On Focus. 

I had a professor that used to say “what you focus on you amplify”. He said it so many times I think of it often even all these years later. 

I think of it when I force myself to take a step back from whatever it is I’m dwelling on at the time and to realize that the thing I am giving power to is a negative thought, unfortunate circumstance, or am upsetting memory or emotion. 

I have to ask myself if focusing on this thing or idea (whatever it might be) could ever change it or be productive, or if the amount of time/effort I’m giving it is simply feeding the flames of self doubt and relinquishing power to past events… Past events that have no bearing on the here and now, or have no business in doing so.

It is an active process; changing your thought pattern and your focus. It is mental hard work that takes an effort physically akin to lifting railroad tracks and switching them to another line. 

The past cannot be changed. That even goes for something as near as yesterday. Ugly things have happened. Ugly things will happen. But the most important thing, when you feel yourself fall into that hole that those ugly moments create, is to use the power you have to remember the beautiful. 

Because life truly is beautiful. It is a thing that we can experience only once. One extremely limited life in an extremely constricted time frame but it is our only one. No matter what happens you owe it to whatever greater power took the time to make life possible for you and for you to breathe and think and make decisions and love and be and exist. 

The last five years have been a trial for me. I have learned what losing family is. I’ve learned of illness and grief and solitude and guilt and self-doubt and self-destruction. I have questioned myself and my decisions and my worth and my purpose. At times I find myself dwelling on these events. This is where the railroad tracks come in.

When I am drowning I have learned to make myself focus on the good… That also in these last five years I have done so much living; That I have train hopped in Europe, gave away everything I owned and learned so much from it, graduated college and then graduated again, started a new and meaningful career, moved 2000 miles, deepened even already deep friendships with my amazing friends, galloped on horseback in the Italian countryside, slept in a beach cave and swam with sea turtles, overcome fears of incompetency, read outlook-changing books, heard life changing stories of people I made friends with in hostels and on trains. 

And even without these experiences, at a basic level, there is so much to be thankful for. I have a healthy body. A healthy mind. I have family. I have a car. I have clean drinking water, books, a roof over my head, food. I do not struggle to survive and I don’t fear for my safety. 

Everything that I have just mentioned, from safety to train hopping, all of these things could so easily be taken for granted or overlooked in moments of despair. Most often overlooked is that you have the ability and power to focus on the good rather than the bad. We can focus on good moments and realizations and memories when the negative begins to raise its ugly head. You have this choice. 

Viktor Frankl, in his book that has forever changed my life, says that “everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – your attitude in any given set of circumstances,  to choose ones own way.” 

Frankl wrote this as a result of his time in Auschwitz. If meaning and beauty in the form of his novel can come of an experience such as this then what business do you have dwelling on the trivialities and trials and sad times of life today?

Someone in this world, no matter what you are going through, has it much worse than you do. Someone would give anything for the life you are cursing. Someone who is no longer living would love to trade places with you and live the life they were denied. The life you have right now. 

All is a matter of perspective. A perspective that you set for yourself because that is another gift we have been given – the gift of self-awareness and power of mind. 

I think all of us could use a reminder of this from time to time. It is within your control to feel grateful and to focus on feeling grateful. Because, remember, what you focus on you amplify. Amplify the good.  

To my Younger Self

This post could also be titled “What I have Learned” and is really just an amalgamation of the life lessons I’ve discovered in the last ten years or so. I do wish I had known some of these things when I was younger, at least come to these conclusions a bit sooner, but I honestly do believe in learning things the hard way. I believe in trial and error and life experiences and drinking it all in. Regret is a waste of time and the way you frame the circumstances that life throws at you makes all the difference as to what you learn (or don’t learn). So that being said… Here’s are some truths I’ve recognized throughout the years:

  1. Being angry is an absolute waste of time and energy. Forgiving doesn’t mean you have to forget, but move on. Do not ruminate on how you’ve been hurt or who has caused it. It all just makes you stronger anyway.
  2. Young and pretty only gets you so far and it doesn’t last forever. So start building work ethic and making contacts. Take things seriously in whatever silly college side-job you are working. Always take pride in what you are doing and do your best no matter what it is. I don’t care if it’s mopping floors. Do it well.
  3. If someone treats you poorly and you’ve done nothing to them, let it be. It is a reflection of what is inside them and not of you. Do your best to not take it personally. In the same vein, be respectful even when others are disrespectful towards you. Let them make themselves look bad.
  4. Don’t trust everyone. Just because you are authentic and have good intentions does not mean that everyone else does.
  5. It is okay, in fact wonderful, to be different. It is a gift. Not a nightmare. Be proud of who you are and cut out the negative self talk. It will waste years of potential growth.
  6. You are and you become who you surround yourself with. Their standards of behavior become your own. Invite into your life only people you admire, respect, and aspire to be similar to.
  7. Get involved in something. In anything. Find your passion, find a group with the same passion. Run with it.
  8. Write more. Read more. This will be what saves you.
  9. There is a camaraderie and support that comes only from your girlfriends. Find good ones and hold onto them no matter what. Be a good friend and be a good listener. Be there for them and they will be there for you, in so many ways.
  10. Don’t act on impulse or emotion. Check your temper. Regret can come from 1 second of losing control. Dignity is absolutely everything.
  11. Treat people well. Accept them for who they are. Don’t judge, don’t criticize, and don’t harm. Actions and words have consequences. Each person is a product of a conglomerate of experiences and circumstances that are different from your own. Understanding this is the first step in your own personal path to tolerance, compassion, and understanding. To treat people badly is to harm your own personal development.