Reflections 365

For Christmas this year a friend of mine bought me a book called “Inspiration 365 Days a Year” by Zig Ziglar. The book is a compilation of quotations which the author found to be inspirational in some way. The book itself merely presents the quotes and citations, without any personal reflections.

I have been thinking of doing some kind of a 365 project for a while. Many people who undertake a 365 project commit to taking photos every day of some kind. I thought I would make mine about writing, and call it “Reflections 365”. My goal is to write my thoughts on the quotations presented each day in this book. This started out as a series of status updates in my persona Facebook page. I have decided to publish them here in stead. This first post will catch me up for January 1 to 9. After this I will post one per day. So, here goes…

January 1. “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” (Theodore Roosevelt). Many times in my life I find myself trying to gain or purchase something new. I think to myself that if I had this or that I could do things better. To get more organized, I buy new notebooks, or shelving units. To be more healthy, I start up a gym membership, or buy some new foods. To be a better photographer, I look for new lenses, or light stands, or books on how to take better pictures. And the list goes on. At the end of all of it I find myself having collected a lot of clutter, but not really having moved the needle. What this quote inspires in me is the idea that I have the tools I need to succeed. They may be physical tools to undertake a project, or they may be the things I have already learned. This quote inspires me to find ways to use the things I have to reach the goals I want. It inspires me to stop making excuses about needing something new to do new things, and to realize that what I need lies within, and around me.

January 2. “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us” (Ralph Waldo Emerson). I love a good Emerson quote. So many have been compiled and published that there always seems to be something poignant in his writings. Today this quote speaks to me about history and the future. All of us have a past. Each and every event of our lives – both the good and the bad – have shaped who we are today. All of our successes and failures, our triumphs and tragedies, our good fortune and bad – have all served to chisel us into the sculpture that represents us today. These are the things that lie behind me.

As I sit here in the dawn of a new year, I know there are challenges ahead. Some are personal, some professional. Some are about my own physical and mental health, and some are centered around other people in my life. All seem quite daunting. These are the things that lie before me.

What lies within me is the culmination of all my lived experiences, all of the tools to cope and succeed that I have amassed, and all of the scars of experiences. Today I am inspired to remember no matter what comes next in my life, I will have the reserve power within myself to not only survive but to thrive. And I am inspired to remember that a large part of what lies within me is the knowledge that there is strength in numbers. I do not have to bear any burden alone. It is when I engage my network of friends, colleagues and relatives that I become truly strong.

January 3. “In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists” (Eric Hoffer)

The question in my mind is, when isn’t there drastic change? I am surrounded by constant change to our circumstances and environment. Just when I think that I have things figured out at work, things change at home. When I think things are figured out at home, something changes for one of my friends or relatives. It is never ending.

This quote reminds me that it is far more important to be a learner, than to be learned. I must never convince myself that I have learned enough, but instead I must always be striving to learn more. Because that thirst for learning, and the discipline to keep gaining knowledge, will propel me forward in times of change.

I have seen this first hand in my life. My wife is a voracious researcher of things. When a topic comes up, she plows through dozens of websites and books to learn as much as possible. I tend to skim some things and think I know what’s up. But she always blows me away with her knowledge. It is because she is a far better learner than I am.

So, today I am inspired to be a learner. To more constantly strive to increase my knowledge of the things around me.

January 4. “Faith believes in spite of the circumstances and acts in spite of the consequences” (Adrian Rogers)

Having faith means different things to different people. Some equate it with a set of Religious beliefs, while others to a broader spirituality. For me it is about having a belief in something which cannot be proved, and believing in such a way as to alter your behaviors in the present. My faith tells me that there is a loving and benevolent God who created all things and set in motion the universe as we know it. It also tells me that there is a code of conduct expected of me. And, that if my actions are consistent with that code of conduct, then good things will happen. Not by some magical intervention, but because I will be sowing the seeds of those good things with all that I do.

The challenge to this faith comes when the circumstances around me are not always positive. When things arise in my life that are difficult, or even plain bad,  that is when I must remind myself to believe, and that I must still act according to my moral code.

To be sure, I struggle with this. My faith tells me to be kind always, but when I am faced with someone who has wronged me, it is easy to forget and want to lash back. My kindness should not only be apparent when I am surrounded by those who are kind to me, but must also be apparent in the face of those people and circumstances that might be down right bad.

January 5. “Men are anxious to improve their circumstances, but are unwilling to improve themselves; they therefore remain bound” (James Allen, As a Man Thinketh)

I don’t see this one as so much a challenge as a confirmation of something I hold true. I believe that if you want things around you to be different, you have to seize the reigns and make the changes to yourself first. Then, things around you will change. Until I am ready to make changes to me, I cannot expect the things around me to change.

I learned this well back in around 2000. That year I was having some difficulties at work. I was in an assignment I didn’t like, with a boss I liked even less. At that time we were subjected to a 3-level rating system. I worked very hard, and produced results, but at mid year, this boss told me I would be in the bottom 10%. I was devastated. I didn’t want this to happen, so I made up my mind to do whatever it took.

He suggested, and I enrolled in the Dale Carnegie course. At first, I was a skeptic. I was taking the course more to show him I was serious about change, than to actually make a change. But, over the course of the 12 weeks I came to learn much about myself, and how I present to others in the world. I could probably write a book about all that I learned an applied from that class. But one thing that stands out today is that I could control only myself, and that when I learned to control myself better, things around me would get better.

I entered the course to check a box. I stayed in the course to improve things at work. I left the course with all aspects of my life improved, or improving. Since then I have had ebbs and flows of my abilities to apply what I learned, and my life thrived and suffered accordingly.

So, today’s inspiration is for me to continue doing what I know will work in my life. That is, to be a better me in order to have a better life.

January 6. “Life begins when you do.” (Hugh Downs)

The book from which I am taking these quotes was published in 2008. So, it isn’t intentional that this quote falls on a Monday, but this year it does. And, how fitting. Mondays are a day I always have a hard time getting going. I want to still revel in the weekend, where I am my own boss (along with Debbie of course), and my personal priorities rule the day. Monday means going to work. And, while I generally like my job, I like my personal life a lot better. Today we are recovering from a major snowfall as well. And I know that many will be calling in or telecommuting.

What this quote inspires in me is the knowledge that life doesn’t just happen around me. My life is what I make it to be. The more passive I am, the less satisfying my life is. The more active, the more I enjoy my life.

So this morning I will put on my boots, gather up my moxie, and trudge through the snow to work. And I will make this as good a Monday as it can be.

January 7. “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly – until you learn to do it well.” (Steve Brown)

There is an old adage that practice makes perfect. I am not sure that’s true because there are many things that I have practiced for hours, and I am far from perfect at them. But, I do know that this quote is true. Everything that I have ever tried, that I thought was worthwhile, I did poorly at first. And, most of the time, I did poorly for a while.

This quote inspires me to remember that NO ONE is a born anything. The first time Michael Jordan tossed up a basketball, he probably missed. The first time Wayne Gretzky put on skates, he fell. The first time that Sinatra opened his mouth to sing, his voice cracked. Everyone is bad at something long before they are good at it.

The only way to get good at something, is to do it, and to do it poorly for a while until you get the hang of it. I am sometimes my own worst enemy when it comes to stretching the balloon of my comfort zone. I have to always be mindful of the fact that, if I want to add something new to my list of skills, I have to be willing to fail before I succeed.

 January 8. “Great minds have purposes, other have wishes.” (Washington Irving)

In my daily life I am a Project Manager. I live and die professionally by the plan. The phrase “plan the work and work the plan,” may as well be a mantra to me. That is what I see in this quote. There are a lot of people (all of us I dare say), who have dreams. But only a small portion of dreams become realities. It is only when I am living with purpose that I get things done. When I live in the world of wishes, hoping for a fairy godmother, my dreams never become a reality.

January 9. “You can’t be a smart cookie if you have a crummy attitude.” (John Maxwell)

When I started this 365 project, I knew that some days would be easy and others would be hard. Today is a hard one to write. Not because I don’t have strong feelings about the quote. No, this one is hard because the quote is one of those reminders that I really NEED.

I have learned (painfully at times) that my attitude drives many things in my life. My effectiveness at work, my success and failures in my relationships, the enjoyment of my hobbies, even things as simple as my ride home – all are influenced by and shaped by the mindset I have when I approach them. If I come in with a surly or dour attitude, then that is what meets me.  And, when my attitude is positive, and high-spirited, I soar.

So, why then would I ever choose to have a negative attitude? Why would I not want the amazing results and overwhelming joy the comes with having a positive attitude? Why would I want to live with the sting of my own negativity? Why would I want to view the world through this veil that clouds and blurs the good around me?

If I had the answers to those questions, surely I would do things differently. Sadly, I don’t. I find myself slipping into these cavernous moods, and surround myself with the negativity that makes my body actually hurt. Is it body chemistry? Am I affected by the long nights and short days that create seasonal issues for so many at this time of year? Is it hereditary? Am I pre-disposed to the same bouts of this I watched in my mother for decades? Is it a buildup of stress in my life influenced by things out of my control? Or,  are those just excuses for me not to give myself a cold slap in the face and get my act together? I don’t know the answers to those questions either.

Today – maybe just for today – I am going to choose at the outset an attitude adjustment. I am going to approach this day by tearing off the veil, seeing the good around me, and being the positive force I know I can be. I have heard it said that some people are thermometers, and some are thermostats. Some enter a room and measure the temperature and adjust themselves to it. Others enter, measure the temperature, and then influence the room to meet themselves. I tend to be a thermostat. And today, I choose to make the rooms of my life a warmer, less stressed place with my own attitude.

No proclamations here. I am not saying I will never have a bad attitude again. Next week, or tomorrow, I might be back where I was yesterday. Shoot, I might not make it through the day. But, I  will continue to remind myself as often as necessary. Even if it takes me 50 years.

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