Frames and Perspectives

Perspective is something that time unlocks whenever it feels ready to. It may take weeks, months, or even years for that perspective arrow to hit you right in the heart, but when it does arrive, it is often something that makes you see the world, yourself, and the things that have shaped you in ways that will stagger you, in sometimes painful ways.

A prominent clinical psychologist that I follow once described something that he called the Frame Problem. As he explained it, we as human beings with finite understanding cannot fully grasp the world and reality on every level – it is all simply too large and too complex to comprehend. So, we build a kind of mental “frame” around the parts of reality we do understand and can control. This sets up how we see the world. We build our frames around numerous things that help us understand the reality of our existence, things such as our accomplishments, our careers, our paychecks, our religious beliefs, social status, relationships, the list goes on. The Frame Problem becomes a problem when those things we use to build our frame collapse. The job you built your sense of self-worth from ends in you being fired. The relationship you thought would complete and perfect your life ends and now you are completely unsure how to ago about your daily life again alone. The social circle you found value and identity in proves itself empty and unfulfilling and now you are aimless. When part of your frame collapses, a reality you could not previously control or understand comes flooding in and your world gets turned on its head, and it takes whatever you can to hold on. Whenever you see someone reeling after a significant life setback, you’re seeing something trying to find solid ground after their frame of reality has collapsed.

Perspective (a new one at least) comes when your frame is rebuilt – the new frame creates a new view of reality and the world in light of what you rebuilt it out of. The process is painful and exhausting, and there are some that never really recover. The flood of new and incomprehensible reality washes the person down a path that may end in heartache and pain, but recovery is possible.

I have recently gone through such an experience, as I have gone through in previous times in my life, and it never gets easier. Right now I am trying to rebuild my frame as best I know how. It will take time, it’s a process that invites introspection, honesty, and the need to challenge one’s self. But, something I have learned through this process so far when comparing it to previous times is the need for ACTION. In the past when I would go through similar storms I would let myself fall into this trap of thinking and not doing. This is dangerous – your mind will trick you into into a sense of fruitless self-searching that will spiral down into depression without a plan of action. There is definitely a time for mentally sorting through things, but there’s also a time where you must simply put your head down and start pushing the sled. The only way to rebuilt is to BUILD, and that means doing things and actively taking steps to rebuild your understanding of the world and of yourself. Find that new job, try that new experience, start hanging out with new people, go on that date that scares you, make time to treat yourself as someone you really love and care about.

It will be hard.

There will be setbacks.

There will be days where you will get frustrated and you will feel pain that makes you want to curl up in your bed and never get out.

But you will move on and you will rebuild if you refuse to let your life remain in turbulence. If every builder quit when things got hard we would still live in caves.

Work on a plan, rebuild your frame, and who knows? At the end your hands may be calloused and bloody, and your heart may be bruised, but you will be stronger.

Be humble enough to grind and do the work to rebuild your frame. It won’t happen magically.

Now get to building.


Moving On And Getting Older

Next Saturday I turn 29 years old. I realized the other day that when I turn 29 I will be the exactly 11 years away from both 18 and 40, and I’m honestly not sure how I feel about it. 18 didn’t feel like it was that long ago, and the thought of 40 tastes like one of those nasty multivitamins I’ll probably be taking when I’m 40. Getting older is one of those universal truths we somehow still manage to get surprised by, like how much weight one weekend at Grandma’s can add to our backside. We all know we are getting older and yet we still think it’s something that happens to other people more than us.

One of the sure signs of getting older is the diminishing importance of birthdays and parties related to birthdays. This started happening to me around 21. Every year I feel like I want less and less, and the things I do want are so boring that 15 year old me would have laughed at whoever asked for those things. I’ve found myself asking for things like Amazon gift cards, books, shirts, and a new wallet. Exciting stuff I know. I think what happens as we get older is that we don’t want less, but the things we do want become more meaningful or abstract.

These things are sometimes harder to define. Maybe we really desire for a new year of our existence to bring on some form of personal growth or a new memorable experience, or maybe it’s simply the desire for a new season of life to hurry up and start. The most valuable thing getting older gives you is perspective, and perspective knows a shiny new toy isn’t what will fulfill you at the end of the day. I know my perspective at 29 will not be the same at 40, much as I can see how much my perspective has changed since I was 18.

I’ve found myself treasuring memories and experiences more and more. Christmas shifted away from stuff and is now much more important to me as a time of gathering with the family I don’t get to see as much as I want. As much as I love the gifts my girlfriend has given me on my birthday or at Christmas, the memories we have shared together have always been more meaningful. Times like the one where we explored the City Museum in St. Louis and acted like little kids at a playground, or the time at a farmer’s market in Kansas City where she bought me a book related to what I was currently teaching at the time that contained an inscription from a husband to a wife dated 1883, or when we were able to tour a pre-Civil War mansion are all more important to me than the Grizzlies polo shirt she got me last Christmas (though it is a really awesome shirt). I value the times I got to spend with my grandparents before they died and the way my Grandmother would laugh and kick her feet when I kissed her on the neck because it tickled more than a heirloom passed down. Memories and experiences give so much more joy in the long run.

In the movie Liberal Arts, there is a scene where a professor who is facing retirement is talking about getting older and what that does to a mind.

Do you know how old I feel like I am? 19. Since I was 19, I have never felt not 19. But I shave my face, and I look in the mirror, and I’m forced to say, “This is not a 19-year-old staring back at me.” … Nobody feels like an adult. It’s the world’s dirty secret.

I’m learning to embrace the fact that I’m not 18 any more. Was 18 a good time? Sure, but do I want to trade who am I now and the things I have experienced now to be 18 again? Absolutely not. I was an idiot at 18.

Learn to embrace the experiences and memories of life that don’t have to do with stuff. Learn to embrace that every new year is an opportunity to build a better version of you.

I’m just ready to get those senior discounts at movies and IHOP.