Since I am hitting another milestone number in blog postings, I saved this topic for this occasion. I hope it hits the mark.
This is life advice for any age, and any person. This has helped me throughout my life and my sincere hope is that it does the same for others out there as well. Three simple words…
Lift Your Gaze
Three simple words, with multiple examples and definitions to deploy. I will share a few examples from my own life, as I always do when I am writing my blog. You cannot go through life without looking your challenges in the eyes. You need to lift your gaze, stare into the eyes of the opportunity, the threat, or the challenge, and do your best from there. It takes practice, and I am going to cover some of that by the end of this blog as well.
My first example comes from way back in my childhood. I do not know why, but for some reason when I was in grade school, like first or second grade, a guy that was a fourth grader decided to pick on me. He would chase me around on the playground during recess and punch me in the arm or back on the playground or after school. I didn’t know what to do about it, and it made going to school a terrifying event for me. I was small for my age, and was easily intimidated by other kids. And now I had what in my mind was a bully stalking me. Finally after a few days in a row of me coming home from school with tears in my eyes, my Dad pulled me aside and showed me how to throw a punch and kick a guy in a place that would “get his attention”. I was scared to death thinking I would have to fight someone at school, with other people watching. I was sure I was destined to be bullied every day forward.
When I walked off the bus the next day, sure enough, there he was. I tried to hide from him, and I ran to class. But I knew he’d be waiting for me. I was so nervous I couldn’t concentrate and I just sat there in class watching the clock slowly tick towards recess. The bell rang, and I knew it was time. I had to make a choice: Be a victim or do something to change my circumstances. I had exhausted other efforts like talking to a teacher or hiding from him. I was shaking as I left the safe confines of the classroom and walked towards the playground. He saw me and came walking towards me. I heard my Dad’s voice in my head, his words echoing loudly as he drew closer. This time, I didn’t look at the ground. I lifted my gaze and stared him straight in the eyes. He took one last step, and I didn’t even wait to see if he was going to do something to me. I hit him with everything I had, my tiny little fist balled up tightly as I jammed it into his stomach.
He wasn’t ready, and it caught him off guard. He even made a noise when I hit him, to both of our surprises I am sure. He stepped back away from me, a surprised look on his face. The next thing I knew I was being drug the by the arm away from where I stood. It was Ms. Grim, my least favorite teacher, who had playground duty that day. She saw me punch him, and despite him being twice my size, instantly surmised that I was the aggressor and I needed to be punished. Maybe this was a good thing, and it saved me from a real beating instead of the limited shots I had taken before. I ended up in detention after school, and my Mom had to pick me up. I thought sure I would be in trouble when I got home, but my parents told me I was not at fault and they were not angry that I had gotten punished for standing up for myself.
I wasn’t sure this was a one-time solution, but as it turned out, my bully decided to move on to another hapless victim. I didn’t have to kick his ass to get him to leave me alone. All it took was to show that I was willing to fight back, assumingly from now on, and that was enough to have him leave me alone. While violence is rarely a good solution to a problem, there are times when lifting your gaze and meeting your challenge head on is the only way to change things.
Fast forward to my mid twenties for another example. I started taking a martial arts class at the gym where I worked, partly for self defense purposes but more for the fitness and the love of the discipline that was always associated with learning a martial art form. At this time in my life I was traveling alone regularly to cities to play in racquetball tournaments, and having some idea of how to defend myself if ever necessary seemed like a good idea as well. But I learned an even more effective way of self defense…Lifting my gaze. I had developed this bad habit of looking at where I was walking, literally looking at the ground in front of me when I walked somewhere. This makes you look like a vulnerable target, and Master Baumann talked about this frequently. I took his words to heart, and it saved me from more than one incident.
To share one of those examples, I was at a mall by myself in the middle of the day and I was in the food court area. I needed to use the bathroom, and in this case they are down a long hallway and kind of tucked in the back area of the food court far away from the main traffic zones of the mall. As I was walking towards the hallway, I noticed a guy sitting by himself at the last table before the turn down the hallway. I am not sure why he caught my attention, but because I had lifted my gaze, something about him caught my attention. As I walked past him I could feel him looking me over, and as I turned and entered the hallway I could hear someone following me. My senses went on high alert, I knew I was in danger. I could hear him closing in on me, and that’s when my training kicked in. No, I didn’t knock in out with a spinning back kick like in the movies. I did something better… I stopped in my tracks and turned and looked him dead in the eyes.
Clearly he was not expecting this, and he stopped cold. I just stared at him, reading his eyes to see if I could see what he was going to do next. He didn’t appear to have any weapons on him, but who knows. He was shocked, and turned and quickly walked away, and that was it. I didn’t have to do anything other than lift my gaze and meet the challenge head on. I shared that story with the class the next day, and Master Baumann was very proud of how it was handled. Who knows what that guy’s intentions were, but clearly they were not good. And I never threw a kick or a punch to resolve the issue. Lifting my gaze was all that was necessary. Just like the bully from grade school, he too was looking for someone who was going to be a victim, and by lifting my gaze I made him rethink his choice.
Here is another context in which the phrase “Lifting your Gaze” applies: looking in the mirror. By this I mean that you need to be able to look yourself in the eyes. To do this, you need to be honest and realistic in your self assessment. You need to be proud of the person you are now, and who you might become. Keep in mind, EVERYONE has struggles, baggage, bad choices and more in their own history, so don’t sell yourself short and don’t ever think your struggles are unique. If people knew your whole story, they would be impressed. But you need to take responsibility for how your view yourself. Don’t be a victim. I don’t care how rough your childhood was, what crappy hand you’ve been dealt in life, it is not a life sentence. There are millions of people out there how have had it worse than you, never forget that. And if someone else has started from a tougher circumstance and still made something of themselves, well, then you can, too.
If you struggle to meet your own gaze in the mirror, I want you to think of this to start changing that: Self Esteem comes from within. You need to do things that make you view yourself differently. If you need to build your resilience, get into better shape, round out your social skills, whatever, get to work. Start slow, but do something that it a challenge for you. GIVE YOURSELF SOME ROOM for failure and slow progress. But keep chipping away at this task until you conquer it. It might be taking a martial arts class, signing up for a Spartan Race, or losing or gaining twenty pounds. The work that you put in is what matters, this is what will help you see yourself differently. You need to train that little voice inside your head to start helping you instead of holding you back. That voice is based on events from your past, but if you allow it, it will also dictate your future. These patterns can hold you back for a lifetime if you give them the chance.
If you don’t deal with your demons,
they move into the basement,
and they start working out…
You have to actively decide to be different, to think different, and then you need to take action. Small steps and new patterns are the key to success; build momentum and ride that wave. Assume there will be misses and set backs. But strive to never miss twice for the same reason. Learn about yourself and how you react to adversity, and then strengthen your resolve through more and more expose to difficult things. Even doing an ice bath every day for a month is a great way to inoculate yourself to difficult things, and it will make you less vulnerable to life’s everyday annoyances. You will learn to lift your gaze through steady progress. Soon, you will be staring at a person in the mirror that you only thought was possible, but now you KNOW you have become that person.
One last example to leave you with, and that is lifting your gaze when setting your goals. You need to have big, hairy, audacious goals to shoot for in life. This is one of the key ingredients to a happy and successful life, and that is constant challenge and opportunity for growth. Everyone told me I was crazy when I decided that despite losing in the lowest amateur division in the first racquetball tournament I ever played in, that I announced I would become a Pro Racquetball Player one day. It seemed like an absurd goal to me too, but that didn’t deter me. I wanted a life-defining challenge to pursue, and this was what I chose. From that fateful day in January 1986 (yikes!), every decision I made and everything I did was framed around the context of “Does this help me achieve my goal of becoming a Pro Racquetball Player?” If the answer was “no”, I didn’t do it, eat it, or risk it, depending on what the situation was.
I was willing, as a young age, to commit to lifting my gaze to the highest level in my sport of choice. I interviewed the number one player in the world at that tournament as my choice for a school project I had to do. I became obsessed with the goal, and I worked diligently for ten years to turn Pro by the age of 25. I achieved exactly what I had defined I wanted to do during my career, and then some. I learned things about myself and about others on this journey. I learned to hold my gaze high despite bad loses and a grind of a schedule that never really had an off season, through struggles and burn out. And because I was willing to lift my gaze, I gave myself the opportunity to travel all over the US, and to Canada and Mexico a few times for events. I met famous athletes and other famous people through this journey, and I am forever grateful for the friendships and experiences that I had, which make me who I am today.
I cannot encourage you enough to lift your gaze. It will change your life, I promise. Change is never easy, but this is a core component to a happy life, one with more and better experiences, and far fewer regrets in the end. Please do what you need to do to lift your gaze. When you walk into a room, command attention by looking confident and like you below. Not arrogance, but quiet confidence. When you meet someone, and I DON’T CARE WHO, look them in the eye and shake hands like you mean it. I have met A LOT of famous athletes and and handful of celebrities, and ALL OF US are flawed human beings…don’t ever forget that. Don’t sell yourself short and don’t think because someone plays on Sunday or have millions in the bank that they are a better person or more worthy than you. Talent and money are a terrible measure of someone’s worth as a human being, don’t get it twisted. Start small and work your way up. Seek or hire help if you need to, but take the plunge and do the work. You will thank me, and more importantly yourself, later on.