Which is it? Sun, or storm?
I realized something this morning: good weather makes me happy.
For most of you, that connection couldn’t be more obvious. It’s a rare person who doesn’t feel just a little more kick-ass on a bright, sunny day. But until very recently, I was that rare person. I savored the rain, the clouds, the fog, the sleet, and the snow. I’m not talking about that enjoyment many people get from a good thunderstorm. I mean I actually looked forward to the kind of weather most people complain about. As Calvin once told Hobbes,”I love these cold, gray winter days. Days like these let you savor a bad mood.”
I still appreciate those kind of days. The melancholic side of my temperament always will. But I’ve learned to love how things look in the sunshine. The bright, crisp, clarity of it all. The feeling that the day is filled with possibility and opportunity. I don’t want to spend every day nursing whatever thing it is I’m brooding over. I’d much rather be out there, getting things done. It’s a shift in my outlook and attitude that I frankly never thought would happen.
Why the change? Part of it is no doubt due to my change in diet. Another part is because I’ve learned to stop feeling entitled to happiness and success. I can’t fully explain why I expected those things to come naturally, but in hindsight, I realize that I did. And so when they didn’t, I got angry, because I felt like I was being deprived of something I deserved. So that meant that every time I got stuck in traffic, or spilled coffee on my white shirt, or couldn’t find my other shoe, or got a scratch on the paint of my car, I was seriously pissed about it. Life was taking things from me that were supposed to be mine to keep. I wasn’t supposed to be inconvenienced, dammit! Things were supposed to go my way!
Being religious didn’t make this any better. Have a gander at the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 6 (vs. 25-34):
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith? So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’ All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness,* and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.
I can tell you from personal experience that if you read that often enough, you can use it as an excuse for not putting in the time you should be investing to make things happen. It can easily turn into a mentality that leads you to say, “It’ll all work out. I am doing His will, and He will take care of me.” And when that doesn’t happen, you start to doubt. The next thing you know, you’re saying, “I have always tried to do the right thing and serve God. But nothing goes right for me. Why is God doing this to me? I’m beginning to wonder if he even exists…”
The best thing that could ever have happened to me was when I started asking these questions. Why? Because as I searched for the answers to how I could love God and not just be taken care of like the birds of the sky or the wild flowers, I couldn’t find anything that satisfied me. And what came next is that I lost my faith. Some of you will surely object that this is not something to be thrilled about. But it was only through losing my faith in God as a divine welfare system that I gained faith in myself. If I couldn’t count on Him to hand me a job or make me better at my marriage or help me to do something I wasn’t sure I could do on my own, then I had to find a way to do it on my own.
Ladies and gentlemen, that’s called growing up. And when you learn to do things on your own, you stop expecting everyone else to do them for you. You stop looking for excuses for why you failed, and you start embracing the failure as a means to learn and grow. You stop asking why other people don’t do more for you, and you start asking how you can do more for yourself. You stop fixating on the problem, and you start problem solving.
Let me break something to you that I had to learn the hard way: unless you are a child, you don’t deserve to be happy. And nobody deserves to be successful. Happiness and success are things that you go out and grab and make your own. There aren’t any shortcuts. You have to put in the work. You also have to be the kind of person who can build the relationships that are essential when you’re in a bind and you need help. Nobody wants to network with Mr. Negativity. Be the kind of person that people want to work with. Stop complaining about your life, because nobody wants to hear it. Only stand up comedians make a living from that kind of thing.
Once I learned to start doing things for myself and saw that I could succeed without waiting for someone else (divine or otherwise) to open the door, my entire perspective changed. My outlook on life became increasingly positive. I felt empowered. I saw opportunities where I had only seen obstacles in the past. I relished challenges rather than dreading them. I learned to be happy in the moment, rather than saying, “I would be so much happier if I could just have/do/accomplish X.” Does that mean I have no ambition? Absolutely not. If anything I have more ambition now than ever before. I have begun goal-setting. I feel confident that I bring value to whoever I’m working with.
And something else has happened. I’m rediscovering my faith. Rebuilding it from the ground up. Finding a healthier philosophy and approach to the numinous. Basing my relationship with God on gratitude (and, hopefully, love) instead of fear and co-dependence. Instead of being a hardline providentialist, I now subscribe to a more pragmatic ethos, first penned by St. Augustine: “Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.”
My wife will tell you that despite a full range of things happening in our life that cause me no small amount of stress, I’m happier than I’ve ever been. I’m also more productive. We used to watch a lot of TV. I was burned out at night and just didn’t have it in me to do anything else. At some point over the past month, we’ve stopped even turning it on. It wasn’t a conscious decision. We just have so much to do and talk about, we never get around to it. Now I come home from long days at the office, spend time with my kids, then jump into business building activities for her new company, or develop my personal brand. Sometimes I switch gears and I work on pet creative projects or hobbies or read one of the half-dozen or so books I’m trying to get through at any given time. And it feels great.
I am not speaking as someone who has a long track record of success. I am speaking of someone who feels very strongly that I am on the cusp of great success. My gut’s been telling me for months that this is the year that things are going to start clicking. I half-seriously told my wife in January that I was going to lose 30lbs. this year. March isn’t even over, and I’ve already lost 25lbs. I also told her back in January that this year, I felt we were going to finally begin to create success in our business pursuits. Just last week, she started her first real estate brokerage as a sole proprietor. Neither of us planned for the things we were doing to go so well or so quickly, but when you approach your challenges with energy, passion, and optimism, you might be surprised what happens. Whether or not this year winds up as a success for us on paper, just the fact that we are thinking positively and overcoming challenges makes it more successful than a typical year for us, where I’m cynical and negative about everything and she has to drag me kicking and screaming toward the goal line.
Don’t be a drain. Tell-all blogger, entrepreneur, and former millionaire James Altucher says that you should cut out the negative people in your life, because they steal your energy. What happens if you’re the negative person? What does that say about you? (Altucher also says that you can increase your productivity 500% by not being this kind of person. I agree.)
I feel like I have a new lease on life. I get in the car every morning excited about what I can accomplish today. And I focus my efforts (and my prayers) on being the best, most productive guy I can be just for that day. Every today is all I can focus on, or I get daunted. But one day at a time, you can do anything. And one day at a time, a bad day isn’t such a loss. After all, you can take another crack at it tomorrow.
I realize that I probably sound pretty cliché. I’m okay with that. It’s all true. And if you want it badly enough, it can be true for you too.