Spring in Flagstaff is an adventure. Recently, 60-degree sunshine followed eight inches of snow. Spring Break is followed by the sprint for the finish of the academic year. Grass is growing (kind of), the daffodils, irises and lilies Tracy planted are popping up, and skunks and prairie dogs are waking from their winter slumber. All of this leads me to think about why spring brings about feelings of renewal and hope.
While spring signals rejuvenation, we should always be renewing and improving ourselves. We tend to think about renewal and rejuvenation at certain times of the year. Becoming a better human should be a perpetual task. This is one of the keys to living well, recognizing that we can always be better. As Seneca put it, “As long as you live, keep learning how to live.” Living well and happily is a lifelong journey. Another favorite quote (from Aristotle) puts this well: “For one swallow does not make a summer, nor does one day; and so too one day, or a short time does not make a man blessed or happy.” Remember, life is a journey, not a single event.
How, then, does one live well? I don’t have a definitive answer to this, but I do have some insights. Paraphrasing Epictetus, first decide who you want to be, then do what you have to do to be that person. As I’ve pointed out before, too many of us go through life on autopilot, drifting with the winds without a true destination (I know, I’m mixing metaphors). Take time to think about who you want to be, and what purpose you want to serve, then make your journey about those destinations. Also, remember another bit from Epictetus, “Cultivate that good improves with the years.”
I never really understood spring until I left Florida. There’s an old joke that Florida has two seasons, summer and a random week in January or February. I discovered spring when I moved to Ohio. The first really nice day after a long, dreary winter, and the first hint of color in flora brought a lightening of moods, and a spirit of renewal. It struck me that I really couldn’t appreciate spring until I’d gone through a real winter. Life is the same way; we can’t fully appreciate the highs if we haven’t gone through the lows. Spring always comes, no matter how rough the winter. Life can be like that as well.
Just as we have no control over a springtime snow, there are many things about our lives that we do not control. This is a tricky area; I firmly believe that we should control what we can, but we also need to realize most things are out of our control. The trick, I think, is to learn to play whatever hand we’re dealt to the best of our ability, all the while realizing that we’re not dealing the cards. Life has its own flow, we need to work the currents to our advantage. As Seneca put it, “Fate leads the willing and drags along the reluctant.”
Spring also reminds me that nobody stands alone. Those bulbs Tracy planted didn’t grow on their own. Little plants and creatures gave their lives to become part of the soil; the rains and snows of winter provide the moisture; Tracy planted and cared for the bulbs. We’re the same. Each of us is the product of the efforts of countless others who helped mold us into who we are. Keep this in mind as you go through your days. To paraphrase Marcus Aurelius, when you do good for others, you do good for yourself. We’re all in this together. We should act like it.
Finally, spring reminds me that no matter what happens, goats can brighten your day. Seriously. Pretty much everything goats do is funny. The way they run is funny, the way they play is funny, even the way they eat is amusing. If you’re feeling down, take five minutes and watch some baby goat videos. What could it hurt? FBN
By Craig Van Slyke, Ph.D.
When I’m not cleaning up after goats and horses, I serve as dean of Northern Arizona University’s W.A. Franke College of Business, home to faculty and staff who are dedicated to the success of our 3,500 students. For more information on The W.A. Franke College of Business, please see: franke.nau.edu/. I welcome comments and feedback on these columns. Email your comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow me on Twitter @cvanslyke.