“The best years of your life are the ones in which you decide your problems are your own. You do not blame them on your mother, the ecology, or the president. You realize that you control your own destiny.” —Albert Ellis
In March 2006, Forbes magazine published a list of what they called “The 20 Most Important Tools Ever,” which was compiled by a bunch of experts who know a lot about stuff like this. In addition to being a source of stimulating conversation between me and my 10-year-old for a solid commercial break, the list is interesting in and of itself.
The top 20 include the knife, abacus, compass, pencil, harness, rifle, sword, eyeglasses, saw, watch, needle, candle, telescope, fish hook and chisel. (The entire list can be found in the forbes.com Web site archives.)
All the items on the list have one thing in common: they are designed to do what they do. They’re not Swiss army knives. They’re pencils…for writing. They’re eyeglasses…for seeing. They’re knives…for cutting. Each of “the most important tools ever” does one job and does it well.
As people, we need these types of tools, but we don’t tend to function in the same way. Instead, we multi-task, do things we need to, want to, don’t necessarily want to but do anyway, and run circles to get to the should-have-already-dones from last week.
There’s a lot of pressure with that kind of lifestyle. It’s hard to sustain a schedule that’s built for two.
So, as I get older, wiser, relapse and then wiser again, I am learning a thing or two. When your life takes a turn in a direction you’d rather not see it go, you have a minimum of two choices. One, fight it. Two, don’t.
Either way, you’re entering battle. If you choose to fight it, the battle will be long. If you choose to not fight it, the battle will be long. But I’d lay my cards on pushing through it any day. Eventually, if you open yourself up to the circumstances and pound directly through the densest parts, you will, no doubt by the grace of God, find your way to another side.
As life takes us in and out of the tough parts—the ones we’d just as soon tuck away into a deep dark closet—we are actually living out those applicable quotes. That’s when we see that the worst things make us stronger. When we’re stronger, we’re more aware. Being more aware makes us more complete.
Jimmy Valvano, the legendary college basketball coach who died of cancer in 1993, said a really big thing in his speech at his final ESPY awards.
“To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. No. 1 is laugh. You should laugh every day. No 2 is think. You should spend some time in thought. No. 3 is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”
Fortunately, battling cancer isn’t a prerequisite to getting this concept. Unfortunately, it might take a huge road bump or a fully collapsed bridge in life to finally opens our eyes. But these seemingly disastrous occurrences are not without purpose.
This is when you discover who you are. Who you love. How to love. What matters. Who matters. Who is worth your time. Who isn’t. How your actions affect. How much you will sacrifice. How fiercely you will protect. What you will give. What you will take back.
This is also when the most incredible people will come into your life. Or when you will rediscover the most incredible people that were already there.
And maybe the best thing about overcoming, about persevering, about beating something you thought would beat you—is realizing you don’t have to be all things to all people.
You don’t have to do anything more than own up to your situation. See it, take responsibility for it, find something to appreciate in it, and then say thanks, even if it’s tough to do.
You don’t have to be a Swiss army knife. Just do what needs to be done and do it well.