Consider the lowly laser beam. It’s actually a very weak source of energy, only a few watts. But because it is intensely focused, the laser can be used to bounce a message off a satellite, cut a diamond, or perform cancer surgery.
This week…you are the laser beam. You bring an intense focus to everything you do. As a result, you get more done and do it better, with less stress and less wasted motion.
In the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr, you have learned the secret of real achievement:
“If you want to hit a bird on the wing you must have all your will in focus, you must not be thinking about yourself [or anything else]…you must be living in your eye on that bird. Every achievement is a bird on the wing.
Yes, there was a time when you felt fragmented, pulled in a dozen directions, when it seemed like you had too many things to do and not enough time to do anything well.
But now you are discovering the power of being fully engaged, fully present, fully focused on the matter at hand—whether a major project or talking to a child or cleaning the floor or dealing with a nasty problem.
As a result, you experience the inner unity of harnessing all your human powers to the present moment.
And the people around you are amazed at your calm ability to stay focused and get things done.
Because…you are the laser beam.
What is the fuel of your life? What keeps you going? Irina Lazar can describe her fuel in one word: appreciation.
In Living Life as a Thank You (by Nina Lesowitz and Mary Beth Sammons), Lazar tells about a life-changing moment she had when she was 15 years old and standing in her closet, looking for something to wear:
“’I had a difficult childhood, not because of abuse or neglect, just a hopelessness that followed me around like a little dark cloud…I couldn’t tell you the source of that sadness. But as I was standing in my closet, I had a moment when I suddenly felt the veil of sadness lift off of me. I felt that I could do and be anything I wanted. I felt empowered, confident, and most of all, happy…My life opened up, I felt alive and ready to take on any opportunity.”
Seventeen years later, when Irina was in her thirties, she reflected on how that realization had come to affect her life.
“I feel appreciation in my cells every minute of every day. It is the fuel that pulsates through me, driving me to enjoy everything in life, even mundane things like washing dishes, paying bills, and running errands.’”
I was touched and encouraged by that story.
Whether you’ve had such a realization—or whether you haven’t—I think we can all relate to the importance of learning to appreciate life as it is…to appreciate each breath or moment when there might not have been a breath or a moment.
For Irina, all the problems of life were still there. Her circumstances hadn’t changed. The people around her hadn’t changed. The world hadn’t changed.
The only thing that changed was the lens through which she now viewed herself and her one-and-only life…the lens of appreciation.
And my, what a change! And what a fuel source to tap into when we feel like we’re “running on empty.”
““Sorry, but that’s just the way I am. I feel it’s important to be consistent.”
So you’ve decided you can learn nothing new? Make no new discoveries about yourself or others or about life? You’ve decided to quit growing?
Bernard Berenson said,
“Consistency requires you to be as ignorant today as you were a year ago.”
Here’s what I get from that.
Trying to take on a job, a relationship, or a life with a rigidly consistent attitude is like trying to play a football game with only one play.
Yes, you’ll be consistent. But you’ll also get hammered!
The best quarterbacks read the flow of the game and stay flexible—ready to adapt and change their actions to best meet each new situation.
Life is like that. It’s difficult. It’s complicated. It’s always changing.
But it’s okay because we’re human: we can learn, grow, adapt.
That’s why it’s not a weakness but a strength to say, “I was wrong.” “I can change.” “I can find, new, better ways to respond.”
I believe life is best lived as an adventure in which we keep learning and changing and growing as a person every day…all the way to our last day.
Life is best lived when, like the sunrise, we can say, “I am new every morning.”
Abraham Heschel wrote:
“Being human is a surprise!”
Really? Even when each day feels like more of the same?
Little children know the spirit of surprise and wonder. They live inside it the way fish live in water.
But as we get older, the drag of routine and repetition can sometimes smother the spirit of surprise and leave us feeling like life has been programmed for predictability.
Heschel is encouraging us to fight back—so that we don’t turn into dull, predictable folks with predictable ideas, predictable conversations and predictable arguments.
When life starts feeling a little too dull and predictable, it’s time to surprise things up!
Say something meaningful over dinner!
Get up and dance to break up an argument!
Tell a story. Tell a joke.
Ask a thought-provoking question. And really, really listen.
Have coffee with someone you wouldn’t normally have coffee with.
Surprise your co-workers with your calmness under pressure.
We have to find ways to stir up our lives so they don’t stick and burn.
Remember, you are a completely new, unique expression of a human being. There’s never been a person exactly like you before, and never will be.
So you aren’t needed to be like everyone else. You are needed to be you.
And you are a surprise.
I read about a therapist who begins the first session with each new client by asking:
“If you were already cured of the personal problems that brought you here, if all of those issues were resolved…what would you do? Would you renew a broken relationship? Change jobs? Go back to school? Write a book? Take up a new hobby? Enjoy life more? What would you do?”
After the client gives her answer, the therapist says, “Why don’t you just do that?”
This struck me for a couple of reasons.
First, I was impressed with a therapist who at least tries to make himself unnecessary!
Second, I like the empowering nature of the question: “Why don’t you just do that?”
This is not to suggest that life problems can be disposed of with the snap of a finger.
In fact, quite the opposite.
I think the point is that we don’t have to wait until problems are resolved or conditions are ideal. Life is short and there’s always something important that we can begin to do right here, right now, exactly where we are.
We can take action even in the mess.
So here’s a mind-stretching exercise for this week:
If all excuses and roadblocks were taken away, what would you do? What would you most want to do? What do you most need to do?
Why don’t you just do that?
In one of his routines, comedian Chris Rock joked about how Dads are often under-appreciated:
“Does anyone ever say, ‘Gee Dad, thanks for taking care of this rent’? No, all Daddy ever gets is the big piece of chicken!”
Actually, it’s a safe bet that most people feel under-appreciated from time to time. Ask any group of employees: do you feel that your boss really appreciates you? I think we know what most would say.
Observing this “appreciation deficit” in human life, Mark Twain commented:
“When you cannot get a compliment any other way, pay yourself one.”
I actually think this is a healthy practice—perhaps at the start of the day, when you’re looking in the mirror (the most challenging time to compliment yourself!).
This morning, I looked in the mirror and said, “Geoffery, I don’t think there’s anyone in the world with a nose exactly like yours. Congratulations!”
Silly? Perhaps, but I tell you, it beats starting the day feeling down on myself.
And consider this: when someone asked Mozart what it was that gave his music that unique, Mozartish quality, he said, “It’s probably the same thing that gives my nose its unique shape.”
So here’s a suggestion: this week, compliment yourself on being a unique person, unlike any that has ever lived before. Then compliment yourself on something specific you’ve done this week—maybe something others didn’t notice.
Then take it a step further. Find someone whom you suspect has not been shown appreciation for something they’ve done—and let them know you noticed.
It may not sound like much. But it’s something we can do to help reduce the “appreciation deficit.”
After all, showing appreciation is one investment that never depreciates.