Being S-T-R-E-T-C-H-E-D

With her blue cotton tights puddled at her ankles, giving the impression she had chosen them from my closet instead of her own, I just had to ask.  “Anabella, what’s wrong with your tights?”

Sighing she grumbled, “Mariyana wore them and stretched them out!”  Looking at the tights, I immediately knew that explanation was accurate.  Tights may be designed to stretch, but not quite as much as they had been by someone ten years older and a solid 16-18″ taller wearing them.  The tights ended up in the garbage, ruined beyond usefulness and repair.

Have you ever felt like that?  Stretched beyond repair?  Ruined beyond all usefulness?  I think we all have at one point or another.  There are times we feel like we’ve gotten in over our heads and all of the stretching we’re being put through can’t possibly be good for us.

But we’re not tights.  We don’t get ruined by stretching.  We grow.  We learn.  We change.  We get pushed out of our comfort zones.  And even when we settle back into that familiar, comfortable status quo, we’re not the same person we were before the stretching process.

I’m a person who actually enjoys challenges.  I often seek them out.  I usually become bored and discontent if I don’t have a challenge (or two) in front of me.  I willingly and excitedly try to place myself in places and settings in which I know I will have to struggle to even survive, nonetheless thrive.  Sound crazy?  Perhaps, but I do it because I want to improve and grow.

Think about your own life.  Think of one or two specific things you’ve accomplished that you consider a great success.  Maybe it’s a business venture, relationship, athletic achievement, exercise regimen or a habit you overcame.  No matter what success you have in mind, it surely wasn’t achieved by sitting on the couch doing nothing.  You took a risk.  You took a chance.  You stepped out in faith.  You dared to believe.  You dared to try.

We all could greatly benefit from being stretched.  Sometimes it’s scary, stressful or uncomfortable.  But the long-term benefits far outweigh the short-term challenges.  You can allow yourself to be stretched by refocusing on three realities.

Reality of Success – How do you define success?  Most of us think of a successful person as someone who has their life together, free from problems and challenges, who enjoys a high level of financial security.  But is this actually success?  Success is really about perseverance, hard work, making a difference, and living with passion and purpose.

The best major league batter doesn’t get a hit 3 out of 5 attempts.  It took Edison 1000 failed attempts to invent the lightbulb.  Henry Ford failed and went bankrupt five times before “succeeding”.  Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team.  The high school yearbook staff rejected every single cartoon Charles Schultz submitted.  Most of us have skewed definitions of success.  The reality is that success isn’t about the end result – it’s about the process.  Success is not the opposite of failure.  Rather, success is our determined response to that failure.

Reality of Passion – If we’re able to refocus on the reality of success and get beyond our fear of failure, we can begin to refocus on the reality of passion.  I am convinced we all have passions and goals.  We each have something that excites, angers, moves, ignites, revitalizes, and energizes us.  If you’ve been living under a dark cloud of fear, you may have lost touch with what that “thing” is, but it’s there nonetheless.  What do you love doing?  What do you care about?  What do you want your life to be about?  What do you enjoy?

Figure out what that “thing” is, and do it!  Dance.  Sing.  Write.  Speak.  Tell jokes.  Draw.  Run.  Debate.  Study.  Garden.  Spend time doing what you love.  And when you do, you’ll become motivated to do it better.  When you connect with that motivation, you’ll once again enjoy a life of passion.  And when you live in the reality of passion, you actually want to be stretched and challenged.  You’ll be moved to get off the couch, push yourself and try new things.

Reality of Opportunity – Last year I received a handwritten note in the mail from a complete stranger (although she’s now a friend) who lived in another town.  The note was an invitation to speak at a women’s event.  At that time, speaking was not even on my radar screen.  I hadn’t really done it before, and hadn’t considered it as an option.  But I accepted the invitation and discovered a new passion – a passion for speaking.  Occasionally opportunities come your way completely unsolicited like that invitation.  But usually we must intentionally seek them out.  Register for a workshop.  Take a class.  Go to a conference.  Read a book.  Attend a meeting.  Interview an expert.  Volunteer your time or skills.

Since discovering my love and passion for speaking and writing, I have become intentional about gaining experience, learning new skills and improving.  I’ve joined Toastmasters, attended the Dynamic Communicators Workshop, applied (and been accepted)  to a summer writing institute, participated in a creative writing seminar, offered and accepted invitations to speak and more.  Some of these opportunities have been uncomfortable, challenging and even a little intimidating.  But I persevere because I know each opportunity helps me practice and improve upon what I’m passionate about.

Athletes routinely stretch their muscles before engaging in their sport.  Stretching not only decreases their chances of injury but actually improves their performance.  So too is it with our lives.  We need to be stretched.  And while that stretching process may be uncomfortable at times, it is the key to living out our God-given potential and purpose in this life.  In order to allow ourselves to be stretched, we need to refocus on three realities – the reality of success, passion and opportunity.

How do you need to be stretched?  How can a refocus on these three realities help you grow, and ultimately better live out your purpose?