the moment that is right in front of us. We miss opportunities for celebration and thanksgiving.
I have a track record of being a first-rate offender in this regard. Over the years, I’ve had many situations where I have wanted specific changes to occur and/or certain opportunities to come to pass. I’ve prayed for everything from job promotions, to the healing of a loved one, to financial stability, to the reconciliation of relationships. The list goes on and on. I have waited expectantly for the answers and when the answers did not come in the packaging I expected, I was not happy. In fact, in times when the answers ultimately did come in the form or manner that I originally expected, but I had to go through an uncomfortable or challenging process beforehand, I wasn’t exactly oozing with gratitude after experiencing the additional adversity.
I am sure I am not alone.
Have you felt (or would you feel) disheartened when your prayer for promotion at work comes not in the form of a new job title and increased salary, but instead in the form of an assignment to lead a project consisting of a team of your peers with difficult personalities and subpar work ethic?
Have you felt (or would you feel) disappointed when your desire for a reliable mode of transportation to and from work comes not in the form of a new car, but instead in the form of a free metro pass?
Have you ever wanted to reconcile with a friend who despite your best efforts never reciprocated your efforts to rekindle the friendship?
Some iteration of these types of scenarios have likely happened to all of us at some point.
After years of missing the blessings in such situations, I have come to learn that I must keep my eyes wide open and learn how to discern and appreciate the good amidst the bad. Often, alongside the mess, is a whole lot of good. Of course, there are situations where it is difficult to find the blessing, but even in the most difficult challenges of our lives, the blessings will, at some point, become apparent, and we will be able to discern how we grew through each experience.
The next time the answer to what you’ve been waiting for doesn’t come in the packaging you visualized or would have preferred, I challenge you to first take a moment to express gratitude for the answer, and second, think about how the answer actually does benefit you, bless you and/or position you better moving forward. If you do these two things, I believe that you will experience more contentment and peace in your navigation of the life you’ve been gifted.
I certainly have.
― Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Faith. For those of us who consider ourselves educated and of the intellectual variety, the idea of having faith, particularly in a higher, supernatural being, may seem counterintuitive. The idea that human beings should place their hope in a being that they cannot perceive, touch or access using the five senses may seem illogical and ludicrous for some. Yet here I am, a person who considers herself not unintelligent, choosing to believe and hold on to my faith.
My faith has shepherded me through some of the most trying experiences of my life, and it continues to do so. And to be clear, I didn’t just limp across the finish line, gutted and half-dead at the culmination of these trials; I have been able to thrive, grow and soar as I navigated, and continue to navigate, life’s various hurdles. And I have observed the same in others who have chosen to access their faith.
When difficulties present themselves in our lives, it is human nature to question why we are being faced with a particular problem. A litany of questions may run through our heads. Why me? What have I done to deserve this? Will there ever be a way out of this? Why can’t this experience just be over already? What if this experience breaks me?
We humans like our comfort. We like our status quo. We enjoy pleasure. So when we are faced with an experience that is uncomfortable, novel or painful, we want out. We want to avoid it at all costs and often our first response is to search for a way around it.
I can acknowledge that up until the past several years, I spent the majority of my life expectantly waiting for the dissipation of certain challenges and issues. I had conditioned myself to believe that once I achieved a certain status or hit certain benchmarks, the overwhelming majority of challenges would cease to exist. That oppression, discrimination, isolation and disparate treatment would become things of the past. That, somehow, through my ascension, I would be able to avoid conflict, maintain emotional equilibrium at all times, and move through life nonplussed. As I’m sure you have surmised, as I've been entrusted with more responsibility and opportunities, various challenges have not gone away. In fact, in many ways they have proportionately grown. However, the ongoing presence of these challenges notwithstanding, I am so grateful that I can remain in a place of peace and gratitude; and that is wholly due to my faith.
Even though I do not know how each trial will resolve, I choose to believe that I will not only survive life’s challenges, but that I will thrive through them. I choose to believe I will come through each difficulty better, stronger and more equipped to face future obstacles. I choose to believe that the hurdles are more substantial because my ability to navigate them is better developed.
I choose to have faith. And no matter your position on the issue of faith, if you are struggling with life’s challenges and difficulties, and you feel that you can barely keep your head above water, I encourage you to try faith. Even the scientific community has had to acknowledge the positive impact faith has not only on mental health, but on prognosis and recovery after serious illness, trauma and surgery. Moreover, a correlation even exists between faith and healing from terminal illness. Now, faith is the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen.
If you desperately need tomorrow to be a brighter day, I encourage you to try faith.