Persistence – what does it look like?

The end of the calendar year can often look like one of two things to people: a time for reflection or a time to scramble and finish whatever project was begun way back in January. Several folks will float between both categories, naturally, and do so till December has ended and the new year has begun. Some will even be fortunate enough to have their eyes completely on the year ahead, content with leaving the year behind. I find myself as one of those ‘floaters’ – alternating between reflection and completion. There’s plenty I’ve completed and plenty I’ve yet to complete. There are still many goals out there, but there is one solace that keeps my unfinished ventures in a healthy perspective: my persistence.

To some people, persistence is a way of life – an invaluable character trait. Nothing comes easy in life so anything easy just can’t be worth the effort. Failures may come, but it’s the failures that define and mold those who count themselves as survivors. From there, they adopt an enduring will for anything else that crosses their path. For others, persistence may appear to be wasted time; wasted energy; or even wasted talent. Only swift results with immediate impact – anything other than that is not a worthy investment. Persistence through lengthy challenges can be seen as inadequate planning. Instead of weathering an impossible storm, one’s persistence should be in finding what’s best for him, not what’s the most challenging way to do something. Staying in one place for too long may be a sign of weak-mindedness; a person who has yet to find his way in life because of immaturity or inattentiveness to his own desires. Because that’s what we should be persistent about – personal happiness and personal gain; not personal challenge.

One may look at either ideology and be quick to attach it to a certain age group or even a generation. Persistence belongs to the older generation, but the younger generation will argue that persistence belongs to them. And depending upon what angle you’re looking from, you can make these same assumptions too – that persistence really does belong to any one generation – depending on the source.

But, as I type this short entry, I can’t help but feel like persistence doesn’t belong to any one generation. Nor does it belong in any one part of life necessarily. That any generation’s persistence is always motivated by one thing: hope.

Hope is what drives anyone to be persistent; be it through challenges, through personal development, through jobs, or life in general. There must be hope at the end if there is to be persistence in anything. Otherwise we would find no need to attach ourselves to the future we are all heading towards. And it’s this faith in hope that keeps me persistent in life, as it should anyone else. No matter what the trials may be or what generation you find yourself within.

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.

The Hashtag Before the Tweet

I’m borrowing an old expression and updating it. I’m sure many are familiar with this old cliche’: “pulling the cart before the horse.” Essentially, it means to start something without possessing the proper tools first. Packing your bags but lacking the destination. Trying to rock the boat but having no boat. So on and so forth. To a generation that thrives on immediacy and cyber interaction, “the hashtag before the tweet” has some relevance, I feel. For example, nobody puts the hashtag before their status update. In social media land, that’s a huge ‘no-no’. Ask any teenager with Twitter or millennial with social media experience and they’ll tell you the same. Sounds trivial, but it’s one of the few online rules most social media moguls follow.

And hey, it works. Nobody does this unless they want people to “unfollow” them. This isn’t a dare; it’s simply a fact. Don’t believe me? Check this out:

For example, here’s the proper use of a “#,”

“I was driving to the store the other day when I saw a person run out in front of a car.” #peoplearereckless

Here, you have an update; you have a story; and lastly, you have the hashtag search piece connected at the end. Now compare the above with this:

#peoplearereckless “I was driving to the store the other day when I saw a person run out in front of a car.”

See the difference? Better yet – feel the difference? If you’re going to tell people something interesting, entertaining, or educational, then you need to have a hook. You need to lead in with the story. You don’t cut straight to the conclusion, aka your hashtag. People don’t respond well to that. Where’s the tension? Where’s the excitement? In a tweet, it might be hard to imagine any “tension” or “excitement” happening, but telling a story before its conclusion is the most practical rule of thumb to abide by. Don’t tell me that #peoplearereckless. Instead, show me that #peoplearereckless. And do so with a story first.

So why bring this up? Well, it’s a place most writers find themselves in. That “hashtag before the tweet” stage. Few things measure up to a spanking new idea – one that’s worth telling or teaching others with. The initial feeling is invigorating, full of life, and full of positive energy. But what immediately follows can be bone-crushing: that overwhelming, intimidating revelation of how much time, energy, and commitment will be required to carry the idea to fruition. And as a writer, you want the conclusion to be there – to have all the pieces in play – so you can cut straight to the end. You’d rather tell than show.

How does anyone know his story is any good? Well, he can tell people all day long about his idea but when the time comes to show it, what does he have to provide for all his ramblings? He must be able to show what he’s been doing all this time or else the idea remains just that: an idea; a hashtag before the tweet, so to speak.

And that’s where I’d prefer not to find myself: hashtagging before the tweeting. Because let’s face it – that’s just annoying. Kind of like pulling the cart before the horse.

The (In)Disposable Nature of Relationships

My generation loves to make lists. Here’s a “top 10” this and here’s “27 reasons why” for that. And the worst part is – I’ll click and read along sometimes. Perhaps it’s boredom taking me over? Or perhaps it’s…well, boredom again? But occasionally, I’ll seek out one that sparks my interest. I’m a relational and social animal so I enjoy reading about what makes “effective relationships”; not just romantic, but platonic also. I don’t care much for the “top places to travel before you die” or the “what makes your cat do the things he does” (sorry animal lovers) but relationship advice? Well, that piques my interest. And I’m willing to bet that it’s high on other people’s radars too. In fact, I’m willing to bet that the majority of internet lists revolve around what makes a prosperous, trendy, or modern relationship. You’re free to disagree with that assumption, but whether you do or not, you have to admit the danger in that possibility: too many messages equals too many people doing different things. And that creates chaos in an area that’s meant for stability, reliability, and real joy.

Yikes, right?

The flurry of relationship experts makes it difficult to discern what’s best practice and what’s merely a fool’s errand. “Do this more”, “create this habit”, or “understand this about the opposite sex” – these all sound like practical and plausible pointers, but there’s an underlying catch here: they tend to be self-serving. “Do this more” can be translated to “Do this more and you’ll get this.” See how that works? The whole idea about what makes relationships good or great is morphed into selfish pursuits. And when you’re acting selfishly, you may get what you’re after, but do you ever receive the same in return? No, not very often, if ever.

I often feel like my generation has been brainwashed by this notion. That relationships are meant to be places where you get everything you want. Where your partner is second fiddle and you get everything you’ve ever desired. And if you don’t or aren’t receiving these things, then it’s imperative you step away and look elsewhere. All the while, reading another top 10 list in hope it may cover where you might have went wrong. Yikes again, eh?

People aren’t that simple though. You can’t read a top 10 list of “nice things to do” and expect your significant other to reply in positive ways from 1 to 10. That’s not realistic. People are much more complex than that. Men and women included. And what people are looking for involves some of those more basic principles: stability, reliability, and a certain joy; one that assures the other person of more than a good thing, but a certain thing.

Now imagine the opposite happening in that relationship, caused by all the mixed messages or selfish pursuits. Stability crumbles into weakness; reliability stumbles into persistent uncertainty; and joy twists into resentment and bitterness. That’s what you end up getting if you view relationships as being disposable. A selfish attitude will eventually result in a selfish view of relationships and people. Extreme guardedness, unwillingness to compromise, unwillingness to be flexible – men and women will both carry these burdens if enough hurt has been accumulated over time. And it only gets harder and harder if the selfishness continues.

I trust some of this isn’t news to anyone. Read up on “millennial thinking” and almost immediately you’ll touch on the topic of relationships and how commitment just doesn’t seem to be high on the priority scale. “There’s always options and you need to keep those eyes open as much as possible” – this is the thinking. I don’t want to say it again, but hey – yikes. How’d this happen? And what does it look like?

Well, for example, how do you feel when someone breaks plans with you at the last minute? And for no apparent reason other than they don’t “feel” like being there. Time is a non-renewable resource; wasting someone else’s time or refusing to give someone time a day – after promising to do so – is a huge letdown to the other party. No one likes to feel that way. Why? Because we know that the other person acted selfishly. Or even cowardly, in some regard. But people do this all the time to each other. And they do so on even greater levels than merely breaking “hangout times”.

Take physical promiscuity – that’s sex – for example. Giving one’s self to another is more than recreation, it’s a promise. It certainly can be fun though! Absolutely it can – it’s one of the functions that God designed it for, but it’s so much more than recreation and it’s so much deeper too. Riding roller coasters is recreation. Throwing a baseball back and forth is recreation. Watching a movie or reading a book is recreation. Would sex be lumped into these same categories when speaking of importance? I’d be surprised by anyone who would claim it as such. And if they did, they’d only be lying to themselves and others to get attention. Why else does my generation and the one following it have so much difficulty with commitment? It’s because the promises being made through physical contact have been broken; broken because someone believed there were options. And it was those other options that created the chaos, the uncertainty, the unreliability, and so on. I suppose it’s no wonder that the response to all this mixed messaging has been, “fine, I’ll get what’s mine”. Why? Because it translates to, “I’ll get what’s mine because the other person clearly had an agenda and they got what they wanted. So that’s what I want too.”

Yes, yikes.

I’m no saint as it pertains to relationships; I’ve made my fair share of mistakes, but thankfully I’ve been able to come out of the social pool with limited fractures. Sure, I have scars – romantic or otherwise – and I’ll always be susceptible to that so long as I’m alive, but ultimately, I’m a product of my generation and the mixed messages out there. I grieve thinking about what my friends or even acquaintances have had to endure or even believe is right or true about a relationship. They – relationships – aren’t disposable because people aren’t disposable. Is that not true? A messed up generation, namely my own, is proof of the failed experiment to prove otherwise.

My only argument would be to return to what God’s work is for relationships: a promise, one that gets back to the basics of what joy should look like. And it’s not a self-serving, self-righteous, self-reliant joy – this doesn’t exist. And it’s not some kooky concept that’s outdated – no, it’s the original framework we keep dancing around, trying to make better but stubbornly can’t duplicate. But perhaps we can get it right with the next generation? This coming generation will inherit our hearts, but they have yet to inherit our attitudes or our experiences. And that warrants a serious look, not another top 10 list.

Talents and gifts we wish we had

Short break from the story writing here. A few more thoughts I’ve had since I’m almost through with Spirit Run. Reflecting on the stories I’ve written has really opened up some good observations, I feel. Especially with the type of week I’ve had.

I believe every person has a talent. Yes, each and every one of us has a gift of some kind. That sounds like some cheesy Hallmark card, but it’s the truth. The usual list of suspects come to mind – singing, dancing, sports, etc. You know, the ones that get glorified in social media and late night television. There are other, “less glamorous” talents though too; just as important and in some ways, even more important: leading, teaching, mentoring, organizing, building, puzzle-solving, navigating, etc. So you see, there are plenty of talents out there. I’m sure you have one. But even so, and despite the talent you’ve been given, we still find time to covet someone else’s gift. Somewhere there’s a skill, an ability, or even a trait that we wish we had. We look at this person’s gift and we covet it greatly. We want it for our own. Ever feel that way? Oh, I’m sure you have.

Mine is drawing.

I royally suck at drawing. Not just a mediocre, average kind of sucking – I’m talking the royal kind. Granted, I can trace things. I’m pretty good at tracing objects. So long as I’m provided a piece of paper lying over top of the intended image, I’m fine. Oh, and I have to be able to see through that paper clearly too. Then I’m good as gold. But stick me with a pencil and paper and ask me to come up with an original piece of work and I’m sunk. It’s just not gonna happen. I can see the picture in my head, but the translation I create on paper is so heavily filtered that it looks like a tank rolled through a war zone.

I recall being asked to make a self portrait in the 11th grade. I thought it was an opportunity to finally hone my skills and convince myself that I had some artistic talent. Well, what did happen was something resembling microwaved jello. Ugh. Was I really that bad?

Yes. Yes, I was.

And still am to this day. There are times where I have isolated moments of triumph though. A friend of mine asked me to draw a stick figure on his paper once. I accomplished that feat quite nicely from what I remember. Beyond that? Well, I haven’t had much success. So drawing is my kryptonite. The one thing I will probably never be able to do, but covet all the same. And I hate that.

It’s the great tragedy of my generation. With so many options on our plate, we think we ought to have all of the talents out there. And if we aren’t keeping up with the person next to us, then we ought to be trying harder. But I would say otherwise – along with so many others, I’m sure. Why waste time trying to be a banker when you love to cook? Why try to be a guidance counselor when you hate hearing other people’s problems? And why try to draw your work when you’re made to write it? No one person can do it all.

As a writer, I need others to help get ideas out. I will need those who are gifted in editing, gifted in publishing, gifted in teaching, and so on. And while that’s going on, I know other people will require my talents to help get their own ideas out. Or at least make sense of those ideas by putting them into words; words they couldn’t come up if they tried to do it themselves. See how that works? It’s a great feeling when you come to that realization – the epiphany that your gifts can and will be used to their utmost capacity if you’ll allow for it to happen.

But first, you have to hone the gift that’s yours. Only then will you find yourself not coveting everyone else’s, wondering if what you’re doing is right or not. That’s a road to real satisfaction. Cheesy Hallmark card and all.