Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A Good Old-Fashioned Pep Talk

Hello, Nobody in Particular...

            Last Saturday Erin and I had the good fortune to have lunch with my parents and my cousin Erin. She was down visiting Florida on a mini-vacation from her home in Maine, and my wife and I hadn’t seen her because we had just returned from visiting my youngest brother, wife and son in Texas. It was a casual affair full of laughter and good food, and toward the end of our lunch the discussion turned toward dieting. I’m not one to typically discuss “dieting” because I’m an advocate of healthier living, plain and simple. To pick a target weight number can be misleading and destructive because often people end up going to great lengths to lose weight only to find it come back when they try to resume an otherwise normal eating routine. As I’ve mentioned in previous letters, a person is far better off by trying to make wholesale lifestyle changes a little at a time and let weight loss occur naturally, rather than starve him/herself and workout too much only to be right back to square one a few months later. It may be cliché, but slow and steady wins the race is a truism when it comes to any sort of personal progress, health-related or otherwise.

            It is with this in mind that I dedicate this letter to any and all people who read it and are trying to institute changes for the better in their lives. It pains me to see people languish and become mired in their own mediocrity. Often I find it’s that these people have lost the will to try and get better. I’m sure many of them think they face insurmountable odds or obstacles—and I am sure a small number of them actually do—but for most of us it’s a mental block. It’s something in our own heads that tends to get in the way. Whether it’s fear of failure or rejection or whatever, we have a tendency to be our own worst enemies in our minds. It took me years to realize that I was sabotaging my own success, and I’m sure it will take me many years still to truly reach my full potential. At least a few years ago I recognized that there was something that needed to be fixed, and since that time my mission in life has been to try and get better. Maybe it’s from reading too much philosophy or studying too much religion, but all I know now is that the best of me is trying to bust out of the fortress I had built and in which I had imprisoned myself simply because I did not believe that I was worthy of many things, love in particular.

So the rest of this letter will be a good old-fashioned pep talk. If you like it, NIP, print out that part of the letter and keep it somewhere you can read it daily and remind yourself what I am about to tell you. But before you read any further, I want you to stop, close your eyes, take a long slow deep breath, and really try to pay attention to the sensation of breath coming in and out of your body. Did you do it? Feel free to pause here and take several more, especially if you’ve had a hectic day. Whenever you’re ready, open your eyes and read what I’m about to tell you:

You are alive. The life you have been given is a precious gift, yours to do with whatever you can envision provided you give consistent effort toward accomplishing those dreams. Whether you believe the life you have has been given to you by God or is simply the culmination of some cosmic accident matters not, because neither belief changes the simple fact that YOU ARE ALIVE. You have been given something so rare, so fleeting, why would you ever squander one second? Take a moment to contemplate the odds of your particular existence: the fact that your parents met and conceived you, and your grandparents before them, and on and on throughout all of human history this confluence of unseen forces has brought you to wherever you were born and to this moment in time. The odds of being you are infinitesimal when you think about it, and that’s what makes you special. That’s what makes you unlike anyone else in the universe. And that’s also what makes it so necessary for you to make the most of yourself and the gift you’ve been given, don’t squander it by taking it for granted or deluding yourself into thinking that your existence is mundane. There will never be another you, could never be another you. You owe it to yourself to be your best and live your life to the fullest, which means taking care of yourself to the best of your ability in every respect, physically, mentally, and spiritually. You have nothing to fear and everything to gain. You can do this! I know because I am doing it now. For nearly 30 years I thought these ideas but never put them into practice. And if someone like me can turn his life around, anyone can do it—including you. What will you do with the rest of your time in this marvelous life? How will you become the best of who you are? Don’t wait a single second longer. Every breath you take is a reminder that you…are…alive. With each breath you should try to remind yourself what an incredible gift has been bestowed upon you. Get out there and make the most of yours!

Get busy living life to the fullest, NIP.

- Ryan

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Next Step Forward

How’s life, NIP?
            I’ve been thinking about the big picture a lot lately. It seems as if every few years I get into a groove where I spend several months really reflecting upon what has transpired in my life over a chunk of 3-5 years. When I began this blog back in 2010, it was at a point in my life during which the past year had been one of big change in my professional life. I had recently left the English department at school and taken on a new challenge by moving to Social Studies. Having multiple degrees that qualify me for either of these fields, I leapt at the chance to change. Sometimes people fear change, but I’ve come to a point in my life that I realize that change is necessary for us to maximize our potential. These changes usually coincide with a good hard look at our recent past along with the realization that we’re on the verge of one of two options: stagnate or take the next step forward.

            I never realized it when I was young, but I did this almost accidentally every few years. I don’t think I had the wisdom (read: life experience) to know that what I was doing was reflecting on how I had gotten to a particular point in my life or, more importantly, where to go. I would simply let life take me where it wanted, and that has had its advantages to some degree. Now I’m old enough to recognize that it takes a balanced approach to both letting life lay lots of options at your feet and then selecting one path to travel for a while, to try it out and see if it’s best for you and where you are in life, if you will. Many people are afraid to do this, NIP, but what I’ve discovered is that very often you either: 1) realize soon enough that this path wasn’t suited for you and can quickly reverse course; 2) find that life will lay another option along the line that allows you to correct course while still moving forward. I’ve grown to enjoy the second option more than the first as I’ve gotten older, mainly because I still feel as if I am progressing in one sense or another. Either way, you’ve got to trust yourself and your capacity to grow as a person and, more importantly, persevere through minor setbacks.

            This can easily be explained by my own experience of the last half of my life (about 19 years at this point). As I said earlier, I never realized I reflected this way when I was younger. I only really started to notice and to do so with purpose once I got into my 30s. When I was 21, for instance, I thought back to the time when I was 16 or 17 and told myself, “Man, have I grown up since then. I know so much more than I did 5 years ago.” Then, 25 rolled around and I started to think, “Boy was I a fool for thinking I knew anything at 21.” 30 comes around the bend, I met Erin, and life really began to get great, but I couldn’t help shake the feeling that though I had learned so much throughout my 20s, much of my earlier reflections had been tainted with hubris. Rather than thinking I knew a lot, my 30s brought me humility and made me realize that I know very, very little. Since that time it has been a continual effort to cultivate this wisdom—real wisdom—and I finally understand what Socrates meant when he famously quipped, “I know nothing.” And though I may know nothing in a deeply philosophical sense, I have a modicum of knowledge that has helped me grow a great deal as a person in many ways. With only a few months until I turn 38, I’ve been reflecting much about the last 5 years, but it’s different in that there is a deliberateness, a purpose behind the reflection. Perhaps this is simply an outgrowth of the recognition of my mortality and that I can no longer squander any of the time I have been allotted with the precious gift of life I have been given. I must use what I have left to the best of my ability both for myself but more importantly for others.

            Looking back over the last 5 years or so, I’ve had a lot of growth, a lot of progress, but I look forward to my immediate horizons because I feel there is so much more to come. Crazy as it sounds, I feel as if the last 5 years have only been the stabilization of my foundation, that now the real work will begin. What that work is I can’t quite put into words. Going back to one of the earliest metaphors I had used in the first letters, I am carving my magnum opus, creating my own work of art with my life—as we all must do, NIP—and for the first time it seems as if my sculpture is beginning to take shape. It has a rough outline rather than just being an amorphous piece of stone. All I know is that I must continue to move forward, to take that next step that will lead to the best of who I am to become. That’s all any of us can ever do, really. Reflection helps us see where we’ve been and how our past has shaped us, but these are not necessarily determinants of our future. With our past in mind we can learn to make better choices for our future. As I often tell my students in class, the best way to take care of the future is by making positive, productive choices in the present. In so doing, the future often has a way of taking care of itself. The path seems to widen in a sense, and all we must do is keep taking that next step forward. There is no going back in life. None of us are getting younger. All we can do is make the most of what we have left, regardless of what we have done.

            Something big is coming, I can feel it in my bones. Just as I could sense it when I was turning 33, I feel as if life is going to hand me a new opportunity, a new challenge. I don’t know exactly how, when, or why, but I’ve grown wise enough to embrace it when it arrives. I don’t remember who said it, but a great quote says something along the lines of “the ignorant fear change, while the wise savor it.” We can’t stop life, NIP, and it is foolish to resist change. If we’re willing to play our part and give any new endeavor our best efforts, I’ve learned that life has a way of working out for the best, even though certain moments may not seem as if it’s going that way. We must be ready for change, but not have an expectation of what that change will be. Be open to it, be balanced in accepting it, and most crucially, be grateful for it. Change is more a friend than an enemy. Resisting it only keeps us mired and leads to stagnation. Instead, take some time to seriously reflect on your life’s work, what you’ve accomplished up to this point in your life. What needs to change? How can you be better? How will you use this reflection to move onward in the right direction? I can’t answer these questions for you, but it’s important that you ask yourself them from time to time and reevaluate where you are and where to you need to go. There’s no looking back…life only moves in one direction.

Keep stepping forward, NIP.

- Ryan

P.S. - My apologies if this letter seems like a jumbled mess. It was pounded out with heart and haste. I do hope you are well and I thank you for reading.