This past spring my husband and I planted some tomatoes, red bell peppers, jalapenos and habaneros, but between parenting, getting our kids to their activities, and work, we just did not have the time to weed and take care of the plants. By the time we went out to look at the plants, they were almost all dead and weren’t salvageable.
The sunshine and rain were in abundance, but couldn’t sustain the plants. By not taking the time to remove the weeds, the plants were overrun by weeds while the plants vainly competed to survive. This experience is also applicable to our relationships, what you put in will determine the output. If you neglect the people that matters to you and fail to let them know that you care in actions or words, don’t assume that they know or should have known. If you do not express gratitude to your loved ones, don’t expect them to know that you appreciate them. If you don’t spend time connecting with the people you love, don’t think that the connection you have will stand the test of time.
While the sun and rain were essential for our plant’s growth, it was also a food source for the weeds. When you neglect your relationships, you create the perfect conditions for the weeds of life: seeds of despair, distance and divorce to take root. Our plants needed nurture from us, but the weeds did not need us to do anything for them to take root, grow and blossom. They simply filled the vacuum left by the lack of nurture. Bad seeds like weeds don’t need much to survive. They just need the right opportunity and a host to take root, they are opportunists!
If you deprive your relationship of love and affection, you are cultivating its death. No one does this intentionally, it usually just happens. So when the seed of discontent is planted, it fights hard to kill the seeds of joy, happiness and peace you have worked hard to plant and if care is not taken, the relationship will begin to wilt and die. Bad seeds are like viruses, they need a host and they multiply very quickly. Beware! Our lack of attention to the plants that we took the time to plant created an environment for the weeds to grow, thrive and kill the plants.
Despite our best intentions to grow our food this summer, we failed. We failed because of lack of focus, becoming too comfortable, and developing a sense of entitlement that the plants will just grow, after all…they are resilient, and they had sun and water. We postponed every opportunity to just go out there and weed. While many relationships and marriages start off with joy and optimism, optimism and joy aren’t adequate to keep it going. Without intentional nurturing and care, marriages fail or stop thriving.
Many times, we provide excuses for neglecting our relationships the way I provided excuses for neglecting my plants. We cite our jobs, children, tiredness, and life routines for our lack of attention to our relationships. Some of us throw money vis-à-vis gifts, some of us have a new baby with hopes to jump start it, some of us emotionally disconnect, some have affairs and some simply do nothing.
Whether it is a plant, a marriage, parenting, friendship, you often get what you put into the relationship. If you are not saying it and showing it, then you might be neglecting it and will ultimately kill it. The truth is this- It is easier to live in apathy than to live with intention.
I ended up with no harvest this year, not because I did not care about my plants, not because the plant did not have the will to survive, but because I neglected it, for that, I must take responsibility.
I encourage you to pay attention to the relationships you are neglecting and ask yourself these 3 questions. “Do I care about this relationship? Do I want it to die? What am I willing to do to make it better TODAY?” Then like the Nike tag line, Just Do it!
The day started early for a Saturday morning as my wife, Jummy woke up around 6 O’ Clock to begin preparation for the longest race of her life. It was just the beginning of fall, yet the central heat in the house was blowing full blast, the air outside was wet and damp with the coldness of fall. The leaves on the trees glowed reddish yellow and have started dropping and floating around like homeless colorful butterflies. The temperature this Saturday morning was in the 40’s, a cold day to be outside. Yet, it was on this day that my wife had registered to run her first 10K (6.2miles) race.
You might be wondering what was the big deal about this race, isn’t it just an ordinary race that some people run daily? In deed it was an ordinary race, what made it extraordinary was the story of the journey it took to get there.
After we got married over a decade ago, I tried to get Jummy to exercise like me. I have been an active and fit person all my life. So, I didn’t think it was a big deal if my wife joined my fitness regimen of running, lifting weights and participating in sports. I thought all I had to do was get her to go with me to the gym, see me use the machines or run the track and she’ll be inspired. Alas! I was dead wrong and was met with vociferous resistance and trailer loads of excuses. In fairness, we went to the gym together a number of times, but after each episode, she would complain about the pain and how much she hates running and how she was not a natural athlete and not naturally inclined to run. “Running puts too much impact on my knees, I can’t do it. It’s too painful. I’ll rather spend all day on the elliptical,” she’d say.
Over the years, we continued to have the same conversation as she also battled the resultant bulges of two pregnancies and deliveries. “I am not you, running is not my thing. My knees cannot stand it,” she’d say after I pushed. “Moreover, I’m not like you. I hate exercising, it doesn’t give me a high, like it does you.”
Although, she’ll go to the gym occasionally to use the elliptical and stationary bikes. But there was no consistency and no result either.
Then about a year ago in 2014, Jummy decided without prompting to join me in my early morning weight training. We started training five days a week, focusing on different body parts daily. She started gaining strength and strangely enjoying exercising. After about six months, we decided it is better she got a personal trainer who can force her and push her harder because sometimes, she’d refuse to do an extra set or tell me she’s not capable of lifting or doing certain exercises. “You are so mean and you like to torture me with these weights,” “No, I can’t do that, I can never do that, you need to understand me and my capabilities,” she’d say indignantly.
She started training with her personal trainer in May 2015 from 5.30am to 6.30am three times a week. She got even stronger, became freshly motivated and was pushed to do the exercise routines she had believed her body incapable of handling. Then, she decided to incorporate running into her regimen to help with the weight loss and fitness. So she started training for her first 5K race (3.1mile) in June 2015. Mind you, this is someone who had long ago decided that her body was never built to run, who associated running with pain and believed that it was something meant for people with innate athletic abilities.
The beginning was rough as she experienced the associated pain in her knees, shins and calves, but this time around, she didn’t give up. She’d wake up early in the morning to run at least two miles within the first few weeks. She’d huff, puff, scrunch her face, feel the pain, yet she did not stop. She also did not complain about the pain. She stopped focusing on the pain, on the hardships and the obstacles. Then, the pain disappeared, her heart got stronger, her pace improved and her confidence soared. By July, she ran her first 5K and ran a couple of other 5k races within the same month and the following months.
After conquering and mastering the 5K, she decided to run a 10K (6.2 miles). So, she applied the same techniques she used to get her body and mind into believing she could run that too and started training for it. So by this cold Saturday in October, two months after she decided to run a 10K, she was ready to officially complete the longest race she had ever ran, but the weather was not promising.
In spite of the cold weather, she bundled up, joined hundreds of other runners and completed the race breaking her personal record.
There are notable lessons from this experience. First, no one can force us into our destiny unless we are willing and ready to make the commitment. I tried for many years to cajole my wife into exercising and running, yet I did not succeed. I didn’t succeed because it wasn’t organic. When she was ready, the determination came from within her and hence the commitment. So, your situation might have to do with a job, career, marriage, relationship or studies and you are trying to get that person you love to do things the “proper” way at the “proper” time; while you can encourage them, the decision to make changes have to be organic and come from them. You can’t nag a person into their destiny. The decision to move forward and succeed is personal and can only be made by the person who desires the result.
Second, it is easy to make excuses and give reasons why we believe we cannot do or accomplish something. It is self-consoling when we focus on the potential obstacles that can stop us from moving forward. But when we do that we create a mental block which also engenders physical inability. When we believe that we’re incapable of accomplishing a goal, it is highly likely than not that we will never accomplish that goal. If you believe you can never earn a college degree, that belief would stop you from enrolling and if you are forced to enroll, you’d likely not graduate because of that belief.
Until we change our mindset from “I cannot” to “I can” and decide to at least make an attempt on the goal, there’ll not be any forward movement and success would remain elusive. My wife believed for a long time that she could never run and that running was pain, so she was never able to run without pain. You attract what you desire and life rewards according to the measure of our bargains; when we view it with positive expectations, the universe conspires to actualize the positives. So the moment she changed her belief and stopped focusing on the perceived impediments, which was pain in this case, everything changed and she started seeing results. When she decided to overcome the mental block, which was causing her physical pain, she overcame both the mental obstacle as well as the physical hindrance.
Third, the journey to success is not promised to be pain-free. Just because we decide to make changes, determine in our hearts to succeed does not mean that the journey would be trouble-free or not be laden with the possibility of failure. We are going to experience pain and possible failures along the way. We might experience oppositions and resistance from other people, even crisis from within ourselves, be inundated with self-doubt. However, with perseverance we can overcome the attending pain, failures and self-doubt. When my wife started running and training for her first race, it was laden with pain and sometimes, she was so slow that even neighborhood snails bragged about their speed compared to hers. Yet, she did not focus on the pain or the slow days, she persevered and eventually overcame both the physical pain, self-doubt and the slow transmission of oxygen. She also stopped complaining about the pain, as such she eliminated its negative effect on her. When we complain and focus on our weaknesses, we magnify them beyond their significance and allow them to dominate us. On the road to success, there definitely will be obstacles, enemies and hindrances, especially when you are close to victory, but don’t focus on the naysayers, the weaknesses or obstacles, reduce them to insignificance and persevere until you achieve your goal.
Fourth, process leads to production. To produce in life, there are certain process that must be followed. If you desire to compete at the Olympics, you must train like an Olympian for three or more years before the actual games. A 100meter run at the Olympics took three or more years of training for the ten seconds run. When my wife decided to participate in the races, she just did not wake up one day to join the other hundreds of folks to run 5K or 10K, she trained for the races. If she had tried to race without adequate training, she might end up with injuries and frustration. The training conditioned her body, her heart, her spirit to participate and complete the race. Sometimes, when process and procedures are ignored, calamitous failure can result which may forever impede future attempts. The same applies when we set a goal, we need to prepare and follow the steps and process. There is no short cut to success, so we must be prepared to achieve it, handle it and maintain it. The preparation may involve studying, reading books, trainings, seeking professional counsels or mentors- we have to acquire the knowledge, skills and qualifications necessary to prepare us in achieving that dream.
Fifth, we have to be consistent in the preparation for and pursuit of our goal. Consistency breeds competency. When Jummy was going to the gym haphazardly, she saw little or no result. But when she consistently committed herself to the training, she experienced marked improvement, built strength, endurance and became conditioned. Once we set a goal, we must be consistent in our preparation towards its achievement, the more we practice a skill, the more proficient we become. Consistency is the mother of competency and proficiency. An experienced attorney or surgeon only become experienced based on consistent application and modification of their skills to solve their clients’ or patients’ problems. Lack of consistency to the process of preparation leads to mediocrity and failure.
Sixth, don’t give up on your dream and don’t give up on yourself. You can always do better than your last success. Having the drive for more or to do better does not equate to ingratitude. It only means that you are not complacent, when we stop growing, we start dying. Although, the first goal for my wife was to get herself to exercise, then she moved on to running, then she is now pushing to run longer distances. Our race in life ought to follow this same example, aim higher, desire more and put in the work to achieve the goals.
Seventh, don’t wait until the “perfect” moment. The moment does not have to be perfect for you to start that new business, relationship or project. When we procrastinate and wait for the “perfect” moment, the moment often never comes. On the day of the 10K, most of the participants around my wife complained about the terrible weather. My wife could have given up in the morning when the temperature forecast wasn’t gracious, yet she was determined to complete the longest race of her life regardless. In our journey of life, waiting for the perfect moment to embark on a journey of success often leads to failure to launch. Your goal may not wait for you and may not be available at your “perfect moment.” Everything may not be in alignment before we embark on our goals, when we start, everything else would fall in place, then the moment of our decision to start becomes the perfect moment.
Here are the seven steps in a nutshell:
About the Author: Emmanuel Olawale is an attorney and the author of the book "The Flavor of Favor: Quest for The American Dream."
A picture says a thousand words. While looking at a picture of my husband with our 2 year old daughter Lily, I was struck by a deep sense of love and appreciation for the father he is to our children. That picture captures the father that my husband is to our two children. He is patient, attentive, loving and very active in their lives.
In my household, my husband being a phenomenal father is simply a “normal” thing. While looking at that picture, I thought about many children without their fathers in their lives. This made me sad and made me realize how very easily normal is often taken for granted.
The truth is that we should celebrate normal more often because normal things are extraordinary events happening in real time and because we are witnesses to their frequent occurrences, we routinely lose the miraculous gaze which we ought to fix on them.
When waking up and breathing is normal, we ought to remind ourselves that the difference between a dead person and someone that’s alive at any given moment is breath or lack thereof.
When your children are aggravating you and you’re feeling the weight and stress of parenthood, remember that children are gifts from God; conceiving them is a miracle, birthing them is a huge risk and one of the most amazing miracles of life. There is a saying in Yoruba (A Nigerian language), a salutation to congratulate new parents who have just given birth. They say, “eku ewu omo,” which means congratulations on surviving the perils of child birth. I think that statement fully encapsulates what a huge risk pregnancy and childbirth is.
When your wife gives up her career to stay at home to take care of the children or when she goes to work and despite being tired, she still takes care of you and the children, then that is extraordinary. Celebrate and appreciate her efforts.
When your husband works hard to provide for his family, helps around the house and is present in the lives of his children, remember that is extraordinary. Be thankful.
Don’t let the frequency of extraordinary events dilute its miracle, don’t allow the frequency of these sacred moments make you take your life and the gifts therein for granted.
You may have a job that’s not exciting, or you are not where you had hoped you would be at this time in your finances, career or other areas of life. Don’t take the normal things for granted, your job might not be exciting at this time, but it is taking care of the necessities. It might not be a destination, but it is a road to the destination.
You need to stop and take inventory of your successes. Gratitude is to the soul what oxygenated blood is to the brain. Reminding yourself of how far you have come and how blessed you are not to have taken some paths that would have led you to destruction is instructive. Instead of focusing on what you don’t have and how other people are doing better than you, focus on what you do have. Focus on what you have deemed to be normal, ordinary, not worthy of appreciation. The accumulation of gratitude of that which you take for granted in itself offset the burden of self-pity.
For my ladies, myself included who practice self-loathing because our hairs are too short, too long, too straight, too curly, too afro, too thick, too thin, too light or our arms are too big, our thighs are too fat, our tummies are too heavy and our butts too wide. Yes, you! Remember that you are made in the image of God and that your body is a miracle. What you are busy criticizing and hating is what someone else is wishing to have. I am not saying we should be unhealthy and not take care of our bodies. We should exercise and eat well, but we should at the same time abdicate the unhealthy act of engaging in self and body loathing. Engaging in self and body hate has the same impact on the mind as self-mutilation has on the body, it leaves invisible scars. Love your bodies and thank it for the extraordinary things it does for you each day because having all your parts in working order is not normal, it is a gift.
What is extraordinary? Extraordinary things are the common things we do every day. What makes them extraordinary is when we give the normal things a second look, a miraculous gaze, when we pay close attention to them. Then, we will see what has been there all along, that those normal things are special, remarkable, exceptional and extraordinary “normal” things.
If you don’t take the time to appreciate the normal things in your life, you will misuse and mismanage them. I want to appreciate my husband for being an exemplary and extraordinary father to our children. It is normal in our household, but being a present, loving and attentive father is not an ordinary and normal thing, it is extraordinary normal!