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Life is a balancing act between extremes.

We learn from the time we’re children the differences between cold and hot, low and high, and so on. This is a necessary step in our education as it would otherwise be impossible to recognize or define tepid or middle without having the outer ranges as cognitive references.

In our digital age the extremes have become even more pronounced. All it takes is one glance at social media to recognize all that we lack. Everyone appears to be wildly rich, fit, and worldly. Well, based at least on a quick snapshot of their lives–from the right angle, of course.

How does a person manage to find balance in the highlight reel world we’re living in? How do we gain a long-term view when in the immediate-term we’re bombarded with messaging from friends, families, advertisers, and from every other possible angle suggesting we can just buy our way to the good life?

In an age where we are supposed to feel connected, rates of depression and anxiety are skyrocketing. Isn’t the promise of the digital age that we’re only one click away from being with friends?

Something inside me says we need to find a middle path. A road between extremes that, while allowing for the swings back and forth along the pendulum, allows us peace of mind and grace and perhaps a healthy dose of humility. We need to tread such a path that makes room for digital connectedness while also finding time for face-to-face interaction. And time to be alone–truly, mindfully, by oneself.

Bruce Springsteen was once asked how he has managed after so many decades to continue captivating audiences. How he has managed to keep writing and maintain that edge that is so critical to leading a fulfilling life and making it count. I’ll paraphrase from memory, and I remember it being something along these lines:

Every time I go on stage I remind myself that it’s the most important thing in the world and it doesn’t matter at all.

They’re wise words to live by. We get so easily caught up in the pettiness of the daily minutiae. In the absence of real stressors we find a way to take ourselves and our struggles just a bit too seriously. Waiting in line at a grocery store checkout or too long at a red light suddenly become cause for mental anguish when we lack real, meaningful challenges to face.

Still, these micro-moments in life are, indeed, what constitute our existence. The waiting in line and other minor annoyances have to count for something, don’t they?

Let’s come back to this in a moment. I’d first like to share an experience I had earlier this month.

Work Travel

In my day job I am sometimes required to travel. Over the past two weeks I spent time in Kansas City for the Cerner Health Conference which takes place each October. It’s a great opportunity to network and also get a glimpse at the latest-and-greatest functionality being produced for electronic health records.

As part of the conference, there were several riveting keynote speakers. The one genuine standout from a motivational perspective was Erik Weihenmayer, a gentleman who lost his sight at age 13 and yet has still managed to be one of the very few mountain climbers in the world to climb the highest peaks on all seven continents. His foundation, “No Barriers”, pushes the limits of what is humanly possible and invites others to take on what life has to offer. The goal isn’t to simply withstand adversity, but to actually welcome it as an opportunity to grow and become greater than otherwise would be possible. A calm sea never made a skilled sailor, as it were.

Erik left an impression on me and I recommend that anyone who has the opportunity to listen to him speak take that chance. Or better yet, make it happen.

From there, I spent considerable time speaking to healthcare industry experts and seeing what is coming down the pipeline. These experiences always leave me hopeful and I have to say I’m looking forward to what is to come in the future for patients and families who at some point come in contact with the healthcare industry for their care.

Having said this, what really moved me was yet to come.

Finding Perspective

One evening upon leaving dinner, the weather was just right. Around eighty degrees with nothing but stars above and a cooling breeze left me feeling like taking a stroll through the city streets.

My wandering soon took me to the obelisk I had been observing from a distance. I made my way along a winding walkway until I had reached the base of the monument. Though I had seen it before, I hadn’t realized it was the National World War I Memorial.

Standing in front of this memorial, I couldn’t help but stay, fixed in place as I took it in. In the middle of a city with cars racing by on the street, the weight of the monolith was deafening to my senses. The dimly lit stream of smoke emanating from its apex the only sign that life was moving at all, to my eyes. I couldn’t divert my gaze. Somehow, the only place in that moment that I wanted to be, that I could be, was right there. I was both within and without.

As I sat there, my heart sank and yet somehow soared. Mixed feelings. Muddled contemplations.

How to live a life worthy of the sacrifices that have been made for all of our liberties?

It is so easy to take for granted that we live in the most prosperous age ever recorded. We live in a civilization that allows us all the freedoms we could dream of us. We can pursue any desire that occurs to us. If we allow our minds to imagine, so to can we create.

To go back to Springsteen’s remark, how do we manage to let go of the trivialities, understand what truly matters, all while still going about our day-to-day? How do we carry moments like the one I experienced within our souls, lest it be forgotten, while still allowing room for joy and love and peace?

That is the point after all, isn’t it? The reason for the sacrifice of so many? That the rest of us may live and become all that humanity ought to be. Amid the questions I asked myself, the monument asked nothing; it stood there silently, unaware of my passing by. Still, it compelled me to want more. More of what?

I stood and walked to the edge of the stone barrier and looked out over the city. A city alight in the neon glow of excitement. An urban metropolis bustling with activity. Why, by some chance, was I born in this time and not in another? If, by some twist of fate, I had been born 1887 rather than one hundred years hence, this memorial may have been raised for me rather than those for whom it stands.

Still, the monument says nothing, asks nothing of me. And still the multitude of questions well up within me. What can I offer to be worthy of this sacrifice? And so the answer comes thereafter: To serve more than my own interests. To share what gifts I have with others. Above all, to leave all people and things better than how I found them.

Yes–that is the answer to my question. We all need to reconcile daily life with the bigger picture and what really counts. The way to do that is to carry within us a higher ideal. Something we can do something about and over which we have total control. In every interaction, through every deed, it is possible for me to act out that solemn promise to leave all people and things better than how I found them.

Though I hadn’t been looking for it, perspective found me on that night. I hope to carry its lesson with me. I invite you to do the same.

2 thoughts on “Perspective

  1. Allan says:

    I haven’t commented on your blog for a very long time. Hope you’re doing well.
    Great article.
    It is so much true. There are so many opportunities around us yet, we’re running too fast to see them, enjoy them or even to be grateful to live in such a time and place. We take this life as granted without thinking about all the sacrifices that have been required to get there.

    To try to leave all the people and things better than how you found them when you were born is a great goal and one that resonates with me.

    It is a though task though because our society is so complex that even when your intention is to do good, you might harm people, the planet etc anyways.

    On my side, I became vegetarian 4 years ago and would like to be vegan at some point. I did it not because of health reasons but because I believe animals deserve better treatment than the one we reserve for them. Many are saying that this is the 6th massive extinction and that we’re the root cause of it. To stop eating animals and destructing their habitats may help…

    All our family is now vegetarian and many of our friends too.

    We are struggling also to reduce our consumption and better manage our garbages. We’re not there yet but we’re doing the effort…

    These are some simple steps we can all accomplish to help making a better world. But, it is just the begining i guess.

    If I can reach my financial goals (to be FIRE within 10 to 12 years- 5 to 7 years still remain to this plan) this should free a lot of time to help me make a much bigger difference around me.

    Thanks for that inspiring post.

    1. Hey Allan,

      Glad to have you back on the site, old friend! I had been watching your other site but hadn’t seen posts so thought you weren’t still blogging… not sure I realized you had this new one in French. I can read it to get myself by in a pinch, but sadly won’t be able to read through your posts as well.

      That said, I think you’re making very responsible eating choices and are on an enviable path to reduce your ecological footprint.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the read.

      Take care,

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