aside What I Learned From 2016

I had been climbing.  It had been what seemed like years.  Long, hard, cold, tiresome years.  I could see the peak, the sun always shining down, and finally I had made it to the peak. Then I saw. I saw that there were so many more peaks – higher, steeper, more arduous than I had known. The new question became, do I die here or do I carry on to see if I can, if I will, if I am capable?

During this time of year, I reflect on the lessons I have been taught and lessons I have learned. I think it’s important to distinguish between the two because we are taught things many times before we actually learn them. Most of us are given a lesson many times before we learn while some of us learn quickly (like when you first touched a hot stove as a child).

That first paragraph sums up the past year for me – an eye-opening experience of feeling like I had made it, figured it out, knew the story, and the twists and turns, and I was simply navigating pre-written pages. Today I feel like I am in a completely new story, one that the majority of pages are yet to be written. I was ripped from the comforting pages of the story I knew, the one that had lulled me into a sense of security. It was comforting like a warm blanket. I knew how to extract peace from it. It was easier.

It has been said that by the age of 30, you have made all of your major life choices. It has also been said that most people die by the age of 25 but are never buried until 75. This year, I learned more than any other year. I am still a young and, at times, a foolish student. This year has taught me to have more patience, even more so with my son, my family and those around me.  I am merely a supporting character in their life stories, passing through and leaving an imprint. I should make that a positive impact.

I have become cognizant of casting judgment. I’ve been guilty of this many times in the past – quick to share a juicy story (or at least the half I heard). I realized that what I was seeking in those situations was to provide knowledge or information to someone first. It wasn’t that I really cared for the actual gossip. I just wanted to be looked at as a source, including one that you could go to in a time where you needed help. I was choosing the wrong avenue to do that. Now, I look at situations with a much more reserved reaction. I try more play the devil’s advocate and understand all sides before saying or doing anything. I also make sure that if I am sharing this information I give my caveats, such as acknowledging that it’s second-hand information.

I have come to find that many people enjoy misery. They enjoy the misery of those around them. This is why people love soap operas, celebrities and gossip. People love to put someone else in the mud and drag them through it. I think that’s because it provides an escape. It provides an ability to no longer think about what is happening in their own lives. This always makes me think of pushing others down in order to push yourself higher. It may work temporarily, but what will happen in the long run? If you push enough people below you then eventually you will have so many people below you, clawing at you, trying to pull you down. Eventually, the sheer volume will overtake you.

Instead, I have been trying to elevate. If you keep building up everyone around you then you, in turn, will be raised up. Instead of creating an army of enemies, you create an army of friends – those who will seek to build you up when they have the opportunities. They will do it in much the same way you have taught them, without pushing others down.

img_7738I had mentioned patience earlier. My son and father have taught me a great deal this past year. My son has always been teaching it to me. He is the most inquisitive person I have ever met. A long time ago, I vowed to never give him a throwaway answer to a question. You know, the one your uncle told you about the moon being made of cheese or something like that when you are growing up. There is no need of it because there is so much amazing and wonderful stuff around us that the truth is more exciting than fiction. Earlier this week, we started watching a new “calm-down show.” This is where we both relax watching something that we mutually agree on before bed. The movie was Kubo and the Two Strings. So far, it has been pretty cool and Baby Dennis has been full of questions. They may be annoying at times, I still try to answer them as best as I can. What is origami? What is a samurai? What happened to his eye? What are they doing in the cemetery?

I want to provide him as much understanding as possible. I do know want him to have knowledge only.  I want him to have wisdom and understanding. I want him to be a free thinker – to see from a broader place but still have the ability to focus in on seemingly minuscule details.

Over the course of my 34 years, my father showed me time and time again that patience is the key. To keep my head down and keep churning. The hardest person to tackle on the football field is the guy who refuses to stop moving his legs. If I always keep moving forward – even if slowly – I will get there.

Life is not a zero-sum game. To elevate those around you, it is not necessary for you to lose or to suffer a loss. Their success provides you with success and vice versa. We are often caught in an us-versus-them mentality. I used to think I needed to be the very best and everyone to know that. Now my thought process is in a completely different space. The group is much stronger than the sum of its parts. If we are all united, we all will get more out of this world. If we make the pie that we are all talking a slice of larger then every single one of us will get a bigger slice.

The fitness community in my world of CrossFit in Western New York has been fighting over the same small group of people. We have collectively tapped into a group that wouldn’t even fill the Key Bank Center. There is a significantly larger group out there. They can be reached and they can be helped, however, it will take many of us coming together to create that.

I have come to learn that all of us are guessing. At all of it, every day. We are doing our very best with what we have. Ever day we learn that we really know less and less about everything around us. We have no clue. We can barely make it through a day without tearing other apart. It is comforting to be smug and naive. The awe-inspiring yet scary truth is that we are infinitely small. In the grand scheme of the universe, we are unimportant. We are nothing. Yet, in our world, we are everything.

What have I learned?  I have learned that no matter what mountain you are climbing, it will end and there will be another. There will always be another. Along the way, you will gain people in your group and lose some. Some will pull you down, some will pull you up.  However, the only person that will be there every single night is you. You need to be happy with that person, with those demons, those choices, those decisions. You will never make another happy unless you are happy first.

“You’re growing stronger. You might not wanna look quite so pleased about that. We grow stronger, the world grows more dangerous. Life has a funny way of keeping things balanced.” –Monkey, Kubo and the Two Strings

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