1. An opinion. We form opinions about everything. People. Food. Countries. Religions. Music. It is human nature. Opinions, by their very nature, involve judgments. The problem with opinions is that we usually form them without being fully armed with the facts. Or we form them based on emotion or a limited perspective. How many times have you made a judgment about someone or something only to later learn that you were wrong?
Having an open mind allows you to reserve judgment. Reserving judgment is liberating. You can establish relationships and open yourself to experiences you might otherwise have prematurely dismissed.
2. A cause. Pink ribbons. Yellow bracelets. Ice buckets. Everywhere you turn someone is promoting a cause. I am not diminishing the importance of these. They give people a sense of community and purpose while raising money for worthy endeavors.
But how much do you engage in simple acts of charity? Not ones that involve running a 10 k or pouring water on your head. I’m talking about everyday things: encouraging a child, smiling at a stranger, helping a friend. Over the long term, the sum of these incremental kindnesses will far surpass every Saturday morning marathon you ever log.
3. A side. We love to choose sides. Israel or Palestine. Pro-life or pro-choice. Democrat or Republican. Typically our stance on something conforms to an overarching agenda or an unexamined, shallow ideology. This is easier than taking time to really understand an issue.
Here’s the problem with tidy one-size-fits-all belief structures. This is a complex world with complex issues. They require empathy, dialogue, patience, even nuance. We cannot settle deep seated problems in 30 second sound bites. We want to see the world in black and white when it rarely is. You don’t have to buy into this idea that you have to pick a side.
4. Agreement. We go crazy trying to convince someone that we are right. We try to persuade people to agree with us because we can’t handle standing alone or in opposition. We seek the comfort of consensus. Not everyone will agree with you. This doesn’t mean they are a bad person. It doesn’t mean they are evil. It doesn’t even mean they are wrong. It’s okay to disagree with someone. You might even be able to stay friends without being in complete agreement with them on major issues. Don’t let your disagreement define your relationship with someone else. Be open to people with a different point of view.
5. Security. You want money in the bank, a career with opportunities, a long term, committed relationship. You want stability and security. Life usually has other plans. The only certainty is uncertainty. You are always just a phone call away from a life altering event. Eventually you will lose a job, or get a bad diagnosis, or get cheated on. Security is a phantom state.
Even in the most secure of times you will have to fight off competitors, work like a dog, and side step con artists. You’ll never be able to let down your guard. That’s just life. It’s exhausting but you’ll be better equipped to face it when you let go of the fleeting illusion of security.
6. A reason. We hate it when we don’t understand the motivations of others. Why did my friend commit suicide? Why do deranged people kill? Why did my boyfriend cheat on me? We demand an explanation. We want to know why. This is human nature. We always feel as though there must be a reason for someone’s actions. Sometimes there isn’t. Or even if there is, it won’t be adequate.
In a similar vein, you don’t always have to have a reason or explanation for your actions. Just because other people expect or want a reason doesn’t make it your obligation to give them one. You may not even have one.
7. A calling. I know a few people who were born to be one thing. A musician, a priest, a doctor. Most of us don’t have the luxury of a “calling.” Still we ask ourselves: Why am I here? What is my purpose? What is my calling? Your calling may not be so apparent. You may not even have one. Or it may be one that is not readily apparent. Perhaps it’s being a good mom, or providing a stable work environment for others to thrive, or offering friendship to someone who is lonely.
There’s a misleading notion that if we look hard enough we will find fulfillment. Better yet, if we pray or work hard enough fulfillment will find us. Look, you may not ever find your calling. Or you may recognize it only after it has passed. Let go of this fantasy and your life will be much less frustrating.
8. A plan. Everyone wants you to have a plan. What career will you choose? When will you get married? When will you have kids? Where will you be in 5 years? 10 years? I’m not encouraging you to be a shiftless loser. But you don’t always have to have a plan. Sometimes it’s just as important to not have a plan. This will open you up to more possibilities. Even if you have a plan, you don’t have to strictly adhere to it. Once you have some clarity about what you want, you can formulate a plan. Don’t plan for planning’s sake. Stop and listen first.
9. Outrage. Are you in a frequent state of outrage over something? Congress, The President, Benghazi, spousal abuse, the price of milk, crappy cable service. Getting pissed off is an impotent impulse. It’s an outlet for ineffective people. Outrage is the only response they can draw upon. Do something constructive about the things you can affect. Forget about the things you cannot.