By Barb Ward
In our ever-changing, chaotic world, it’s easy to get mired down in the fact that life is continually spinning around us, and we really can only control a handful of things. If you are a person who likes structure, who is a problem-solver or a “fixer”, this can be especially exhausting. But then, suddenly, without warning, something happens that puts it all into perspective. For me, it was the death of my mom.
It was May. If any of you have school aged kids, you know that May is the month that EVERYTHING happens. And it just so happens that for me, in addition to the normal chaos of school activities for four kids, baseball season in full swing and a variety of work responsibilities, my son was also graduating from High School. I didn’t have one moment to spare.
My mom and I had a close connection and just a week before, I had promised her that once school was out, we would have more time together. The day after my two youngest celebrated their last day of school, and one week before my son graduated from High School, my mom died.
In that moment, the world stopped for me. All of the “stuff” that seemed so important before dropped away. In the weeks and months since, I have spent a lot of time thinking about what I would do differently if given the chance. And what I’ve come to realize is that your perspective in any given event or situation can change everything.
It is our innate ability to evaluate our perspectives that allows us to look at the world through an optimistic lens, which helps us to recover from terrible losses and difficult situations, to be grateful in the moment whether good or bad, to develop and deepen our relationships by relating to others with empathy and compassion, to understand and develop our own self-worth, and to generate willpower and persistence in pursuing goals despite obstacles and setbacks.
Perspective is one of the most powerful tools through which we relate to and build relationships with others. While our brains are naturally tuned to dwell on negative memories it is extremely beneficial and, in fact, completely under our control to retrain our brains and change our perspectives. We can perceive any situation in any way we choose. For example, if someone treats us poorly, we can perceive that they do not like us, or we can flip those thoughts to perceive that maybe they are just having a bad day. Intentionally focusing on the positive allows us to see the good in situations, have expectations for positive outcomes, and develop trust and faith in people. Thus, we set ourselves up for success and a happy life.
As I said, following my mom’s death, I reflected on the many things I would have done differently. I think that is inherent in any situation that takes something important from us in an instant. It has given me an opportunity to step back and think about how I am spending my time, what things I should be saying yes to, and some that deserve a resounding no.
It has taken time, but I can now look at things through a more realistic lens and I realize that I did a lot of things right. Throughout our lives I was able to spend a lot of time with my mom, I took every opportunity to tell her how much she meant to me, I made sure she knew that in addition to being my mom, she was also my best friend, I listened to her, and I took care of her when she needed me the most – just like she did for me for so many years. And finally, I was able to be with her, tell her I loved her and to say goodbye one last time. So, while my mind gravitates to the things I didn’t do, I can rest knowing that I did do all of the really important things.
While grief is an unpredictable thing, and rears its head at unexpected times, I am so thankful for the power of perspective because it makes it possible to move forward with hope.
Perspective serves us well in both our personal and professional lives. Especially if we are expected to be a leader for others. Here are some ways to help you see things from a different perspective:
Make hope your perspective in every situation. When bad things happen, this is especially difficult, but if you believe that in any situation, something good can happen, you approach life with an optimistic viewpoint, which can change everything.
Listen to people carefully. When you really engage in someone else’s story, you become part of it, and it can help you see things from their point of view. It shows that person that you really care, and it helps build a strong bond and relationship.
Keep things in perspective. A new perspective may have you asking, is this after-work meeting more important than seeing my son’s basketball game? If I take just one hour to get ice cream with my daughter, will I compromise the work that needs to be done? Or will I get these things done anyway? Is there a way to do both? It is really a matter of balancing your work life and your personal life. If you look hard enough, there is a way.
Respect people’s differences. Everyone has their own set of beliefs and values. They have different life experiences; they may have a different culture. Learn as much as you can about these differences and use them to expand your lens and help you imagine what’s possible.
Read articles or watch programs that expose you to different realities. This is another way to expand your perspectives and gain understanding for where other people are coming from in their viewpoints. You don’t necessarily have to agree, but having the knowledge helps you be more aware and informed.
Continually evaluate your perspectives. Things change, you gain information, and new experiences offer additional information to help you widen your lens. Be sure you are reevaluating your perspectives often, there is always room for growth.