When I was a college student, one of my favorites places to visit on the campus was the church in the main quad. At the time, I wasn’t religious at all, nor was I spiritual. But still, something about this church was very calming and inviting to me.

Often, on the weekend, I would get up in the morning and walk over to this church after the church services had ended, or hadn’t begun yet. Once I reached the church, I would walk inside and roam the nearly empty aisles. The wooden pews always appeared as if they had just been polished. The sun would shine through the stained glass windows and drop down across the lonely people who prayed. They were praying for a better life, perhaps, maybe for more money, for a fix to a broken relationship, or maybe for the safe passing of a deceased loved one…

Sometimes I would sit in one of these lovely pews and just stare at the church’s expansive ceiling as it soared high above me. I didn’t pray. I just sat and observed. For me, as an atheist at a time, going to this church was more like an archeological expedition. Or just an opportunity to admire the church’s lovely architecture. (I didn’t have the language at the time to call these visits a weekly meditation.)

Some days, I just sat and watched as others prayed. Other days, I would stand up and walk around the edges of the church, examining the far walls. There, written on these walls, etched in stone, were various quotes. Some of these quotes were from the bible, some weren’t.

One day, I came across one quote in particular that struck me. These words were so powerful that I remember them even to this day, nearly eight, or so, years later. But since I didn’t write the quote down at the time, I’ll just have to paraphrase it here:

If each one of us carried a bag, and in that bag was all our suffering and all of our troubles, and if we each laid our individual bags in the center of a room, until all the bags were piled high, one on top of the other, until the pile of bags reached the ceiling, we would be surprised at what would happen next: we would stare at all of the bags that weren’t our own, and see their size, or notice their weight, or their color, or their texture, and, after each one of us had thoroughly examined the bags that belonged to the others, each one of us would go back to this pile and pick up the bag that belonged to us, and then take it with us as we walked out of the room.

What Is Perspective?

We are always convinced that we are carrying the biggest, ugliest burden anyone could ever carry. But if we ever had the chance to lay down our burdens next to the burdens of others, we would end up not trading our current life experience with somebody else’s.

This wise truth reminds us of two things:

1. That we should never assume that someone else’s life is easy.

We each carry our own burdens, and although each burden is unique, not one is “more heavy” or “less heavy” than the other. No burden is less or more than another–each burden is only different from another burden.

2. That our burdens are meant for us, because life knows that we can handle them.

I’ve always held the strong belief that life only gives us challenges it knows we can handle. If the challenge seems insurmountable, that’s because it only seems that way. Life, on the other hand, knows we can overcome it.

But often times, when we are in the thick of life getting in the way of our most ambitious plans, we can forget. We can forget that even though the challenge is hard, we would take this challenge over any other challenge that someone else is currently facing.

We each have our own unique journeys. No two are the same, and that’s how it’s supposed to be. So don’t fear if your journey doesn’t seem to be shaping up to resemble someone else’s. That’s because it’s not mean to be.

How boring would it be, anyway, if every mountain was identical? If every valley were the same? The most gorgeous of landscapes hold their beauty because of all the jagged edges they carry, as well as all the straight lines they display. The uniqueness of each natural landmark, and the originality that it brings when held up against the others, is what makes a beautiful landscape a beautiful landscape.

So, too, does the uniqueness of each of our lives set against one another make up for the beautiful landscape of all of humanity. If we were all the same, humanity would just be a sprawling flatland, and how uninspiring would that be?

So what if your mountain range looks too small, or your valley’s not deep enough? Maybe it’s not meant to be. Maybe all you’re meant to be is the unique expression of you, and your own original journey. Never-before-seen. Fresh. New. And wonderful.

The Importance of Perspective

It is important to note, too, that the most creative stories and paintings must have appeared ugly at first. You can certainly imagine many critics declaring Picasso as an inadequate painter after looking at the work of Picasso when it was first introduced. But we all would laugh at that art critic today for making such a naive, premature criticism of Picasso’s work.

So let us refrain from making such naive, premature criticisms about our own work–or about our own lives–as they both, slowly, come into being.

Ugly, awkward, inefficient, boring, dreadful, incomplete, full of holes, slow, fast, uneven, cliché, weird, confusing.

Yes, the criticism will come. From the outside and from within. But let’s not be too premature about it.

Sometimes we need to wait for things to unfold before we declare a situation “good” or “bad.” Then again, who can ever really declare something good or bad with great certainty?  No one. So, forget “good” and “bad,” and instead try: “this is when I half-assed it” and “this is when I tried my best.” When you half-assed it, figure out how you can make sure you don’t half-ass it in the future; and if you tried your best, pat yourself on the back.

And if we are still certain that ours is the worst bag of burdens, we might try a little perspective.

Perspective teaches us that although it may seem like the world is getting more and more violent, in reality, humanity is becoming more and more peaceful. Perspective teaches us that although it might seem as if we are a “slave” to our work, in reality, there are actual, real-life slaves still living in this world who would probably argue against this assertion.

Sometimes we need to seriously sit down and ponder all the other realities that could have been—what other lives we could have lived—what other stories we could have written. If we did that, we might find that if we were given a choice to pick any bag among all the other bags in this world filled with burdens, we would still chose our own.

much perspective,


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17 comments on “Perspective.

  1. Ashley says:

    Today I am grateful for you and your willingness to share your insight with the world. This was exactly the reality check I needed and I’ll certainly carry these words with me today, this week, and for the rest of the year.

    Thank you!

  2. Julie says:

    I especially like #2. I truly believe that life gives us what we need to grow and no more than we can handle. Even if it doesn’t always feel that way. Same too, with our work. Thanks for this thoughtful post.

    • Ollin says:

      Thanks Julie. Yes it is true. We are only given what we can handle. It should remind us that we are capable of accomplishing the task.

  3. Catherine Johnson says:

    Love that quote. I’ve seen a shorter version a lot. It’s so true. Have a great day!

    • Ollin says:

      I tried to google it. I’m not sure whether it was from the bible or somewhere else. If you find the original somewhere please let me know!

  4. Kari says:

    Assumptions and expectations of ourselves and others can easily warp our perspectives. This is something I’m trying to teach my kids. We use the saying “paddle your own canoe” to get them to focus on helping others but not taking on unnecessary worries, realizing that we often don’t know the whole story and therefore are inadequate in judging others, and sometimes we need to simply admit mistakes, learn from them and move on instead of dwelling on them. This is the perspective I hope my kids are gaining.

  5. Mckenzie says:

    Amen and Amen and…AMEN to this entire post, my friend. I think my perspective is always a work in progress, especially when it comes to my writing. But this gave me the warm fuzzies. (When does your writing not?) I like how you talk about our challenges being our own, too. I went to a seminar, once, where a woman spoke about her battle with lymphoma. For her radiation treatment, she had to wear a mask that was specific to her face, though the end results were the same. She compared this to each of our lives. The end result is the same, but we all get there using different paths – the paths that work best for us.

    You’re wonderful. But you already know so. ; )


  6. Hi,
    Great post. I have noticed when I meet people, if the conversation goes deep enough, I discover they have their own bag of difficulties. We all experience pain in our lives, but many of us are very good at hiding it. Maybe we don’t want others to see our imperfections, or maybe we don’t want to face our own suffering because it is too scary or we think we won’t be able to bear the pain. In my life I have found that pain and joy are related in that the depth of joy experienced is only equal to the depth of pain acknowledged.

    Also, Kari, I love the paddle your own canoe analogy. There is great wisdom in learning to be compassionate of others’ difficulties, without taking them on yourself or trying to fix them.

    • Ollin says:

      Great point Mary. It’s good to remember that not all of us are willing to share our pains. It makes sense, right? But that also gives us all this false sense that there are some people who have it easy. When that isn’t true.

  7. Ollin says:

    My friend just sent me the actual quote I was referring to.

    Here it is:

    “There are but few on earth free from cares, none but carry burdens of sorrow, and if all were asked to make a package of their troubles, and throw this package on a common pile, and then were asked to go and choose a package which they were willing to bear, all would select their own package again.

    Your heartaches may be great, burdens heavy, but look about you, and with whom would you change?”

    You can read the rest of the quotes inscribed on Memorial Church by going here:

    Now the question is: where did Jane Stanford get this quote form…?

  8. mzem says:

    What a thoughtful post Ollin. Having been a member of Al-Anon for many years, we learn perspective is everything. On of the quotes asks us to stand on our head and see how we like the view. And, even when we think things are at their worst we can always remember that this too shall pass.

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