Really. Stop fighting life and take the gift.
What I mean by that is how many times has life offered you something and you were too set in your own perceived course, your own need for control, your own expectations…your own shit…to take a gift that was offered?
I’m not talking about a present wrapped up pretty in a bow. I’m talking about the gifts life hands you sometimes.The one’s you don’t expect to or plan to receive.
I’m slowly getting better at taking them, because I’m prone to wanting things the way I expect or desire, on my timeline.
I’m sitting in a car right now while my daughter drives. Our family is caravaning from our home north of Seattle to Helena, Montana to drop my son at his first year at Carroll College. The last couple weeks has sucked, with a lot going on in our house, including getting the absent-minded, disorganized man that is my son packed up and supplied.
I was up late last night getting ready to get out-of-town. I was up early to get out the door. I’m tired. Work has been stressful lately. And I realize as I type that the $1,450 we spent on service and repairs for my son’s car before he leaves the nest didn’t include checking the air conditioning system’s coolant level. Because there’s no cold air coming out of the vents as we cruise through sunny and hot Eastern Washington. There is, however, lots of sweat accumulating not so pleasantly behind my back and under my buttocks and legs on these cloth seats. Good times.
And you know, what? I’ll take the gift.
It’s sunny out. I’m not at the office. My son is closing out one chapter of his life and starting a new adventure. My daughter is getting dropped off on our way to Helena to visit a good friend who moved to Bozeman last summer. I’m also experiencing that my daughter is a pretty good driver, a month out from her 16th birthday [insert relieved parent sigh here]. I’m going to be in sunny, dry weather in an area of the country I enjoy the next few days. My lovely bride and I will even have about a day to ourselves on this trip….which sounds glorious after a couple weeks consumed by teenagers at home.
Yes, I’ll take the gift.
My wife is learning to do take the gift too. We need that more in our house. One example: this two framed prints were my birthday present last weekend:
Two prints by my friend and Tough Mudder teammate, Keegan Hall. His story of how he got back into making this fabulous pieces of art is utterly compelling (including a feature on the Today Show’s website). This work isn’t even Keegan’s profession. His off-the-clock pursuit of something he enjoyed exploded into popularity because he took a gift from Kam Chancellor, who responded to being tagged in an Instragram post of the bottom print. He praised Keegan’s work, re-posted it, and commissioned another piece. Kam’s publicity resulted in more work with professional athletes and teams for Keegan. Because he took the gift. He didn’t have to pursue the opportunity. It wasn’t expected. He took it anyway. And look what happened.
So, when my wife reached out to Keegan. it turns out he offered his own gift back to her. She didn’t want to take it. That’s not her nature (we’re quite a couple in that regard!). She’s been encouraged in her own life to “say ‘yes'” when opportunities arise. She took this one. And I’m really thankful!
I’m also thankful of a gift I received years ago that still resonates.
Nearly 20 years ago to this day, I walked into the office of the new men’s and women’s swim coach at my alma mater, the University of Mary Washington. I was about to start my junior year. I was a good but not great swimmer at the NCAA Division III level; the fastest on my team in a couple events. And I was done. My knees were battered by repetitive motion injuries that linger to this day. Welcome to campus, coach. I quit.
He could have said, “Ok, that sucks. Good luck with the rest of your time at college.” Instead we talked about what it might mean if I stayed around the team, maybe as a student manager. I did. It turned into an assistant coaching gig after a couple weeks. A gig that lasted both my junior and senior years.
I learned more out of taking on a leadership position with 40 of my peers than if I had competed as an athlete those last couple years. To this day it informs how I lead.
It also awoke a passion in me. I know what it’s like to lead people. To play a role in helping make others greater. To give a pep talk that leaves a team ready to explode into the competition in front of them. And it cemented my love for swimming as a sport that still brings simple joy to my heart when I have the chance to watch major swimming competitions in person or on TV.
Because someone offered a gift. A gift out of something that is often traumatic for athletes: prematurely having to call it quits. I took that gift. And ran with it. Without expectations. Just grateful for the opportunity to help the team I loved.
I wish I understood the totality of that lesson then. I didn’t. I would have done some things differently in life had I learned it faster.
But, that’s life. That’s part of the gift.
I’ll be honest. That’s truly fucking difficult sometimes. The relationship my lovely bride and I have today is a gift. If you’ve read our stories (here and here), you know our relationship went to death’s door. What we have today is a gift, one that I gladly and gratefully accept, even as I hate what we went through to get here.
Most gifts don’t involve that much pain. I hope yours don’t. But, I do dare you to accept your own gifts in life.
Seriously. What gift are you going to accept today?