Perspective is something I talk about a lot but there is a reason, everybody needs to gain some perspective. Generally, I specifically write for men and around men things, as you can see in the title, I crossed out men and changed it to all because, in reality, everybody needs to do hard things. In this day and age, you wouldn't think it would be hard to find perspective, a quick Internet search and you can gain a great deal of perspective as long as you're willing to step out of your comfortable little surroundings. Do not go read stories about dogs rescuing kittens and cute little baby animals, actually look up things that make a difference. Once upon a time you had to leave the comfort of your own home to see what life was like in other places and for other people. You gain perspective by experiencing things outside of your realm of comfort. That is not the case in this day and age, now you can choose to gain perspective simply at your fingertips on your smartphone or your computer. The catch is you must want to gain perspective by looking at things that take you outside of your comfort zone.
Let me give you an example:
Once upon a time, I used to be a youth minister and one of my favorite times of the year was when we went on mission trips. Mission trips were always exciting for me because it took our relatively sheltered youth and put them totally outside of their comfort zone and their own world. Reality is experienced by a person; it is not a set paradigm. There is such a thing as absolute truth, however your reality is exactly that, it is your reality. Your reality is defined by the life you live geographically, historically and economically. Taking these kids from the various places where they lived to nations that were poorer than our country and letting them experience life through the eyes of the people we were there to help had a grand effect on these young people. Not all the teenagers we took we were stereotypical teenagers, some of them were already fairly exceptional in their view of the world around them. However, we often took young people who lived in their own little protected bubble and had never seen hardship or difficulty with their own eyes. With any mission trip, your goal is to help the people you are going to serve. The benefit for some of these teenagers was to show that their lives were unique and not the rule. These teenagers often came back from these trips almost entirely new people. They learned that they were incredibly blessed because they saw firsthand how different other people's lives were from their own. They gained perspective.
In today's world, you do not have to go to a different country to see that life is different from place to place. In the United States, we're very blessed in a great many ways and while we worry about if we can afford the newest iPhone or what fun thing we're going to do this weekend other places struggle with where are we going to get food and water today. This is not an attempt to guilt people into feeling bad because their life is better than some other peoples. However, it is a call for gratitude for the blessings we have in life. Ironically, that is not limited to economic scenarios, you will find in places that are far worse economically than we are that there are many people with great perspective. People who struggle every single day for basic needs that a lot of us take for granted still have perspective on their situation. Some children may not get a good meal every day and still will turn around and share with other people because they know other people are worse off than they are. Like I said it is not about economics necessarily either. Economics is the low hanging fruit for this conversation as it is the easiest thing to point out.
Several years ago, I got involved in obstacle course racing or what they call OCR’s. I also got a couple of my buddies involved with them by way of an event that we work on together. One of my friends has gotten very involved and does 8 to 12 OCR's a year and sometimes more. Early on in this adventure, he struggled pretty bad because he was nowhere near the physical condition of a lot of people who get involved in the sport. Years of working at a desk behind a computer screen had done nothing for his cardio health and had done horrible things to his waist size. Shamefully there were even people who mocked him when he started doing these events for even trying because he was so out of shape. I remember one race we were doing just outside the Portland area and both of us were absolutely exhausted. We had driven down the night before and stayed in a hotel where we barely slept because both of us were sick. I was not even sure he was going to attempt the race the next day when we went to bed that night. When we started that morning we just moved along at our pace, neither of us takes the “race” aspect of this seriously. We just like to do the events, neither of us will ever be super competitive at the sport but we enjoy it just the same. As we were moving along my friend was so tired. Being so tired magnified by the fact that he was so out of shape was winning the battle against making progress along the course. We were going along and he wanted to sit down to take yet another break less than 1/2 mile of distance since his last break. When I looked back to try and get him to continue to move, because to stop moving makes you hurt worse, I saw what was about to happen. I smiled and let him sit down and I continued moving. It was that day that my friend Dave got to meet Kacey McCallister.
Kacey McCallister does not have legs, let me say that again just so you know you read that right Kacey does not have any legs. Kacey goes through these races on his knuckles with a heavy leather covering on the bottom half his torso to keep from tearing himself up. Kacey came up behind where my friend was sitting, patted him on the shoulder and said “come on man let us just keep going.” People tend to be fairly positive at these events and my friend had about had enough of everybody's positivity. He could not take another person telling him something encouraging. Dave turned around to just rip into whoever was trying to inspire him at the moment, and when he turned around to yell at this nice person who was trying to encourage him he found himself looking down at Kacey McCallister. That single moment changed his life forever.
It has been several years and a great many races since then. Dave is slowly winning his battle to regain his health by being in better shape. He is working on it every single day and though these races are still very difficult for him they have become an intricate part of his plan. Dave and Kacey are friends now and communicate with each other via Facebook and other means. That day Dave gained perspective. There is always somebody who is fighting a similar battle but is having to fight way harder than you are. Dave was complaining about being heavy and struggling with being out of shape and a man with no legs was kicking his *** with a smile on his face.
Perspective is a gift that comes with struggle. You will never gain much perspective through an easy life. That is just fine, men specifically need challenges, it is part of our genetic makeup to crave a challenge. Men need to do something difficult; it is how we improve ourselves. Congressman Dan Crenshaw from Texas is a former Navy SEAL that was wounded in action. He wrote a terrific book called Fortitude: American Resilience in the Era of Outrage (Amazon link for it) and in it, he goes into detail in one of his chapters called “Do Something Hard.” I highly recommend the book because the whole book is great, and it says a lot on the same things I am trying to convey on this site. I am not alone in the fact that I believe that men need challenges in their lives. My father still does not understand why I like to do OCR's. He has said, “I did things like that in the military why would I want to do them ever again?” I told him it is because my office job does not satisfy a need I have to be very physical. I spend most of my days in front of the computer in a 1950s grade cubicle farm that just sucks the life out of me. In doing hard things you are emboldened to have a better perspective on your life. You know that you are stronger both mentally and physically than the things that you encounter daily. It helps you realize that the cubical farm does not define you. It helps you know that while things are difficult, they could always be worse, and they will likely improve soon.
The beauty of the internet age is that you do not have to go to a third world country to see how very blessed you are in the life you have. You do not have to race OCR's and suffer physically like my friend Dave and I to gain perspective on the fact that you are better off physically than you might think you are. You can be inspired by people like Kacey McCallister and Noah Galloway and many others who have disabilities that they do not consider enough to stop them. In the current climate of the world today you can simply look at the news to realize that the job you hate has a great deal of value because at least you are still working. You can drive through any city or simply look online and realize that your little apartment or house is so much more amazing than the option of sleeping on the street. A quick Internet search will tell you that while your Top Ramen and hot dogs do not seem very appealing; they are still better than not eating at all. We all went through that phase. Life is designed to give you perspective whether you realize it or not. My wife and I got married young and we had a lot of years of Top Ramen and hot dogs because we couldn't afford any more than that. Many years later, while we're not anywhere close to rich, we've learned to be appreciative of the food we have because it is so much more than what a lot of people have and we're not having to eat hot dogs in Top Ramen every night.
So next time you are feeling sorry for yourself because the weight of the world feels like it is bearing down on you with all its might, I encourage you to gain some perspective. If you take a breath and evaluate your situation without emotion you will likely find that, while it may not be ideal in your eyes, you are better off than you may think you are.
Thanks for taking the time to read with me and remember.
Be better tomorrow because of what you do today.