In times that are tough for so many, it's sometimes hard for me to feel good. It occurred to me that maybe I should stop trying so hard to feel good and be content with feeling equipped. Equipped to care, equipped to listen, equipped to lend a helping hand. Like so many people, I feel overwhelmed by the flood of bad national and world news on top of a busy life and feel helpless to prevent painful personal stories around me. I don't feel in any way special enough to have anything to contribute by simply being me. Yet so often, that is exactly what is needed most. Good people need to come out of the woodwork and fully inhabit their roles as workers, friends and contributors to the global conversation.
An elementary school teacher once wrote in capital letters on my report card: "Mike's progress has been tremendous!" And it's hard to imagine a more precious gift. I recently had to look him up on Facebook in order to thank him. Here's to you, indeed! At age 40, I feel like efforts to progress are more necessary than ever. During hard economic times, it's easy for the national conversation in venues like Facebook to turn into snipping and indeed sniping. There is so little gratitude for the tough voices in our lives and indeed for the tough events in our lives. I feel that the toughest voices in mine have been some of the most valuable.
I was a fat kid, and gym class was always my least favorite. Gym teachers weren't looking for much from me in the way of athletic prowess, but were certainly looking at how I responded to my lack of physical achievement. Would I simply give up, or would I take the opportunity to turn a terrible time on a distance run into a not-so-terrible one? Such challenges are encountered again and again throughout our lives, though perhaps for a smaller audience. Few of us are the super-popular kid or the fastest runner. But being the most improved is often within our reach.
Our society of entitlement and consumerism conditions us to view everyone as a little Santa Claus. We expect society to be the lever that will give us much for comparatively little effort. I'm not saying that all of our problems would be solved by doing the opposite, but will say that doing basically the opposite has worked for me, and continues to. We need to be more willing to accept that a life of subtle recognition and reward means that we are doing something deeply right. We need to accept that close observers will offer pointed comments and not always what we want to hear.