Do you spend your days focused on and consumed by your problems? Do you wonder why bad things only happen to you? If you do, I can teach you a little trick that will help you start to forget your problems. It will help you begin to notice how lucky and blessed you really are instead. Ready to hear what the secret is?
Take your eyes off yourself and focus instead on helping someone else.
Did you know that whatever we focus our attention on consumes us and gets bigger? If you’re always thinking about your problems, they take full reign of your attention – front and center all day long. The bigger your focus on them, the more they make you feel slighted, mistreated and eventually you are consumed with self-pity.
When you begin to focus instead on what you have in relation to others less fortunate than you, it puts everything in perspective. I remember back in the really, really lean times when as a single mother, even though I worked full time, I was struggling to put food on my own table. I worked in downtown St Louis, which is somewhere I would never choose to hang out by choice. Every week when I got paid I would literally have just a few dollars left over after paying the bills that had to be paid that week. Without fail, I would walk out the doors on payday and come across someone on the street begging for money. Invariably, I would give them 2 of the 3 dollars I had to my name.
Why on earth would I do that? If you are spending your days walking up and down the street begging for money, you are clearly less fortunate than me. If you are sleeping on downtown sidewalks, you are clearly less fortunate than me. When you look like you haven’t seen a hot shower in weeks, I can only assume it’s been equally as long since you’ve had the pleasure of sleeping in a warm bed. Clearly you are less fortunate than me. Many years later my coworkers would tease me for doing that because they claimed those people that I gave 2 of my 3 dollars to would take that money and buy alcohol with it. I can’t deny I was saddened to think they would waste my money on alcohol. But I have no regrets because I still believe they were less fortunate than me.
Not only have I been the giver, I have found myself on the receiving end of a good deed and it feels amazing! During those same lean years that I was “foolishly” giving 2 of my 3 dollars to homeless people, I was reaching out to churches and other places trying to get help paying my own bills so my power wouldn’t be shut off, or so that I could feed my kids. I’ll never forget that a young couple with a small child “adopted” my kids and I for Christmas. They brought presents for my girls and a bottle of perfume called HOPE for me. They told me the perfume was not intended for me to wear so much as it was to serve as a reminder that there is always hope. They also brought each of my daughters Happy Meals from McDonald’s which was a big treat because we seldom had the opportunity to eat out during those days.
The fact that these people chose to think of others rather than themselves during the holidays was such a complete blessing to me and left a profound impact on my life. But the thing that stands out to me the most in their act of generosity was that they were trying to teach their 6 or 7 year-old daughter to always think of others. What makes this even more amazing was that their daughter did not have a hand. She only had a prosthetic hook for her hand. Talk about someone not focusing on their own problems!
Can you believe that I started smoking cigarettes when I was 11 years old?! I can’t even believe that. Thankfully, I quit smoking in 1998. It definitely wasn’t an easy thing to do. In fact, I even took an anti-depressant medication called Wellbutrin for a couple of weeks because it was supposed to help you quit. I am confident today that I would have never been able to quit on my own without that medication. It worked really well and made getting through the first couple of weeks much easier.
When I started smoking, cigarettes were only 50 cents a pack. By the time I quit smoking, they were almost $2.00 a pack! In addition to the health risks, the cost of them was a big reason I wanted to quit smoking. Yesterday I was behind someone in line that was purchasing a carton of cigarettes. I was shocked and so thankful that I quit when I heard that he would be paying $49.00 for the carton!
This got me wondering how much money I had saved by quitting. So I came home and did the math. Can you believe that I have saved over $42,000 since I stopped smoking 16 years ago? That is a gigantic chunk of money! That’s the equivalent of approximately 3 brand new cars! Plus, I don’t have that nagging cough anymore. If you’re still a smoker, knowing this might be just the motivation you need to quit.
Are there people that you cherish and appreciate so much? Are there people that provide you with such excellent service that you never have to worry that they’ll do what they say they are going to do? What about the people that just show up and do exactly what they are expected to do? Do you notice these people’s actions?
What about the people that are supposed to be there in life for you and they are not? What about the contractor that you paid to make repairs who did a shoddy job? Or worse yet, took your money and ran with it? What about the person that cuts you off in traffic? Do you notice these people’s actions?
I’m going to wager that the majority of us notice the second set of examples more frequently than we do the first. We’re burning up the phone lines complaining (or blaring or horns!) when we feel like people have dropped the ball or treated us unfairly. But how often do we pick up the phone to tell a friend or family member how much they mean to us? What about calling to compliment the people or service providers that just show up and do what they have promised to do?
I’ll admit, I’m the first one to call and complain if something goes wrong. But, I’m also the first one to call when something goes right. I notice and acknowledge whenever someone does a great job. Yesterday, I received yet another sales call on my business line. These calls drive me CRAZY and distract me from whatever I’m trying to focus on. And the caller is usually rude and sounds like a robot with a prerecorded message. While I used to automatically just hang up on these callers in the past, lately I have been trying to remind myself that they are just people doing their job. A job they probably hate, just like I was. So I’ve made a conscientious change and I now sit through their spiels and then I politely decline whatever it is they are selling. But back to the sales call I received yesterday. The woman that called was so polite and genuine that I was highly impressed. I still politely declined what she was selling, but then I took a moment to thank her for her great approach and told her how much I appreciated it.
Well, I’ve been prompted the last few days to call my trash company and tell them how much I appreciate the guys that take my yard waste. They show up every week just like they are supposed to. Usually they have come and gone before I even wake up. The times I have seen them taking the yard waste, they always pick up any grass that may have fallen out of a bag that ripped as they pick it up. It’s those little, thoughtful things that usually go unnoticed. I kept meaning to call but kept forgetting. When I was prompted out of nowhere again today to make the call, I knew I couldn’t put it off one more minute.
I’ve learned that when I am prompted like that to do something, especially over and over, there is a reason for it. And it’s my job to act on it. I’ve learned that in those instances, that is when God is speaking to me. Now, I don’t know the first thing about the 2 guys that pick up my yard waste. But my sense is that one or both of them must be having a tough time right now or just need a little pick me up. I’ll never know how my phone call impacted their lives, or if it made a significant difference at all. But what I do know is that it was important that I make that call. Who can you call and thank today? What GOOD thing can you focus on today rather than focusing on a negative thing?
One of the biggest battles I had when it came to quitting my job was that I had already invested 26 year there and only had 3 1/2 years to go until I could retire with a great pension check coming in every month for the rest of my life. It seemed so foolish not to wait it out after sticking it out there as long as I already had. Nobody does that!
On top of that, I’ve always been a very responsible person that does what I need to do and what I am supposed to do without any regard to how I feel about it. I had two children that I had to support solely on my own and so there was no room for questioning whether to continue working there or not regardless of how miserable it made me. I considered myself a “lifer”, like a prison sentence.
But once I realized about 15 years ago that we were all put here for a reason, for a purpose that is much bigger than ourselves, I’ve had a different perception of life and what it is supposed to look like. And it’s made just doing life status quo much harder for me. For the first 25-30 years of my life I focused all of my energy on just merely surviving this thing they called life. I was so consumed by the hurt, pain and confusion from all of the injustices bestowed upon me in my early life that I couldn’t see or feel anything past that. I was doing life from a reactive place not a proactive place, from a victim mentality. I didn’t realize that we could create our own lives!
As soon as I understood that we have the power to create the life we want to live, it was much harder to sit in a job that I detested. From the minute I opened the doors to my organizing business, Simplified Living Solutions, and the phone started ringing off the hook, I’ve battled with staying where I was. Every time I would remind myself how lucky I was to have such a great job with wonderful benefits and I only had 3 1/2 more years to go, those thoughts were quickly met with thoughts of how I want to live my life now, not later. What if I didn’t live long enough to do it after I retired? We’re not promised a tomorrow. I knew with such a strong gut feeling that I didn’t want to leave this life without feeling like I had lived it to its fullest. I didn’t want to take a chance that tomorrow may never come.
I don’t mind working at all, I actually like it. So I knew that if I had to, I could always go back to working a “real job”. But I knew I had to take this leap of faith because I loved the feelings that helping others get organized gave me (in addition to what it gave them). I loved the satisfaction of knowing that I had made a positive difference in someone’s life and I loved encouraging people and reminding them of their greatness. I loved knowing that I was making a positive difference in the world in which I live, rather than merely surviving it. Life wasn’t meant to just survive, we are meant to thrive in it! That’s what I’d like to help more people understand earlier in life than I did so they can get to work living their life to the fullest!
While talking to someone recently, she shared that she often struggles with why God lets bad things happen. She admitted that she gets very angry with Him when they do. You know, I have heard this very same sentiment from a lot of people and I’m always surprised. They blame God whenever anything goes wrong. Now I don’t claim to be better than them, or to be judging their perception, but I do struggle with that thought pattern.
Granted I’m a newer Christian and not a Bible scholar so I don’t claim to have all of the answers, but most everything I’ve been taught or read in the Bible are stories of people’s struggles. So I’m not sure why people don’t think struggles will come their way. The only thing that I do know about struggles is that He will be there with you through them. You can’t always see Him or feel Him, but in the end you realize that He was there with you all along and that through that struggle you’re a stronger person. Or you may have even grown closer to Him during that struggle and you’re thankful for that now.
I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t like the challenges or struggles that come my way either. They are difficult, trying and seem almost never ending. But because of my struggles, I am more compassionate and a much stronger, determined and driven person than I would have ever been without them. I think although we all feel like we have had more struggles than others and that it’s not fair, the reality is that we have all been through our own fair share of struggles. They look different for each of us, but every struggle is equally difficult.
Those struggles are there to grow us, To teach us something about ourselves. Whenever bad things have happened in my life, my natural inclination has always been to ask God “how do you want me to use this?” It never once occurred to me to ask him why this was happening to me. Long story short, without all of the gory details – I was sexually abused by several different men at different times growing up. Each time was a horrible, horrible experience. It caused me to carry so much shame. It shattered my confidence and self-esteem. It took a big toll mentally and left me numb and in a state of stressed confusion for many, many years.
It’s funny though, I never once thought to ask Him why He let that happen to me. Each time I simply asked him how He wanted me to use the experience and what it was that He wanted to teach me through it. I eventually felt that he wanted me to understand people’s pain so that I could minister to them. At one point I thought I was supposed to be a counselor. I now minister to my clients who are in pain because of their disorganized, out of control lives. Pain is pain, no matter what the cause is, so through my own personal struggles I am better able to understand how they are feeling and what they need to get over that pain.