I regularly volunteer at a warehouse that manages donated household items for charity. As we sort through boxes of pots and pans, the items that strike me most are heirloom dishes from a long time ago. Lovingly wrapped, they are labeled “Aunt Gertrude’s good china,” or “Nice tea set for 8.” The dainty plates and cups, painted in vivid colors and distinctive patterns, probably were only used on special occasions. To me, they stand for missed opportunities - honest conversations not held and laughter not shared while life went on. Few people own fancy dishes anymore, but we all carry around “one-of-these-days-I-will” ideas that, like good china, end up staying shelved. Here are some thoughts about taking the time to follow through on good ideas:
- “We should get together sometime.” – The intention of having a deeper conversation quickly gets lost in everyday routine. The person who seemed so interesting at a networking meeting (was it two weeks ago?- where did her business card go?) is fading further away and somehow, meeting her for coffee suddenly seems inconvenient and unproductive. The old friend who occasionally posts on Facebook seems to have other interests now and is drifting away further. A number of studies have shown that social connectedness is an important health factor, which means that meeting up with others is literally good for our wellbeing. Instead of vaguely looking at "sometime," set a date right then and there, exchange contact information and make a commitment.
- “That’s a great idea. I will look into it as soon as I have more time.” An idea for developing your business further, a learning opportunity or a potential cooperation with someone seems so promising in the moment. We hear good advice at business meetings, dutifully take notes and then drive home. As time goes on, we begin to think of more reasons why the idea isn’t practical after all and why it would cost too much, isn’t a good fit, or should be saved for “later” (on a shelf, to be dusted off occasionally). A growth opportunity will remain a distant dream unless you pursue it with concrete steps. Establish one specific follow-up action, however small, to actively explore a new option. Who knows which new perspectives may open up?
- “I’d love to experience that, maybe when ...” (travel, outdoor adventure, new type of exercise or practice). Someone's travel pictures or a group of people laughing together at a table can bring feelings of wistfulness or even jealousy. Of course, it's risky to try something different, but what is there to lose? So book that trip, call that friend, or attend an event that's really out there.
The longer we wait, the safer and more reasonable it appears to not to pursue an idea that has been on the shelf for a while. We tell ourselves that the odds are too hard to overcome and that life's priorities are elsewhere. But as time goes by, shelved intentions become empty promises, wrapped in a musty box.