I do have a friend who would usually be mistakenly identified as me. There were many instances that people in the university where both of us are teaching called me by his name and him by mine. Why? I am not a dead ringer for him but very likely that our similar built, height and rounded face would make people commit that mistake.
Seemingly bemused, he asked me one time, “Why would they think I am you? Do I look as old as you are?” I paused for a while, smiled then told him jokingly, “No, I think I just look as young and handsome as you are.”
As my friend laughed at my response, I thought that the contrasting way we looked at the issue has opened an opportunity for me to revisit the topic “perspective.”
That (perspective) is one of the most amazing things about us humans – our tendency to look at the same thing differently.
Anything in this world can be viewed from different perspectives. We get to decide at what angle we would look at circumstances, problems, events and even objects using lenses that are uniquely ours. We tend to measure the value of those things using our own sets of standards and label and define them according to our beliefs. Those standards and beliefs are shaped by the way we were raised by our parents, trained by our teachers, influenced by the people around us, and conditioned by our culture.
The sum total of the experiences we accumulated since birth and the amount and quality of information we gathered through the years from different sources are the factors that contribute to the kind of perspectives we develop as persons. Our way of viewing things depends on the belief system that those experiences and information impressed upon us.
Each person is entitled to embrace a particular attitude towards something. There are no specific measurement to determine the rightness and wrongness of perspectives. Only the consequences of a person’s action (or the lack of it) as a result of embracing certain perspectives could perhaps be labeled as right or wrong.
When we are about to take a perspective it’s like we’re positioning ourselves in the number scale and decide whether to go north or south. We can either be positive or negative with our perspective. Those are the only directions we could take when we look at issues and circumstances confronting us. It’s a matter of choice.
Perspective is said to be like a coin, it only has two sides. We flip the coin and choose either “head” or “tail.”
Our perspectives affect the decisions we make. They inform the things we think, say and do. Thus, while we are entitled to have any kind of perspective, in the same manner that we are entitled to our own opinions, we have to understand that we will bear whatever consequences there may be for embracing the perspectives we take.
We also need to understand that we could not assume that what we believe or see is definitive. Different people have different ways of looking at things. The perspective of the world that dictates the lens through which we see it is not the same for everybody. We need to develop the ability to see things from another’s viewpoint.
Perspectives can either be broad or narrow.
Having a broad perspective means being able to see the bigger picture. `
I once had a conversation with another friend about working conditions. He bewailed the fact that a truck driver in his country earns more than what he is earning in a year as an expat teacher. After listening to his litany, I told him to pause for a while and dig deeper into his comparison and consider other factors like number of required work hours and the physical demands for the job. When computing the number of hours, I reminded him that we as teachers are not actually working during winter and summer breaks but we get paid in full by the university as stipulated in our contracts.
He realized at the end that his pay per hour is actually higher than the truck driver and his working conditions are much better.
It is not really hard to train the mind to look at the bigger picture. It is easy to look beyond the obvious if only we’re open-minded. It does not require a special kind of training. All we need is common sense.
There are a lot more that could be explored in the discussion of perspective. At the end, the thing that matters is the answer to the question, “How do our perspectives affect the way we live?”
If the lenses we are using to view the world have brought us success and happiness, why change them. We’ve been told many times, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But what about if those lenses are seemingly broken and have caused us nothing but failure and misery? Is it time to visit an OPTIMIST?
“Positive thinking” as a concept is like a narrow street that seemingly leads to nowhere. When you embrace it and take the first few steps forward, it would make you feel like you’re not going anywhere.
Consider that normal. When you venture into the unknown and leave your comfort zone, it’s normal to feel iffy. It is your old negative mental programming taking control of your thought processes. As you take a few more steps forward, doubts would start to set in and you’ll be tempted to go back where you came from. That temptation to abandon the journey just beginning would become stronger when people around you start saying how crazy you are to even believe that “positive thinking” works. But should you succeed in conquering all the negative chatters and take the courage to just keep on walking you would soon hit the main road.
The main road that narrow street called “positive thinking” leads to is “personal growth and development.” That was what I personally discovered.
When I decided to dive deeper into “positive thinking,” I realized that it is but the tip of the iceberg. “Positive thinking” is not the main thing. “Personal growth and development” is.
My journey to “positive thinking” started with my accidental discovery of a “self-help” film. I stopped by a stall selling old (pirated) DVDs of old movies. The label (title) of the one of the DVDs – “The Secret” – caught my attention. It intrigued me. So, I picked it up thinking that it’s either a mystery-thriller or a sci-fi movie.
I described in full that encounter with “The Secret” in my essay entitled “Beyond Positive Thinking.”
It is that “self-help” film that got me into positive thinking. For me, anything that advocates positive change is worth my time and worth trying. I though I had nothing to lose but everything to gain when I decided to give it a try.
When I watched that film for the second time, I took off my “critic’s hat” and emptied my mind of all those philosophies that tried to filter all the information the film conveyed and was leading me to analysis paralysis. Anyway, all of those philosophies – all of those isms – which I previously learned were seemingly not leading me to what I want to be and what I want to achieve. Honestly, at that point in my life, I was not even so certain of what I really wanted to be and what I really wanted to achieve. That “self-help” film offered me an option, an opportunity to try another system of beliefs that might help me have clarity of purpose.
I really thought then that my PhD would transform me into the best version of myself. I was wrong.
So, I took a leap of faith and embraced “positive thinking.” I walked down that narrow street that seemingly led to nowhere. I struggled but succeeded in overcoming doubts, in shooting down skepticism, and in turning a deaf ear to the internal and external negative chatters.
And I don’t regret that decision I made.
Then I probed deeper. I read existing literature about “positive thinking” and watched lots of videos about it. That’s how I came to discover that it (“positive thinking”) is the narrow street that leads to the maid road called “personal growth and development.”
“Positive thinking” is the springboard to “personal growth and development.” The former is the key to unlocking the latter. I strongly believe that only when a person develops dispositional optimism, when that person expects good things to happen, and when that person hopes that he/she could be a better person and live a better life that he/she would become open to the idea of undertaking the necessary steps to venture seriously into growing and developing further as a person.
When I reached the end of that narrow street of “positive thinking” and got to the main road of “personal growth and development,” I confirmed that indeed it (“positive thinking”) is just the beginning of the journey. The road ahead is long and winding. There’s much to be done. After the “thinking” comes the “doing.”
I discovered that in order to experience meaningful growth and development as a person, it would take more than “positive thinking.” There are other requirements aside from having a positive mindset. There are other things that ought to be done and these are what the gurus of “personal growth and development” commonly describe as the practices and habits that made extremely successful people who and what they are. These people became the best versions of themselves and had found the happiness, good health, and wealth they sought because of such practices and habits.
These practices and habits are actually very practical ones. They are not magical and out of this world stuffs. They are as follows: knowing your whys; embracing a solid belief system; goal setting; short and long-term planning; managing time effectively; developing self-discipline; practicing mindfulness; being purposive; becoming self-sufficient; and living a balanced life.
These are the things that Brendon Burchard, Tom Bilyeu, Jim Rohn, Wayne Dyer, Les Brown, Joe Dispenza, Brian Tracy, Zig Ziglar, Tony Robbins, Simon Sinek, John Maxwell, Mel Robbins, and the like, recommend to people intending to maximize their potentials.
The above-mentioned experts in the field of “personal growth and development” pointed out also that extremely successful people have a common hobby – reading. They also practice meditation.
What I consider as the most significant among those practices or habits of people who reached the pinnacle of success in their fields of endeavors is “living a balanced life.”
“Balanced life” is a concept difficult to define definitively. It is so because people have different priorities and live different kinds of life.
But when I sifted through the works of advocates of “personal growth and development” I saw a common pattern about living a “balanced life” that made me understand what the concept is. And it is not rocket science.
Firstly – as people work hard to achieve what they want in life – money, degree, fame, and what have you – they should not disregard their health and relationships. Not disregarding health means eating the right food, getting enough rest, and exercising regularly. Not disregarding relationships means not forgetting that you have a family and friends needing your attention too.
Secondly (and lastly) – become a well-rounded person. Becoming a well-rounded person means bearing in mind that you are a physical, intellectual, emotional, and a social being (insert spiritual if you happen to believe in God). You should strive to develop in all these areas.
This is how far “positive thinking” brought me – to the discovery of these “personal growth and development” practices and habits. They seem to be simple, but believe me, they are easier said than done – especially if you have a fixed mindset and you keep looking at life and the world using a negative perspective.
The last time we came to work late, was it the traffic or the weather that we blamed? Or was it the alarm clock’s fault for it didn’t go off? Ahh, the battery of the cellphone went dead.
When we had a break-up with a lover (or a major falling out with a friend), who did we blame? Ourselves or the other party?
Whenever something goes wrong, seldom or rarely (or is it never?) do we hold ourselves responsible for it. We always point our finger at something or hold others accountable. When things don’t turn the way we expect them to, we are always ready to check our blame list to find somebody or something to put the liability on.
This reminds me of one of the narratives of Jim Rohn.* He said that one day he was asked by his mentor Earl Shoaff, “Jim just out of curiosity tell me how come you haven’t done well up until now?” What Mr. Rohn did, according to him, for him not to look too bad, was read on his list why he wasn’t looking good and not doing well. He blamed, among other things, the government, weather, traffic, company policies, negative relatives, cynical neighbors, economy, and community.
What about our personal blame lists? Is it as long Mr. Rohn’s. Perhaps it’s longer.
Who do people who could not find jobs blame? Of course the favorite whipping boy – the government. They contend that it is the duty of the government to create job opportunities for them. That is true. But work is something that is not going to be awarded to anybody in a silver platter. We have to search for it and we ought to be prepared. It is our responsibility to get ourselves ready for employment. Get the required education or training. We need to have the necessary knowledge and skills.
What if you could not get the education and training you need? Well, whose fault? Okay, I will give you time to check your blame list.
Now let’s continue.
Common sense will tell us that the government cannot possibly provide each citizen with a job. It is also impossible for the private sector to employ everybody. That’s just the reality. Harsh it may be. So, what should we do? Simple – be competitive. Be the best in our field or profession. The best are always on top of the priority lists of prospective employers. And if in our respective countries there are no job opportunities, or we won’t get the salary we want, let’s consider applying for work overseas. If you’re not satisfied where you are, go somewhere else.
“You can always move out from where you are now to find yourselves better opportunities. You’re not a tree.” That’s also from Mr. Rohn.
The ones who won’t get employed, or do not want to work for others because they have better plans for themselves, could perhaps succeed as entrepreneurs. Not everybody are trained to be in a workplace and be someone else’s employee. Some of us will be farmers, or fishermen, or plumbers, or drivers, or gardeners. There is always a way to earn an honest living. Whatever it is that we find as a source of livelihood, let’s us be thankful.
Accept the reality that some are rich and some are poor. And hey, don’t blame the rich if they don’t want to help the poor. Don’t blame your rich siblings, friends, and neighbors if they don’t share with you their blessings. It’s either you work as hard as they did for you to have what they have or be content with what you are capable of having.
Just bear in mind that each of us has a choice to A – Be rich; B – Have the means to meet both ends and at least get extra cash to afford some luxuries in life; or C – Have 3 square meals a day. Yes, I consider A, B and C as choices. It’s up to us to decide what to aim at… which of the three would make us happy.
Some people live simple lives happy to be able to eat three times a day. Some set their ceilings high and sometimes even go through it. Each of us has a chance at A. Nobody would prevent us from wanting to become rich. But becoming that won’t be easy… unless you win millions in the lottery.
There are two ways to go (and robbing a bank is not one of them) for those who would aim at A – hope that you hit that lotto jackpot or work as hard and wisely as those who became millionaires and billionaires did.
And when you fail to be so… when you fail to achieve your dreams and realize your goals… blame no one.
People who suffer from setbacks and face adversities would more often than not blame their friends or family members – parents, siblings, children, spouses – citing lack of support. Let’s not forget that support is something that is given voluntarily. It is not an entitlement. We could say that it is the obligation of our loved ones to help us. But what if they are not capable of helping for just like us they also need help or they also have problems of their own?
Or what if they have the capacity to support but they won’t? That would bring us to another “don’t” aside from don’t blame. That is don’t expect. If we get support in the pursuit of our dreams and goals we should be thankful. If not, our fight goes on. It’s not the end of the world. We should always be ready to fight our battles alone.
And please, let’s not blame our parents also if we are not doing well in life. Let’s not accuse them of not paving the way for us and ensure that rolled in our paths to better lives is a red carpet. Whatever kind of parents we have (or had) – good or bad – they ceased to be in control of us and our future the moment we became capable of deciding for ourselves. The question is, “What did we do when we sat in the driver’s seat of our lives?” Did we do everything we could to ensure that we succeed in our endeavors? Or did we expect that success is like the manna that fell from heaven which the Israelites in the Exodus just freely picked up?
Remember the narrative of Mr. Rohn? It did not end after he made a litany of the reasons why he was not succeeding and who and what should be blamed for that. Mr. Shoaff patiently listened to him and at the end said the following, “Mr. Rohn, the problem with your list is you ain’t on it!”
Before Mr. Rohn decided to work for Mr. Shoaff, he tore off his old blame list and replaced it with a new one where he wrote the only reason for not doing good in life – “ME.”
Now, let’s review our personal blame lists? Are we included on it? Or we automatically assign fault to something or someone for the misfortunes and failures that befall us?
Something that we should understand and accept is whatever we have become, wherever we are in the socio-economic pyramid, and whatever we have and don’t have, are the results of all the decisions we made. Others may disagree but I believe that our destiny is the sum total of all our decisions and indecisions.
We disagree in our interpretation of destiny. Theists believe that whatever happens to us is the will of a supreme being. I also believe that God exists but I think that we chart our own destiny. He gave us the gift of volition so we could have the dignity to decide for ourselves.
So, if we are not succeeding in our endeavors, if we are not healthy, and if we are not happy, we only have ourselves to blame.
* Jim Rohn was a successful American entrepreneur and motivational speaker and his net worth before his death, according to estimates, was $500 million.