Once a year I have to go see the optometrist. Each year it’s the same old tests. “What are the smallest letters you are able to read?” To which I always reply, “I cannot read the big E without my contacts.”

I’m usually laughing as I mention it because I know it’s an E but it just looks like a blob. If it weren’t for contacts and glasses, I would have a hard time believing I would still be alive today. Tough to imagine that I wouldn’t have walked out into traffic or off a cliff by this point. Thank goodness for technology and for specialists who have been trained to help people like me attain eyesight. I wouldn’t be able to function through life otherwise.

While we all may vary in our level of independence, we all to some degree or another depend on others. That is unless your a hermit tucked back in the middle of the woods. But you wouldn’t be reading this blog post if that were the case….

Anyway, many of us see specialists to help us through all sorts of aspects of our lives. Doctors, financial advisers, and gym trainers are perfect examples. But they can’t do everything for us. Even though we oftentimes rely heavily on their expertise, we almost always still have a role to play. Doctors may recommend a treatment plan, but often it requires us to follow through on the recommended modifications and sometimes significant lifestyle changes to realize the desired health outcome. Financial advisers may recommend savings plans and investment strategies to get you to where you want to be financially in the future, but it requires discipline to stay to a budget and a commitment to achieve those financial goals. Gym trainers can encourage and push you through their recommended exercises to improve your health and conditioning, but ultimately you need to push yourself to actually complete the exercises and say no to that third Yum Yum Donut.

Our wants and needs drive us to pursue the assistance of others if we are unable on our own to meet our needs. We start planning for the future, knowing that we want to help pay for our child’s tuition in the future or save for a new house, and seek the assistance of a financial planner to get there. We go through the holidays and pack on the pounds and then realize maybe I should get a trainer to lose this weight and keep it off. Recurring illnesses or pain may drive us to finally visit the doctor for a diagnosis.

Until we recognize the need or want, the need for assistance is not evident. More often than not though, the earlier the need is recognized and corrective actions are taken, the greater the outcome in the long run. Establishing good financial, exercise, and health habits at an early age is of much more benefit than waiting until later.

So this got me thinking, what want or need are people like mentors, life coaches, psychiatrists and pastors addressing? And I’m not talking about the life coach who helps you brush your teeth and not act like a snowflake. I’m talking about the life coach who helps feed you the thoughts that drive you to push through the daily grind. To get up in the morning with a purpose and be able to keep pushing through life. Because it can be a grind at times.

Now I realize there can be significant differences between all of these people. There are substantially different qualifications for being a life coach, a mentor, a pastor, and a psychiatrist. But I think there is some significant overlap in the roles these people play in the lives of others.  Paul Vanderklay, a pastor who runs his own YouTube channel, which I would highly recommend, defined his role as a pastor as “helping people align their story with the story of others and the story of the Bible.” Now, this is not necessarily a post about pastoring. For the purposes of generalizing this for all mentors, life coaches, and spiritual leaders we could replace “the story of the Bible” part of his quote with “a framework or lens through which we see the world.”

Our story can be quite complex. There have been things within our control and many things out of our control. Highs and lows. Both comedic and tragic moments. Mistakes made and incredible feats accomplished along the way. Maybe there have been unrealized dreams or everything we could ever need has been handed to us. Each of our stories, though they may share some similarities, are incredibly unique.

The stories of others, although often hidden beneath the perfect facade of social media and our “put-together” behavior in public, often have many of the same elements that ours do. Pain, happiness, hardship, joy, strife, love, peace, war, injustice… The more you listen to other peoples stories and study history, the greater sense you get of how difficult and complex this world has been, continues to be, and always will be. A visit to the Holocaust museum or a brief study of the 20th century is all it needs to be overwhelmed with the heaviness of the human condition.

Today more than any other time in history we are confronted with, more often than not, the worst of the worst stories in the world. Mass casualty shootings, natural disasters, the spread of disease, wars, kidnappings and murders, sexual predators, corrupted institutions… At no other time in history have we been bombarded with the tragedies of life from across the globe with the frequency and explicitness we do today. It doesn’t take long to see the depravity of this world and how incredibly sad and difficult the stories of humans have been and continue to be.

And this is why I love how Paul Vanderklay defines his role as a pastor. In addition to knowing your own story and engaging with the stories of others is the need to have a framework or lens through which to understand these stories. For those of you who go to optometrists you are probably familiar with a phoropter. (Don’t feel bad if you didn’t know the name for it because I certainly didn’t.)

Closeup of medical equipment in an opticians clinic

The optometrist will continue to change the lenses in front of your eyes and check your vision to see how clearly you read the letters in front of you. The very first lens used usually provides a very low resolution view of the letters, but as additional lenses get added or changed, your vision should improve assuming your seeing an optometrist worth his or her salt.

Likewise, the role of mentors, life coaches, and spiritual leaders in our lives is to help us to find a lens or framework through which we can see our lives and the lives of others in the greatest clarity possible that we can. Easier said than done, because as I stated before this world is incredibly difficult and the more you study the human condition the more complex the framework and precise the lens must be for us to function well. I think more often to not, the emotional, spiritual, and mental turmoil we all experience is almost always due to dissonance between our story, the stories of others, and the framework or lens we are using to view the world.

Maybe we haven’t dealt with an aspect of our story and really gotten to the root of an issue. Maybe we’re so disconnected from others, that our story gets out of alignment of the shared human experience or we lose an understanding of others and what it means to relate with them. Or maybe our framework through which we view ourselves and others is incompatible with our life. Maybe the lens through which we view the world is directing us in a direction that does not lead to the betterment of our story, or to a life that is compatible with the rest of humanity.

Similar to the optometrist changing out lens as they are determining our prescription, we can all be modifying our frameworks to try understand the world, and I think that’s so often done best with the assistance of others. As we talk through our lives and really dig into our perceptions of the world, the low resolution frameworks like happiness, popularity, power and money being the meanings of life will inevitably have to be replaced by higher resolution lenses through which we can see the world if we will ever be able to handle the complex and difficult stories that we all share. And who knows, maybe that new worldview that we adopt can take us beyond a state of just coping with the difficulties of life and extend to a greater appreciation of what existence has to offer.

We may never get a 20/20 vision of the world, but here’s to hoping we can all at least read the big E of life, whatever that may be, and continue to refine our worldview from there. And don’t be afraid to reach out to someone for guidance. We all need guidance whether we wish to admit it or not. Just like the optometrist is saving me from blindly walking into traffic or off a cliff, that person, or those people may help us from falling into the deepest pits of life. We have a role to play in figuring out our way but we weren’t meant to figure this out on our own. 

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