I’ve been thinking about writing this for quite some time. It is hard to do justice to such a topic without seeming arrogant or egotistical but I am so determined to do this that I will risk your judgments. I hope you will see, in the end, that my thoughts are as authentic and honest as every breath I will ever take.
Let’s start with definitions of a masterpiece. As I researched, I found layer upon, slightly different nuanced, layer of understanding
1. Work done with extraordinary skill; especially: a supreme intellectual or artistic accomplishment or achievement.
2. A Master Work – An outstanding work, achievement or performance.
3. A Classic
4. A Tour de Force/Piece de Resistance/Magnum Opus
If you were asked for your definition, would it be something specific or purely descriptive? Would you call out a particular person, place or thing that was, in your opinion, outstanding, extraordinary or spectacular? What benchmarks would you use as you evaluated your selection?
I offered at the beginning that this is a topic I was most anxious to discuss and I could, of course, muse on about the decision and factors determining the decision and categories and criteria ad nauseum. But I won’t.
When you have the benefit of perspective, you can fly high over your own life and with a birds eye view, you can see the great tapestry that is your life. See the colors? Notice the brilliant shades, the lights and the darks that occur. Does it look chaotic or are you high enough up to see that what looks like chaos has order and organization to it? If you can’t see this yet, fly a little higher. Eventually, you will see a pattern, probably many patterns. Just take a moment to look at this amazing representation of your life.
As you look at this expanse, notice the parts that catch your eye first. I can tell you which part catches my eye when I look at mine. It belongs to my family members and things we did. It belongs to my husband and our married lifetime of adventures and experiences, our joys and our sorrows, our devastations and celebrations. But, the brightest light comes from the incredible hue that radiates from our son. Oh, I know you will say that no child is perfect and they are not. They can and will be difficult sometimes. They were all two-year olds once. And they were all teenagers. Eventually, they leave for school, work or life and become full-fledged adults which in turn caused our re-focus, too. But in all of those changes, all of those turns, all of those moments, did you notice the little flashes of light and color that have the capability of lighting a lifetime with a kaleidoscopic dance of sheer and innocent love and joy? Elizabeth Kubler-Ross said that, in the end, the only thing that really matters is love and I could not agree more.
Here, over and above every achievement, every degree, every compliment or accolade, here is the singular entry that I offer as my masterpiece, extraordinary accomplishment, my master work, There are many wonderful moments but none more spectacular than these. I am grateful to have the beautiful and luminous colors, this gift, my son, radiates from my life’s tapestry. They and he, represent the connecting link between all that ever was with all that ever will….. be.
That simple statement has been on my mind off and on over the last couple of days. I read a brief article that talked about some signs on the highway with that thought. It is something to think about. We are all so used to the notion that we ‘know’ most things. We have done something a certain way and so there must be nothing more to learn about it. We just put those things on automatic pilot. Just get it done. Just go through it. Am I among the few that find the road to a new destination about twice as long as the road back home again? Why would that be? There is a new route I am not used to. There are new things to see along the way. This new route offers something that attracts my constant or near constant attention. On the way back, no matter how interesting, I have “seen everything” and there is no need to place any intense focus on anything except getting back home again.
Is this the same kind of process we use when we get something new? For whatever reason, we get it. Maybe it just radiated until we had to have it. Maybe it represented something intense and intangible to us. Regardless of the motivation, we finally have it in our hands. Soon, the sparkle and specialness are gone. We “know” all of its tricks pretty quickly. Now the mind does it’s best to prepare us for yet another adventurous pursuit. The brain likes novelty. Our egos are just big enough to inform us that we know ‘all about something’. Once we get to that place in our thinking, it is hard to stop and really look at something we have seen before and really look at it again for something we might have missed.
Prepare to be amazed. That statement is asking us to look again and anticipate that just maybe we don’t know everything about anything, really. There is a world of new things to learn. When I was a child my family traveled to Washington State every summer to visit relatives. We would pass through the Dakotas depending on our route. My brother and I never really appreciated those states leaning as they do on the much more geographically spectacular (to our eyes, anyway) states of Wyoming and Montana. We basically got through the hot and monotonous Dakotas. It wasn’t until many trips had come and gone that I took a walk down a Dakota country road one evening and noticed the small, delicately pastel colored prairie flowers that were everywhere. How could that be? I had glanced up from my book every now and then as the miles rolled on by and the landscape actually looked tan and grayish. These quietly beautiful little flowers in soft pinks, pale blues, gentle yellows and warm whites blended together with sage green to produce a soft gray blur when we drove by them. How many times had I looked there and never saw anything? Before you spend one more hour presuming you know everything about something, stop and take another look.
When I was 19 years old, I visited my father’s birthplace in Southern Italy for the first and only time. He had not been home in 31 years at that point. It is a very impoverished, quite small but charmingly beautiful seaside village. Many things drew my attention but one thing really stood out. In such a poor area, the dignity of work was indelible. It didn’t matter what the job was, it was done with precision and pride. Whatever needed to be done was done to perfection. The mantra was to perform as if you were the very best at whatever….farming, cooking, carrying water, trash collection, beach cleaning, street sweeping…..whatever your assignment was.
I have often thought about the people I was so captivated by. In the systems I was and am more familiar with, there is a hierarchy with a pecking order. It had a lot to do with influencing how you felt about your assigned or selected work. If you were in the early stages of work, an entry level assignment was good. If, you were in later stages of your career, an entry level type position was a demotion and source of disappointment. It felt like a punishment. The emphasis was all ego driven. I am only 26 years old and I am at the top of my profession. I am 56 and I am still working on entry level type jobs. Rarely do I notice anything like pride in performance. I notice pride at level achieved instead. To me there is a huge difference. There is a lot more at stake than just a job. Self esteem enters the picture in both scenarios but only the first offers a truly democratic universal self esteem payback. The other one is ready to wear you down and erode your sense of mattering and making a difference. What a difference perspective makes, don’t you think?
Yes, we live in this society with these rules and criteria. Does anyone else think it is time to stop and examine the merits of the simple dignity of work? Has anyone else climbed the ladder relentlessly and realized too late that it really leads no where? Have you realized that at the end of the day there is another day like the one you just put in facing you with a carrot that keeps receding just a little as you hop toward it thinking that once you have caught it, life will really be great? How many of you have caught the carrot? And, what did you find? Oh, maybe there was a bigger carrot beckoning you but maybe not. Some years ago there was a popular song sung by Peggy Lee. It was called, “Is That All There Is?” Well, if you approach your life as a career treadmill on an ever upward sloping incline that IS all there is. Would you say it’s worth it? I don’t think so. Look around. What else impacts your life? Pick each element up in your mind. Roll it over and examine it. Put it down and look at the next item. Realize that there is so much more to your life. Whatever job you have deserves your best effort, of course. Do what ever is asked of you and do it with pride. Be the best whatever it is you can be. But work to live your full life not just one small part of it.
My first trip to Italy lasted for 21 days. When I arrived, I thought about how different our societies and worlds were. I was coming from a very advanced nation and here, in Southern Italy, I was in a more primitive culture. When I left, I couldn’t help but wonder who had the more advanced life style.
How many times do we need to be told that there is always someone worse off than we are so we should cheer up? There are starving children in China so eat your spinach. You have no shoes but someone else has no feet. Your job may not be what you hoped for but at least you have one.
All of these thoughts and sentiments encourage us to find a positive within our negative view of life by comparing ourselves to someone else in a favorable light. Now, I do understand and I admit that, for too many unthinking years, I did use this kind of process to wipe out depressed thinking of one form or another myself. You know, though, when you shine some bright light on that kind of logic, it just might make you feel a little worse. Why? Because you are using someone else’s misfortune to make yourself feel better. Example: I am not beautiful but look at you. You are really homely. Therefore, I feel better about whatever degree of “beauty” I might have. This isn’t the way to become positive.
There must be a better way to resolve this kind of need. Gratitude appears to be the answer. Whatever I have, I am grateful for. I only have a package or a can of soup on my shelf. I am grateful to have it. There is only an apple and some milk in my refrigerator. I am grateful to have it. I have some crackers and a little cereal in my cupboard. I could have the crackers with my soup and the milk with my cereal! How fortunate I am!
We all need to remember that everything in our lives is cyclical. When everything is going my way, it is certain that eventually, it will be someone else’s turn and my options may be less than they are today. So, try to ride it out. Look for the positives even in a very negative picture. What have you learned? How will you do things differently in the future? Have you checked to see if there are resources to help you depending on your circumstances? If you don’t have to go it alone, why do you? Think about that.
While we are at it, there are a few other things to think about. One is expectations and the other is perfectionism. Both can individually or collectively come together to make you miserable. Unrealistic expectations of yourself and others are guaranteed to cause unhappiness. Meditate on that. I expected to _____________ but I didn’t get ______________(fill in your own blanks). My feelings are hurt. What made you expect anything? As for perfectionism, is there any harsher self punishment than this? Perfection by it’s own definition is impossible to achieve. Must you measure yourself against an impossible standard. Every now and again, isn’t “good enough, good enough”? Give yourself a break. Cut yourself some slack. Feel better. Remember, if you are down at this moment, momentum will soon carry you back to the top. It is just one big wheel.
When something has discouraged you, remember:
Moderation in all things and even in moderation, moderation.
Eventually, this too, shall pass.
We don’t need to make ourselves feel better by comparing our situation to someone else’s. Let’s just gain some perspective and rearrange our logic in a more positive way. Now, you can really feel better.