The more I travel, the more I recognize just how lucky I am.
My being a part of three different demographic groups; white, male and middle-class US citizen; has allowed me opportunities that are not available to a majority of the world.
As my uncle likes to say; if life were the game of baseball, I started the game standing on third base.
In addition to my genetic luck, I am even more blessed for the environment in which I was raised.
Throughout my life, I have been, and continue to be, surrounded by great men. Strong men. Kind men. Generous men. Men who, through their daily example and consistent reminders, showed me the path to becoming a better person. Men who helped to teach me how to bounce back in life when we all inevitably stumble and fall.
I would like to share one of the lessons from my personal tribe of great men. As a part of my recognizing how fortunate I have been, I feel it is important that I pass on their wisdom, however I can.
Over the past few weeks, I had a couple of unfortunate experiences.
First, while in Lisbon, Portugal, the apartment I was staying in was broken into and I was robbed. I lost, among some important personal items, my passport. With a return flight to the US less than 5 days away, this was a bit of a rut-row.
Then, a few days later, the aforementioned flight from Lisbon to Madrid was delayed, causing me to miss my connecting flight back to Miami. As Miami was not my final destination, I lost my reservation for the hotel in Miami that I had booked as well as my connecting flight via another airline the next day.
Not what you would call a great travel week.
Normally, I would have shut down in situations like this. I would have moped about what I lost and how shitty everything was and slumped into my bed for a nice 5 hour Netflix session. I would have ignored the beauty of Lisbon and sulked in my AirBnB.
Not this time.
A simple lesson from my grandfather helped me to bounce back and get right on with enjoying life.
My grandfather, for all of his yellow blazers and floral-pattern ties and VW Beetles, was a pretty tough son-of-a-bitch. He was the kind of inherently tough individual who felt absolutely zero need to outwardly show people how tough he was. He knew, when the chips were on the table, that he was plenty tough enough.
His nickname as a child was Buster. He received this nickname because of his unrelenting passion for running into other things and/or people. Buster played lacrosse in college and was a member of a US Naval program that became a precursor to the US Navy SEALs. Buster once cliff-jumped into the crashing waves off the coast of Acapulco because the captain of his Naval ship, after seeing a group of locals jumping, bet him $100 that we wouldn’t do it.
Now you may be asking yourself, “But what do these stories have to do with anything?”
Well, for starters it is always fun to tell stories. Secondly, I think it is important to know that this wisdom did not come from a summer-of-love, flower-power hippie. My grandfather was a tough, practical man. He just so happened to also be an unrelenting optimist.
The lesson that helped me recently is actually not a lesson as much as it is a question. You simply have to ask yourself, “So, what’s good about it?”
Here are two examples, taken from my personal journal, of how I used this question to find some gratitude in my recent traveling debacles.
Being Robbed in Lisbon – What’s Good About It?
I still have my phone and computer. I can still work and make money – THANK GOD I WATCH NETFLIX AS I GO TO BED
I still have all credit cards and debit cards — I have access to money
I am in a major city with an embassy, I do not need to go far to get an emergency passport
I have time to get a new passport, I do not need to change my flight home
I still have my Ray-Bans (miraculously)
No more journals, I am forced to write about trip w/ Emmy while memories are fresh — possible book???
I can now buy a cooler backpack
I was not harmed physically
Missing my Connecting Flight to Miami – What’s Good About It?
It was an EU flight through an EU airline. I am entitled to $600 Euro. I will make money on the trip
I get to stay in a nice hotel in Madrid. I can use the spa and the gym to get right between flights
Free food @ hotel
I will have more time to spend in Miami with Kaui and Ethan
I met cool people on the flight and in the hotel
Now, I know that some of you may be thinking, “What kind of mushy-gushy, happy-go-lucky bullshit is this?”
To be honest, I wouldn’t disagree with you. It is most definitely the outlook of an optimist. If you decide to try this in your life, you may have to push yourself to be a skosh’ more positive than normal.
But what is the alternative? To bitch and moan and lament about how unfair life is? What good does it do to focus on the negative?
Will my being upset about my lost journals miraculously cause them to re-appear? Nope. Would my being bitter about missing my flight help me to magically teleport to Miami? Not a chance.
Life moves in one direction — forward. The world, no matter what happens, does not pause. After something bad happens, you really have two choices. Either move forward with the rest of the world or feel sorry for yourself and rock in your rocking chair of negativity.
By forcing yourself to think about what’s good in a situation, even the worst of situations, you are training your brain to look for opportunities. The landscape of your life is constantly changing. With every diversion from your intended path you are brought to new fields of opportunity. It just depends on whether our heads are up to notice the opportunities when they present themselves.
My missed flight was not an inconvenient schedule change. It was a chance for me to stay in a nice hotel, use the spa, eat a good meal and get right in-between flights. My losing my journals did not mean that I would lose my memories from my trip with my sister. It became inspiration for me to begin writing about our trip while my memories were fresh.
Naturally, the process of searching for the good takes some practice. Your mind is your body’s most powerful muscle and like any muscle you have to train it accordingly. Here are some more “So, What’s Good?” examples to highlight how to purposely alter your perspective to focus on the good:
Situation: You had a very long and unproductive team meeting at work. Your team argued with one another. People singled you out and yelled at you. Nothing was accomplished.
SWGAI?: You had just two hours to evaluate and identify who you actually want to work with. Who on your team kept their cool? Who searched for creative solutions to problems? Who remained civil, even when everyone else didn’t?
Situation: There is an accident on the freeway. Traffic is at a standstill. You are going to miss an important meeting at work.
SWGAI?: First, you weren’t IN the accident. Second, you now have a free, totally unplanned hour to yourself. Will you call an old friend to catch up? Will you finish an audiobook you have been listening to? Will you listen to an episode of your favorite podcast?
Situation: You tear your ACL. Your sporting season is over.
SWGAI?: Great opportunity to improve upper body strength and/or hand-eye coordination. This is also a great chance to become a student and learn your chosen sport through the eyes of your coaches.
Situation: You get dumped.
SWGAI?: Usually after a break-up, people tend to re-invent themselves. Relationships make us lazy. The single life is a great time to focus on you. You will have more time to read, go to the gym and get out to try new things. Additionally, it is often in our times of greatest heartache that we allow ourselves to be most vulnerable. To ask ourselves the really tough questions and answer them honestly.
And this question is not limited to situational events only.
I recently shared a draft of this post with an aunt of mine and she enjoyed it. I would now like to use a piece of advice that she once shared with my sister as an example of how this question can be applied to more permanent situations.
Situation: You are in a relationship, or marriage, that is in a rut. Something is off. You and your partner fight more often. Your partner’s human flaws seem to become more and more irritating.
SWGAI?: When you wake up in the morning, will you decide to focus on the ten things your partner does that really annoy you or will you focus on the five aspects of who they are as a person that made you fall in love with them? Will you continue to bitch at them for what they are not doing or will you compliment them for what they are doing? Do you daily step back and ask yourself, “So, what’s good about them?”
Life is all about perception. What you see is often what you will find. What’s so useful about the “So, what’s good about it?” question is it causes you to search for happiness’ favorite emotion.
It is literally impossible to feel grateful and sad at the same time. As author Neale Donald Walsch says, “The suffering ends when the gratitude begins.”
Appreciation is learned. It is not some genetic trait that some of us have and others do not. It is a cultivated skill, honed through consistently re-focusing our perspective.
Asking yourself to find the good is a not-so-subtle way of asking yourself what you have to be grateful for. What went right? What do I still have? What new opportunities can I find in my life’s ever-changing landscape?
So no matter what happens, or what may be happening, ask what’s good about it, find a little gratitude and move on.
Everyone else will.
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