I have a problem.
Occasionally, I go through a bout of melancholy over the feeling that I haven’t accomplished much in my life. This especially happens when I hear about some famous so-and-so who reached such-and-such success at a younger age than I (who at the moment feels like I haven’t done anything), currently am. It makes me feel like I’ve somehow wasted time and that, by some illogical extension, will never amount to anything.
I have two go-to strategies for combating this feeling: 1. I remind myself never to compare my life to anyone else’s. I don’t have enough info about them to ever make a proper judgement, and even if I did, who cares? And 2. I remind myself that I actually HAVE done some pretty cool and unique things, and I have every reason to believe that I will continue to do so.
Which brings me to my thought today: we (myself included) always have more opportunities to do cool stuff than we ever take advantage of. Over the past several years, I’ve thought about this and decided to make a better effort to look for and take these opportunities as they come. So here, I want to share two principles for how to make this happen:
Principle Number 1: Just Ask
When I was a teenager, I had a teacher that had “Ask and Ye Shall Receive” as a personal motto. He said it nearly every day, all semester long. Since this class was religious in nature, I figured he meant that we could personally go to God with anything we needed. It wasn’t until the end of the school year that he made it known to us that he had a larger application in mind. At the end of class one day, he asked a student to share his notes from a particular exercise- and this young man admitted, embarrassed, that he had forgotten a pencil and therefore hadn’t taken any notes that day. The teacher let out a laugh of good- natured exasperation and asked the student why he hadn’t simply asked for one from him or a neighboring student. The teacher then took the moment to drive home the lesson he had been trying to get through to us for several months: “Guys. How many times have I said it? Ask and ye shall receive! This principle isn’t just spiritual. People are always around to help you out, you just have to ask!”
So, How does this relate to doing cool stuff? Well, if people around you always seem to be doing stuff that you think would be cool to try, just ask! Most folks are happy to share their hobbies with you. I’ve gone on hikes, rapelled down mountains, and even dug up dinosaurs by applying this simple principle.
Yes. Real dinosaurs. Here’s how: when I attended Snow College, I heard the geology professor talk about a field trip she was organizing to go dig up dinosaurs for a few days in Southern Utah. My inner 9 year old started drooling, and I knew I had to sign up for that trip. It ended up being a blast, of course, and was happy to fulfill a childhood dream.
About a month later, I graduated from Snow with an associate’s degree (it’s a two year school), and figured my short career as a paleontologist was over- and wondered to myself why I hadn’t studied geology instead of economics.
Now, fast forward to February of this year. I started thinking about that trip again and how much I loved it. I really wanted to go again, but I was no longer a student. SO, I decided to put the first principle of doing cool stuff into action- I decided to simply ask if I could go again. I emailed the professor at Snow and asked if there was any possibility that a non-student could come. She looked up some rules and found that I could go as an assistant instructor! I’ll admit, I was nervous to ask (I always am. It seems intrusive sometimes), but I’m so glad I did. I once again got to spend several days in the desert with paleontologists, pick their brains about their work (which is extremely fascinating), and learn so much more than a classroom or internet search ever could teach me. I learned that A-List celebrities visiting a nearby 5-star desert oasis resort can book similar digs for a few thousand dollars- and here I was doing it for the cost of gas and food all because I’d asked (though I hear the catering from the resort is a bit better than the hot dogs we were roasting…).
I asked for an opportunity to do something awesome, and I received it.
Principle Number 2: Volunteer
The opposite of asking is offering, and offering your labor to people who are doing cool stuff is another great way to participate. Through volunteering, I’ve attended live events and productions for free as an usher, seen amazing parts of historic buildings closed to the general public, and even blown stuff up.
That last one is my favorite. Here’s how it went down:
As a kid, I loved fireworks. I especially loved that my birthday is July first, because I always got fireworks as presents. This interest turned into a full-blown obsession when I was twelve and saw a documentary on the Discovery Channel (this was back in the day when that channel actually HAD science and nature documentaries…) about the history of fireworks, how they are made, and how they work. I was entranced. I knew there was only one job for me, and I was going to get it: professional pyrotechnician.
It was all I ever talked about. I even did my best to modify consumer fireworks into aerials based on the principles I learned in that documentary- my parents were half proud at my ingenuity and half terrified, which they should have been considering my several close calls. It’s a miracle that I still have fingers- let alone eyebrows.
So, my thoughts were on fireworks 24/7, and I found that school was the perfect quiet place to design my fireworks in my notebook instead of whatever task we were supposed to be staying on (this was also in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. It’s a miracle I wasn’t incarcerated or at least put on a no-fly list). This all paid off when a girl overheard me talking about my passion and let me know that her father was a fire captain and was responsible for one of the largest Fourth of July displays in the Salt Lake Valley. I insisted on meeting her dad (I was a rather tenacious fourteen year old). When I finally did meet The Captain, as I took to calling him, I put this principle into action, offering to volunteer my services in setting up the fireworks display. Surprisingly, he took me on as an apprentice, taking me on trips to the storage bunker in the West Desert, showing me how his ingenious electronic firing system worked, teaching me how he choreographed his shows to music, and basically teaching me all the ins and outs of pyrocraft. He even let me shoot part of a private display at a prestigious country club. All because I thought to volunteer my labor- and his willingness to disregard several laws about minors and explosives…
Whenever I find myself in that melancholy mood, feeling like I haven’t accomplished anything, these are the experiences I try to remember. When I sit and think about it, I realize that I’ve actually done a lot in my life. I intend to continue by simply asking for opportunities, and offering up my time and ability to work when those opportunities present themselves.
For a quick mood boost and sense of pride, the best prescription is just to do cool stuff.