Have you ever noticed how many programs there are out there that teach that if you just go through their outlined series of steps, your life will be a trillion times better? My goodness! There’s Dave Ramsey’s 7 Baby Steps to financial freedom, Joel Osteen’s 7 Steps to Living At Your Full Potential, even WebMD’s 7 Steps To Becoming a Happier Person. We love us some steps! And we love 7 of ’em. I guess there can be other numbers of steps, but 7 is much holier.
At first glance this doesn’t seem so weird to me. I like steps – give me an outline of what it is I need to do, I can usually do it without any problems. Leave the door open for me to do whatever it is I want, and that’s usually when I screw up the most. But at second glance, I just don’t think life is this simple. This isn’t an idea that I came up with. Don Miller, in his book Searching For God Knows What, talks a lot about this. And I’m probably not fit to tie Don’s shoe laces when it comes to thinking about why life doesn’t seem to fit well into a series of steps. But God has been impressing this on me for several days now, and I committed myself to using this blog as a sounding board for the things I believe He is teaching me. So I am going to attempt to outline my own series of steps here on how to live a life that doesn’t require step-by-step methods for improvement, happiness, wealth, or anything else someone might attempt to fit into the step-by-step methodology. Is it ironic that I am using steps to explain how to get over using steps? Sure. Is it necessary? Probably not. Is it amusing? Well, amusing is in the eye of the beholder… Please read all these steps before beginning to implement them.
- Accept that you have been brainwashed. I’m not one to spout off about conspiracy theories and government lies, but I do honestly believe that at some level, we have been brainwashed. Not by the government, though they may have some hand in it, but by the entire world. Our culture and way of life have changed over the last 20 years so that everything has to be easy and fast, and this is due to our love of technology. I blame Bill Gates, and he blames the mosquitoes. I think perhaps we have gotten in to a a frame of mind where things are supposed to be easy and fast, like my iPhone. To order a pizza now, I can just go to Domino’s website and follow a series of steps to place my order, and then watch as they go through a series of steps to get that pizza to my house. How awesome is that? And for making and delivering pizza, it’s a good thing. For any business transaction, it’s probably a good thing. But for anything more complex, like human emotions, it’s just not sufficient. Miller put it this way in his book:
“…life is complex, and the idea that you can break it down or fix it in a few steps is rather silly. The truth is, there are a million steps, and we don’t even know what the steps are, and what’s worse, at any given moment we may not be willing or even able to take them; and still worse they are different for you and me and they are always changing.
- Complain. A lot. I’m not sure why you should complain or what you should complain about, but it just seems fitting that someone will need to complain if they are asked to do something that might not seem natural at first. If you asked me to stop eating ice cream, I would complain. If you asked me to stop eating hummus, I probably wouldn’t complain. If you asked me to stop following a recipe to create my favorite meal, I would probably complain. Who wants to eat something that took so much guessing about how much thyme to put in it? My recommendation is none. I hate thyme. But that is the whole point of getting out of a ‘steps’ frame of mind – to experience things rather than finish them. How much of life do you think we miss while we are looking to see where we are in relation to the steps we are supposed to follow? And all the while we miss out on what is really important.
- Ride uphill every once in a while. On Purpose. My wife, my daughter, and I have recently begun taking bike rides since the weather has turned nice. We have this nice little playground that we like to ride to, and it’s just far enough to get some good exercise on the ride over there, but not so far that we die before we get home. The ride to the playground is mostly downhill, which is good or else we wouldn’t have the energy to play once we got there. But on the way back, we have to trek back up the hills that we rode down before. On one of our first trips, on our way home we were fortunate to find a route back that allowed us to go uphill a little, then turn and go on level ground for a while before we turned again and went uphill. It was great, but since then, we can’t seem to find that route. One time we even went uphill for the longest time, only to find that we were back at the bottom of the hill again. I’m not sure that’s physically possible, but it happened. I tend to get exasperated in these circumstances, but my wife reminded me about how much fun it is just to explore the neighborhoods around our house. And that means that every once in a while we have to ride up the same hills over and over again. So what I’m getting at is that life is about experiencing things. If you want to get over your obsession with steps, purposely do things that are step-free.
- Slap a strong-looking guy in the face. Okay, I’m not actually encouraging violence – it’s just a metaphor (kind of like my bike riding metaphor in the last step). What I actually mean is to do something that is very non-steppish. Kind of like fake it ’til you make it… My grandfather used to joke with me when I was younger – when we were out and about, and he saw a strong-looking guy (you know, one of those wrestler-looking dudes with biceps that are like 58 inches around), he would say “Why don’t you go over there and tell that guy he’s ugly and then slap him in the face…” We would laugh, he would pat me on the back, and then he’d buy me an ice cream cone. Not really, but that would have been great. He knew that I wasn’t actually going to go over and slap that guy – that would have been completely out of my nature, so that’s what made it a semi-funny joke. But if you want to overcome an obsession with something, like following step-by-step instructions for everything in life, then sometimes you have to force yourself to do things that are very non-steppish.
- Write an autobiography. Miller, in his book Searching For God Knows What, really makes the point that the gospel and really the entire Bible is based on the premise that we need a relationship with God. Scripture is not a step-by-step guide to salvation, but rather it’s a glimpse at God himself, a way that we can get to know Him and come into a relationship with Him. Much of scripture is a story that points to God. I haven’t read Miller’s more recent book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years yet (big emphasis on the word yet…yes honey, that’s a hint…), but from what I understand it talks a lot about our lives as stories, with “characters who suffer and overcome,” as one Amazon review puts it. Perhaps if we sat down and wrote our own autobiography, we would be able to see how much of our lives are really just boring stories that no one would ever want to read. Something like, “first I was born, then I was breastfed, then I was weaned, then I played with some other kids, then I went to school, then I graduated, etc., etc.” No one likes reading stories like that, so why do we work so hard to make our lives so step-by-step like that? Maybe if we saw our lives as a story, as Miller does in his book, and we worked to see our lives outside of this step-by-step frame of mind, we would see how much more interesting things got. Perhaps people would actually read our story.
- Create a time machine. I’m not talking about any time machine, I’m talking about a time machine that only goes into the future. But then again, how would we ever get back to the past? Or I mean, get back to the present, which in the future would be the past? Wow, I have confused myself. What I really mean here is not to create a time machine that only goes to the future, but to only focus on the future. Instead of thinking of how to overcome the past, focus on how to improve your future. If you think about it, most of our step-by-step guides are written in order to get us out of some past calamity. We either screwed up our life, and now we want to know how to get happy again. Or we invested all our money in our cousin’s mole extraction business that didn’t quite pan out, and we need Dave Ramsey to tell us how to fix our money problems. It’s all based on fixing past problems, and not focusing on preparing for the future. I wonder how much better the present would be if we had prepared for it in past. Interesting thought… And a little mindblowing…
- Disregard all these steps, and go on living life to the fullest. I used to be a middle-school science teacher, and I would give my students a great little activity at the beginning of every school year. This activity was nothing more than a sheet of paper with a list of instructions on it – the directions on the page would say to read the page in its entirety, then to start doing each instruction step-by-step. The steps in the instructions were crazy things like “stand up and squawk like a chicken” and “turn in circles while clapping and singing the happy birthday song.” But the very last step said “Don’t do any of the previous steps. Turn your paper over, sit down and wait for your teacher to give you further instructions.” It was always great to watch almost every single student start to do the silly things, only to get to the last one and get confused. Then I would tell them “Didn’t you read the directions? It said to read the entire sheet of paper before starting the steps. If you had read the entire page first, you wouldn’t have done all those crazy things. Don’t you feel like a complete idiot?” Okay, I didn’t ask that last question for real, but I wanted to. Well, that is basically what I have done here. If you read the paragraph before these steps began, the last sentence said “please read all these steps before beginning to implement them.” And now I am telling you to disregard everything before this one, and just go on with your life. Just live, and quit trying to follow a step-by-step pattern for how to live. Your life will be better if you do. Now, if you happened to try to do some of these things before getting to this step, and you really did slap a strong-looking guy in the face, I take no responsibility for what happens to you. Don’t you feel like a complete idiot?