On the Importance of Appreciation…

Saturday the 18th of January was a rather big day in my cruise ship life.  It was a day I had both been waiting for and dreading. The final “cross off” on my cruise ship calendar.  It marked the day when a bunch of my friends officially disembark the ship to return to their “real lives”.  And there’s a real chance I’ll never see some of them again.  After living on a cruise ship for 5 months I’m used to people coming and going.  I’ve touched on this in other blogs- detachment is a part of this lifestyle.  However, this was different.  You can’t control how strong your friendships with other people are or how affected you’ll be when they leave.  Humans we are extremely social animals.  I once read “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…It has no survival value. Rather it is one of those things that gives value to survival.”

During you life people will come and go.  Hopefully we all strive to make a meaningful impact on each other.  Leaving people “behind” is a necessary condition in advancing you life in the direction of your choice.  The departure doesn’t make what you shared any less real. Nor does the length of the friendship matter.  Time is arbitrary in relationships.  What truly defines a friendship is the experiences shared and memories that were made between the two people.  Obviously, when you live on a ship with someone you have similar experiences and feelings to share.  This tends to increase the bonds between people.  With that said, it wasn’t just that a few people who I’d known a few months were leaving, it was how close we’d all become in those few months.  These were people who helped to give me a home when mine was 13,000 miles away.  They were there whenever I needed them regardless of the time of day or oddity of the situation.  Throughout my life I’ve been bless in a way few people been in regards to the friends I’ve been able to find.  To finally cross that date off and say good-bye to all those close friends really instilled in me that I will be leaving soon as well.

Whenever we look ahead in life towards what we perceive as our next “big life event” we tend to break the time between then and now into sections.  It makes the time that needs to pass more manageable and helps us to feel like we’re accomplishing something simply by getting closer to that event. Since I got here I segmented my trip by holidays for the most part.  Halloween, Thanksgiving, the Christmas cruise, the New Year’s cruise, but the final date I had on my calendar was January 18th.  It marked the final “big event” date I had to cross off before I could leave.  In this way I understand that all of my ship friends leaving was a necessary condition to my own departure; but it doesn’t make it any less difficult to pick up and move on like nothing was lost.  Yes I still have several good friends left on board who I am looking forward to spending the next few weeks with, but to just wake up one day and realize everything is different can be a hard pill to swallow.

I looked at my friend’s replacements.  Each one of them was wide eyed and in over their heads.  Being thrown into the fire on day one tends to lead to burns.  This got me thinking about repetition’s impact on appreciation.  The more we do something (or longer we are somewhere) the more immune to the experience we seem.  A mere 5 months ago, I was the newbie who was in over my head.  When I first started on the ship everything was overwhelming and incredible.  The people from all over the world, the exotic locations, the view, the ship itself (seriously still amazed a giant piece of metal floats), everything about it at first blew my mind.  But slowly over the past few months I’ve become more numb and less appreciative of everything I have here and find myself anticipating my departure date.  Why is that the case?  Why is it human nature to default to “the grass is greener” somewhere else as a life mentality.  Why is it that the more we are exposed to something the less we appreciate it?  Is there any way to negate this trend or are we destined to constantly be haunted by the thoughts of a sun-drenched elsewhere?

At this point in my contract my mind is in a constant tug of war.  I’m torn between the nostalgia of the past few months and the desire to move on.  Looking back I’ve had a lot of great times on board and am very thankful for each and every one of them along with the people who made each one of them possible.  But I’m also close enough to leaving for a full attention switch.   With less than twenty days till I’m back in the States my mind has started drifting to my next move.  Some days I find myself counting the hours until I am able to board the plane back to the States.  I get excited about seeing my family and friends again.  I’m excited to have multiple options of where to eat, drink, and who to hang out with.  Hell, I’m almost excited for the frigid temperatures and the snow waiting for me back in Nebraska.  (emphasis on almost, summer year round is pretty incredible)  The reality that people have unlimited high speed internet is a concept that seems equivalent to Jesus walking on water to me at this point.  Living on a boat for half a year has really helped to reinforce the little luxuries of life that I confess I had taken for granted.  At times, the longing for all these things has overtaken my sense of the “now” and flooded my consciousness with thoughts of the future.  Is there anything wrong with looking ahead?  No, it’s a necessity of life.  But the problem comes when you are constantly living in the future and going through the motions in the present.  (Immanuel Kant, the philospher, talks a lot about this in his transcendental philosophy.  He talks about how humans are constantly projecting their consciousness either back to the past or into the future.  How we never truly live in the present.  But that’s a discussion for another day).

I’ll be honest, once I catch myself doing this I feel incredibly guilty.  I know that one day I’ll look back and wish I could have all of this back. To be 23, sailing around the South Pacific, meeting new people each week, and seeing island paradises was literally my dream less than a year ago.  To realize that I’m “checking out early” some days bothers me more than I’d admit.  I know I’m not alone in this way of thinking.  Everyone takes the current moment for granted.  It’s human nature.  We’re “big picture” creatures.  We look ahead to the next major event in our life because we think it’s that event that will fulfill us in a way our daily live doesn’t.  We hope that it may also give our life some kind of meaning.  But in the search for that next big event, that home run ball,  we tend to lose sight of the little incredible moments happening to us on a daily basis. One phrase by Charles de Lint that popped into my head while I was writing this was: “remember the quiet wonders. The world has more need of them than it has for warriors.”  I found that to be a fitting reminder because it’s an appreciation for these day-to-day moments that really lend to a lifetime of happiness.

Talking this over with a friend who is currently teaching abroad in Japan (S/O to my good friend Rachel Gulden for all the e-mails, advice, and the countless inspiration she’s given me) showed me that I wasn’t alone in how I’d been feeling.  The little things that at first had a large impact on our experience overseas no longer seem to be enough to keep us appreciative of our current situations.  I look at gorgeous islands and see it as “just a beach.”  I wake up and think “man I have to play pool volleyball again today, ugh.”  I know how ridiculous this is to complain about.  And I’m not trying to complain but merely give insight to what I’ve noticed I haven’t been appreciating.  I am also aware that there are plenty of people who wouldn’t mind switching places with me.  But this isn’t about how good or bad I have it.  (For the record I don’t like the thought of comparing situations with other people, for better or worse, because regardless of someone else’s situation it doesn’t change your situation or how you feel about it.  Guilt can only make someone appreciative for so long.  For example, telling your upset child that there are starving children in China doesn’t change the fact that they are upset. At the end of the day you have what you have regardless of anyone’s situation, so you need to find a way to deal with it).

This post is about how to constantly appreciate each day and everything about it regardless of the repetition volume of the activity in question.  It’s about trying to find the delight in each day.  I’ll be honest, I don’t know how to do it on a daily basis.  I’m a continual work in progress.  The best I could come up with was to just keep reminding yourself to look for it and stay self reflective.  Keep a connection with your past and always remember the wonder of that first time.  Jack Kerouac once wrote: “be in love with your life, every minute of it.” In order to do that you must stop just going through the motions.  Don’t become numb to your life or your current situation.  Always find ways to appreciate things even if you’ve done it a million times.  Be adventurous and open to each situation as if it was the first time.  Embrace each day, event, and moment as if it were your last time.  Stay appreciative for each day you are given.   This appreciation is what gives life satisfaction.   This appreciation is what gives life meaning.

“I urge you to please notice when you are happy, an exclaim, murmur, or think at some point, “if this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”
-Kurt Vonnegut

“with mindfulness, strive.”

Stay Gold.

On Fear…

What is your greatest fear?

Don’t continue reading till you have an answer.  Feel free to write it down.  You can even show a friend if you so wish.

It’s a straight forward question; yet it always seem to catch people off guard when asked.   It was an “identity identifier questions” for the Bank I use back in the States.  And every time I get to the question I stop and think about it.

  • What is my greatest fear?
  • What does it say about me?
  • What should I be afraid of?
  • What is acceptable for me to be afraid of?
  • Should I be embarrassed of it?
  • Why am I afraid of it?
  • Is there anything I can do to eliminate it?

These are all things that go through my mind simply because I’m a sucker for introspection (wish more people were).

My first thought on my greatest fear was snakes.  I don’t like them (who does).  They don’t like me (who doesn’t).  Then I realized that I was being ridiculous because rarely do I encounter snakes, therefore it was a misplaced “greatest fear”.  In short, it was a cop-out, a way of avoiding  answering the question.

I then started thinking more abstractly and settled on death.  At the time I thought this was a legit fear and one that I’m sure a few people would share with me.  But as I got older, I dug deeper.  Why was I scared of death?  The answer I came up with changed my perspective on my life.  I realized that I wasn’t scared of dying per say, but I was scared of dying without living.  To some this may sound impossible, how can one die if they haven’t lived.  And yes if you’re speaking physically it can’t be done.  However, if you choose to see life as more than just physical attendance than you know what I’m talking about.

I was terrified that I was going to die before doing things I wanted to.  Before I could travel the world, before I could see the 7 wonders, before meeting my wife, having kids, writing a book, moving to So Cal, going to the ESPYS, seeing the Huskers win another National Championship, be on MTVs ‘Real World’, seeing Creighton advance to the Final Four, dying before I had learned to surf, sail, or sky dive (at least I can check “scuba diving” off the list).  And yes at some point in my life I have wanted to do all of those things.  But I digress.  There are thousands of things I want or have wanted to do in this life that I hadn’t done yet.

I turned 23 and society told me that I had plenty of time to do all these things.  Society and tradition told me to keep my head down, go to a prestigious college, get a first-rate job, meet a nice girl, have a few kids, keep working that ‘first-rate job’ then eventually I’d have the money to start living my life and following my dreams.  That is the “American Dream” after all, isn’t it?

To live your life like the ordinary American is to diminish the risk of failure.  When you minimize your risk for failure you also minimize your potential for happiness- I believe the two to be directly correlated.  However,  when we minimize the risk of all failure it sets individuals up for the most dangerous risk of all: the risk of spending your life not doing what you want to on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later.  And I’m ashamed to admit it, but I fell in step with society and completely bought into the group think.  I drank the Kool-Aid. And being from Hastings, Nebraska it’s hard to avoid that particular drink (birthplace of Kool-Aid).

So many of us blindingly chase that “dream.”  We do exactly what we’re supposed to because it’s what is expected of us.  We turn our brains, desires, ambitions, and goals off because they may not line up exactly with the expectations of others.  But it’s imperative to understand that in order to fully experience your life all you have to do is remember that you are not defined by other’s but by yourself and your decisions:

            “In a society where the scarcity concept rules our self perception, success is valued             through a system of competition. Personal success is made to be something extraordinary, uncommon and unreachable. You’re being told you’re not complete without other factors besides just yourself. And so we place power outside of ourselves. Whilst in reality it couldn’t be easier – all you have to do is exactly what you want to do and not let anything    or anyone stop you. Be who you are. It’s that simple. By letting go of society’s expectations, you are free to live your own legend. Be your own hero.”

****DISCLAIMER***

            What’s right for me may not be right for you.  And in no way am I trying to tell you what             is “right” for your life.  Only you will know that.  But I am trying to make the point to          actually examine how happy you are and if you’re going the direction you want to go.             I’m not saying there is anything right or wrong with taking the conventional route and      chasing the “American Dream”.  Some people truly believe that’s for them.  But it begs the   question why?  Harsh reality of life is that some people aren’t capable of wanting more. But for me?  No, it wasn’t what I wanted out of my one and only life. If you’re truly happy doing what you’re doing then feel free to stop reading here.  The rest of this post is about my experiences and the path I’ve taken to try and live my life for myself.  True happiness is only aim.

Back down the rabbit hole we go, I realized my greatest fear was accepting complacency.  I am terrified that I will live a life other people want me to live as opposed to the one I want to live for myself.  That I will be defined by society’s and other peoples’ expectations instead of my own dream and goals. That I will settle; compromising what I need because what I have is safe and comfortable.

Benjamin Franklin once said “Many people die at 25 but wait until they are 75 to be buried.”  That quote shook me awake.  I realized that I had done so much of what was expected of me that I had stopped asking what I personally wanted.  I had fallen into the trap of  the American Dream Routine.  I was working a job just to collect a paycheck.  I had no plan.  No goals.  I was doing nothing to achieve what I wanted and valued.

My entire life I planned on going to law school.  Took the LSAT, applied, got in, and then toward the middle of my senior year decided that it wouldn’t make me happy so I decided not to go.  Most people didn’t understand why I decided not to go.  They only saw the prestige and money at the end of the tunnel.  They couldn’t comprehend the fact that I got in and said no.  Why would anyone accepted decide to not go?  Well, I’ve always tried to do things my way.   It’s been almost two years now; I have no regrets.

Instead I took a job at a company in Omaha.  It was a good company- up and coming. I was making pretty good money for a 22 year old right out of college.  Had paid vacation days and a (401 K).  I knew there were tons of people who would have loved to be in the situation I was in (especially with the economy being what it is).  But I was miserable.  And call me selfish, but my happiness has always been a top priority of mine.

I wasn’t being challenged.  I had nothing to look forward to from 8-5 (apart from the friends I had made at work). I’ve always been the type of person who needs to see value in what I’m doing or else I can’t do it.  One of my multiple flaws is that I can’t turn off my brain.  I need to think.  I need mental stimulation and human interaction.  I had neither.  And though I was working with great people every day the job itself was not making me happy or adding value to my life in any way.  I knew that I had two choices.

1)      I could play it safe, keep working there- eventually make 7 figures and then finally do what I wanted

or

2)      I could quit and ascertain my own path.

I chose the latter.

I was sitting at my desk when I made up my mind.  I needed a new job.  The first things I asked myself were ‘what do you want to do, and what makes you happy.’  I came up with two things: working with people and traveling.  So I started researching travel jobs.  I kept seeing “cruise ship” and so I looked more into it.  I decided that Youth Staff or Entertainment Staff would be good fits for what I was looking for and applied.  I ended up being hired as Youth Staff (then 2 months later was promoted to Entertainment Staff) and haven’t looked back since.

I’ve been sailing around the South Pacific for 4 months now and my paradigm has been shocked by amazing places and incredible people from all over the world.  I took the job to see new places and meet new people and both have been greatly achieved.  No the money wasn’t as good.  The benefits are non- existent (as far as the “American Dream” goes).  At first glance it may appear that I took a step backwards.   But I’ll refer to Einstein’s judgment on this one, as he said “we act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life. All that we need to make us happy is something to be enthusiastic about.”

But none of this would have happened had I played it safe.  Had I given into fear or complacency.  Fear- it’s not something people want to think about and I mean why would you?  It makes people uncomfortable and who likes to be uncomfortable?

People will do anything to avoid being uncomfortable.  They will avoid conflict, confrontation, change, or any challenge that may result in failure due to discomfort or embarrassment.  They stay in jobs they hate or in relationships where they no longer care for the other person.  The fear of the unknown can be both terrifying and paralyzing.  This is the complete opposite of the way that life should be lived.  I once read “life begins at the end of your comfort zone” and believe that it’s one of the greatest tragedies of life that so few people actually find the end of their comfort zone during their lifetime.  They are too afraid.  Too content.  They settle for “good enough” instead of true happiness.  They underestimate themselves, their worth, and fear their potential.

Fear has one of two affects on people.  It either paralyzes or motivates.  In life, we will all experience things that scare us; but how we decide to react to the fear will dictate who we become and how far we go.

I implore you to examine your life.  Your goals, desires, relationships, job, habits, and ambitions.  Be honest with yourself and ask if you’re truly happy.  If you are, great.  If you aren’t, are you taking steps towards what you think would make you happy?  It’s imperative to understand that without reflection and action there can be no improvement in any situation.

You must constantly ask yourself these questions:

Am I happy?  Is how I’m spending my time worthwhile?  Who am I around? What are they doing for me? What have they got me reading? What have they got me saying? Where do they have me going? What do they have me thinking? And most important, what do they have me becoming? Then ask yourself the big question: Is that okay? Your life does not get better by chance.  It gets better by change.

As always,

“with mindfulness, strive”

Stay Gold.