As the world’s most gullible cynic, many problems arise in my interpretation of the world, especially when it comes to social media. So, I’m sitting here at my new place, unemployed after a job turned out to be a shady sales gimmick, scouring the web listings for jobs while I occasionally open Facebook to connect with people. As I talked about before, bragging always befuddles and irritates me, especially one-upping. The curious nature of Facebook, Instagram, and even Snapchat promote a weird one-upping mentality. “Look at me, I’m better, my life is better, look at this thing I did and you did not.” Is this super cynical? Absolutely. Is this what they really mean when they post? Almost positively not. But what is important to note here is the feeling that I give myself when I begin to compare myself to others.
This is a listing because I’m not here to throw a pity party for all of us at home. Being from Spring Arbor, going on a Cross Cultural trip is mandatory and most people who understand its purpose and opportunity do not resist. For three weeks, a Spring Arbor professor or two take students on a journey across a faraway land for fun. I embarked to South Korea and had the time of my life, but forgot to share my pictures. For kicks, here is a favorite of me at a Korean museum.
I believe, at the time, I said, “I’ve always wanted to be on a propaganda poster.”
Now, sharing my photos would feel attention seeking; petty even. Not because the act itself would be wrong. Plenty of people use Facebook to show close friends and family what they are up to, like my good friends currently on the Greece trip who use it as an educational device. I’m happy to see them enjoy their experiences as much as I did mine. But this brings me to my point.
While they travel, I’m stuck here searching for a job and, in no uncertain terms, it sucks. My friends trod in the cities of my ancestors whose blood runs in one eighth of my veins and my job hunt to try saving money runs aground on all sides. There seems to be uncertainty and failure lurking in every corner of my life at this moment. What should one do? How should one act when it seems that everyone else is succeeding and your life has faltered?
1. Remind Yourself that You Have Choice
This summer is yours. You could be enslaved and it would still belong to you. The complaints of summers squandered still reverberate in my head from many people: “My boss is an ape,” “My family is so hard to live with,” “It doesn’t feel like I’m doing anything important.” Your choice does not lie in the hands of others. They can influence you, they can harm or help you, but the choice to fight for yourself lies ultimately in your hands. You might have thrown away two months or two years or two decades but what you do starting now is entirely up to you. Working to love the place you live in and to love the people around you, no matter where you are, is never a waste of time.
2. Decide to Do Something and Work Hard at It
Since the ball lies in your court, it’s up to you to play boss. Once you have decided not to be a festering blemish upon a dying society, the real work begins. Pick a way to sustain yourself and then throw your shoulder into it. Listen to motivational videos, go look up that girl from your school who always posts pictures of herself with the caption--unrelated-- “Be Happy” and, from that, be encouraged! Find something to keep you moving because to succeed you must labor and labor and labor. Fight hard.
3. Seek Adventure in All Things
Your life this summer may not be a trip to France or China or party after party, but these are not what life consists of. Life usually means methodical plodding, working towards larger goals over the course of years. Choose wisely where you go, but look for ways to enjoy yourself in every activity. If you’re scrubbing men’s bathroom floors with grime a half inch thick, listen to that new band your friend was talking about while you do it, imagine ways you can have fun after work, or imagine that you play a general fighting hordes of vicious monsters who want to slowly destroy the world in next summer’s blockbuster movie. If you need inspiration, as always, Calvin and Hobbes is a great springboard for the imagination.
4. Seek Out Sustainable Fun
A lifestyle of constant self-abuse through substance use or shopping sprees or gambling is not what will bring the deeper satisfaction you crave. Board games and cards seem to be a bygone activity for too many people, but they provide such a beautiful centerpiece to bond over with other people. If not that, try looking up cheap cooking, parks, hidden gems specific your state or city, or times when your favorite activities will be reasonable. Google is your best friend. You would be amazed what activities you might fall in love with.
5. Seek Community
This leads to the next point but is important to tie in from the last. This is a stepping stone. Community does not mean every person to whom you speak must be your best friend. Seeking community means looking for interaction with various people at any level. Connection, like many nuances of life, requires not an explosion or cataclysmic event in order to occur, but, instead, a small action; yes, even the tiniest catalyst can change the entire makeup of a relationship. As an extrovert it is easy to say this, but even introverts are subjected to the needs of being human; to the need for humans. A man is not his tribe and his tribe is not him, but without the other life remains incomplete.
6. Establish Relationships and then Reestablish Them
People can be the worst. Humans retain anger and joy in oddly similar fashions. They make enemies for the same reasons they make friends. Do not think that this devalues the other gifts these same people have to offer; once you get to know them, people are always worth more than what they appear. Establishing friends might be the beginning of a significant change within one’s social group. Relationships, like any living thing, need care and nurturing. Through the reception of nurture and through one’s gifting of it, one will find greater to depth to the self and humanity than ever before. Thus, one ought realize their own need for strong people who can keep one honest, kind, charitable, ideological, and practical. Perhaps your goal this summer should be to search for people like that or to reconnect with ones who were such at one time. A time of reflection about this might be needed.
7. Go Outside
The great outdoors has so much to offer one if one would lower the phone screen and sit in it. This is not some self-righteous plug to seek out life beyond or that your world will change completely, but going outside into woods or dunes in separation, with friends or not, reminds us of our place. Take a moment to recognize how many other forms of life exist and how important beauty is in and of itself. Go look at the stars and think about things bigger than yourself. Try even going into a field and looking for as many creatures as you can to reinsert your consciousness into the complexity of the earth.
This video is exactly what I am talking about
8. Educate Yourself
Sure, you’re stuck in Nowheresville, WhoCares right now, but how does a place become better? Did Detroit become an automotive giant by mere positioning? Did London or Rome or Babylon become the centers of vast empires because a die rolled and picked them? It had some to do with the place itself, but the people working those places shaped it; molded it. We may remember names like Lao Tzu or Nelson Mandela but behind them were people who made choices too. Though they are not remembered by name, their impact stands. When you educate yourself, you can shape the world around you. Do it through reading, writing, watching documentaries, designing, experimentation or something else. Your choices matter.
I chose astronomy through Crash Course. Click on it for fun astronomy videos
Again, knowing one’s place in the universe is one of the most important parts of life. All those Sarah McLaughlin commercials make you cry, but what did you do to change their world? Do we even realize the number of single parents who need help or the nature centers that need upkeep or soup kitchens that run short on volunteers? Volunteering is not about you, but that does not mean one does not benefit. The world needs you. It needs me. It needs everyone to behave in such a way that it might be kept clean, beautiful, and healthy. Studies also show volunteering increases happiness by a lot!
10. Foster Your Spiritual Life
To me, this is the most important of all because within a person’s heart, the life is forged. While my position clearly demonstrates itself as Christian, these principles generally develop the human soul even outside of Christian orthodoxy. Going to church is fine, but that doesn’t get you a God’s Rewards Membership Card. It is, like establishing relationships with people, centered on fostering.
Spending time in the ambience of God, sitting quietly and listening to him speak, changed my whole perspective this last semester. While I had practiced many “spiritual disciplines” before, Nathan Foster guided my class and me through many different kinds. Praying at the top of every waking hour, praying Scripture, listening prayer, centering prayer, and various others may seem weird, but taking the time to foster one’s spiritual life and trying these might radically transform your summer. Not just trying it once, but attempting to practice something consistently for a week or two or maybe the whole summer. I can almost guarantee, trying these out will feel weird, awkward, or maybe pointless, but try picking out something like a daily reading of the same passage for a week or spending 15 minutes in silence every day; it's been practiced for millennia by a plethora of people; there might be something to it.
Remember, the summer is yours, no matter who you are or where you are, you get to decide what making a great summer means. And if you're not going to do anything crazy, it doesn't mean you can't make it worth your while.