Imagine life is like a vast forest that each of us explores as we make choices every day. Sometimes we’re on well-worn paths and sometimes we’re hacking through unmapped jungle.
Some of us know which direction we want to head, and others follow the next most-promising turn.
Most of us at some point climb a tree to get a view of the land we’ve covered and to get a glimpse of what the future could hold.
Often it’s hard to see that our own path lies far, far away from where we want to be.
Dreaming of the Future
It’s easy to stay seated in that tree and dream of flying machines that will carry us over the forest to our dream destination: financial freedom, security, physical beauty, children, world peace, having our own business, spiritual maturity . . .
When we are so far from where we want to be it seems that descending the tree into the dark forest and taking a step is futile.
So we stay up in the tree, dreaming of distant lands and hating our winding path of a past.
We need to learn to make peace with our path.
Where am I?
We need to be brave enough to accurately plot our position in the forest. For good or for ill we are where we are right now and we cannot wish it away.
If we want any hope of reaching better lands we must accept where we are and where we came from.
Only then can we determine the direction to follow, and only then can we drop the baggage of the past and find the strength to take the next step in the right direction.
And then the next, and the next, and the next, and the next, and . . .
It is anything but easy. Dreaming in the tree is much more appealing (especially if we have our smart-phones with us).
The Struggler’s Advantage
But all is not lost or wasted. We might not see any advantage in our previous paths and our current situation, but they might hold some secret power that will brighten our future.
I didn’t grow up athletic, so when I first started running in college my whole body screamed in resistance. As I struggled through each step my encouraging runner-friend cheered me on. I realized then that no matter how hard my friend had trained all his life, he would never know the difficulty of making a sedentary body move for the first few times.
The people at the top of their fields often have never been at the bottom long enough to know what it feels like to be an outsider or an adult beginner.
Math teachers choose to teach math because they like and understand math and may never understand the struggle and feelings of inadequacy that many feel when presented with a math problem.
When it comes to helping others, our weaknesses might just become the source of our greatest strengths.
Unique Past, Unique Destiny
Our time exploring the part of the forest we didn’t want to be in gives us a unique perspective that equips us for the future in ways we cannot yet see.
So let’s make peace with our path, be honest about where we are, decide which direction we want to head, and get down that tree into that dark forest and take that hard first step, then the next, and the next, until the sun goes down.
Then do it all again tomorrow.
If it’s true for us personally, then it’s also true for our families, our towns, our countries, and the world.
Let’s make peace with our path and do the hard work of moving us all toward a better future.
Have you ever been inspired by the amazing work of others, but thought you were too ordinary to be that great?
I recently had one of those exciting and discouraging moments while reading Love Does by Bob Goff.
The book’s promise to “discover a secretly incredible life in an ordinary world” lit my heart on fire, but halfway through I began to doubt.
How can such an extraordinary man claim that the ordinary person can be incredible?
Bob navigated a 25-ft sailboat to Hawaii with no previous navigation experience. He went rock climbing with his 10-year-old son in a snow storm – because his son wanted to.
Bob counts some 20 heads of state as his friends, freed 70 children from African prisons in one day, and sold his pick-up truck so he could fly half-way around the world to meet a foreign dignitary with his kids on one week’s notice.
He left his cell phone number at the back of his best-selling book so he could live his desire to be the most available person. “People don’t follow vision, they follow availability.”
Bob might call himself ordinary, but clearly he’s not. I could never do ANY of that stuff. I’m doomed to be ordinary.
But is Bob really that special, or do I assume he’s special because he can do things I can’t?
I’m not a lawyer and can’t imagine being one. Yet there’s nothing particularly special about being a lawyer.
Being a lawyer is ordinary.
I’m not a daredevil, and don’t care to try. Yet based on the number of “fail” videos on YouTube, there seem to be plenty of people out there who enjoy risking life and limb.
Being a daredevil is ordinary.
I like to have a plan and be prepared. Spontaneous people leave me in awe because being spontaneous requires so much strength and patience for me. But maybe Bob isn’t that good at planning.
Being spontaneous is ordinary.
The ordinary parts of Bob combine to create the potential for incredible action.
Bob flew to Uganda with no agenda, noticed some kids in prison, asked a few questions and noticed he had an opportunity.
He bought the Ugandan law books, brought the cases to trial and restored 70 innocent kids to their homes.
Ordinary Bob didn’t moan about what he can’t do and doesn’t have. He used his ordinary skills and resources to seize an opportunity to touch lives.
The main difference between ordinary Bob and ordinary me is that Bob chose to act.
If it’s possible for ordinary Bob to do incredible things, then it’s possible for ordinary you and ordinary me.
I bet you’re already doing some incredible things that you don’t think are that special because you take your ordinary skills for granted.
Your combination of ordinary skills, ordinary resources, and ordinary environment is unique.
You can touch lives in a way no one else can.
Sometimes we focus so much on what we don’t have that we neglect to use what we do have.
I’ve worried so much about failing to give my children a good art education that I’ve neglected to do much music with them – and I’m a musician!
Let’s embrace what is ordinary about us.
Let’s hold our heads up high, not to look down on people, but to see people clearly enough to discover how we can touch their lives.
I bet the more we practice, the more of an impact we’ll have.
Discover a secretly incredible life in an ordinary world.
If we are confident in our ordinary abilities and open to our ordinary situation, we can lead secretly incredible lives where we make life for those around us a little better, a little less lonely, and a little more joyful.
“Secret” in this case is not exclusive, but humble. It’s likely that most people won’t understand or appreciate the work we’re doing. That’s okay.
One day our work might grow big enough to get noticed, but even then we’re likely to be misunderstood – no one will believe we are ordinary!
Creation is the key aspect that makes each Blue Ocean family uniquely attractive and successful so it’s also the perfect place to encourage each other in Blue Ocean building.
Creating something new is also less likely to cause social stress than raising or reducing an element common to most families. An activity uniquely tailored to our own family doesn’t lend itself well to direct comparison, so with it we can build our Blue Oceans with less temptation to slip into the Red Ocean mentality.
It doesn’t mean society will approve of us. We’re still breaking out from the norm, which is always difficult for society to accept, but our creative additions are less of a direct threat to existing standards, and thus slightly easier to tolerate.
There are so many ways families can create without causing any trouble to anyone else. Here are the ideas we came up with together over the week. Thanks for your input!
- Create family traditions – Family traditions aren’t just fun, they serve an important function in binding the family together (and don’t underestimate the power of wacky!)
- Support the unique interests of our children – really listen to what they share and provide materials and opportunities for them to blossom
- Pursue our own interests – we may think personal work is not as valuable as our family responsibilities, yet if we take time for an activity that energizes us we’ll have more to give back to our families and our children will see our model of active engagement and self-initiative
- Support our spouses in their their interests outside of work
- Make homemade decorations and clothes; play music together; tend a garden – the things we make together can bless our home, be full of meaning to us and pose no threat or pressure to others to create the same thing
- Pick and choose ideas from other sources “like flowers from many gardens to make unusual bouquets”
- Recraft an unquestioned norm, like the yearly vacation. Ask questions like “What’s the main purpose?” “Do we achieve that purpose when we participate?” If not, why not, and what alternative could serve that main purpose better – or is that main purpose something we don’t personally care about? It may turn out that taking a weekend every month to do an activity the kids have been asking to do is more refreshing and builds family togetherness better than a stressful two-week Disney vacation. Note: This idea combines all four actions steps together: eliminate, reduce, raise and create.
Please share your own ideas!
We’re nearly finished with our first look at the steps in the Four Actions Framework. So far we have examined Eliminate, Reduce, and Raise. One might expect that “add” comes next, but I love the choice of “create” to complement the “eliminate” of step one.
Create, make something new, break boundaries, be unfettered in shaping your family culture. This call to action is not about picking and choosing from a line of offerings, it is about finding our own voice and making something out of the scraps we have that has never been done before.
Don’t worry about being original, though. I love this quote about how creativity and authenticity is not the same as originality.
“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery – celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.” -Jim Jarmusch
Let’s take our authenticity and creativity to our families where they can have the biggest impact. It’s true family can be harshly, if innocently, critical, as when my three-year-old told me ”Mommy, your bottom is too big,” but they are also innocently appreciative of our attempts to bring beauty and meaning into daily life, as when that same three-year-old enjoys reciting the King James Version of Psalm 24 with us.
Where do you see potential for creativity in family life?
Please share in the comments (or contact me) and next week I’ll compile a list of all our ideas.
Now we get to the fun stuff. Step three of the Four Actions Framework is raise. It may not be possible to keep up with Super Mom in everything, but since we are willing to let her surpass us in areas we don’t care that much about, we can focus on a few areas of personal importance and outperform even Super Mom. How? Because our energies will be focused and Super Mom’s are spread out. Maybe idealized Super Mom can do everything well, but even the most super of humans can’t be the best in everything. We might have less energy and fewer resources, but because of our narrow focus we can be excellent where Super Mom is only good.
Set a timer for two minutes and write down the aspects of raising children and family life that you care about. You can always cross out later, so during this brainstorm session write down everything that comes to mind without judging yourself. Then take a few moments to review your list and pick out one area that you care about the most (at least at the moment – don’t be a perfectionist about this!).
Are you excited? Overwhelmed? I went through this exercise and found that the first thing I wrote down also jumped out as my top choice. The words I spontaneously wrote down, “parent-child relationship – strong and respectful,” fill me with excitement, determination, and a bit of fear. I love those moments when I connect with one of my children and when they say “I love you,” but I look with horror on those moments when I shout or drag a child into a room and close the door in exasperation. At this tender age my kids still love Mommy most of all, but their little hearts seem so fragile and there is no guarantee that they’ll be saying “I love you” in the teen years.
How can I possibly think I can outperform the competition in the parent-child relationship category? It’s far too overwhelming. Yet the very vastness of the topic can be an advantage as I seek to find a way to move forward. I can’t move in every direction at once, but since there are many directions, I can choose the one that seems most doable and find the very next step I can act on today. As I wrote before,
“You don’t have to do it now, just think what would be the very next step necessary to move in the right direction. Could you act on it right now? If not, then you need to burrow down one more level. You might need to find a tool, or ask a person, or find a number.”
It’s still overwhelming to think what my next step should be, so I’ll give myself some time to think and will report in the comments when I’ve decided. I would love for you to do the same! We can all be encouraged to see the small steps others are taking to make their family culture even better!
Let’s take a personal look at the second step of the Four Actions Framework for creating a Blue Ocean: reduce. You might wonder why I’m not starting with step one, but it seems easier to start with reducing than full-out elimination. Decluttering is scary, whether it be stuff or activities!
Is there an element of family life that you try to uphold because the people around you deem it to be important but deep down, you don’t really care about, or you wish you did care about but you can’t make yourself? What if someone gave you permission to quit, or dial back, would you jump at the chance? Don’t feel guilty; this could be your golden opportunity to start carving out your Blue Ocean!
Ask yourself, “Is this really necessary, or is it an area where I can cut back in order to carve out space for more important things?”
What would happen if you chose to perform well below “industry standard”? I’m not talking about low performance by default and feeling guilty about it. I’m proposing you intentionally, and without guilt, choose to focus on things that deliver greater value to you.
Such an area for me is hygiene. I wish I cared more about it, but I just can’t be bothered to make my kids wash their hands before meals and even after they use the bathroom. I dislike bathing them, so it only happens once a week, if that, and even then I delegate it to my (thankfully willing) husband. I could go on, but you get the point. It’s nothing to be proud of. Hygiene is a good thing and there’s nothing noble about being dirtier than others. I could feel guilty about it, or I could decide to focus my energy on building the things I do very much care about, and be at peace with being below industry standard in the hygiene department, at least for now.
What about you? What would you reduce if you had permission?