As the somewhat obvious yet profound saying goes about perspective, it really does all depend on how you look at it.
Wherever you are in life, there is some struggle or suffering that you’re going through or about to go through. Somehow it’s always inevitable whether you’re a student, parent, young individual, or fledgling professional (or anyone in-between). But if you’re prepared with the right set of eyes (and most of us aren’t), then you’ll be able to tackle any setback, obstacle, or low point, all in good time.
So forget trying to achieve Maslow’s highest level of Self-Actualization. Forget trying to be perfect. You can even forget trying to fulfill your true potential, if just for a while. And you can even stop forgetting forgetting, as the Yogis and Jedis teach. What you might need is sharp, willful perspective, and a heavy dose of reality to get you to where you should be (and maybe where you want to be). Here’s how.
1. Start with your deathbed and work backwards
There are three ultimate and undeniable realities: Death, Nature, and the Unknown.
The sooner you realize you’re incapable of controlling these three, the sooner you’ll feel a little release from Life’s cool grip. As you are dying a long time from now, who will you be surrounded by and what will your final wish be? What will you have let go of? If you can imagine your life from your final moment backwards to right now, then you’ll have constructed enough timelines to know what you really want (which might not be what you think you want). This isn’t meant to make you mediate on your own death, but rather to jostle you out of the current moment and consider the long arc of your life.
2. You’re going to get old (and be old) for a while
Consider this: between your twenties and retirement, you will live almost three lifetimes as you did between birth and the age of twenty. And then you’re going to have a brand new life in retirement. Most men die around seventy-six, and most women out-live men by ten to fifteen years (often twenty). Those nice, old church ladies? They’re living a second and third life after career and children, many of them in retirement and then widowed. Life is long and you’re going to have time, so prepare for early mornings and long afternoons, and plenty of time to look back to now and wish you knew what to change—and change it while you’re young. That should take some of the pressure off, but know that the dreams you’re not getting around to right now might be waiting for you on the other side of life, when the world will still belong to the young, fast ones.
3. It’s not about the salary (unless it’s about the salary)
In business and life, there is only the job. Or rather—there should only be the job, in that too often we love the pomp and circumstance of it all, long after the usefulness of the title has disappeared. If you strip away the celebration about the worker, and you focus one’s skill set on simply getting the job done to perfection, then that’s all that should matter. However, humanity has never been good at ego-less work, and yet we keep creating fictional heroes whose main focus is “the job” when in reality we have entire industries on building things that will be obsolete by the time junior finishes high school. So for you select few who are out there creating a solid product no matter what, you’re the ones holding it together in terms of perspective.
4. Think like a lawyer (for both sides)
Find that angle on human behavior and look to defend the possibly indefensible because it will open up new avenues of thought as to who we are and what we’re capable of. Lawyers exist because everyone needs a friend and defender at some point (even if you lose and have to pay them). But, like odd priests, they debate the law in ever advancing and illuminating ways. Did you ever think that discussion of logic could continue forever? Law school students did. The minute we make villains of people is the minute we shut down the possibility that a person is a person, and not a predestined character. Somewhere between one side’s truth and the other side’s defense is the reality we’re going to settle for. And sometimes we all just need a good arbiter.
5. Think like a doctor—medical, academic, scientific, or witch variety
Everything can be diagnosed, and for all things there is an answer. There, doesn’t that make you feel better? Once we have a diagnosis we can let the fear and stress of the Unknown go and we can move on to the next thing. The sooner you accept that we’re all walking head cases with our own family and chemical issues, the sooner you’ll feel an opening in your mind as to the right kind of compassion you could be showing your nearest stranger, friend, or family member. There are years of layers and conflicts and stories going on in every person you meet, and we are often unaware of what we’re being guided by. Sometimes you need an ambulance, and sometimes you just need a tall glass of water.
6. Respect the sweaty man (and woman)
Right now there are literally millions of people sweating more than you at jobs harder than yours and in situations tougher than yours. There’s someone older and more prone to aches than you are in fields, caves, and factories all over the globe. The inverse is true as well. The dream for all of us, however, is to be able to reap some reward from that sweat and then be able to relax with our loved ones on a couch at the end of the day (preferably with a cold beverage and a hot meal and syndicated reruns). That’s all of humanity. All of it. And it’s a good dream. In fact it’s all there ever has been, going back to the first species that hurried home from work to watch the sun set. We’re all connected to that end-of-the-day dream and the sweaty reality before us.
7. Make ’em laugh, make ’em laugh, make ’em laugh
Comedians have all the answers. With the right amount of skepticism, empathy, and self-deprecation, you can laugh your way around a problem just by observing the absurd nature of most situations. But chances are that most of us see things in terms of function or emotion rather than humor. The mind of a comic is ever-racing for that quip or laugh no matter what, and it’s a true art to master. Almost anything can be funny in the right context, and in comedy we have all of literature, myth, and art with sharp commentary and philosophy. There are often more metaphors, analogies, and proverbs in a comedy routine than you’d expect.
8. Consider the Other…and the Other, and the Other
“The Other” is just that – he or she who is not one of us, a foreigner, an outsider, an other. There is nothing like a good old fashioned clique to ruin every institution since the dawn of mankind, and you must accept the possibility that all humans need consideration, especially the ones you’re not considering. Right now there is a version of you in every country around the world, and the same goes for humans going back in time to the beginning of bipedal experimentation. Our worst times as a species has been when we thought we were the only ones who mattered for whatever special reasons we told ourselves.
9. Count your blessings at least three times—or four
If you haven’t realized how good you have it lately, just think about how luxurious it is to sit on an indoor toilet while watching your Smartphone, and that most of the world doesn’t have access to clean running water, let alone Smartphones, WiFi, indoor plumbing, and endless aisles of discounted toilet paper in giant food stores. Go ahead, count all your blessings. We’ll wait.
10. You’re probably wrong about a number of things—beware the Fallacies!
If we let our irrationality go unchecked, and we have enough people telling us we’re fine just the way we are, we’re lucky enough to spend a whole lifetime of never being challenged out of our daily mental narratives. That’s when our personal relationships and professional lives suffer. In your mental routine, allow for the possibility that you’re wrong about what you’re doing, or that you have the wrong premise. Or that the system (job, relationship, group) has some flaw that, if corrected, could improve everything immensely. There have been whole nations and empires built on the wrong premises, and they were still filled with well adjusted people who lead lives of happy mediums – and plenty who suffered at the hands of unchecked power.
11. Just ask “why” three times on three different levels—and then listen
There is always a “root” to the root of the problem, and usually the solutions can’t be far off (and sometimes they are). But if you really want to get your Ego out of the way on a decision, and you want your subconscious and unconscious to unite in the most powerful way possible, then you have keep asking why until you get the right answer.
You have to disarm yourself, if possible. Sometimes when you’re listening, there is no audible yes or no, so you have to just go with it. If you jump, you might have to build the net on your way down. Why? Because life is dangerous and full of the unknown. Why? Because that is the nature of existence. Why? Well, you see how it goes from here. Include clarifying questions, qualifiers, and the hard, direct questions you don’t necessarily want to answer. It’s worth it.
12. When in doubt, take a shower
Practicing mindfulness while meditating in nature is preferable, but there’s nothing like a hot shower and some alone time to get you thinking and maybe clear your mind. The billions of microbes all over your body need some perspective, too.
13. You’re the hero we’ve been waiting for—but you’re not the only hero
Every person is the main protagonist in a stand-alone narrative, regardless of how we characterize each other as a sidekick, enemy, comic relief, or extra. And we’re all on a revolving cycle of importance whether we’re new to the storyline or the old character looking for a reboot. You are extremely important in every way possible to those who count on you—and the same goes for everyone else. Take great care with your storyline because it will end some day, and those who have shared the pages with you will be better for it.
Photo: Giulia van Pelt/Flickr
Read more from Jeremy McKeen every week here on The Good Men Project!
And thank you for sharing this!
What’s your take on what you just read?
Comment below or write a response and submit to us your own point of view or reaction here at our Submittable link.