Am I the person I want to be? Do I live the way I want to live? Am I proud of how I treat others?
Admittedly, a considerable amount of my waking time is exhausted contemplating these questions. This past week, a refreshing encounter challenged me to rethink my comfortable answers.
I went back and read an old essay Weeding the Garden as I took some personal inventory. Three years ago, I wrote it as a reminder to analyze my daily and weekly activities for waste and unproductiveness -- and then rid life of those behaviors. (I recommend you read the post, if you haven't already.) For me, Weeding the Garden confronted time mis-management. I had consistently wasted hours in unproductive ways. During my re-read tonight however, I saw something else in it -- Idealism.
What is Idealism? It's a belief in a state of flawlessness rather than reality. For CrossFitters, the ideal of fitness is an athlete perfectly balanced across an endless list of physical skills. Dieters might reflect on Michelangelo's David or a magazine supermodel as their ideal. For Christians, the ideal human life is Jesus Christ. For most any hobby, interest, career, marriage, or thought -- there is a pedestal that comes to mind. It's a materialization of perfection; Conceptualized, yet unattainable.
Turn back the clock a few years. Recall what you deemed as being "ideal" back then. Are you who you thought you'd be? Are you doing what you thought you'd be doing? Are you living how you wanted to live? I'd argue that everyone maintains a constantly evolving image of what is "ideal" - in life, love, career, happiness, finances, or whatever interests you. But the real question isn't whether or not you are closer to yesterday's version of "ideal." It's whether or not you are closing in on TODAY's version!
So what is your today's version of ideal? If you had it your way, who would you be? What would you be doing? Who would you be with? Then you must answer a dreaded question: What changes in your life will help you reach your ideal existence? Some obstacles, problems, and issues are more identifiable than others.
- Maybe the first obvious answers are something cosmetically simple like: "I need to lose fifteen pounds," or "Watch less television," or "Clean my garage." (Some relatively minor adjustments to daily life.)
- Maybe the answers are more difficult: "I really need to quit smoking," or "Save money for an entrepreneurial dream," or "Go to college to finish a degree." (No, Mom. This doesn't mean I'm going back to school!)
- Maybe the answers require a complete change: "Finalize a marital divorce," or "Stop sexual promiscuity," or "Join drug rehab," or "Make amends with a discarded friend." (Sounds like an hour's list of my advice during last night's patrol shift!)
Some aspects of life are more easily changed than others. It's clearly more difficult to confront a rocky marriage than it is to break up with a boyfriend or girlfriend. The risks of changing careers is more palatable when you are single instead of having a spouse and children to feed. Starting a savings account is insurmountable when faced with compounding debt. Even old sinful habits continually tempt those with a commitment to Christ. I am not trivializing these tweaks, turns, or transformations. Some barriers to living an idealized life require nothing short of a complete turnabout. But the effort is well worth it. And I argue that NOTHING is impossible. I didn't say it would be easy; I said it would be worth it!
One big change of mine has been an adoption of a more old fashioned approach to life - filled with timeless ideals from centuries ago. These historical principles are just as true today as any time, regardless of popular trend, fashion, technology, or politics. For solutions to many of today's biggest pitfalls and tragedies, we need not look any further than past cultures who had combatted the exact issues. Yet most of us ignore their lessons. The same temptations, distractions, and challenges faced ancient cultures that I experience today.
Aristotle said: We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. For me, some habits are easy: brushing my teeth, eating vegetables, fidelity, saving money, daily exercise, honesty. For other habits, I am committed but still struggle: being cautious of pridefulness, sharing my faith, cheering for the White Sox. I believe that each day presents itself with opportunities to turn an act into a habit. I'm getting better at recognizing those chances and choosing wisely. My optimism and resilience have allowed me to make some serious strides towards an idealized living - despite the inevitable setbacks.
Don't spend too much time in regret or thoughts about missed chances. Unlike modern machinery, life has no RESET button. No DELETE switch. We can't turn back time to change those regretful moments. Instead focus on the future and your vision of an idealized life. We can't always avoid accidents, disasters, or unforeseeable emergencies. But we as humans are programmed with something much more powerful: the abilities to react and to change and to press on. Taken as a whole, where you stand today versus where you'd like to be might be miles apart. The long road ahead may seem unchartered and difficult. But we hold many chances to close the distance.
Take stock in who you are today. Determine where you want to be tomorrow. Propose some changes. Take a step. REPEAT.
So....Am I the person I want to be? Do I live the way I want to live? Am I proud of how I treat others? Not yet, but I get closer every day. I'd like to think I'm done with the transformations, left with a couple big turns and lot of tweaks. But I'm not that naive....I'm still a long way off...