Appreciate Every Traffic Jam

by Bulldog Drummond

It’s easy to get caught-up in our day-to-day lives entrenched in routine and forgetting to challenge or inspire ourselves. Sometimes all it takes is a well delivered commencement address to remind us to wake up and, for a moment, observe life through the lens of a young emerging adult.

To kick start your inspiration we are sharing a series of our favorite commencement speeches to help you to appreciate life in uncommon ways.

The first speech we’re sharing is titled This is Water and was delivered by David Foster Wallace. It’s packed with uncommon sense insight and wisdom, as Wallace offers us a healthy dose of brutal honesty.

Life is far from perfect

As we know, adult American life often involves “boredom, routine and petty frustration.” Since we can’t make those pieces of life disappear, our mission and our challenge becomes choosing “what we pay attention to and how we construct meaning from experience.”

We don’t tend to think that sitting in rush hour traffic or going to the grocery store on the way home from a long day at work are the important parts of our days, of our lives. The important moments are usually the happy or triumphant ones, the big promotions or amazing vacations or momentous celebrations. But to Wallace, those are the easy moments. It’s not hard to have a good attitude when something great happens.

Let’s focus on the imperfection

Turns out, the “petty, frustrating crap” is worth focusing on because it is in these moments that we have to work hard to choose a new perspective. The mundane, frustrating, exhausting parts of our days matter because these are the moments that we are able to choose to see differently.

By default, you are the center of your world

Choosing to see things from a new perspective is hard because we are each, by default, at the center of our own world. We are all “operating on the automatic, unconscious belief that I am the center of the world, and that my immediate needs and feelings are what should determine the world’s priorities.” But life doesn’t work that way.

So the challenge is to choose to shake up our default setting and decide to be conscious instead of self-centered. To choose empathy rather than judgment and anger; to choose to see the world through the eyes of those around us and find ourselves humbled at the human experience rather than frustrated by the mundaneness of our immediate personal lives.

Because if you are able to get outside of your own viewpoint, “it will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that lit the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down. Not that that mystical stuff is necessarily true. The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re gonna try to see it.” Though it may feel ridiculous to see a bumper to bumper traffic jam or a check-out line stretching all the way down the cereal aisle as sacred, it is possible. No one but you can control your internal response to an external situation, and that is a profound freedom that can never be taken from you. It just so happens that “the important kind of freedom is not glamorous.”

Appreciating every step means every step, not just the easy ones

We all know how hard appreciating every step actually is. There will be days where we don’t have the energy to switch off of default mode. But finding joy and meaning in life does not come from existing in a picture perfect world where we never encounter boredom or frustration. It comes from choosing how we see our lives and our experiences. As humans, we have the ability to view something beautiful in a negative light and take away its goodness. We also have the choice to reframe something that originally seemed like complete and utter garbage. Maybe sometimes, the garbage is just garbage. But there is almost always some good we can take away. So find your traffic jam and enjoy every moment of it.

Originally posted on the Bulldog Drummond blog.

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