Ever since I was in middle school I’ve been journaling.  I still own my journals and have slowly (very slowly) been transcribing them for a future writing project.  I recently took a look at an entry in the master journal, so far, and discovered an entry from my senior year in high school.  The following is a reflection I wrote and shared on a retreat I led in high school.  The topic of my talk was “ideals”.  Here’s what I had to say:

Who am I?  Who are you?  What distinguishes me from you or you from the person sitting next to you?  Besides the obvious, hair color, eye color, each one of us has his or her own set of ideals which distinguishes us from one another.  Ideals are what you stand for and what you live for.  Our ideals are who we are and what we believe.  Last night we were asked to look at the movie of our life and to think about our pasts.  Hopefully during that time of reflection you came across some of your values.  In my movie I found that my three main ideals are loving others and myself, living in the present, and valuing my time with my family.  My ideals stem from my values.  An ideal is an ideal with the “L” of love added to it – it is a good idea I pursue with love and determination.  An idea is something in the head; an ideal is in the heart.  Ideals make our whole lives possible and in order to achieve our goals we must determine our values and ideals. 

Ideals play a huge role in our lives.  We all have ideals, values, desires and goals which influence our actions.  An ideal is a belief or goal that each individual must choose for himself in order to make his life meaningful.  Ideals require constant time, effort and energy.  And even though we may never reach them, or we may fail to follow them, they affect the way we live our lives for a certain period of time.  For instance, in the past I made a goal to make the varsity girls’ basketball team.  I took great strides toward achieving my goal and I desired so strongly to make this team that I spent numerous hours training in a gym.  On another note I also wish to treat others with respect.  For this reason I am nice to others and don’t put them down.  Our actions are reflections of who we are and what we believe, and others often take notice of our actions.  Sometimes you can tell someone’s ideals based on their actions.  When I notice someone taking time out of their lives to help someone out, or smiling and greeting everyone they’re putting their ideals into action.  People who work hard in school clearly value their future and the importance of education just as those who volunteer value helping others. 

Some of our ideals are internal, and reflect what is important to us.  Ideals are the reasons behind our attitudes and values.  For example, I want to do my best, put forth 100% effort, and work hard in all that I do.  To me “it’s more important to do my best, rather than to be the best.”  I strive to do the right thing even when no one is watching.  I also desire to be honest with not only others, but also with myself.  Furthermore, I work to live in the present.  After reading a book, “The Present,” by Spencer Johnson, I discovered the importance of being in the present, learning from the past, and planning for the future.  Even though I try very hard to live by my ideals, I often fail to do so.  I don’t always put forth all my effort when I’m doing something, and I do compare myself to others.  Through one specific failure to live by my ideals I learned a great lesson.  I failed to be honest with myself and others during my high school career.  I failred to express my true beliefs because I wanted badly to fit in and maintain friendships.  Over time, I became accustomed to conforming to how others acted and thought, and I found myself miserable.  I was doing things I didn’t really want to do, and being a person that I really wasn’t.  I didn’t want to be a “designated driver” watching others act foolish.  I didn’t want to be the goody too shoes being taken advantage of.  I didn’t like being in situation where others were putting each other down with phrases like “you’re ugly, you’re fat, why are you so stupid?!”  Because I value seeing the best in others I didn’t want to listen to others put each other down.  The more I heard these phrases, the more I began to believe they were true, even when I knew they weren’t.  I had to get myself out of this situation.  At this point I had to be honest with myself.  I spent a great deal of time discovering who I really was and what I truly valued and ultimately made a choice to be myself.  Through my failure to be honest with myself is others I discovered more of my ideals, and began to recognize my own ideals, rather than live by the ideals of others.  

Some of our ideals are external, that is how we want to be seen by others.  Most people want to be liked by others, so their ideals reflect this desire.  For me, I want others to see me as I am.  I want them to view me as a dedicated, hard worker, who is spiritually devoted to God.  I hope people think of me as a genuinely nice, happy, friendly and loving person.  Because I desire people to see these qualities in me, I act in a way that enables them to shine through.  I smile at everyone and greet others with a friendly “hello,” tell others the truth, and genuinely attempt to express my love toward everyone.  Sure there are days when I fail to portray these qualities, but setting external ideals sets goals which influence my actions for how I act around others. 

The third type of ideal is Christian ideals.  These ideals stem from the life and teachings of Jesus.  We cannot accomplish these ideals without the help of Jesus.  God gave His toughest commandment to humanity when Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you.”  Loving one another may sound easy, but loving as Jesus loved us, to his own death, is hard.  Jesus asks each of us to take the love and understanding shown to us and pass it on to others.  I owe it to myself and others who live in this world with me, to at least try to understand the Christian ideal.  Each day I try to live by the ultimate Christian ideal, to love others as Jesus loves me.  I strive to see others as well as myself through God’s eyes.  For me, it’s easier to see others through God’s eyes rather than see myself through God’s eyes.  But I continue to work on recognizing God’s love of everyone, and expressing that love to all I encounter.  I must love others and myself in spite of our faults.  Each time I can forget myself and help someone else I’m putting the Christian ideal into practice.  I also desire to help others out by volunteering my time and giving to those less fortunate.  Volunteering is a great way to live out the Christian ideal because it’s an expression of loves towards God’s people.  I recently discovered that Jeeps Guyesky has spent every spring break on Habitat for Humanity, volunteering his vacation to help others.  Talk about an example of living out Christian ideals.  I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “God is first, others second; I am third” on numerous retreats throughout high school.  This is a perfect philosophy to live Christian ideals.  Our Christian ideals affect the ways we live throughout our entire lives. 

We need our ideals because without them we are aimless.  Our ideals give our lives direction, meaning, and purpose.  Without ideals I would be a nobody going nowhere.  If I didn’t establish goals to be nice or to spend time with my family, my time would be spent completely different. 

Our ideals are not always constant.  They can change, in fact they should change and will change as we mature and grow spiritually, mentally, and physically.  As I have changed and matured, my ideals have changed and matured.  My ideals are as unique as the movie of my life.  If I want to change them, only I can.  In looking at the movies of our lives last night we could probably see how our attitudes and ideals have changed and developed, toward friends, school, family, work, and other things.  For instance, my ideals have changed in many of these aspects.

Regarding friends – I used to go with the flow and wouldn’t say what was on my mind, just so I could fit in and maintain my group of friends.  I limited myself to a small, selective group of friends.  When I recognized how miserable I felt hiding my true beliefs, and how unhappy with myself I was, I changed my ideals.  Rather than agreeing with my friends’ ideals I discovered, developed and began to follow my own.  Now I view everyone as a friend and try to initiate many new friendships.  I don’t limit myself to a small select group of individuals to hang out with.  I take the time to get to know and talk to as many people as I can.  Because I realized that I needed to change my ideals I became comfortable and confident enough in myself to initiate friendships. 

My ideals also have changed regarding my family.  As I get older, especially as college grows nearer.  I learn more and more of how precious my time with my family is.  I foresee the near future when I won’t be living with my family anymore, I’ll be away at college, so I’ve established an ideal to cherish every moment with my family and be grateful that God has blessed me with them in my lives.  Sometimes I lose patience with my family and always regret doing so.  When I find myself not consistently following my ideals I take the time to gather my thoughts in order to keep myself in check and continue practicing my ideals. 

As we look back over our pasts, we may also notice that there were times when our actions were not consistent with our ideals.  All of us have times when we don’t live as we believe.  However, it’s important that we keep trying to live our ideals, despite our failures.  The effort is what counts.  I mentioned how I strive to live in the present.  Yet, I often dwell on my past mistakes, and tear myself down about them.  I want to be viewed as someone who works hard and genuinely loves others, but there are times that I roll out of bed, feeling so tired that I fail to “cowboy up” to put forth my best effort and energy at school.  But a saint is a sinner who keeps trying, so I learn from my failures and continue trying to live by my ideals the best I can.  I always feel the best about myself and everything in general when my actions are consistent to my ideals.  It’s like the feeling you get when you’ve worked so hard to achieve something and then you finally do.  Like when you cross the finish line of a big race.  A feeling of accomplishment and self-worth. 

There are also times when we aren’t aware of our ideals.  We can devote our time, energy, and effort to something without knowing why or what that something is.  For me, I discovered many of my ideals after putting them into practice.  When I began to hang out less with friends from school and more with my family I began to discover activities that I truly like doing, and found that I didn’t like stuff that I thought I always had.  On the route to self-discovery I realized that playing basketball at Lansing Catholic wasn’t something I enjoyed as much as I had thought.  I found that I was doing things because I always had, but I had lost touch with myself, and became unable to notice what really made me happy.  After realizing that I didn’t like some of the things I was doing I was able to discover the variety of things I really do enjoy doing, like spending time with my family, trying new things (I happen to love surfing!), and learning and studying.  The more I know of my ideals the better I can live them.  If I do not stand up for my own ideals, how can I respect myself and expect others to treat me with respect?  It is up to each of us to recognize our ideals because we are the only ones who can devote our entire lives to them. 

In order to discover some of our ideals, we might ask ourselves some questions.  I want you to write these down.  How do I spend my time?  What do I like to do?  What don’t I like to do?  When do I feel my best?  How do I view and treat myself and others?  Who do I admire, love and respect, and why?  Take some time right now to answer a few of those questions.  When I answer those questions I realize that I enjoy spending my time with my family, learning, coaching girls’ basketball and providing services to others.  However, I don’t like partying.  I always feel my best after doing something I love, or doing something for someone else and brightening their day.  For instance, I feel great selling my Italian water Ice to people who absolutely love it and smile as they eat it.  I love seeing others happy.  Of course I also feel great after doing something for myself, treating myself to something that I like as well.  I attempt to view others and myself through God’s eyes and treat others and myself with respect and dignity.  I admire all of my family because they show such great love for me and others and passion for what they do.  I tend to develop many of my ideals based on what my family members do out of love.  For instance, my parents began a Capital Area Cougars basketball program for young kids.  Although at first their time seemed consumed by the project, I learned that it was such a great thing they did for all these kids.  My desire to help others is influenced by their love of doing so as well.  Answering questions like those will help you discover where your heart is and what you value in life.  Your heart will be where your treasure is.  Don’t treasure possessions or pleasures. Possessions rust, rot, or fall apart.  Pleasure passes. 

Remember, all of us have ideals…ideals that determine the way we live.  Ideals give life its meaning.  It’s up to you to live your ideals.  I can live my ideals if I want to just as you can live your ideals if you want to.  Like I said earlier, an ideal is something in the head; an ideal is in the heart.  Therefore, the best way to discover your ideals is through reflection and listening to your heart.