She laughed in my face when she answered the door saying, “You thought I was serious? What a joke!” Then, slammed the door in my face. At 14 years old and still very overweight, I had ridden my bicycle 24 miles down the highway on a flat tire to get to her house. After speaking with her on the phone that morning, she had said she would like to see me again so I had asked, “What about today?” She replied with a chuckle, “Sure.” I hadn’t clued in on the levity. Now, I had another 4+ hours of riding back to my house on the bent rim of my bike, emotionally humiliated like my deflated tire.
I had met her the day before at the amusement park. We stood in the long line together for the Super Duper Looper, and I dared a conversation with her and her friends. They all giggled at my awkward rolls and dumpy posture, and pushed her toward me. She reluctantly complied to her friends’ dare. After the roller coaster ended, under the continued dare of her friends, she pulled me behind one of the rides, and kissed me. Writing her phone number on my hand, she ran away.
My first kiss. Of course, never having had a girl even look at me twice before, I was instantly in love. So the next day, I called feverishly. Riding to her house, with a flat tire those long hours were the best and fastest moments of my life at that point. A girl had actually LIKED ME! Who cared how far it was, how long it took or how hard it was. I grabbed my broken bike, and sneaked out of my house, disappearing down the highway.
Biking to her house felt like only minutes had passed. POOF, and I had arrived elated, excited and energized. In contrast, the ride home in embarrassment, dragged on, minute after minute, like days of agony which would never end; returning finally home, exhausted, expelled and depressed.
Collapsing in bed, I lay there, with tears carving paths down the sides of my dust-crusted eyes, one of my future career’s most important realizations bubbled to my adolescent awareness: the contrast between my ride there, and my return back. I was so happy going there, the time passed quickly, and my body actually felt great during the unusually long and difficult physical exertion. Heartbroken upon my return, time dragged and each mile pained my body like torture.
I first thought, “If only she would have liked me, the ride home would have been just as easy.” Tears of self-pity came next, but then…. one of the most important realizations of my life: “I wish I could have just pretended she liked me so I could have gotten back here quicker.” Immature and unrefined, this seemingly casual thought would become the basis for much of my later university study and professional research.
Life isn’t a problem. Only our attitude toward it, is a problem; like Helen Keller with her amazing in-sight, once challenged us: “Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing at all.” I chose my attitude toward those two 24 mile journeys: one uplifting, the other down-trodden. Certainly at 14, I was not capable of mature, attitudinal shifts in perspective, but I did sense the contrast between the two trips; to and fro. That immediate disparity allowed me to realize, we control our perception and experience of the world. Nothing changes between the two: the same duration, distance and difficulty. But our attitude carries us to heaven, or makes it a highway of hell.
Since then, I program my attitude with each challenge; during my workouts, projects or presentations, my relationships, meetings and proposals. When the enormous work lay ahead, nervous and anxious about my ability, I recall the disparity of those four and a half hours riding my bike as a child, twice performed; one great, one awful. And I decide to not feel awful, and be great instead. No matter how many insistent little gremlins seek to burrow negativity into my attitude, I steel my will, and remain positive.
W. Cement Stone wrote, “There is little difference in people, but that little difference makes a big difference. The little difference is attitude. The big difference is positive or negative.” Attitude takes no physical effort, but immense moral power to alter. It demands our daily practice in the tiny, insignificant events, like spilling coffee, bumping our heads, or forgetting where we placed our keys.
Whenever possible, practice laughing at these experiences: you’ll feel better, lighter and more energized by the Game of it all. And when the big events come, and they will, you’ll have deposited in your attitude bank a lot of little differences. And those will make a big difference in shifting your attitude in those big challenges.