I love watching the movie where a guy named George finds himself stuck in a crummy little town working in a shabby little office. Everyone else has moved away to bigger and better things. His hardscrabble life and years of sacrifice and responsibility chip away at his dreams of seeing the world.
Suddenly, a financial crisis leaves him nowhere to turn. Even his prayers seem unanswered. With no hope, he makes a desperate choice.
Once his family and friends discover the crisis, they pitch in and come up with the money. Problem solved.
But cash was the easy fix. George had a bigger problem, and he only came to the conclusion that it’s a wonderful life after he experienced the loss of something he loved. George Bailey’s bigger problem needed a special gift, which came wrapped in an unusual package.
What was the gift? In a word: perspective.
The holidays give that same gift for us. It even has our name on it. But it’s easy to miss amidst the flurry of other gifts and activities. Unless we look for it, our greatest gift stays unopened.
Broadening our perspective
The Texas Driver’s Handbook has a diagram that illustrates how when we sit in a parked car, we have a full 180-degree field of vision. When our car accelerates to 20 mph, our field of vision reduces to 66%. At 40 mph, our visual field shrinks to 20%. At 60 mph, our field of vision becomes barely wider than the space between our headlights.
The faster we go, the less perspective we have.
The same holds true in our journey through life. As we hurdle through life in the fast lane, perspective can easily get shoved in the trunk—or left behind. If we never sit still, we never see the big picture—only the immediate slice right in front of us.
That’s how the holidays offer us a gift. They toss a much-needed wrench in the wheels of our productivity. Clients and vendors close. Nobody answers our emails. Even shopping malls lock up on Christmas and New Years Day. Holidays force us to slow our pace.
They offer us the space we need to open our special gift.
Unwrap the gift of perspective
We unwrap the gift of perspective through reflection—which only time affords us. Looking at family photo albums or reading old journal entries, we see how many crises we’ve forgotten that seemed so overwhelming at the time.
Such reflection gives us a reason to press on, because it gives us the gift of perspective. Somehow we made it through the past, so we’ll make it through today.
Even reflecting on loss offers remarkable perspective. Getting really sick reminds us of the blessing of health. We may exercise, eat well, and get enough rest, but we shake the unwashed hand of one infected individual—and whammo! One little virus takes our entire body down for days. Sickness can make us grateful for health we had all along.
But some losses in life we can’t “bounce back” from—like a losing a child or a marriage or suffering a serious health issue. After healthy reflection, nothing we learn from these significant losses can replace what we’ve lost.
Nevertheless, loss in life offers us an invaluable perspective because it forces us to go somewhere we would never otherwise choose to go. There we have the opportunity to learn what we never would have chosen to learn.
Seeing the potential
I’ve opened some of these unwanted gifts in life. Like after each of my parents divorced and remarried multiple times; or after my alcoholic mother died tragically; or after losing a great position in my career—twice. And these are just a few I’m comfortable writing about.
I learned that loss gives us a crash course in growth if we choose to glean perspective. These deep griefs offer us gifts of a lifetime if we choose never to waste a significant loss. As Lincoln said at Gettysburg, “These shall not have died in vain.”
Five years ago I attended the Platform Conference in Dallas. Driving home from the conference, it struck me, I could create a membership site that gives virtual tours of the Holy Land for those who cannot go. But honestly? I thought, Yeah, right.
Two years later, I lost my job without warning. It caught me completely flatfooted. But I also saw the potential that fear had kept hidden. Fear of leaving an executive position in a place I enjoyed serving kept me from seeing my potential as an entrepreneur.
I realized how all the years behind me had prepared me for the path before me. Upon reflection, loss gave me a perspective—even an opportunity—I never would have had otherwise.
(And Michael Hyatt said it was after he broke his ankle and while he was stuck in bed that he started his blog—which laid the groundwork for his current business.)
Perspective stripped away the blinders of my limiting beliefs.
The gift that keeps on giving
I like that what was true for George Bailey was always true. The only thing that changed was his perspective. Of course, life is more complicated than a two-hour classic Christmas film. But the premise remains the same.
Perspective is the gift that keeps on giving, as long as we choose to unwrap it. The good news is we don’t have to suffer great loss to gain great perspective. But we do need to slow down long enough to give the road our full 180-degree field of vision.
The holidays have a gift for us: time to slow down and gain perspective.
Can you imagine just leaving one of your gifts under the tree?