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Yesterday I sent a YouTube video to my team that was inspired by the commencement speech of the late David Foster Wallace in 2005 at Kenyon College. If you have less about 10 minutes, I recommend that you watch it, and if you don’t possibly have the time to watch an inspirational video, that’s even more reason to stop, watch and listen to Wallace’s words of wisdom.

Wallace had a much more eloquent way of expressing his thoughts than I do of communicating his ideas, but I will tell you that I was captivated by the notion of life being in plain sight. The people who have inspired me most in life have always believed that thought. No big magical thing happens in living a good life. All that it boils down to is how you choose, each moment, to accept the big and small experiences that make up our days.

At the check-out line

Last week, I wrote an article about being at the check-out line at a store where I was stuck in a frustrating situation with not enough live cashiers and having to figure out an unfamiliar check-out machine. The reason I write about it is that that’s precisely the same scenario Wallace spoke about in the video (except for the automated cash machine).

Each day, we all wake up to live our days, and some of us wake up inspired, motivated and driven­­––not all the time because we’re human––but the vast majority of the time. Others wake up to the utter boredom, routine and petty frustrations that Wallace speaks about in his remarks.

I’m the center of the world

Unfortunately, in our human experience, many of us can’t see beyond the tips of our noses, and we miss so much of the realities of others and the absolute wonders of the world. As Wallace said, we spend our days frustrated at the glacial pace of our lives as we go to a stressful job, drive home in heavy traffic and then spend frustrating time in lines doing the mundane, but necessary things, such as picking up groceries.

We live a lot of our lives being “me-centered” with the entire world, especially strangers, being in our way. If only the person on the telephone would stop speaking so loudly, you could think! If only the terrible driver would get over one line and out of the left, you would be able to get home quicker. If only your colleague stopped interrupting you all day long, you wouldn’t have to stay late, again.

All of that kind of thinking is centered on one person––me.

The real freedom of life

When Wallace was giving his talk, he was speaking to young adults who were about to embark into their lives. Many were probably idealistic, full of energy and hope for the future, but more than likely, some of them have fallen into the trap that Wallace warned of about not realizing or recognizing the most obvious realities about life, such as the fact that your perception and how we chose to see the world determines our existence.

Real freedom for living comes from understanding that you have the choice to determine how you will see the world. You can choose to see it as the whole world against you. Or, you can decide to see it through a lens of compassion, empathy, and connectedness to everyone around you.

Being aware of what is in plain sight

As I have said on many occasions, people have a natural disaster happening in their lives every day. You just don’t know it. You don’t know about the man who’s driving slow in traffic because he just lost his wife. You don’t know about the woman at the register who is frustrated with the cashier holding up the line because she’s been barely getting any sleep as she cares for her baby who is sick at home. You don’t know about the colleague at the office who keeps on interrupting you, but earlier in the morning was informed by the bank that his loan request had been denied for that medical treatment his wife needs.

What does it take for all of us to see the plain truth? According to Wallace, and so many others who understand that this is our only precious time on this earth, all it takes is becoming aware of the choice we have to decide how we will face the inevitable boredom, frustrations, and mundaneness that life will present us, each day.

In other words, we all have a choice, every day, to create the narrative in our minds that will make our days a good one or a bad one filled with annoyances. Each of us has the opportunity to consider how we will choose to live the countless moments in our lives before they cease to be. And, according to Wallace, it all starts with being aware of the apparent realities, and yes, even the banal––especially that––in life.


Author of “Not Your Father’s Charity: Grip & Rip Leadership for Social Impact”(Free Digital Download)

© 2018 Wayne Elsey and Not Your Father’s Charity. All Rights Reserved.