Creative Thinking: Taking a long look at life

December 29, 2013 

When I complete a painting, the first thing I do is stand back and take a look at it. Not just a quick look, but one that is long, concentrated and thorough. First, I look at the painting as a whole and then I turn my attention to the details. Starting at the top of the canvas, my eyes carefully trace every shape, form, color and shadow.

Although I realize I am the artist who created it, I now have to look through a different set of eyes to see the painting in a completely new way.

In other words, before I sign my name, I have to be sure I am satisfied with it. If not, I have to make the needed changes.

Every year at this time, I do the same thing with my life. I sit back and critique what has happened, how I reacted, what I did that was productive as well as the things I didn’t handle as well as I should have.

It is very important to me because I’ve traded an entire year of my life to arrive where I am. And for that kind of investment, I need to be reminded to use all 365 days to become wiser as I charge into a new year.

Just like stocks and bonds, some year’s returns are better than others.

To be completely successful with this evaluation, I have to be honest with myself. I have to celebrate the good things, learn from the negative things and then let them go once the lesson has been learned.

Like a teacher using his red pen to correct a paper, I have to honestly grade the past year of my life.

When everything else is said and done, we have to strive to be the best version of ourselves!

When I look back at this year as a whole, I see a very different year than usual because my health was challenged.

As many of you know, I had a kidney stone in June that required surgery to remove. Even though I’m very active and bicycle just about every day, I experienced blood clots in both of my legs.

For the second half of the year, I’ve worked with doctors to thin my blood to the proper levels.

The most unsettling part of this process was when cancer was mentioned and I had to have a CT scan.

If you want to take a look back at your life, slowly going into a CT scanning machine will certainly give you the opportunity. The unknown is a very scary thing.

Thank God, for me, cancer was ruled out. Others were not so lucky. We certainly are forced to realize how precious life is when we are faced with health issues.

Much like a painting, we are all works in progress. Every year it’s my goal to end the year better than I began it. New years are like huge chalkboards that have been wiped clean for a new beginning. We are given another chance to get right this thing we call life.

This is a wonderful gift that we can certainly use to our advantage and from which we can grow. One thing I always try to avoid is dwelling on the negative parts of my year.

None of us is perfect. That’s a simple fact.

We are all broken or scarred in some way. Just like with the painting, if we can make changes, do so.

If we can’t, we must accept what happened and move forward.

In my wise mother’s words, “If you can do something about it, then do it! If not, let it go and move on!” These words are easy to say but much harder to live.

I had to practice this principle recently on our annual New York City holiday trip.

This was our 11th year of taking a group of travelers to New York. Of all the years, this trip proved to be the most taxing.

Our flight was cancelled after two delays leaving 22 travelers and me stranded at the airport in Atlanta for more than nine hours. I was faced with a situation in which I had to make some quick decisions. I could control these, but I had to let the weather, which was out of my control, go.

With the help of a fellow traveler who had been a travel agent, we were able to book a flight for later that evening. Because of the delays, we missed several functions in New York.

From luggage that didn’t arrive to a bus almost getting stuck under an overhang, the trip had obstacles at just about every turn.

At one point, I looked around to see if I could find any hidden cameras. I just knew it had to be a joke, but, as we all know, real life is not a joke.

As I stood in front of the group keeping them informed about what was going on with the flight cancellation, I said, “I know y’all are very disappointed because I am, too. But I also know that there is some reason we’re not supposed to be on that flight.” I was very surprised at the group’s reaction.

Instead of being negative and mad, they all agreed with good cheer and smiles. And, because of that attitude, the parts of our trip that went without a hitch, far over-shadowed the parts that didn’t.

We all had a reminder of the process of letting things go that are out of our control. And let it go, we all did!

These two examples are only a very small portion of the overview of the last 365 days I’ve lived. Going into the New Year I realize there are things I need to work on.

But I also realize I’m a much wiser and stronger person going into 2014. As a result, I’m highlighting the good memories and trying really hard to downplay the not-so-good ones.

After all, there’s a brand spanking New Year in front of us and we all need to embrace it.

Henry Ward Beecher’s quote sums it up beautifully, “Everyone should be born again on the first day of January. Start with a fresh page.” Happy New Year’s to you all!

More with Mark

• It’s not too late to shop for the holidays with Mark. Visit www.markballard.com for Christmas gifts and year-round treats.

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Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions or comments to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208; call 478-757-6877; email markballard@cox.net; or become a subscriber to Mark’s Facebook page.

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