Ever heard the saying, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth?” It’s an old saying that encourages us to take what’s given to us with open arms. The meaning of it can be extended much more broadly, though, for we can see “gift” in a broader context, and it turns out that the broader context can make a marked difference to your contentment.
We need to be more like hyenas. Hyenas, if you didn’t know it, are such a thriving species because they’re not just predators – they’re opportunistic scavengers, too. They’ll go out to hunt for their own food, but if they stumble across something edible that another predator’s not eating, they’ll grab that, too. Even more incredible is that they can eat every part of their meals.
The hunt, of course, is a metaphor for starting with a plan, and scavenging is accepting what comes. It’s so easy for us to get focused on whatever we set our minds to do that we lose sight of some of the small gifts that come up during the day. It gets even worse when our grasp inevitably falls short of our reach – not only have we missed out on the presents of the present, but we don’t feel the accomplishment of catching the ideas we’ve been chasing all day.
But I didn’t get anything done today!, you object. While there are some days were you really might not get anything done, the more common thing is that you’ll do some meaningful things that weren’t part of “the plan.” This leads to the “yeah, buts.” Here’s what this looks like: “Yeah, I did write a nice blog post, but I really needed to work on that ebook.”
Invoking the “yeah, buts” is nothing short of looking a gift horse in the mouth. You’re offered a sapphire necklace, and you say “yeah, but I really wanted a jade bracelet.” Imagine if the Universe felt the same way we do when someone throws a “yeah but” at our gift – but it doesn’t have to be about a personified cosmos. It’s enough to say that the part of you that was seeking contentment got shot down by the other part that got lost in the chase.
Let’s flip that “yeah, but” around. Instead of starting with what you did but placing the weight on what you didn’t do, say “Yeah, I didn’t make much progress on that ebook, but I did write a nice blog post.” Notice that the last statement doesn’t just forget about what wasn’t done – after all, you started the day out on the chase, and it’s important to have that as part of the consideration – but it also celebrates what you found on the way.
And therein lies the balanced contentment we seek. We can’t sit around waiting for life to throw good things our way; no, we have to roll up our sleeves and till the ground where the seeds of opportunity may land and grow. But we also need to recognize the gifts of good sun and rain when they come. And while I’ve focused on the presents of a day, it rings true for our lives, in general.
One last thing: learn to accept the small gifts and you’ll be surprised by how many bigger ones come your way.
Photo Credit: Mister-E
Natalie Christie says
Isn’t it funny how we can so easily sabotage our own sense of achievement with a tiny “yeah, but”? All of the tiny lapses and distractions and diversions that we brand as being unproductive so often turn out to be the sneaky short cut we really needed – we just didn’t take it consciously. This is a great post Charlie – I love to be reminded that it’s more important to trust and be grateful for the whole process and not just what I deem to be important in one little snapshot of time.
.-= Natalie Christie´s last blog ..Do You Secretly Do This In The Shower? =-.
I had one of these days today. Although I didn’t do any of the things I’ve been really working on lately and pushing to get finished I managed to accomplish a few tasks that have been nagging at me but haven’t been necessarily important.
Just so happened one of them involved patching my only pair of jeans – the rip has been agitating me for a week now.
It’s great to have that sorted.
.-= Carl´s last blog ..Blogging Isn’t A Business Model =-.
Adam King says
Boy, did you look over my shoulder yesterday? This is almost the same mental argument I had with myself about what wasn’t accomplished yesterday. I was given many small gifts and I was too focused on the intentions that weren’t being fulfilled as opposed to recognizing the incredible lessons I was being handed throughout the day!
Thanks for taking the time writing this.
.-= Adam King´s last blog ..Are You Designing a Legacy? =-.
Charlie – you brought me back a great memory of my grandmother with this post. She had a response to anyone who said, “yeah, but…” to her and it was:
“Yeah-buts eat carrots, and what does that have to do with anything?” (yeah-buts…rabbits…)
Her point was to take away the power of the “yeah, but” and put the focus on something else…like you’re suggesting here.
She also didn’t like us looking in the mouths of gift horses… 🙂
.-= Suzanne´s last blog ..In Others’ Words: November 23, 2009 =-.
i love the last part of the word 🙂
“learn to accept the small gifts and you’ll be surprised by how many bigger ones come your way.”
i really 100% agree with this.
Thank you, Charlie — I’ve realized recently that if I keep shrugging off my accomplishments and only focus on all the things I DIDN’T do I’ll never have a moment’s peace, contentment or happiness. And as blessed as I truly am, that WOULD BE a shame!