Imagine a whitewashed wall stretching out left and right in front of you. The whitewash has been freshly applied and is almost luminous in appearance in the bright sunlight shining from behind and well above you so there is no shadow interrupting your view.
It’s a happy sight and brings joy to your heart in its simplicity, workmanship, the care shown by the painter and produces a moment of joy and gratitude. Life is good.
Now imagine a small dark patch slightly to the right of centre.
It looks like the painter missed a spot and didn’t give this one small patch enough coats to obliterated the older layers. He/she clearly gave it some, just not enough and so this one small patch is breaking through and interrupting what otherwise is a beautiful fresh, gratitude-filled scene.
The problem is, now that you’ve seen it, you can’t – as my youngest daughter Jenna says – you can’t unsee it.
And the darker unfinished slightly yellowy patch is now your focus of attention. You try to stop, you try to focus on the rest, but no matter where you look on this vast expanse of whiteness, you can see the dark patch in your field of vision. You cup your eyes with your hands, making them like the lens of a camera (have you noticed how photographs can change a scene from mediocrity to beauty, or vice versa, depending on its focus) and in doing so you guarantee you needn’t see the offending spot. Happy now. Except, you know the patch is there and, like the warped sense of painful satisfaction gotten when pressing a gumboil hard with the tongue, you can’t help but take one more peek.
One dark spot. In a sea of pure white. And really it’s all we see. True?
And that, my friend is life. We tend to ignore the vast areas of life that are working for us and join the ‘If Only’ choir. “If only I was fitter. If only I had more money, less debt, some friends, good work colleagues, better behaved children, more time… the list of potential dark patches on the white canvas of our lives is infinite in fairness. Indeed I’m sure if we allowed ourselves the full ‘Pity Party’ we might even attempt to elicit sympathy from another by explaining our lives are in fact the opposite to the whitewashed wall analogy used above in that they are yellowy grey with the odd perfectly white splash. Woe is me.
And if that’s how you have felt at times, know you are not alone, but also know that it’s really not true, is it?
There is far, far more (and always has been) going right in my life than wrong, but where is my focus? I am not ashamed to admit it naturally gravitates towards the dark spot(s), towards the small patch or patches that are not perfectly white and sometimes I find myself bemoaning my life – and humming the “Oh. If only…” tune,
But I know now it’s not my life I should be giving out about, it may be a handful of areas that need attention so that I determine to either fix or forget.
Reinhold Niebuhr’s* oft quoted quote comes to mind:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
Watch the short video (6.24, lesson itself done by 5.00) and/or read on below the short snippet from my book, ‘Feeding Johnny – How to Build a Business Despite the Roadblocks’ for my views on how we can handle this fact of natural life…
“Be thankful and believe.
I’m not grateful enough for all the good stuff in my life. I am healthy, I have meaningful work to do, my family are still with me, the bills manage to get paid, I was born into a great family, I’m Irish…the list could go on and on but the point is I find it easier to focus on the one or two areas in my entire existence that aren’t what I wish they were. Do you know anybody like this? I bet you do.
My recommendation to you is that you consider taking stock more often of the good things in your life to remind yourself that the good stuff outweighs the bad stuff, probably by a factor of several times. Stephen R Covey, in his lessons talks about the week being the perfect patch in the fabric of life; there are workdays, mornings, evenings, the weekend – and then it starts again. I like that analogy that my life and yours is made up patches, each one only week long. It makes for great planning and is ideal for a review of the type I am talking about. I typically use Sundays to have a look at what shape my life is in, not in a morbid introspective way, just a cursory glance to see am I on track. Think about it.
Finally there are three things I recommend you consider believing in, the first of which is God. Now I realise we all interpret the world differently and I am not trying to preach but I must share what works for me. I was baptised Catholic shortly after birth as was the tradition in Ireland for the majority for many years. I had no choice in the matter. As the years went on I made my own choice to continue in that belief system. I believe I am a child of God and that Jesus came to earth to remind us of that fact and in conquering death on the cross he conquered the final frontier, there is nothing to be afraid of. I make God real in my life. I turn up believing I am playing a part in His plan, not mine. This book is part of it; I’ve no idea where it will lead, but He does. By the way, I take God into meetings with me and ask Him to sit in a chair, ideally next to me. I will regularly lean over and pat the chair to help me regain my composure if I feel the need. I have to admit there have been several times in difficult meetings where I have asked Him to zap my adversary; to date, no joy…but I live in hope.
Secondly I recommend you believe in the inherent goodness of most people. Most people are willing to help if asked. There are shysters out there for sure; hands up if you’ve met one, (both my hands shot up!) but they are sad, tragic people whose self worth is derived from hurting others. They exist for sure, but they are few and far between. Let’s not allow them and their behaviour stop us from being open, loving and trusting in the belief that the majority are like you and me, out there trying their best with the best of intentions.
Lastly, and we finish here ladies and gentlemen, I recommend you believe in yourself. There is nobody on the planet sitting in your seat as you read these words but you. Nobody with your unique set of skills and life experiences looking at the world in quite the way you do, but you. Nobody can do what you can in the unique way that you can but you. Why can’t the next Google, Starbucks, Guggenheim, Eifel Tower, the next world-changing idea come from you? No reason. Except perhaps that you don’t believe it can. If you don’t do what’s in your heart to do, I believe the world will be a poorer place.
Thanks for thinking with me through these pages. Let’s go make a difference?”
As I finish penning this week’s Coffee with Colm blog, The Desiderata comes to mind:
Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.
Strive to be happy.
Max Ehrmann, Desiderata, 1952.
As ever, thanks for thinking with me.
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* Read more quotes at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/r/reinholdni100884.html