Sometimes we can get caught up in the busyness of life swirling around us and forget to take time to slow down, look around, and breathe. I’ve been finding myself in that whirlwind lately and was reminded through a friend’s blog post entitled “Calibrate Your Compass” of the importance of taking a step back.
My busyness has kept me from activities I enjoy and from tasks I would like to do. I have numerous responsibilities, but do I need to keep them all? Who’s ultimately responsible for these commitments? Yep, I am. And that means I can say no and tell others I don’t have time or energy to contribute to their requests.
The problem is I like to help others when I can. Many people have helped me during my lifetime. I feel that if I can help, I should. That’s not to say I never say no. I do, and I typically have healthy boundaries. Where I see those lines start to blur is when people want to borrow my expertise. I’m flattered when that happens.
But that doesn’t mean I need to say yes every time, just as I don’t expect anyone to help me every time I ask them. Giving of myself can be rewarding, but if I don’t take care of myself and rejuvenate, I won’t have anything left to share.
To truly help others, I have to make time for myself a priority. For me, that involves walking, jogging, reading, writing, and things like that. It doesn’t have to be a lot of my time, but enough to remind myself I’m valuable and worth taking care of. And when I do that, I feel energized and have more to give to others.
Remember, you are important and worth taking care of.
There’s nothing like that lingering scent of fresh air after rain. But that’s not all that’s refreshing about a downpour. It also refreshes the ground and vegetation. It erases any tracks, kills the dust, and gives the earth a fresh look. It’s a clean slate. A new start.
That's what we’re given each day, too. It may not start with a fresh rain scent, but it’s a clean slate nonetheless.
I could choose to wallow in depression and self-pity as a result of things in my past, but what good would that do? It wouldn’t be beneficial to me nor to anyone around me.
Instead, I need to look at each day as a new opportunity, a chance to learn from my past mistakes and hurts and to do better. Does that mean I won’t make any more mistakes? Absolutely not. I will. But I’m not going to set out to do that. I’m going to take advantage of this clean slate and make new marks.
I could long for what could have been or maybe even what should have been, but that won’t accomplish anything. And life is too short to waste on things like that.
Just as the rain refreshes the earth, God gives us a clean slate when we come to Him. He takes away the pain of our past and replaces it with forgiveness. He gives us a new identity. We might fall back into our old ways on occasion, but He's always there to pull us out and put us back on the right track.
What are you going to do with the clean slate you've been given today?
A couple of recent encounters reminded me of the truth in words spoken by wise King Solomon millennia ago, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
The first encounter was a call to Microsoft tech support. Frustrated by a computer issue I had been experiencing for months, I reached out to the call center when the problem grew worse. A very pleasant tech support specialist, Aman, fielded my call and quickly set me at ease. He told me his name means “peace.” How appropriate.
I knew my computer problem wasn’t his fault, but oftentimes in frustrating situations, it’s easy to project that frustration onto anyone in earshot. Aman calmly and patiently walked me through a number of steps to fix the issue in the half hour we spent on the phone. And when we had to wait for some of the computer processes to work in the background, he took pride in showing me pictures of sights in his country of India. He even introduced me, via pictures, to Indian street food.
Not only did I get my computer problem solved, but I got a cultural education too. And it all started with a gentle answer.
“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” — Proverbs 15:1
The other encounter was with a woman who had a Southern accent. Maybe it was that Southern charm that quickly melted my defenses. This call was also driven out of frustration, only this time my frustration was with my health insurance company. I’ve had many dealings with this company over the years, and the calls don’t always go well. I often get the runaround and have learned to persist in calling multiple times. This time was an exception. The sweet woman on the other end of the phone — I don’t remember her name — proved extremely helpful in solving my issue. And she did it cheerfully.
During that same week, I saw a video about a guy known as the World’s Greatest Sheriff’s Deputy, Elton Simmons, in Los Angeles County. He got that title because of the down-to-earth way he handles traffic stops.
All three of these public servants deal with people every day who are frustrated. Yet they’re able to quickly disarm that frustration by treating others the way they’d want to be treated in those same situations. And they do it joyfully.
There have been numerous times when those around me have been frustrated. Thinking back, I have to ask myself: Did I offer gentle answers to set them at ease? Or did I fuel their fire and stir up the pot of anger? I want to be like Aman, the Southern woman, and Elton Simmons. I want to give gentle answers.
I’ve always been pretty independent. My dad has told the story numerous times about how I was never a cuddly baby and started walking at seven months old. (I had to keep up with my big sister, after all.) That independence has served me well most of my life. But there have been many times I had to work with others.
Group projects are interesting. They usually include rule followers and rule breakers and, more often than not, the rule followers end up doing the majority of the work. Being a rule follower myself, I tend to take a project seriously and pick up any slack left by other group members to ensure we deliver what was requested.
It can be easy for me as an independent to fall into a rut of believing my way is the right way — and the only way. Sure, I know there are other approaches that could be taken, but I typically am in go mode and don’t consider them — for long, anyway — largely in the interest of time.
As I’ve grown and matured, however, I’ve learned more about the art of collaboration and its benefits, and how to capitalize on the differences of those in a group. We each have something to contribute.
Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. Where I’m lacking, others excel. And when we come together, we provide completely unique perspectives on the same project. For example, I’m a word person, so I come at a project from a different angle than someone who works with numbers in analytics would. Considering those varied perspectives broadens my view and shows me a bigger picture.
By humbling myself and allowing others to participate in projects I could just as easily do myself, I learn things I wouldn’t otherwise. I get an idea into what makes my fellow group members tick and what they’re passionate about. They help me see the world in a new way. I grow in the process, and I develop a greater appreciation for the other participants.
The final project turns out better than it would have had I done it all myself, and those who participated feel a sense of ownership in it. And that’s a good thing.
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. And although I refer to myself as a breast cancer survivor, I don’t really feel like one. “Surviving” the cancer was nothing. Abnormal cells grew out of control, and something had to be done about them. It was easy surviving the growth of those cells. That part happened unbeknownst to me.
What wasn’t so easy was enduring a double mastectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation treatments to ensure all of the cancer had been removed from my body. Yep, I’m more of a chemo and radiation survivor. Oh, and breast reconstruction, too. Those were the ugly, grueling parts of the journey that took about two years of my life. (Not to mention lymphedema, a complication of the removal of a number of my lymph nodes that results in swelling of my right arm and hand. I’ll have this condition the rest of my life.)
No wonder my Making Strides Against Breast Cancer team co-captain, Leslie, refers to herself as a “warrior” instead. (The fact that she’s a huge Golden State Warriors fan might also have something to do with it.)
For the past three years, she and I have led a team, Long Live the Girls, in the annual event to increase awareness about breast cancer and to raise funds for more research. Each year, scientists learn new things about the disease and make strides toward a cure. But they couldn’t do it without the help of supporters.
If you’d like to join the cause, we’d love to have you. How can you help? I’m glad you asked. Here are some ways:
Christian, wife, mother of 5, breast cancer survivor, marathon finisher, writer and editor, author of "Help! I'm a Science Project"