New Year, Past Reflections, Familiar Gameplan

When I was my 15, I couldn’t imagine being 20. When I got to 20, I couldn’t imagine being 25. And now that I’m 30, I can’t imagine being 35 someday. But, I know I’ll get there (God willing) and when I’m 35, I’ll probably ponder what 40 will look like.

Most of us do this – looking towards the future with an unsteady sense of what our next five years may entail. When I’m journaling or being reflective, I tend to look back five years at a time. What was I trying to achieve? What was I trying to avoid? Did I get where I wanted to go? The best laid plans don’t always come out as we envisioned them, but often, the results are even better than we expected. Ironically, one of my biggest life lessons has been to not look too far ahead. But, if I were to look back five years, what did that look like?

From a personal perspective, I’ve done much over these five years. Most recently, I got married. And to a wonderful woman. What a big change (and a big blessing) that has been. You can learn a lot from living on your own, but I think the experience is amplified a hundred fold in marriage. It’s not just you who is traversing through life now; it’s you and someone else. And that means taking on their life adventure, their story, their trials, and their tribulations along with your own. But, it’s not all hardship, it’s the joy of working together too. That’s the big thing. And something I’ve been learning and will likely continue to learn as she and I move forward. I’ve become more active in my faith; something that’s been a real miss for much of my life. I don’t know what’s worse – knowing there’s something wrong with your soul or seeing the same struggle others are experiencing, but never having the words for them. Well, nowadays, I have better words than I used to. Not that I know it all, I just have a greater peace where once I was a mess of things.

From a professional perspective, I’ve had several vocations – insurance, contracting, and even ministry – each of which I’ve learned much about myself and how I work with others. I remember when I used to work the drive-thru at Burger King and how I would become angry with how people treated me. I’d take it personally if someone were upset with the way a burger was made or how their fries were done. I felt like a “good day” meant having no complaints. But, as you can imagine, that didn’t leave many “good days” at all. That being said, I’ve learned not to take things so personally at work – regardless of where I am at. No one is as big a critic on Josh as Josh himself, but I’ve learned that this notion of being a self-appointed critic is incredibly unhealthy. It’s better to be able to receive criticism and feedback rather than beat yourself up all the time. You can learn to take things in stride at a much better pace and be quicker about applying certain changes to your work style, if need be. Again, our biggest enemies are usually ourselves. That’s as much a personal observation as it is a professional one.

Lastly, from a writing perspective, I’ve achieved quite a bit also. I’ve self-published three books in three years, my most recent an ebook on Amazon. I’ve written consistently every day for more than a year. I’ve kept this blog going for more than two years. And I’ve got several projects awaiting final edits before I release them. It’s been a rough journey, but I’m slowly starting to see the break in the tide I feel I’ve been under.

Twelve days into the new year, I feel like my game plan remains the same: don’t look too far into the future, but maintain a healthy focus on what I’m working towards. It may come with age, but my own use of time – and my view of time – continues to change. It’s not as much a commodity as it used to be, and I don’t find myself doodling away when I could be more productive. For me, that’s one of the better lessons I’ve experienced as I move into this new year. That our use of time trickles into every aspect of how we live: personally, professionally, and how we pursue our dreams.

 

Courage – what does it look like?

Last month I focused in on joy. What brings someone joy? What doesn’t? People will spend a good deal of their day – and life – trying to attach themselves to what makes them happy, but never really get to that point of joy. I wanted to examine that further and for the most part, I did. But, I was also a bit distracted last month. In a good way though – I got married.

You might say that I have plenty to be joyous about. Wedding, honeymoon, beginning life with a best friend – yes, these are all awesome things. Daunting, but exciting and a great transition into the topic this month: courage.

It’s a hard term to define nowadays. What is courage? What does courage even look like? Ask someone 80 – 100 years ago and courage may look like defending one’s country or feeding the mouths of the hungry; a black and white concept with immediate results. Ask someone from 50-60 years ago and courage takes a new form: inaction becomes mistaken for action and calls to war separate people rather than bringing them together. Flash forward to the present and the image of courage is even more skewed; less clear and murkier than ever. In fact, courage now looks like this: sitting at home, “knowing what’s wrong with the world”, yet possessing neither the fortitude nor the incentive to act on the wrongness we feel. This new courage is all about hiding – the complete opposite of what the word means. The 21st century “warrior” builds barriers around one’s self, makes more money than his neighbor, and leads as comfortable an existence as possible.

Don’t believe me? Consider the protagonists of today’s popular stories and movies. And like it or not, the stories we are willing to indulge ourselves in – the stories we pay attention to – help define what is worthy of being called, courageous. On one side, there is the unattainable image: the perfect mate who never wrongs you or the impossibly-shaped supermodel made only for you. Neither persona exists as a whole – sorry. But then, you have the other extreme: the slacker; the privileged fool; the self-entitled comedian. All of which can exist, but share none of the qualities with being “courageous.” And with such opposite ideals flying around, people may find themselves struggling to achieve one of the two; thinking if one cannot be attained, then the other must be what he or she is meant for.

For example:

“If I can’t be the hero, then I can definitely be the slacker who will eventually get his day.”

“If I can’t be funny or land that awesome job, then I’ll work hard to get that perfect soul mate to make my life complete.”

These may not sound like actual statements, but through a person’s actions, we can observe where these unconscious agreements have become conscious reality.

I find myself severely convicted by this growing trend. More than in recent years. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, maybe it’s because I just got married, or maybe it’s just because it’s always ticked me off – for whatever the reason, I burn with the foreboding sense that courage is a trait most men – and women – will never understand. Not until we make the effort to reevaluate courage will we see the difference. And courage is not always about getting recognized; it’s about the willingness to face and fight battles we’d normally run away from. Confronting an abusive relationship, not giving into despair and depression, acting on a civil injustice rather than standing idly by, etc. The list goes on…. Courage isn’t about having a grand stage; it’s about growth.

My most recent of reads, Killing Lions, by John and Sam Eldredge, strives to showcase the lack of courage our society faces and honestly, I agree with them. Not because I’m a crotchety old soul who hates fun – it’s because the epidemic is true. The world is in need of more courageous men and women. And that doesn’t mean more rich people, more ultra-successful entrepreneurs or people who get elevated to a top management position. It’s about daily living that isn’t racked by fear, but moved with a sense that the world is messy and in need of those willing to get their hands dirty and clean it up.