I figured out the first step to intentional living. (When I say a statement like this, always read it as “for me” because I really can’t speak for anyone else.) The first step is self-awareness. If you aren’t aware of the person you are, the impact you make on others and in this world, or the impact your choices make on you…. then how can you live intentionally. I’ve observed that self-awareness is not an easy skill to possess. Example one: Ever go to the grocery store and turn to go down an aisle and people have their carts in the middle of the aisle so that no one can get around? They are absolutely oblivious to the fact that they are preventing others from shopping. They spend as long as they like to look for the perfect spice, completely unaware that you are standing there trying to get around them. Not until you say “excuse me,” which is typically after you stand there for a few minutes with growing indignation, do they actually move their cart. Being self-aware does not come naturally. As I pondered the reason for that, it all seemed to center around the more natural skill: self-centeredness. We are so focused on our self, our own wants, needs, and desires, that we do not have the ability to have a balanced and honest view of our personality and our impact. It is ironic. We spend all this time thinking about ourselves, yet we never are able to get a good picture of who we are. If we were more others-centered, we would not spend our time thinking about what we want, but we would be focused on what others need… and thus our contribution to their needs. We would realize that we were taking up an entire aisle in the grocery store.
Now, obviously self-awareness is far more valuable than the awareness of aisle-blocking. Self-awareness allows us to view ourselves from an outsider’s perspective and make adjustments to who we are in a more effective manner. Example two: When there is a person that you do not like or a person that frustrates you horribly, do you stop and think… do I share any of the same qualities that I despise in this person? Remember the saying, the qualities you hate in someone are often the very same qualities you possess? For me, this has proven to be true. And unless I ask myself this question, I will spend my life disliking a person or what they do and be completely oblivious to the fact that I am just like them. I think this example proves exactly why we choose not to be self-aware.
When we are self-aware, we often find qualities about ourselves that we find more comfortable to ignore. Oh man, there’s that word… uncomfortable. It is why we as Americans avoid hearing about the starving, the afflicted, the oppressed. Too uncomfortable. We must realize that yes, ignorance is bliss but it is also harmful. To others and to yourself.
It is difficult to leave in a society that caters to our self-centeredness. I work in sales and I watch as the most self-centered sales professionals are the most successful. I can’t deny that their self-centeredness, makes money. And it keeps me employed. Their desire to make money drives their success. When I turn on the TV, I am bombarded with advertisements that cater to my self-centeredness. They want me to want things FOR ME. My self-centeredness makes them money, even if it costs me and my family. Turn on the news and listen to stories about politics. It is all about every side wanting what they want. None aware enough to listen to the other point of view to consider that maybe they don’t have it all right. It is easier for the Republicans to blame the Democrats and the Democrats blame the Republicans. There is the next key word. Blame.
The lack of self-awareness results in passing blame. A self-centered individual focuses on what it will take for them to look good. Because if you look good, you feel good. And isn’t that what we all want, to feel good? Taking the blame NEVER feels good. Apologizing is always hard. Swallowing your pride, well that is my least favorite. I do hate to swallow my pride. Sometimes I will just engage in fights and examine every angle possible to avoid swallowing my pride. But the moment I step away and observe how my feelings, reactions, or thoughts affect another person… soon after I have to swallow my pride. No amount of arguing or persuading is going to make me right. Hurting someone is always wrong.
Part of self-awareness is realizing what your purpose should be. If you have established what you want to accomplish with your life, you can focus on being aware of how you are working towards it. Example three: Yesterday, Tek had his first t-ball game of the season. I’m coaching with my friend’s husband and, well, it is quite entertaining. I have to say that I struggle with a little disappointment in my son. While he is far more into the game this year than last year, he still struggles with identifying the purpose of the game. He doesn’t understand that all the other players on the field are on his team. So when the ball is hit and they all go running to get the ball, he throws elbows and shoves teammates out-of-the-way. He doesn’t realize that anyone can get the ball, they are a team. You see, when we are so self-involved that we only identify our own success, we miss out that there is a greater purpose for us. Why do we allow our own success to depend on another person’s failure. This will hurt every relationship in your life. . Rather, if you identify your purpose and work towards that purpose, all the petty and irritating things fade into the background. And when this happens, the best thing happens… we can actually rejoice in the success of others. We are no longer in competition, but rather, we are all fulfilling our own purpose.
Just as Tek has to learn that the purpose of the game is to work as a team and succeed as a team, we as adults have to learn that success is not being better than others. Middle school is over. We don’t have to compete for attention anymore. We should all be secure enough to be willing to self-evaluate. To ask ourselves questions instead of blaming others. To challenge ourselves rather than expecting all those around us to get better.
What is our purpose? Well for each of us it is a little different. And it will change over time. But one purpose we should share, is to be aware of the impact we have on the world around us. We alone are responsible for our own actions. We can’t blame others anymore. My favorite example of this is D and Brad’s son, Wyatt. He was playing outside with Andy while Tek was napping one day and he said, “Mr. Andy, can you ask Tek to stop hitting me with the ball?” (They throw big exercise balls at each other at the YMCA where we have church.) Andy responded, “Okay, I will. But you know if I ask him to do that, you can’t throw balls at him.” Wyatt’s response is classic, “But I want to.” How many times as adults do we want others to change but are unwilling to change ourselves. We are fully aware of others faults but we are unable to grasp that we may have faults of our own that only we can change. I bet we have many times felt and expressed, maybe not so honestly, the very same thoughts that Wyatt did.
I’ve found myself constantly asking Andy to change. Make the bed! Why can’t you make the bed?! Then on Sunday, when I’m the last one out of bed, I get home and realize I didn’t make the bed. (Usually, I then make it very quickly before he gets home and gets the opportunity to point it out.) I can find all of his faults so easily, but I am far more blind to my own.
So my first step to intentional living, is to approach myself first. Self-awareness begins with self-evaluating questions. If I can’t question myself and then (perhaps more importantly) honestly answer myself, then I have no right ever forming an opinion of anyone else. Daily I have to ask myself, what is the impact I am making on others? Am I adding to their lives or taking from them? Am I contributing positively to the environment or simply using and abusing the resources? Am I so consumed in my day-to-day life, that I miss the impact that I make in this world? Intentional living has to begin with questions. So I guess it is time for me to start asking them.