A limited Perspective

“Our single perspective is so limited.” I highlighted this quote from Allison Vesterfelt’s book Packing Light back on January 10th. To me this quote speaks about how many different people there are on the planet with different backgrounds, experiences, advantages, and disadvantages. All of these people with all of their different histories create billions of different perspectives. This quote speaks to me because it is to easy for us to ignore others and fall into our own routine in our own bubble of a world and begin to feel as if we know everything and have it all figured out.

It is so hard at times to imagine the stress that other people are under, and how it shapes the way they see the world and their every day actions. I have always been a relatively fit individual, and lately for me I have begun to understand just how difficult it is to stay healthy, especially when one is working and has to take care of a family. In the past, my single perspective drew me to criticize out of shape people, but as I have worked at seeing other’s lives from their own perspectives and not just my own, I see how difficult it is to be active and exercise regularly.

I like this quote because it can extend to so many additional areas. I would call the situation above “using new perspectives to reduce body image bias” but new perspectives can also open doors and soften our attitudes towards people in thousands of other ways. Other examples from my life that I have recently been searching for new perspectives to help me be a more compassionate person include areas of religion and spirituality, wealth status versus immigration status, and even lighter areas such as arts and hobbies. By trying to approach each of these areas from new perspectives I become more engaging with people who view the world differently than I do, and this gives me a chance to learn. One positive and unexpected benefit is that it helps me to become a more interesting person. I can hold more conversations with people because I have taken the opportunity to step into their field of interest, either with them for the first time or with someone else previously, and can share my perspective while learning about theirs.

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Adjusting in Mid Flight

Continuing from yesterday’s post and where the last quote left off, Vesterfelt wrote, “Maybe what I needed wasn’t fewer expectations, or lower expectations, but the ability to adjust them in the middle of my trip.” This quote came from Vesterfelt when she made it to Mt. Rushmore during her 50 state road trip. She had really been looking forwards to seeing the mountain, and found it to be underwhelming. It was smaller than she expected, filled with retirees in RV’s, and crowded with souvenir dealers. As she drove through and stopped for a while, she couldn’t help but wonder where her expectations came from, and why she was so upset that her expectations were not met.
Ultimately, Vesterfelt’s quote shows her ability to take a step back from the situation and examine not just where she is or what she is doing, but why she is reacting the way she is. I believe this is a powerful ability that everyone should practice. Being aware of who you are, where you are, and what your situation is, helps you avoid being reactionary in any situation.  It is easy when we are driving down the road to feel rage when someone cuts us off or is driving too slow, but if we take a step back and examine those feelings we find that we are better off if we just take T-Swift’s advice and crank up Shake it off.
In this situation Vesterfelt was trying to understand her reaction and emotions for a bigger set of expectations. The small disappointment she felt by having Mt. Rushmore not live up to her expectation allowed her to look deeper into her life to think about what types of expectations she had been carrying with her. She started to understand that we can expect certain outcomes, but at the same time she was seeing the value of not tying too much importance or value judgments to those outcomes. In my life I have tried to understand the same thing and let go of expecting a certain amount of financial success in my life. I have expectations that I can work hard and reach a point where the money I have is sufficient, but I am trying to allow my expectations to shift for how I will get there, and what that point will be like.  This is the overall message that Vesterfelt was passing along. She learned during her trip that she can have high expectations for things she could or couldn’t control, but that she had to allow those expectations to change depending on the demands placed on her or the nature of her situation.

Adjusting our Plan

A big challenge for me has been understanding my own personal goal setting.  I want to have a plan for where I am going, and what I want to achieve, but it seems to be incredibly difficult for me to set any plans for my life with things constantly evolving and shifting around me.  I recently learned to let go of the many expectations I have carried with me that were based in materialistic expectations and unreasonable beliefs about my abilities. To some extent I always assumed other people would see how “awesome” I am and just give me opportunities (it is so hard to accept that you are the star of your own life, but just an extra in everyone else life).
When I came across the following quote in Allison Vesterfelt’s book Packing Light, I felt at ease, “I don’t think it’s bad that I came out her with expectations. Having a plan isn’t bad. I just have to be willing to adjust it.” As I reached the end of my college journey, and graduation inched closer, more and more people began to ask me what plans I had for after graduation, and of course I was asked every college student’s worst nightmare, “what do you want to do with that when you are done?” I so badly wanted to have a brilliant answer to that question and to have a plan that would make people say, “oh well thats great. That field/industry is really expanding/needs smart people/will make you loads of money.” The problem was that all through college any time I had a plan and was working towards something I wanted or believed I should have wanted, I was incredibly depressed and felt more unsure about my future.  I tried to be a business major and thought I would study some tough business thing to make sure I could graduate and have a job and make money. However, the classes felt so hollow and I began to have an existential crisis.  After that I gave education a shot because I wanted to be able to coach cross country and track and field, and I thought, ‘hey, spending some time with kids where I can joke all day would be alright,” but teaching in today’s high pressured education environment was the opposite of what I loved about coaching, and felt like a huge mistake.
I think I truly found the most confidence as a senior in college once I decided to forget about trying to have a plan for after graduation. I switched my major to Spanish because I knew it was in demand in the Western United States where I live, and because I loved learning about other cultures, having another way to connect to people, and getting new perspectives about the world.  I have plans and ideas of what I want to do, but I have recently learned that for me, the best plan is to learn to be fully focused and aware in any situation I am in. This allows me to be hard working, and to do things purposefully, so that I can be ready when new opportunities present themselves to me.
Vesterfelt’s quote means so much to me because it helps me see that it is ok to have plans and goals, especially if I allow them to be dynamic and flexible depending on the people I meet and the opportunities I have.  This requires me to be self aware in new ways. I have to be able to identify the strengths that I have relative to the areas o where I still am learning and growing. In addition, I have to be able to see the luck and the opportunities that I have been given, which helps me be comfortable with the person I am now. The quote from Packing Light ultimately allows me to take my skills, and let go of the pressure to find success now. I know that I have a plan, but I am comfortable with allowing my plan to be constantly evolving.

Perspective

In her book about her 50 state voyage, Packing Light, Allison Vesterfelt wrote, “Freedom is less about circumstance than it is about perspective,” while she was camping in the Rocky Mountains.  I love this quote because it shows how important our mental approach to life can be.  In my personal life I have had thousands of experiences where I feel limited or trapped by job, school, money, and more, but when I consider this quote and look at those times in my life from new perspectives, I see how instead of being trapped I was often times offered new opportunities or had the ability to choose how I spent my time.
Two of the most common forms of meditation are focus and awareness meditation.  With focus meditation your goal is to learn how to control your thoughts and bring them back to the things life you want to focus on, while in awareness meditation your goal is to become more aware of your surroundings and thoughts. Both of these practices help you find new perspectives in your life. (Unfortunately I have not managed to build any form of meditation into my daily life, but I do hope to get to a point where I do find a way to make meditation a habit.) Meditation can help you avoid the trapped feeling I mentioned in the first paragraph because it opens your mind to the world around you, and you begin to recognize your thoughts and actions so that you can focus them in a more productive way.
Feeling a sense of freedom when others may feel trapped really can depend on perspective and the mental approach you bring to a given situation. For me I have just moved out from my parents house into my first apartment. It has been easy for me to feel limited now that I live farther away from everything, must drive longer to get places, do not have a nice yard or large kitchen. With this whole process I have had to practice changing my perspective to see the positive changes I am making. Refocusing my thoughts helps me find a sense of pride in myself and where I am.  This is a process (and a state of life) that I am sure most people go through, but I have felt as though I have been aided in this process thanks to my commitment to self awareness which started about a year ago when I was introduced to a brilliant young writer named Paul Jun. His blog can be found at Motivatedmastery.com, where he writes all about meditation, self awareness, and self control.

A Mixture of Emotions

While camping during her 50 state journey, Vesterfelt in her book Packing Light writes, “one sense, its depressing to come upon our own insignificance like this. In another sense, it’s exhilarating.” To me this quote shows how one can change their point of view and focus to see things in positive or negative ways. While she gazed out at the Rocky Mountains Vesterfelt was awed by the beautiful landscape that has lasted much longer than human civilizations and will continue to last beyond her existence.  Her mixed emotions came from the beautiful peace that this thought created for her, while at the same time she was shaken by her small roll in the world.
I have been hearing about meditation a lot lately, and to me what is important about meditation is the way one can use it to change their thoughts. The practice is not designed to give you “a peaceful mind” but rather meditation is used to help build your focus, to build your awareness, and to help you then control your thoughts. Vesterfelt’s quote about her mixed emotions and thoughts shows how one can interpret the same event in multiple ways, and if that is possible, then meditation and learning how to control your thoughts, and ultimately reactions, can shape how you view the world.

A Love of Nature

“I have felt the same thing hundreds of times. In cities I feel small and depressed in my insignificance but in the mountains I feel too much a part of nature to be scared. In nature I find an equilibrium.”
Allison Vesterfelt wrote this quote on what was for me page 103 in the Kindle version of her book Packing Light: How to Live Life with Less Baggage. This quote, more than almost any other quote by the author, makes me want to sit down and have a conversation with her.  She is from Portland which is interesting because it is a huge city, but backs right into the mountains, forests, and nature.  I have only visited and driven through a few times (always stopping for Voodoo Doughnuts) but from what I have heard Portlandians love their city because it can be both a city and a nature retreat in the same day (I still don’t think I could live there).
I live in Reno, a small town surrounded by mountains and hiking trails. In the city here I manage just fine, but drop me in L.A., San Francisco, or even show me the expansive skyline of New York, and I experience the same insignificance as Vesterfelt.  To be around so many people and so many buildings is a jarring feeling for me, and I feel as though there are too many people, too much action, and everyone with too many concerns and worries (not to mention my sustainability and secrete “green” conservationist mindset).  When I do step away from the city and spend time in nature with either a small group or on my own, I become a recharged and invigorated version of myself. I love running and exercising, and I feel a huge mental clarity and sense of calmness after a run along trials that wind through the hillside.
Nature is where I feel a real connection to the planet, much live Vesterfelt, and where I truly feel a spiritual connection to the world and the universe.

Do things become more simple over time?

What I have begun to learn as a recent college graduate is echoed by Vesterfelt in a section I highlighted in Packing Light when she wrote about things she was learning and beginning to understand as her 50 state road trip continued on.  “The longer I traveled, the more I realized things don’t get more organized with time. They become less so.” Having recently moved, started a full time job, and tried to start a new podcast, I have seen how true this sentence is.  I constantly struggle with balancing the things  I want to do in a day with the responsibilities I have. Crossing the graduation finish line and getting a job right out of college was a huge mile stone for me, and I always imagined reaching this point and having life feel easier. I predicted life becoming more organized without homework to bog me down and prevent me from doing the things I like.
After crossing one finish line, what I have instead found is more finish lines, and less time to do the thing that will carry me there.  This has been a very frustrating realization, but a little self awareness has gone a long way in helping me understand myself at this point of my journey.  Recently I listened to an episode of the Mindful Creator Podcast in which the host and his guest discussed this phenomenon of always chasing new finish lines. The two speakers both shared the same visions of the future settling down when they reach the new finish lines, but one said that he understood that crossing one line would just make another appear. His approach was interesting. Rather than denying new finish lines, he accepted them, and believed that through understanding this process he could learn to be more happy with the place he was currently at.
Combining the message from the podcast with Vesterfelt’s quote helps me see that I am in a good place to work on organization now.  Rather than putting off organization until I reach a future finish line where things are supposed to be easier, I need to find ways to maximize where I am now. I may reach that point with better productivity habits, or more self awareness and appreciation for the life and lifestyle I am able to live.  Waiting on things, and putting them off until a future where I will be more successful and things will be better organized means that things will never happen, because as Vesterfelt wrote, things do not become more organized as time goes on.