Most of life passes us by in a fairly uneventful way.
We are woken up by our alarms, digital or living, and then we proceed to shake the haze that is morning. We wash our face, dress for the day’s activities, eat some kind of breakfast or drink our life-sustaining beverage of choice and head out the door.
From here we interact with many different people, some of whom are predictable and others unanticipated. Most of the interactions are cordial at best, covering only the deepest level of interaction necessary to propel us forward to our next assignment for the day.
We go through many of our motions on autopilot—eating, bathing, doing laundry, driving, until the day is done and we question whether it was a productive enough day, whatever that means.
But every so often, something happens that shakes our foundations just a little.
Sometimes it’s something epic, like a worldwide tragedy (need I say the numbers we are all thinking?). Other times the tragedy is a little closer to home. We can all recall more moments than we’d like where life seems to move in slow motion and we were caught between reality and a nightmare.
The emotions are raw.
Our hearts beat faster than normal.
But none of us would want to relive those moments for anything.
What I want to know is: can we live in a way that provokes such strong memory but doesn’t involve trauma or heartbreak?
It gives me hope to answer yes, but bridging the gap between theory and practice seems to require more engineering than I’m qualified for.
Here are a few of the ways I have found to live an impactful life despite the monotony that life can sometimes involve.
1. Start the day in anticipation. Each morning, I really try to have some time to myself to sit, read, pray, think, breathe, refocus and anticipate the day ahead. This isn’t so much of a “schedule-planning” session as it is an internal pre-game speech. Yes, I think about what I might be doing that day, but more than that I try to focus on how I want to grow and stay emotionally available throughout the day. I also focus on how I might be able to reach out to others and make a difference. I surrender myself to what God has for me for the day, and I acknowledge that the day will most likely contain some curveballs. I try to keep a hopeful, positive attitude and anticipate what new experiences I might have that day.
2. Live outside yourself. A lot of what I do each day in being at home with kids requires doing things for other people. Sometimes I get bogged down in always taking care of other people’s needs, but I know that when I feel the most self-centred is when I need to consciously do something for someone else. Whether that means bringing a friend a meal, paying for a stranger’s coffee, or just smiling and saying hello to someone you pass on the street, consciously acting in a way that primarily benefits someone else gives your life more depth of impact.
3. Set daily goals towards a larger project. We all have goals. Some of us still call them dreams, others of us prefer to see them as plans for another day. There is no “other” day. Today really is the only moment you have and if you don’t do something now to get where you want to be tomorrow, well, you won’t ever arrive. It can be something you hope to accomplish by next month or in ten years, but do something, anything, today to begin changing your reality. There are no silly goals. I really want to work towards a military pull-up. I’m not there yet, but I’m getting closer. I’ve seen huge improvements in my fitness and strength as I work towards that goal. We also have larger, broader goals that relate to our parenting and marriage journey, but sometimes we can get lost amidst the fog of a vague goal. Your goal doesn’t have to be achieved to be worthwhile, the change and progress you make in the process can be even more beneficial and meaningful than the end result.
4. Seek to deepen your interactions with others. Most of us shy from emotional intimacy. I know I do. We don’t like to be vulnerable, it makes us feel like we are in a place of weakness, when really the opposite is true. Being able to expose some of our thoughts and emotions to others, given the appropriate context, is an example of someone who has strength of character and confidence in themselves. Each day during your interactions with others, try to share something that brings the conversation to a deeper level. When a colleague mentions they’ll be off work for vacation, inquire about where they are going and have a genuine interest in their answer. If your child seems to only give you surface answers about their day, share with them something you loved or felt difficult about your own day. Often we expect other people to give us things we aren’t willing to give away first. Trust and intimacy is built when we dare to open up our stories to other people.
5. Do something different. Humans are creatures of habit. Minimalists are even more so. Some people go so far as to eat the same food or wear the same clothes every day, but simplicity and monotony don’t need to be synonymous. Certainly some routines are healthy and help us to avoid living in chaos or adding unnecessary stress to our lives, but other habits are signs that we’re stuck in a rut. By changing simple things you do each day, taking a different route to work or grocery shopping at a different time of day for example, you are seeing the world through a different lens than you’re used to. By changing your routines you also increase the number and type of people you interact with, thereby increasing your circle of positive influence on the world and also deepening the experiences you have learned from and then can share with others.
You don’t have to be someone’s boss or have vast wealth or influence to make a difference. We all have an impact on the people around us every day, the question is whether you know it or not and are willing to act on it.
“As I have said, the first thing is to be honest with yourself. You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself… Great peacemakers are all people of integrity, of honesty, but humility.”
― Nelson Mandela