By Ron Culberson. With a master’s degree in social work, Ron Culberson spent the first part of his career working in a large hospice organization as a clinical social worker, middle manager, and senior leader. As a speaker, humorist, and author of "Do it Well. Make it Fun.The Key to Success in Life, Death, and Almost Everything in Between", he has delivered more than 1,000 presentations to associations, government agencies, non-profit organizations, and corporations. His mission is to change the workplace culture so that organizations are more productive and staff are more content. He was also the 2012-2013 president of the National Speakers Association and is a recognized expert on the benefits of humor and laughter.
Do you like suspenseful novels or movies? How about mysteries or thrillers?
I do. And what I like most about these kinds of books and movies is being surprised by a discovery at the end of the story. I still remember being stunned by the final scenes in The Sixth Sense and Primal Fear. In each, the conclusion unveiled a discovery that totally changed my understanding of the story up to that point.
Recently, I heard a meditation instructor say we should approach people and situations as “mysteries to be discovered.” What an interesting concept. Can you imagine how different our lives would be if we went into every encounter expecting to be changed by the mystery we discover? I think it would lead us to being more open to every situation and would eliminate pre-determined opinions that typically prevent us from truly experiencing the reality in each moment.
For instance, do you remember the first time you saw a natural wonder or an amazing tourist attraction? Whether you were looking at the Grand Canyon, Michelangelo’s statue of David, or The World’s Largest Ball of Twine, you probably just wanted to stand there and take it all in. We hardly have words to describe experiences like that. Well, except when we’re looking at the ball of twine. I’m pretty sure in that situation, most of us are saying, “Dang, that’s really big.”
What is it about these encounters that affects us? Is it the magnitude of the Grand Canyon or the beauty of the statue of David? I think it might be the mystery we hope to discover. We want to know when the Modest Canyon became the Grand Canyon. We want to know when Michelangelo looked at the statue of David and decided it was complete. And when it comes to the Ball of Twine, we simply want to know why? We look, we ponder, and we ask questions to better understand the experience.
Perhaps this is how we should travel through our lives—with the expectation that a wonderful discovery is waiting around every corner. But how do we do that? First, we must eliminate our pre-conceived ideas and open our minds to whatever the moment brings. I know this is easier said than done so here are a couple of examples to illustrate the concept.
A few weeks ago, I went to our local auto parts store to buy replacement blades for my windshield wipers. A young man was standing behind the counter and in front of the counter, there was an older man sitting on a stool.
As I approached them both, the older man said, “Good morning. What do you have planned for the day?”
“Well, I’m on my way to work,” I said.
“I remember what that was like,” he said with a chuckle.
As we talked, I found out that he had retired from his job as a maintenance supervisor in the transportation division at the University of Virginia. I told him that I attended UVA in the 1980s, and we compared notes about the way things used to be.
He asked what I did for a living. I must admit that I always dread this question. I usually describe myself as a “motivational speaker” or an “author and humorist”—since most people understand those terms. But sometimes, it sounds like a pretend job and I feel a bit awkward when I say it out loud.
Nonetheless, I told him that I was a motivational speaker. The young man behind the counter smiled and said, “Oh, I listen to motivational CD’s all the time. Our company brings in speakers like that for our regional meetings. I think their presentations are really helpful. Do you ever speak to companies like mine?”
And there you go.
I did not go into the auto parts store that morning expecting to find a business opportunity. In fact, I wasn’t even sure if I’d find the right windshield wiper blades. My mind was closed off to the possibilities. My assumptions were like blinders and I did not even consider that my rural neighbors would have an appreciation for my so-called job. It was a good lesson—to be more open minded. And for the record, I seem to have this kind of mind-opening education way more often than I should at 56 years of age. Just saying.
When we moved to central Virginia a few years ago, my brother-in-law Bob recommended a hike that he thought we’d enjoy. We filed it away on our Someday-We’ll-Do-This List but never got around to it. A few weeks ago, however, our kids were in town so we decided to try the hike that Bob suggested.
Our destination was Spy Rock, a large rock formation located just off the Appalachian Trail. After parking the car, we headed up a somewhat boring access road towards the trail. After walking along the trail for a while, we then had to scale the side of the rock to get on top. It wasn’t really that treacherous but it did require some concentration. Finally, we emerged from the climb and were greeted with a 360-degree perspective of the mountains and adjacent valley. It was one of the most extraordinary views I’ve ever seen.
Again, I had not anticipated the possibilities of this experience. What started as a somewhat unexciting walk in the woods turned out to be a truly spiritual experience. And I suspect that even our time on the access road could have been better if my mind was set on a different expectation—one of discovery.
So, how do we avoid the routine, self-fulfilling doldrums and replace them with the newly discovered mysteries that lurk all around us? I think the simplest way is to continually ask ourselves, “What am I missing?”
When we understand that our brains will switch to autopilot if we let them, it’s helpful to remind ourselves to pay attention. In fact, this is where most humor is discovered—by paying attention.
Once I saw a sign next to a bowl of oranges that said, “Gluten Free.” Luckily, because I was paying attention, I didn’t miss this ridiculously obvious information.
If you like the surprise endings in mysteries and thrillers, perhaps you can write your own script by opening your mind to the possibility of discoveries. In other words, as you go through the day, ask yourself, “What am I missing?”, “Where’s the beef?” or “Who let the dogs out?”
You’ll be amazed by what you discover.
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