Is it me or do these times kind of feel like trying to balance 100 cinder blocks on top of your stomach?  

Are you anticipating the fall of the sledgehammer? 

Talk about a gut punch.

New Years Eve 2019 was ONLY FIVE MONTHS AGO, if you can believe that.  What were you doing that festive evening?  What hopes did you have for the New Year?

I didn’t have the faintest picture of the immense and painful challenges 2020 would bring, and we are just barely halfway through

But to only focus on the immense and painful would do zero justice to the other part of the story.  I also had no idea about the unexpected positive experiences 2020 would bring. 

See, in my wildest dreams I never envisioned my Mom giving me a “COVID-Cut” (that’s a buzz cut for those not hip to the lingo) on her front porch.  Before mid-January, I didn’t even know what COVID-19 was and definitely hadn’t seen that microscopic picture that features on every article you read.  It turns out my Mom has experience cutting hair as she would cut her friends’ hair in high school.  I never knew this.  I was also reassured to discover that she had watched a Youtube video on best practices using a hair clipper before she started on my hair.  Go Mom!   Did this fun moment solve the world problems?  No!  But it was meaningful to me and my Mom.

I came to South Dakota in March for a few speaking engagements, I had no idea that a month later I would both choose to move back and fall in love with Midwest gravel road walking.  If you’ve never heard of this hobby, it may be because it’s not really a thing (at least my initial Google search didn’t yield much.)  It all started simply enough when I noticed that I enjoyed walking the gravel roads around my parent’s place.  I like the steady crunch my tennies make on the gravel, how soft it feels beneath my feet compared to walking on pavement, all the small scenes of interest, beauty and sometimes sublime wonder I find along them.  I also find excitement that they are off the beaten path.  I imagine very few people see the sights along a gravel road other than the locals who live off or farm the fields around them.  I love taking photographs, discovering things I haven’t seen before.  It’s also very rewarding to know that I am appreciating so many details that would simply go unnoticed were I cruising along in my car.

Yesterday, I walked over 20 miles mostly down gravel roads from Renner, SD, northwest to Colton, SD, two very small towns.  On the summer solstice, I intend to walk at least 26.2 miles from Rock Rapids, Iowa through Hills, Minnesota, then back to my parent’s house in South Dakota.  I’ve started calling my gravel road treks, Walks For Joy.

Though they might not be on the surface, are you able to name some positive experiences you’ve had during this pandemic?  I’d love to hear about them.

Does that “COVID-Cut” from my Mom, choosing to move back to South Dakota or my Walks For Joy solve the tremendous loss of life and suffering this pandemic has caused or our nation’s political and racial tensions or mounting economic problems?  In a word, no.

But solving the world’s problems is not an “either-or” scenario. It doesn’t require the sacrifice of our happiness in order to match the perceived misery of the world.  In fact, if we can’t celebrate these little moments, like Ma’s haircut, then how the hell will we survive any of this?  Don’t be embarrassed or feel guilty for enjoying yourself.  Do pay attention.  Expand your awareness.  Accept that which you can not change.  Challenge yourself.  But most importantly, don’t deny yourself the time to laugh, love and enjoy the life around you, even in the face of pain and discomfort.  Now and always.

In the spring of my 7th grade year I was dead set on solving what I perceived to be  the world’s biggest problem, the possibility of nuclear war breaking out between the United States and the Soviet Union.  

Have you ever tried to solve the world’s problems alone?

Instead of solving anything, I turned all the fear, frustration and anger I felt in on myself and attempted suicide.

Fortunately, that you’re reading this means I’m still here.

Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see”.  I feel the world could stand more joy, more love, and more healing right now.  My small activities are aligned with that vision.

We are not alone in facing the profound challenges 2020 has laid before us.  Therefore, we will not solve all of its problems by ourselves.  It’s important to remember, though, that our lives are much bigger than our problems and far greater than any news or social media feed could ever hope to be.

We can choose to become explorers in search of unexpected, positive experiences and know that any and all joy that we manage to feel during this time has the potential of rippling outward to help the more immediate world around us.

Thank you so much for doing whatever you are doing to navigate through these very challenging times and for celebrating the experiences that should be celebrated along the way.

You are needed.  You make a difference. 

JASON FREEMAN is a Professional Speaker and the proud owner of a Speech Impediment.  He is also the author of “Awkwardly Awesome: Embracing My Imperfect Best” and a Perseverance Coach.

He excites and encourages his audience to break through the barriers of their own limitations using a method he created, called “doing your Imperfect Best ™”.

His Imperfect TEDx Talk can be viewed here.