Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Expect the Obvious

It's commonly said that we should "expect the unexpected."  That's incredibly silly.  If we live our lives expecting the unexpected to happen, we'll be let down often.  I believe that we should instead expect the obvious but be prepared for the unexpected because, it's true, sometimes, things don't happen the way we think they will, but, more often than not, they do.

I'm all about constructing truths from things that I observe.  To call them "truths" is somewhat deceptive because they sometimes prove false, but we serve the the majority here in the U S of A, so they're truths.  The truth that comes from this idea of expecting the obvious is that unrealistic expectations lead to disappointment.  I like to think of myself as a realist, but, looking back, I've decided that, often times, I've been more of an idealist.  I blame this on the fact that all my life I've been very lucky.  I applied to one Middle School program, one High School Academy, one college, and two jobs and haven't been rejected.  I wish that I could say "I'm just so awesome that no one can say no to me," but that's not true.  The High School Academy I applied to was a Creative and Performing Arts Academy; how many boys do you think applied?  If you're a male and have a beating heart, it would be difficult for them to refuse you.  Both of the jobs I've been offered were probably because of my connections; my brother is a personal friend of the Chick-Fil-A manager who hired me, and my good friend's step mother is the owner of the establishment at which I'm employed when I come home in the summers.  Most of my "success" can be attributed to the graciousness of others.  All of that to say: I've been very spoiled, and I believe that this has led to a rose-colored glasses sort of perspective that is both comfortable and dangerous to have.

In areas of my life aside from academics and the job market, I've still been lucky, but I've also been let down because of my unrealistic expectations, so, lately, I'm starting to see the world as it is.  Kind of.  I'm starting to realize that not everything gets handed to you on a silver platter, and I'm starting to learn that Daddy's money won't always put food in my mouth and a roof over my head.  I'm starting to discover that, soon, I'll have to depend on myself to make it in this world.  Of course, that's not true at all.  I'll be leaning completely on God, but if I just sit back, put up my feet, and say "please," I have a feeling God won't hand me good grades and a career worth pursuing.  Which leads me to the idea that there are two sides to this coin: you can't simply adjust your expectations, you have to adjust your actions as well.  So, yes, I've come to expect the world to disappoint, but I'm also trying to operate in a way that will ensure success despite disappointment.  The world doesn't revolve around any one person, and if I go through life thinking that things will always go my way, then I'm bound to end up discouraged.  Long story short, keep your expectations low, but your standards high-- don't "strive for consistent mediocrity" as my friend's Calculus teacher once told her class they should; strive to be outstanding all of the time.

From those who haven't had it their way, I've learned that happiness and satisfaction don't depend on the circumstances you're in but on the way you handle them.  This is an idea that occurs again and again in the Bible.  In Philippians 3, Paul writes "But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.  Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death."  Paul mentions the things that were gain to him, probably referring to his laundry list of qualifications as a would-be super Christian (if there was such a thing) that preceded this passage, but he also mentioned suffering the loss of all things, and counting those things as nothing.  I realize that, were this a formal paper, I would probably get marked down for straying from my thesis in this paragraph, but this is important enough to mention.  Despite whether your expectations are realistic, the circumstances that you find yourself in will not be of your choosing, but contentedness doesn't come from comfort; it comes from God.

I choose to keep my expectations of this life low because we live in a fallen world, but, ultimately, I anticipate that Christ will come and take me home to heaven.  Some of you might think that this conflicts with what I've been saying for the last eight hundred words, but some of you would be wrong.  Given that this is the most realistic expectation one could have, a promise from the God of the universe to his children, I have no fear of disappointment.

I know I've thrown this out to a much grander scale than you might have expected, but this truth doesn't only apply to the big things in (and after) life.  Just the other day, I was walking back to my dorm after class, thinking about this blog post.  It was in the twenties, and the wind was blowing.  To get into the buildings here at the college, you have to use your magic swipey card.  As I approached the path that leads to Gooch Hall, I thought "maybe someone will be in the lounge, so I won't have to take my hands out of my pockets and get my wallet out of my backpack."  Then, I realized that this was an unrealistic expectation that would likely lead to disappointment, so I pulled my hands from my warm pockets, un-shouldered my backpack, and took out my wallet before I reached the door.  In so doing, I saved myself time and discomfort: no one was in the lounge-- no one is ever in the lounge.  Of course, this is just one example, but I'm sure you can think of many other scenarios that fit this same mold.

So take off your rose-colored glasses and see the world for what it is; I promise that the rewards of saving yourself disappointment will outweigh the comfort that comes from resting in unrealistic expectations.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Live Your Life Efficiently

This is something I say A LOT.  I find myself obsessed with the idea of efficiency-- and for good reason!  Don't worry; I'll elaborate.

It probably started with Runescape.  I'm sure you've heard of it; it's a Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) in which you create a character and complete incredibly repetitious and simplistic tasks over and over to gain levels and items and blablabla.  That's the simple version, of course-- if it was really that easy, it wouldn't be very fun.  So in middle school, I played Runescape, and I quickly learned that the key to success in the game was efficiency.  Fight monsters with lots of hit points, and good drops so you can get lots of XP and items with few clicks.  Rather than operating task by task, operate area by area, so you don't waste all your time running from Lumbridge to Varrock and back to Lumbridge, when you could have done all your Lumbridge business at once and saved yourself the trip back.

During and following this stage of my life, I found myself applying this principle to my every day life.  Get the milk, cheese, eggs, and bacon bits out of the fridge all at once, rather than making multiple trips to and from the giant, cold box.  Bring the backpack downstairs when it's time to eat breakfast, rather than going all the way up the stairs to get it when it came time to leave for school.  You get the idea.  Then, I stopped playing Runescape, but the obsession lived on.

Jeffrey and I began playing Yu-Gi-Oh! competitively a few years ago, and, through it, I learned another lesson of efficiency.  The game works, again, basically, in a system of pluses and minuses; I won't bore you with the details, but suffice to say it's important to accomplish multiple goals each time you play a card.  This added the idea of efficient use of resources to efficient use of time.  Don't pour the milk, then close the fridge-- pour the milk AND close the fridge.  Don't brush your teeth, then put on deodorant-- brush your teeth AND put on deodorant.  You have two arms, use them both.  Don't pack pretzels and a peanut butter sandwich for lunch-- pack a pretzel AND peanut butter sandwich for lunch.  Don't do your homework before you get to school-- do your homework WHILE you're at school.  Except Physics homework-- do that at home.

Speaking of which, the next giant leap for Calvin-kind was when I took Physics and Calculus.  As you might imagine, this completely changed my perception of efficiency, and this change in perception manifested itself mostly in the way I traveled.  Don't accelerate to a red light just to break-- try and time it so that it changes to green while you still have some speed, so you don't have to waste gas and time accelerating again.  Don't just walk mindlessly through the halls-- pick a path through all the zombies that won't force you to do the awkward "which way tango" with ten strangers before you get to Spanish.  Don't use the sidewalk just because it's there-- take the most direct route to your destination.

Now that I'm aware of this obsession, I've begun to think about it on a grander scale.  At college, I probably spend at least an hour every day just walking from place to place.  What if I took slightly larger strides?  I began to count seconds.  It took me eleven minutes to get to my Seminar on Tolkien from Calculus II walking normally; it took me eight when I was in a hurry.  What if I hurried to every class?  I could waste just eight elevenths of the time that I normally would!  For the sake of simplicity, we'll call it eight tenths, which would be forty-eight minutes to the hour.  Only accounting for week days, I would save exactly an hour a week.  An hour a week begins to add up to entire days very quickly, when you start looking at semesters.  And what did it cost me?  Practically nothing.

The walking example is a good one, but there are hundreds of other little ways to save time every day.  Setting up the home screen on your smart phone and bookmarking frequently used tabs to save you clicks, foregoing the making of the bed, which you'll just mess up again when you go to sleep again, getting all of your food before your sit down to eat it, the list goes on.  Over the years, you could save yourself weeks, even months in tiny little increments.  That's kind of awesome.  Imagine all the extra stuff you could do with that time!  Honestly, not that much.  It's just a few minutes a day, and you'll probably end up wasting them staring your phone or computer, anyway-- I know I have.  But it doesn't matter whether you make good use of the time you save, really!  Because would you rather waste your time a) looking at your phone or b) walking by yourself in the freezing cold?  The correct answer is a, for those of you who had a doubt.

So next time you're walking somewhere, take bigger steps, and next time you open the fridge, get everything you need for your breakfast, so you can waste that time doing something else, instead.