Improve Your Life by Contributing More Than You Consume

Photo: Sarah Dibbern

Photo: Sarah Dibbern

January has become a favorite time of year. These frozen, grey days on the tundra when the demands of the holiday season are behind me. Spring and summer remain far enough off with their taunts of being short-lived that send Northerners into a frenzy of lawn care, home improvement and patio dining bucket lists. This stretch of time seems to move more slowly–you know, like molasses in January. And slow time feels like more time. More time to create and contribute–a goal not just for January but for the entire year and hopefully, my entire life.

Photo: Sarah Dibbern

Photo: Sarah Dibbern

You see, here’s the thing. Sometimes I get down on myself. Maybe you do too. Like I should be accomplishing so much more with my life. I get up in the morning, pour a cup of coffee, sit in my favorite chair and scroll through my phone to see what’s happening in the world. I read news articles and send funny videos to my teenage kids in an attempt to make their morning crank faces crack a smile. But I also thumb through all the pretty pictures on social media. Maybe you do too.

I consume lots of ideas. Recipes I’ll probably never make. Exercises I’ll likely never do. Home décor trends I can’t replicate. Beauty secrets that remind me of my age. There’s lots of wonderfully curated inspiration in cyberspace. But whenever I consume more than I create or contribute to the world, this digital diet begins to weigh me down with negative self-talk. Why can’t I cook like that? Dress like that? Have a clean house like that?

Because I spend more time consuming ideas than I do creating or implementing ideas. Duh!

When scrolling through Twitter and Instagram become a spiritual discipline, it’s probably time to make a change.

Don’t misunderstand. I love Twitter and Instagram. I love all of the connectivity, inspiration and opportunities available right in the palm of my hand! But am I letting my consumption of content weigh me down rather than get me going? Am I balancing my consumption with contributing positively to a conversation, offering ideas or implementing any of the good ideas I see?

For many folks, January is a time to refocus on health and wellness. Well, a simple rule of healthy living (including our relational, financial, mental and spiritual health) applies to most aspects of daily life–including our digital life. Our contribution to the world should outweigh what we consume from the world.

That’s my mantra for 2017: Contribute & Create more than I Consume.

Contributions and creativity can look any number of ways. What’s your gift? How can you use your gifts to create something or contribute to the world? Writing. Cooking. Designing. Volunteering. Reorganizing. Donating. Entertaining. Scrapbooking. Teaching. Photography. Whatever.

For me, this mantra isn’t about any particular task or checklist of endeavors. It’s simply going to be about reminding myself to spend a little less time scrolling through other people’s worlds and more time contributing to or creating something good in my little corner of the world.

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Yeah But, Life is Beautiful. Even in Winter.

 

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

I arrived on the tundra kicking and screaming. I played the martyr for years, whining about my life being diminished by returning to the Mid-West and having to live someplace where it gets so cold. I remember going to an Eddie Bauer store in Seattle to purchase a winter coat before moving to Minnesota in 1998. The clerk asked where I was going that I needed such a warm coat. I told him we were moving to Minneapolis. The clerk gasped.

“It’s colder than Alaska there!” he said.

Panic-stricken in my puffy coat, I glanced at my husband in disbelief, searching his face for reassurance. He looked away and changed the subject, most likely because he was hoping I wouldn’t cause a scene in the store.

But I’ve managed to acclimate just a bit since then. I still complain about the cold but I have discovered that unlike winter just a couple of clicks south of Minnesota, the frigid temps up here can often mean it’s too cold for clouds to form. The sun shines brightly on below zero days, gleaming on on the crystalline snowpack. And when it’s too cold for snow to melt, winters aren’t as sloppy, grey and gross as they can be in other places that “experience” winter. Minnesota is a frosty white snow globe with its hearty people trekking to and fro in ugly shoes and ridiculous hats thinking they’re both fearless and fashionable while living in a place on the map that other people point to on the weather channel like they’re watching penguins in a documentary film. “Look how funny they look trying to walk in the snow! Why do they live there?”

I’ll admit that when we moved here from the west coast where it’s not only warmer, but there are mountains and large bodies of water, forests and vistas so grand, one cannot help but sense the presence of God, I prayed for help. I asked God to show me beauty in Minnesota. In flat, flyover country with its brain freeze temperatures and people who speak with some variation of what I can only determine to be a hybridized Canadian accent.

And almost daily, if I choose look, my eyes are opened by winter visions like this…

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Minnehaha Falls in winter by Sarah Dibbern

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Winter Carnival Ice Carving

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Frozen Falls by Sarah Dibbern

 

In addition to enjoying the beautiful winter scenery, I’ve recently been reading a delightful book by a well-known character actor, Stephen Tobolowski, titled The Dangerous Animals Club. One particularly great passage in his book reminds me of winter in Minnesota but it applies to life in general anywhere you might live.

He speaks of being a victim of “yeah, but” syndrome, a mental disorder that’s affected everyone he’s ever known, actors in particular. He says,

“Here is an example of how it manifests itself: a case study. Someone says, “What are you working on?”

“I’m playing Hamlet in a new production.”

“Wow, that’s great.”

Yeah, but we’re performing in a parking garage.”

…The “yeah, but” is the way we have developed to diminish our own lives into footnotes. To demoralize, trivialize, and squander the greatest gift we have been given–the joy of watching the sun rise for another day.”

I resolve to not diminish my life, this gift that gets renewed day after day here on the tundra. Here in beautiful Minnesota where God reveals himself in hoarfrost and frozen waterfalls and children building snowmen and hearty, bundled, wonderful people who carve an exemplary existence out of this icy landscape.

The next time you catch yourself starting to say, “yeah, but” give pause and ask for your eyes to be opened. So that wherever you are, you might be blessed to see what beauty is around you. That you will see the work of God’s hand in nature and in your life.

Is it really cold in Minnesota? Yeah, but life is beautiful. Even in winter.

 

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