The word itself is serious and hearing it means something major has or is about to happen. A loss. A separation. A major change of financial status. Someone is sentenced to life without parole while someone else may have just lost their fight for life.
Life can be swift, brutal, unforgiving, raw, honest and offers few chances to get it right. Life leaves us wondering what if, how come, if only, why me, damn - damn - damn!
And it’s up to us to accept and adapt to what life has handed us. But occasionally, life offers us reprieve. It’s like when we played kickball or baseball as children, and the first attempt wasn’t quite what we wanted it to be. We missed. We could yell out, “do over,” and immediately be offered a second chance to get it right.
Life gives us do overs - sometimes. And when this happens, it’s up to us to do things over…the right way. We can’t kick the ball at the same angle or swing the baseball bat the same way yet expect a different outcome. This time, we use our other hand or foot maybe.
Still, more times than not we’re stuck with the hand we have. Charles Swindoll, evangelical Christian pastor and author of the book, The Grace Awakening says, “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” So, instead of asking why me, we should ask, what lesson do I take away from this? How can I use what has impacted my life to teach someone else? Life happens to us on purpose and finding our purpose in life is the greatest path to personal fulfillment.
Recently, we had the pleasure of helping an elderly man to declutter his life. After 60 plus years at his home, Mr. Foley must move into an assisted living facility that will better monitor his health and well-being. So, the challenge is deciding which belongings of 60 plus years are important enough to take, and which should be left behind.
Before starting any task as important as trying to decide personal items to carry to your next stage of life, it is important to identify your intent and reason for change. Identifying factors in our lives and the space around us that no longer work, is the key to a more successful outcome. Our task will be this – helping Mr. Foley to decide which items matter most now, and which items to leave behind.
There is a famous parable about a man who is trapped on one side of a fast-flowing river. From his standpoint, the river is too dangerous to cross but there is no bridge available. So, the man spends several days gathering logs, leaves, twigs and vines to build a sturdy raft and uses it to cross safely across the river. On the other side, the man marvels at his great creation of the raft and thinks, if there is another river ahead, I can use this raft I built to carry me across. And so, the man carries the raft for the rest of his life.
Items that may have served us well at one point in our lives may never be relevant or useful again, no matter how much value we place on these items. The man in the parable did not want to part ways with the raft because it was sturdy, and it took him several days to build it. However, the raft served its purpose, and after that initial use, became clutter in the man’s life.
Similarly, Mr. Foley must realize that even though items like the antique armoire, or the Howard Miller Grandfather Clock served him well at home, those items will no longer be relevant to him. But smaller family heirlooms such as portraits, jewelry, table clocks and quilts still remind him that in some cases, it’s the small moments that matter most.
We can learn a lesson from Mr. Foley on letting things go – clearing the clutter from our lives in order to make room for what’s to come. For some of us, perhaps we need to clear our minds of mental clutter. Clutter of the brain manifests itself the same way that physical clutter does. If we have negative energy and thoughts bottled inside of us, we cannot make room for new mental experiences. If we hold on to physical clutter, we prevent new blessings that God might bestow upon us. There is a blessing in letting things go. Let go and let God.
What’s holding you back from living life that you really want to live? When I was a teenager, nothing excited me more than the idea of publishing a magazine. It wasn’t enough to just write for another publication and call myself a published writer. I tried that; some of my work was published while other pieces were not. But I wanted complete control over both the editorial and the business side of a magazine.
So, what did I do? I decided to start my own magazine. When I announced my plan, it was met with a lot of resistance. Still, I had the encouragement of my family and close friends to embark on such a large task, especially at 16 years old. I really had no idea what I was doing so it was scary for me. I believe some people allow fear to hold them back from their life dreams. It is so easy to become comfortable in our everyday lives that we forever dim our light to dream, to step out, see what the end will bring.
I was very scared. I feared wasting money (and I didn’t have much at all), feared friends and family seeing me fail and mostly feared of the naysayers’ “didn’t I tell you?” I still trudged on, researching magazine formats, themes, editorial content, layout, pricing, distribution, etc. One of my high school teachers believed in me so much that she allowed the time I should have been working on class work to focus on building my magazine.
After it all, was the magazine a success? It depends on how you define success. I no longer publish the magazine but at the time, it circulated five states and was sold in five local bookstores. But something bigger happened in my life as a result of publishing the magazine. It gave me voice and encouragement. It also led me to a $20,000 college scholarship. It led me to become a Chips Quinn Scholar and to intern at The Tennessean in Nashville. It led me to an interview with Oprah Winfrey’s father who told me that my drive and ambition reminded him of his daughter. “All you have to do is keep up the momentum,” he said. Those were all life-defining moments for me.
I was so worried about failure and my perceived notion of success that it almost made me stop pursuing this dream. There are many of you who are seeking a major career change in life, or who want to start a business, or pursue a hidden and buried talent, but it’s so much easier to say, “well I’m married now, I have kids now, I’m too old to dream, I don’t have the time, I don’t have the money, I don’t have the patience it would take, it’s not realistic, I don’t have the knowledge somebody else has.” So, after all those excuses, what’s left? Two things: first, the comfort of following that same ole day to day schedule, which may or may not ever encourage growth in your life, and second, what Langston Hughes would call a dream deferred.
Today marks the first day of the rest of your life. Today, as you read these words, commit to changing your own outlook. Don’t walk blindly through each day depending on a set routine. There’s comfort in familiarity but remember – even our comforts could be snatched from us at a moment’s notice. Fear doesn’t exist anywhere except in the mind, and opportunity waits for no one. Own it and know it for yourself, that you are destined for great things; you must boldly walk over and open the door when it knocks. It’s never too late.
Shaun Lockhart is a professional organizer, virtual assistant