Normally we save the pleasantries for end of the work, but I’d like to start this one with a little gratitude.
A boundless number of things are beckoning you for your time, but you chose to spend a few minutes reading this, and that is very humbling to me. It also places on my shoulders a weight. A weight of expectation to say something valuable, to justify your time spent, to maintain your interest and leave you feeling a little better than you did when you arrived. It’s not a burdensome weight, but more a force pulling me forward, encouraging me to explore and experience, and to share what I learn. Google Analytics tells me that people occasionally point their browsers at my blog, but the responses in person and on social media have been the most rewarding. Those let me know that I am making a difference, if even a small one, and that’s all the encouragement I need to continue. So thank you.
I’ll admit, I was a little surprised the first time a friend told me that they enjoyed my blog. I’m not sure why, because knew that people were reading it by the comments and replies on Twitter and Facebook, but to hear the words in person was something new and exciting. It made it real. The ideas and experiences I was writing about had ventured beyond the screen in front of me and into the real world where they’d become a part of someone else’s life. To have a conversation about the topics on which I had written was invigorating, but even a simple “thank you” or “I’ve been reading your blog,” is extremely gratifying. So much so, that I decided turn this phenomenon into December’s challenge and start each day giving gratitude to someone else. In terms of effort and difficulty, I thought it would be simpler and easier than most others, but, like other challenges, I was surprise by the results.
There is certainly no shortage of people who’ve helped me become the person I am today. Parents, teachers, coaches, employers, friends, colleagues...I’ve been influenced by some incredible people, and trying to remember all of them is like listening to an Oscar Awards speech in my head. What’s more difficult, and this is the first place where I overcomplicated this challenge, is trying to rank them in order of relative influence. Don’t do this.
The first couple of days were easy, I knew exactly who I wanted to thank, but as the week drew on I found myself sitting in front of my computer, weighing one persons’s contribution to my life over another’s. Somehow I developed the notion that gratitude bore the same weight as the event to which it was attached, therefore the more impactful and selfless the person had been in my life, the more meaningful the gratitude would be. This is a fallacy. That’s not to say that all gratuitous gestures are equal, but the meaning lies primarily in the gesture itself, not the content. To maximize my impact (which ultimately was the goal, right, to generate the most gratuity possible?) I began constructing deep and heartfelt messages to people from my past, some of whom I hadn’t spoken to in over a decade. After a few days of this, I was beginning to wonder if I could keep it up for 30 days.
Each message I sent generated a reply, the sentiment of each the same: positive and appreciative, but the degree of sentiment varied. I began to realize that my expressions of gratitude didn’t need to be long confessionals of undying appreciation; the gesture of sharing the gratitude held the majority of the meaning. The time spent racking my brain for the perfect person to share gratitude with was, by in large, wasted effort. There is no perfect person or a greater return on investment for one person over another. What really matters is that you let them know that you’re grateful. Once I learned this lesson, the challenge became much easier. I had erroneously transformed what should have been a simple challenge into an effort to identify the 30 most influential people in my life, which was predicated on two fallacies: that I can effectively measure influence, and that I only have 30 days with which to share gratitude. Who says I have to stop after 30 days?
"You are responsible for what you say and do. You are not responsible for whether or not people freak out about it."
The last piece that I got wrong was that I feared people would respond negatively, believing that the only reason I was thanking them was because I had a quote to meet. Well, if that’s what they thought, they were right. The reason I chose this challenge was to develop a new habit and begin to break down that self-imposed barrier of asking for help. That doesn’t mean I’m haven’t been sincere about it. I didn’t send anyone an empty message of thanks simply for the sake of meeting a daily requirement, but I did start sending these messages because I promised that I would. Every “thank you” was intentional and sincere. Why is it harder, sometimes, to see ourselves through our own eyes rather than through the eyes of someone else?
Throughout December I gave thanks to many people: some who I haven’t spoken to in years, some who I work with every day. I wasn’t always able to make this happen in the morning. A few times I was sending emails just before midnight. There was a noticeable improvement in my mood when this happened earlier in the day. I will never have a shortage of people to thank as I have surrounded myself with people who give far more than they take. Giving begets giving, and that leads me to my next challenge.
A New Challenge
I lost focus in that latter half of December, but not without reason. Time off from work, Laura’s graduation, and the holiday season were all reasons to take my foot off the accelerator and to spend some time enjoying the view. Schedules were upheaved and to-do lists constantly rearranged as plans deviated from my regularly scheduled programming. As I decompressed I found often found myself planted in front of the TV, enveloped in beloved Christmas movies or mindlessly zoning out to grown men throwing a ball around. It can be a nice reprieve, but eventually there is a line crossed where I am no longer in control.
“Addiction is the destroyer of dreams.”
This month, I need to revisit the deprivation challenges and regain control of my time. No TV, movies, or streaming video for 30 days. This sounds simple enough on the surface, but peel back the layers a bit and you reveal the complexities.
At home I have complete control (mostly) over the state of the television set. I’ll be relying almost exclusively on will power for the TV to remain in an “off” state. I could also help the remote live up to its name and put it somewhere out of reach to reduce the urge. My devices will likely pose the most arduous challenge as video content permeates those apps.
I work for an company who builds websites, often for large media companies. My current project is for a client who runs two television channels, so their websites are primarily video content and there is no possible way for me to do my job without watching at least small clips of these videos. Luckily, the content on these TV channels is mind numbing and completely uninteresting to me, so I don’t actually watch them for value, but simply to make sure the video player is working. I’m not counting these against me.
The last intrusions I can foresee being a concern are sports bars. We tend to prefer those locations to others for the camaraderie and atmosphere. Even many non-sports-bars now often have a TV on behind the bar. If these can’t be avoided altogether, then strategic seating arrangements or other, more creative methods may need to be employed.
As I concluded the section about December’s challenge, I alluded that my next challenge would be related to giving. So how does not watching TV relate to giving, you ask? Time, and how I spend it. We have a finite amount of time in our bodies. We can spend that time with our brains in park, watching the colors flicker by on the magic box in front of us, which is, on occasion, a very necessary break, or we can spend that time doing things to stimulate our sense of wonder and imagination, to build something that satisfies our own need for creation while also helping someone else, to participate in life instead of being a spectator. The challenge is to break away from the box, which, consequently, was programmed by people who are paid hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to spend their time inventing methods to keep you spending your time in front of it.
January will get me back in mental shape. I’m going to refocus, break the box, and spend that time writing, planning and hopefully inspiring.