First moments are special.
The first time you spent the night out. Your first concert. A first kiss. Your child’s first steps. The first time sharing a personal artistic creation with someone. The first time your parents viewed you as an adult. First moments don’t happen again. New versions and variations of these experiences will come up, but the first one only happens once.
What about second chances?
Delivering on something after letting somebody down. The chance to make amends with a friend. The ability to apologize to your son for reacting poorly to a situation. The opportunity to finally tell a mentor how instrumental they’ve been in your growth. Reconnecting with your parents after the discord of self-discovery. Finding something that feeds your soul after years of doing things that did not.
What about next days?
Feeling the warmth of a sunrise and the potential within a new day after one of your darkest nights. Dusting off after getting beaten down. Waking up after an accident knowing you are going to recover.
Our first moments are precious, but subsequent moments to begin again seem even more beautiful. While in receipt of these opportunities, we may forget to acknowledge their importance, and our pride can even squander our ability to take full advantage of them.
These gifts can appear abundant, but they are not guaranteed.
Back in September, I ran across an image that took my breath away.
Photo courtesy of Stig Abel’s Twitter feed.
This photo captured Brian Sweeney’s last words to his wife, Julie on the morning of September 11th, 2001. While reading them, I was abruptly transported from the safety of my cozy office into Brian Sweeney’s shoes on Flight 175. I imagined the heartbreak and the longing for one more second with Julie and the people he cared about.
Unfortunately, Brian did not get his next day.
On August 8, 2012, Major Tom Kennedy was killed in Afghanistan in the line of duty. His initials remind me everyday of the precious nature of second chances and moments to begin again. While TK didn’t get that opportunity, I can make sure I treat my opportunities with the reverence they deserve.
Think about Brian Sweeney and Tom Kennedy the next time you feel frustrated.
Maybe you missed that promotion, didn’t get funding for your idea, lost a big project to your rival, didn’t place well in your competition, the book you wrote only sold four copies, your kid wasn’t selected for travel baseball, or the new development you built isn’t leasing well …
Sure, in the moment, these experiences can be rage inducing tornados that spin out of control so fast that you forget their origin. However, if you are fortunate enough to experience the amazing gift of another moment, channel that energy into a positive effort to begin again. The specific opportunity that you missed may not come up again, but something within that experience will show you what’s next if you pay attention.
How can we embrace our second chances and next days in meaningful ways?
What happens when real life gets in the way of actually living it?
A few things come to mind …
1. We impose our own limitations and constraints.
You are 40 years old and you’ve always followed the rules. You’ve played it safe and comfortable. Your preparation, education and upbringing culminates with falling into something that you can do well but don’t necessarily enjoy. You don’t hate it, and, actually, you are pretty damn good at it. But there is something missing that you can’t quite define. Driven by a sense of responsibility stemming from your investment and hard work, you cast away idealistic day-dreaming and your genuine curiosity of the world and awareness of its abundance fades into a dull haze. In your mid-twenties, you made an important decision, and the longer you stay tied to this choice, the harder it seems to explore anything else. This choice is validated by accolades and financial reward, which lead to an increase in consumption and a perpetual cycle of supporting it. The years roll by and your sense of adventure and appetite for risk dwindles away or even grinds to a halt.
There is not a biological threshold that, once exceeded, turns off the ability to be inspired, pivot and make something new. The only rules, constraints and limitations are the ones that exist in your head. They are personally manufactured and environmentally perpetuated.
There is an artificial filter with layers that aggregate over time slowly silencing your internal pangs of potential. Without awareness, this filter continues to manifest into a mask of who you think you are. Before you know it, you are so far down the road that change is impossible.
If you are breathing, you can begin again.
2. We let negativity be our baseline.
Most of the time, we don’t have all of the information to determine if a situation is positive or negative, however our minds tend to push us to the worst case scenario. Not because we are purely negative. It’s because we like living. It is probably a carryover from the days of trying to gather food while attempting to not become it.
We know this condition exists, and we can do something about it.
Jocko Willink is a podcaster, author and former Navy Seal. He inspires thousands on social media with simple photos of his watch at 4:30AM. Jocko taught me the power that a single word can have in building a positive mindset. He tells a story from active duty when his team members would come to him with a challenge and a seemingly impossible set of circumstances.
His simple response always was … GOOD.
It was not meant to be sarcastic, but it frustrated his team. It merely acknowledged the challenge and accepted the conditions for engaging with it. According to Jocko, the small action of saying this single word builds the framework of positive thinking catalyzing the transition from challenge to eventual solution. Much of what happens in the world around us is not in our control, but our response to those conditions is absolutely in our control. I believe in the power of positive thinking, but what could I do to test the theory?
I took it to the gym where mental fortitude is a valuable asset.
There is a quiet moment that exists between putting my hands on a barbell and performing the lift. Its a solitary moment with me, my ability, my potential and a goal. What usually happens in this instance is a virtual wrestling match in my brain pitting fear and doubt against the visualization of a successful lift.
I now incorporate something different.
I place my hands on the cold metal bar and say that four letter word out loud.
It is not a shortcut to a string of personal records, but starting with an audible jolt to a positive mindset always gives me the best chance to succeed.
3. We dread practice.
Doing something well requires curiosity, discipline, dedication and practice. Why do we fool ourselves into believing there is a shortcut to greatness? If we truly understood the power of a second chance, would we value the concept of practice differently? A sense of discouragement at a particular outcome is a perfectly acceptable emotion. It becomes imperfect when it leads to a chronic state or condition. Falling short of a desired outcome gives us valuable information on structuring the eventual path to success.
As a society, we seem to be seeking the shortcut by needlessly sprinting between now and next. Next is not built overnight. Next is the accumulation of multiple nows, feedback loops and second chances. Behind every touchdown, there are grueling hours of back squats, sprints, early mornings, contact drills, fumbles and failed third down conversions. Behind every book, there are hundreds of discarded pages, second guessed phrases, hours reading drafts out loud, and ideas that never made it on the page. Practice is a rare opportunity presented by a second chance. It is also how we make the most of our opportunities.
When things are spiraling out of control and your perspective is compromised, consider the following …
Next days are not guaranteed.
Limits and constraints are self-imposed and perpetuated by a negative mindset.
The ability to practice is a gift.
Second chances are priceless and usually lead to first moments.