On Flexing Your Perspective

As with the recent passing of a high school classmate, real life has a way of interrupting our routines. And when this happens, particularly when faced with a sudden death, we “find perspective.” We rediscover the importance of living in the present. We’re reminded about how fleeting time is. How short life is. Suddenly all of those inspirational quotes that fill our social media timelines (and are prominent at A Day Well Lived) seem to ring ever more true. We make promises to ourselves that, “From this day forward, things are going to be different.”

But if there’s one thing I’ve discovered through the years, it’s that perspective is easy to find, but difficult to keep.

Perspective is a lot like love. We fall in love and the only way to stay in love is to work at it. It requires practice. The heart is a muscle that must be flexed. Perspective, too, is a muscle that must be flexed. I’m not sure that perspective is something you have. I think instead, it’s something you must practice. Something you have to build. Yes, we “have” physical muscles, but the only way to build them is by working them.

I’ve come to realize this over time. Prior to Mike, I’ve experienced the death of far too many friends and people in my life. And it started when I was young. With each passing and each funeral, I was convinced that my life was going to be different. I would often ask myself, “If my life ended today, am I where I want to be?” Far too many times, the answer was no and I would make some big change (even going so far as to move across the country). In these changes, I was always certain that, “This time, I get it. Life is short. From this day forward, things are going to be different.”

They rarely were.

It never took much time for me to start stressing about the little things again. The first guy to cut me off on the freeway would get an earful. (That is, if he could hear me.) It didn’t take long for me to overreact to things that are truly laughable. It never took long for me to slip back into old habits. I didn’t practice perspective. I didn’t work at building it. I didn’t strengthen my perspective muscles the same way you’d work a bicep or quad in the gym. Or love in your relationships. I just thought that “having it” was enough. I took it for granted.

Last Friday morning, my son had a test to get his green belt in Taekwondo. I was hell-bent on getting in a workout. I wished him luck and about halfway through my session, I realized I was an idiot. Here I was with the opportunity to go see him test and my priority was to make sure I got in 60 minutes of sweat (that I could do anytime during the day)? He truly didn’t care whether or not I saw him test, but I did.

His test was a memory and moment that would only come once. Sure, there will be more tests and more belts, but this was the only time he’d test for his green belt. I ended the workout immediately and raced to the dojo and watched his test.

I didn’t do this for him. I did it for me.

I think intention is a key point to successfully building perspective. In order to flex the perspective muscles, we need to understand why. Why do you want to have perspective? It can’t be simply because it sounds good. Anything that requires change needs a healthy dose of intention. For me? It’s so I don’t miss moments. I don’t miss experiences. It’s so I don’t miss green belt tests. By ending the workout early, I may have short-changed whatever muscles I have in my shoulders, but my perspective got a big workout. And while K-Man passed his test, I passed one of my own.

Perspective and intention go hand in hand. The only way to keep it is to work at it. And the only way to truly work at it…is to understand why it’s important that you do. Otherwise, the same mistakes will be made. The same old habits will return. It’s easy to get inspired. (I’ve written about the dangers in that.) It’s easy to find perspective. But if you keep getting inspired and you keep finding perspective, but nothing is changing…Where’s the perspective in that?

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