We've all been there. Not wanting to do anything, ignoring a call, declining an invitation. Often, this happens for a good reason. We have demanding jobs and personal lives, a household to maintain, kids to keep out of trouble, all of which make up a fully- loaded life. Our days are in perpetual lock step with responsibility and obligation, and we feel no urge to disrupt the balance we've worked so hard to achieve.
And so, a degree of ennui sets in that makes us not want to take on anything beyond what we've already committed to. We stay fixed as we are, put off getting started on a personal goal, turn down an opportunity to engage, and pass on showing up for anything where our presence matters.
It's all very understandable. We max out our energy. For some, we're set in our habits and can't break them or feel we don't have the time. For others, we want to go through life as seamlessly as possible and feel we've achieved some semblance of balance not to be messed with.
Like I said, we've all been there.
CAN'T CATCH A BREAK
But all this avoidance, intentional or habitual, can turn into apathy that can lead to something worse than not getting involved. It can lead to regret. Bitter, unshakable, unmistakable regret. An unfortunate and undesired result of things left undone and passion left unpursued. A condition that is often a challenge to reverse, resistant to good intentions, impervious to a vow to do differently going forward.
Who signs up for a helping of regret?
The funny thing about regret is it's never planned. We don't ever set out to look back wishing we'd done something or gotten involved. It just happens. As we go through life in our finite plot of space and time, sticking with things that bring predictable and calculable results, time unwittingly passes us by.
Until one day, we find ourselves longing for bygone days. When we could've made a difference in someone's life. When we would've been able to affect meaningful change. When we should've lived more passionately.
Once regret sets in, we're forced to live with it. We deal with it by shaking it any which way we can; by trying to sublimate it; or by deluding ourselves into thinking we have no regrets.
Sometimes we succeed in letting go of regret. Other times, not so much.
The good news is, it's never too late to do something. For as long as we have the ability to be apathetic, we have the ability to care. And as long as we have the ability to care, we have the ability to change our thoughts, and therefore, change our lives.
BEATING AVOIDANCE AND APATHY
How do we break down the walls of avoidance and apathy? Here are a few simple ideas:
1. Ask yourself some questions and answer them as honestly as possible.
- What's missing in your life?
- What motivates you from within?
- What's in your life that you can do without?
- What's in your life that you can't live without?
- What would you do if you knew you only had one year to live?
2. Dare to Dream. Have lots of them. Big ones, little ones. Make sure they're yours and not other people's dreams. Dreams stoke the fires of passionate living and guide us so that we may see possibilities beyond our current realities.
What images of you are you shoving in the back of your mind? What inner voices are you silencing? Ask yourself what you would do if you believed your potential was limitless.
- Would you live your life as your message a la Gandhi?
- Would you rock out while at the same time eradicating poverty a la Bono?
- Would you immerse yourself in as many cultures as you can in one lifetime?
- Would you start your own thing, with your very own brand of uniqueness, and grow it as big as you can?
Then ask yourself what's stopping you. Is it because you think you can't? What if it turns out that, with a little help from others, you can?
2. a) Make a commitment and take small steps on a regular basis. As we keep our dreams alive, a certain level of commitment combined with consistent itty-bitty steps are required to gain traction. Committing to a dream is not dissimilar to committing to doing our basic chores, paying our mortgage or rent, keeping our fridge and pantry well-stocked or regularly doing laundry. How do we manage to complicate something so simple?
3. Connect with other people who inspire you. Seek out others who are actively getting involved or literally building something and be inspired by them. A good place to start would be your community. Perhaps your town has a local celebrity you admire and whose work intrigues you.
Not too long ago, I met a young man named Mark Hanis, a grandchild of four holocaust survivors. He is the founder
of Genocide Intervention Network, an organization that empowers individuals and communities with the tools to prevent and stop genocide. Mark and so many others provide inspiration to those looking for a swift kick in the rear.
4. Accept an invitation. To what? A luncheon, tea, a party, an art gallery opening, a concert, a fundraiser, anything. Attending an event is one of the easiest ways to beat avoidance and apathy. If you've been wanting to support a local organization, consider attending an annual benefit. What you know on paper about an activity or an organization comes alive when you see theories in practice and when you witness the players in action. The amount of time it requires to be present at an event may be a solid few hours, but the education, motivation, inspiration and enrichment could very well end up being quite invaluable.
5. Begin to see that everything is interconnected. On the surface, it's easy to blame others when something breaks down in a system. Whoever is in charge is likely the one to blame. But as we get older and acquire more demands and obligations in life, it becomes clear how interconnected everything is; that we are all responsible and that our action or inaction has consequences that affect others. As we warm up to this idea, we begin to understand a little bit better that each of us plays a part in the grand design and that we, with no exception, have the capacity to impact others beyond our small circle of family and friends.
ON GOING A LITTLE BIGGER
Most of us are well-meaning everyday folks with good intentions; with immense potential to make a splash; with incredible talents and gifts too good to waste. And yet months, years and even lifetimes go by with too many of us safely playing small. Taking only calculable actions with calculable results. Shooting only for demarcated goals that can be achieved well within our imagination. Caring only for people and about things that we know.
So often, we make priorities in life: about family, health, career, etc. that make sense to us. And this is great. But in doing so, we unwittingly subject ourselves to a limited worldview and leave out a critical fact that is undeniable and right there in front of us — our connection to others and how we are part of a bigger family: the human race.
What's our role in strengthening this connection? Do we do something about it? Do we ignore it? What if all it takes is a simple "yes" and suddenly, a door swings open to a wider circle? One that can give us an outlet for the good intentions unrealized within us. One where apathy and avoidance are squeezed out. One where we nurture instead of neglect each other. One where our common thread of compassion, love and humanity thrives.
Believe it or not, this wider circle exists now. Shall we explore it together?
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