Door Number Twenty-Three: Sit Back and Enjoy the Ride

hobbit-feature

“Different roads sometimes lead to the same castle.” ~Jon Snow

Life is a complex machine. Kind of like the Cylons, but less preachy. We start out with little freedom and even less responsibility. As we grow older, we gain more independence, but our obligations rise as well. We work hard in school to get into a good college, and then work our way through college to get a good job. Replacing the authority of our parents and teachers with the responsibilities of work and social obligations. We continue to strive for the financial freedoms and professional success only to find ourselves at the end of the road wondering where the time has gone. Which is why we must not forget to take time to step back and enjoy the ride.

You would think such an idea runs counter to everything that defines a good, productive life. If we take such a passive stance towards life, we’re likely to end up falling into the mythical 47 percent some political leaders would lead us to believe are the source of America’s problems. However, there is a large gap between refusing to do work in order to survive and being consumed by one’s responsibilities. Even the President of the United States takes time to enjoy the life he has, and he’s arguably one of the busiest people in the world. I’m not suggesting abandoning all the necessary task of life, but rather gaining a better perspective on what’s important.

As I’ve pointed out we tend to spend a great deal of time working towards something. Whether it be high-paying career or world-changing invention, we are all striving towards a goal (if you’re not, that is a discussion for another time). However, its important we recognize the destination is only a part of the equation. Life doesn’t happen in some far off future where we accomplish that which we seek. Rather it occurs every second of every day. We risk missing a significant part of our existence if we don’t find a way to enjoy the quest.

So how do we do manage to find this balance? If I’ve learned anything in life, it’s that our plans tend to overshadow all of our actions. It’s why so many people get burned out of the political process. Lofty ideals tend to fizzle out when tested against the slow march towards change. The same rings true for our personal lives. We start with grand dreams, that fall to the way side as we get older and begin to lose focus. So how do we continue our momentum in life, but also savor each moment? I wish there was a simple solution. I wish it was as easy as channeling “the force” to take out our personal “Death Stars.” Alas, the reality is it takes continued evaluation of our values and priorities. Making sure we not only believe in what were working towards, but also enjoy the every day steps it takes to get there.

As with every journey to discover one’s doors to happiness, finding the balance required to enjoy the ride is not without its challenges. We must have a clear idea of what our goals are. We must also recognize the time traveled in reaching any endpoint should be savored if we are to get the most out of our lives. In addition, we must not get discouraged when things don’t go as planned. We should embrace the unexpected. Because, in the end its the lessons we learn along the way that truly define our success.

Advertisements

Door Number Twenty-Two: A Sense of Mystery

mysterious_forest-wallpaper-1366x768

“Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man’s desire to understand.” ~Neil Armstrong

The best thing about being a kid is that the world is an undiscovered frontier. We knew very little about our surroundings and life in general. So everyday was filled with an adventure that left us with more questions than answers. Unfortunately, as we get older we tend to accumulate massive amounts of information. So much in fact, the world shrinks and life becomes less of a mystery and more of an inevitable conclusion. Add the ease of access to information the internet provides and it’s no wonder that we’re able to predict the outcomes of the weather, elections, and movie plots with relative ease. As a result of this, I think many of us stop striving to seek out mystery in our lives. Which, contrary to the post of this blog, leads us to the obvious door number 22 on this grand adventure, maintaining a sense of mystery in one’s life.

You might be asking yourself, what’s so great about mystery? Well first of all, the unknown keeps things interesting. We see this most notably in the entertainment found in books and movies. Take Game of Thrones for example, if someone were to reveal how everything was going to play out, I doubt it would have the critical success its experiencing. Sure sometimes starting at the ending and working back to the beginning (or Tarantinoing it as some might say) can make for a pleasurable experience. However, I would argue that most of the time it is the mystery of what’s coming next that draws us in. And if we can’t be drawn into our lives, what’s the point?

What’s that you say? My life is plenty interesting and I avoid the enigmatic at all costs? Well, even if you don’t think there’s entertainment value to maintaining a level of mystique in your life, there’s a still a compelling reason for doing so. That my friends, relates to the idea of pushing one’s boundaries. As regular readers may know I had a short-lived series on this blog titled “The Risk Experiment.” I had decided the best way I could improve on my life was to start pushing outside of what was comfortable. What I learned, among other things, was the thing preventing real growth in our lives is a fear of the unknown. By striving to look for the deeper mysteries we push ourselves to accept that just because we don’t understand something, doesn’t mean it’s not worth having in our life. In fact, our lives may become more enriched from allowing us to capture a bit of the innocence of our younger selves.

So now I’ve talked at length about why this door is so important, I should probably discuss some of its risks. When taken to the other extreme, an over-indulged sense of mystery can be paralyzing. We get so enamored by the nervous excitement that comes with anticipating something, once we experience the exciting event, there is a risk it will let us down. Which can lead to seeking out an endless series of circumstances heightened by the lack of spoilers until we forget to live in the moment and appreciate great things that, while predictable, add a great deal to our existence. It’s why so many relationships start out so well and then end so terribly. We forget it’s about the whole experience, and just focus on the butterflies the undetermined conclusion gives us.

As with any door, moderation is they key to a healthy sense of mystery. However, by incorporating it into our lives as we continue to grow older and less enchanted with the world around us we will be able to continue appreciating all we have. And of course, it will make movies, books, and television more exciting (Even if the new Star Wars films end up more like the prequels, the build up will remain epic). Most importantly, however, is the innovation that comes with capturing the essence of mystery. Every great scientific and cultural development in our history came from individuals who sought out the unknown and invented ways to solve the unsolvable. So I guess what I’m really saying is, can someone please figure out lightsaber technology already?

Door Number Twenty-One: Simple Simplification

_simplicity 02

“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” ~Confucius

So it’s been awhile since I’ve posted anything (Sounds kind of familiar, doesn’t it?). Even longer since I’ve tried to embark on the daunting task of discovering one’s 50 doors to happiness. Realistically speaking, 50 may have been too lofty a number. Not that one shouldn’t shoot for the moon, but at this rate I’m going to finish this series right around the time George RR Martin finishes the final Song of Fire and Ice book (at least I have a few more years than he does to pull it off.) In the spirit of complicated blog posts I figured I would embrace its polar opposite and introduce door number 21, simplification.

What does simplification mean exactly? I suppose you can take it at face value and say it means making things less complicated. However, sometimes they need to be that way. Ikea furniture is great and all, but it is not exactly the shining example of durability. No, if you really want something of quality you have to delve into the details which don’t tend to be simple at all. That’s why the aforementioned Song of Fire and Ice (or as the television audience knows it, Game of Thrones) is so popular. Layers on top of layers. I’m not making the most compelling case so far, am I?

I think the key, as it relates to improving one’s life anyways, is to find areas more complicated than they need to be and simplify them. For example, many of us spend a disproportionate amount of our day reading articles online. This eats up a great deal of time and leads to an unconscious stress that causes more trouble than its worth. One solution to this specific dilemma would be to simply limit the amount time we spend online. Or ya know, just use Feedly. The point of this complicated web of descriptive nonsense is there are usually easy steps we can take to eliminate excess effort in our lives.

Another advantage to pursuing this path to happiness is you can always add things back if you go to far. Take the example of a complex workout plan. Say you decide your crazy boot camp workout is taking too much time and causing you to dread the mere mention of the world fitness. You slowly start eliminating exercises until your down to just running a couple of times a week. Unfortunately, as anyone who has drastically cut back on exercise can tell you, your likely to get less than satisfactory results after a certain point. Fortunately, you can just add things back until the results balance with the desired energy expended. This can applied to anything in life, including Netflix marathons (damn you West Wing).

So on to the real point behind pursuing this door. How does this actually lead to a more fulfilling life? Well for one, it eliminates unnecessary stress. So many times I’ve made things way more complicated than they needed to be (pro tip: sometimes its better to just ask for directions). It also frees up mental and physical energy for more exciting endeavors. So instead of checking your phone 30 time a day just in case someone posts something interesting on Facebook (they didn’t) maybe take that time to go on an epic bike riding, photographing adventure (and then post those photos to Facebook). Lastly, simplicity is the mother of clarity. The less clouds we crowd our life with the more likely we will be able to see the small miracles occurring every day. And for the record, I’m not talking about Midi-chlorians.

Door Number Twenty: Clean Living

wall-e-and-cleaning-robot

“Better keep yourself clean and bright; you are the window through which you must see the world.”
~George Benard Shaw

From an early age most of us are taught the importance of cleaning up ourselves. Whether it be the countless pleas to clean our rooms as children or the simple hygienic act of brushing one’s teeth cleanliness is a virtue emphasized by our society. Unfortunately, as we get older and find ourselves in a position where accountability falls solely on our shoulders, it is easy to allow many elements of our life to become messy and disorganized. However its important we don’t allow the dirt in our lives to devolve to a point where our surrounding begin to resemble the trash compactor on the Death Star. And if that imagery isnot convincing there are a many other benefits to maintain a clean life style.

A clean environment helps promote clarity of mind. When one’s external surroundings are messy and out-of-order it leads to a cluttered mind. Take any modern office place. They are kept clean and well-organized to promote clear thinking. In addition one has to think legendary victories like that of the Races of Man and Elves over the forces of Mordor were helped in part due to their flawless superiority in this area. And if the champions of Middle Earth think it’s a good idea, it’s probably worth investing some time into.

Cleanliness promotes self-confidence. Good hygiene is paramount to maintaining one’s self-esteem. When you look and smell better, you feel better. Furthermore, when one’s living and workplaces are maintained and kept at an optimal level of order its easier to justify hosting social events. which in turn increases your standing among others. Another notable boost to one’s confidence. Besides, would James Bond have been as nearly as effective of a 00 agent had he not maintained an immaculate image? Of course not, that award-winning confidence would have been replaced with an awkwardness more akin to James Joyce than James Bond.

Being clean is good for your health. Probably not the most revolutionary benefit of keeping clean, but arguably one of the most important. Take food preparation. Food prepared in unclean environment can lead to a number of food-borne illnesses. Furthermore, when one operates in a cluttered environment merely walking from one place to another can be hazardous to one’s well-being. Don’t believe me, just ask Lord Blackwood. So while sometimes cleaning seems like a chore, your life could depend on it.

The values of cleanliness in one’s life not only keeps the mind clear, but also promotes self-confidence and good health. While most of us probably maintain a base level of organization in our lives, by placing more focus on it, we should be able to enjoy the full extent of these benefits. In addition, by practicing this door in our individual lives we contribute to a brighter, more appealing society. Leading us away from the dystopian future of Wall-E and towards the more ideal future chronicled in the inspirational speeches of Barack Obama and the Star Trek universe.

Door Number Nineteen: Reflection

“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.” ~Confucius

Our lives are a flurry of non-stop activity. Even in our most inactive states our minds tend to run to and fro. Always looking to the future and what may be waiting around the next corner. Like a young Skywalker we look towards the horizon rarely taking the time to gain a fuller perspective. Affording us little time and focus to analyze past actions and thoughts. However, dedicating a bit of time to reflection provides a number of benefits to our lives.

By reflecting on past actions we are better equipped to deal with future problems.  Life is very similar to history in that it tends to repeat it self. Many of the challenges and conflicts we face are merely a retread of the past. We make the same mistakes, because we fail to analyze the reason these obstacles arise. It’s why the world continues to fight the same wars on different battlefields and why many of us are doomed to a cycle that leads us down the same path over and over again. However, by taking the time each day to reflect on our actions, thoughts and their consequences we can break the cycle.

We can only know where we are going if we understand where we have been. As I previously mentioned, a great deal of our energy is spent planning for the future. However, attempting to determine where we want to be tomorrow is quite difficult if we do not have a better handle on why we want to be there. A feat that is quite impossible if we fail to take the time and think about what we have done and continue to do. It’s why the greatest leaders throughout history have been informed by their past and why reflection on our actions is necessary. Once we have this perspective, only then can we effectively plan for tomorrow.

Good reflection leads to a greater peace of mind. With so many distractions, mental maladies, and other stressful weights pressing down upon us it is vital we find a way to calm our minds. Fortunately, one of the greatest benefits of reflection is it enables us to sort out much of the busyness in our life. Rather, than let the immense totality of it all overwhelm us, it allows one to break things down into smaller, more manageable pieces. This simplification of things contributes to an overall sense of calm otherwise found lacking.

Reflection improves our lives by better equipping us for the future, helping us understand the past and creating a greater peace of mind. While the benefits of realizing this door in our lives may seem like common sense finding the time and focus to dedicate to reflection is less simple. One must consciously and deliberately make time each day to think back on the events and thoughts of the day taking extra care to recognize the trends and patterns inherent in one’s life. Only then will the reasons for reflection fully reveal themselves.

Door Number Eighteen: Celebrate

“And, yes, no doubt to others, our ways seem quaint, but, today of all days, it is bought home: It is no bad thing to celebrate the simple life.” ~ Bilbo Baggins

We all take part in celebrations of some kind throughout our lives. Whether it be a birthday, an anniversary, or a holiday it is important we celebrate. It’s easy to forget the importance of celebration amidst a life often focused on buckling down and getting to work. We get so caught up preparing and planning for the future we forget to recognize and appreciate those moments in life when we need to stop working for a while and instead enjoy the leisure and excitement that comes with celebrating. While at first glance it may not seem as important as many of the other doors we travel through, upon further inspection its become clear there are many reasons to incorporate this door into the hall of our lives.

Celebration gives us a much-needed break. Life is busy. No matter what you choose to do there never seems to be enough time to accomplish everything that needs to be done. Even on the weekends, when we are supposed to be able to take a break from the rigors of our professional lives it seems like the time slips away faster than we can come with ideas on how to enjoy it. That is why celebrating events like birthdays and holidays is so important. They offer us an excuse to forget about all the things we need to do and focus on the enjoyment of the current moment. Even if the reason for that celebration involves successfully watching all three Lord of the Rings Extended Editions in one sitting.

Celebration is an easy way to let the people in your life know how much you care about them. One of the most notable forms of celebration (as made apparent by my multiple mentions of it) is the birthday. It is the one day of the year when it is okay to be the center of attention. However, as you get older this day become less and less exciting. It is no longer the cake and present-filled affair it once was. Which is why it is even more important to celebrate the birthdays of the loved ones in your life. It lets them know, that no matter how old they get, or how much things in life change, they deserve a day where they are celebrated. Besides, any excuse for ice cream cake should be exploited at all costs.

Without celebration, life would be an anti-climatic march towards nothing. Hard work is a staple to a fulfilling life. However, if we simply work hard towards our goals and then just move on to the next task without acknowledging our accomplishment it is difficult to appreciate the sacrifice. When the Empire was taken down at the end of Return of the Jedi did the rebellion immediately begin the hard process of building a transitional government for the galaxy? No. They celebrated, because not only would that have required a multitude of boring follow-up movies no one would have watched, in order to truly appreciate the gravity of a moment, you have to celebrate it.

Celebration is an important door because it offers us a break, allows us to let our loved ones know how much we care about them, and makes life worth the struggle. We have a finite amount of time in this life and we should take every opportunity we can to enjoy it. Even if we don’t have the resources to throw a huge party every time there is an event worth celebrating, it is important we utilize the resources we do have to recognize and enjoy the excitement. For those having trouble coming up with things to celebrate about, fortunately there’s an election in a little over a week which, with any luck, will give you plenty to celebrate about.

Door Number Seventeen: Pushing Your Limits

“If you always put limit on everything you do, physical or anything else. It will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.” ~Bruce Lee

Be it Lance Armstrong winning seven consecutive Tour de Frances after a comeback from cancer or Adrian Peterson coming back from a torn ACL in record time there are plenty of examples of people in our society pushing themselves to the limit. It’s easy to go through life always playing it safe. Avoiding pushing one’s self too hard out due to a fear of failure or causing unneeded, self-imposed harm. However, it is important we are not too afraid to attempt to transcend these perceived limitations. By taking the opportunity to test ourselves and opening this door we improve the quality of our lives in a number of important ways.

Every successful attempt at pushing ourselves beyond our limits expands our potential. Anyone who has run a race knows the key is to push towards finishing at all costs. While you may start at a low distance like a 5K, over time stamina and confidence increases and before you know it you may be running a 10K, half-marathon, or even the fabled full marathon. The problem with holding back and staying in one’s comfort zone is it creates an insurmountable ceiling. When we take the risk and succeed, any perceived barrier is pushed back. We realize the bar is not as low as we set it giving us the opportunity to strive higher than ever thought possible.

Failing at reaching beyond our limits makes us more resilient. The obvious reality of pushing ourselves to the edge of the possible is there is a great potential for failure. This lack of success does not have to be a bad thing. Every time we attempt the impossible and fall short we become better at accepting failure. An acceptance that encourages us to continue forward even when it seems unlikely we will succeed. After all, it took losing an arm for Luke Skywalker to achieve the heights of Jedi mastery needed to defeat the Empire.

Pushing our limits not only improves the quality of our own lives but can serve as inspiration to those around us.  As is illustrated in the previous points, win or lose there is a great deal of personal gain from challenging our limits. What may be forgotten as we attempt to better ourselves is we have the potential to inspire others to similar success. From Luke Skywalker to Rudy, people have been drawn to stories of underdogs becoming more than their meager backgrounds would suggest. When others see us succeed at something once thought beyond our capabilities a sense anything is possible arises. By shooting for the moon, we empower others to do the same.

We must push ourselves to the limit not only to increase our potential through our successes, but to learn the resiliency gained from failure. In addition, by opening this door we have the potential to inspire others to do the same. While it is quite possible we will come up short or become too overwhelmed, its vital we try. And while we should accept our limitations, it is even more important we continue to believe we can overcome them. So while the wisdom of Yoda would dictate we must always do or do not , and that trying is just another word for failure, in this case we should ignore the wise little green muppet and continue our efforts at striving towards the impossible.