Shattered Lives, Broken Hearts And Lost Religion (5029)

Cue R.E.M. singing, Losing My Religion.

I’ve said too much.

I haven’t said enough.

The quandary for a communicator.

When my children were young I remember telling them how they were cursed with a father who would likely go to the grave having said too much. I can’t fully explain the urge to connect and communicate with my children. Or anybody else I love. It’s a powerful urge.

One I mostly answer with rare exceptions.

The exceptions are when I sense little or no desire on the part of the other person. I quickly – usually – accept it and allow my introversion to kick into full gear. It’s easy really. To climb into my head and be alone there for extended periods of time.

Faith.

Nothing is more important. Nothing. And for good reason.

Eternity changes everything.

My faith isn’t blind or without compelling evidence. It’s based on the Bible and I know people can hurl barbs against “religion” and faith. It’s fine. I’m not too bothered by it. Mostly, I know how fortunate and blessed I am to have been taught the Truth of God’s Word. I hit the proverbial lottery because I didn’t have to go searching for God or the Truth. It was handed to me on a platinum platter. My wife and I did the same for our children.

Kevin Stevens is a 2-time Stanley Cup winning retired NHL’er. He played with the likes of Mario Lemieux and was an outstanding left winger for the Pittsburg Penguins. He earned over $21 million during his playing career (and that in an era where players didn’t earn many millions per season like today). He squandered it all. Wrecked his health. And his marriage. And his relationship with his kids. And his parents. And the rest of his family. And teammates who loved him.

He hurt everybody who loved him. Mostly, he hurt himself with heavy doses of shame, self-loathing and guilt.

Addiction will do that. Always. 100% of the time.

Every story is uniquely identical. 

Take a human being. Insert drugs – legal or otherwise – and watch the person turn their life completely around. Not in a good way.

180 degrees.

It happens every single time.

I’ve heard stories from dozens of people from all walks of life. All kinds of educational (or lack thereof) backgrounds. People engaged in every kind of work you can imagine. People with strong convictions based on faith and people who never had faith.

Mostly ordinary moral people living decent lives.

Then giving it all up.

Becoming immoral, reckless, selfish, despicable people steeped in shame and embarrassment. But refusing to face it because masking it is easier. Riding on a train track taking their lives into an abyss they never planned. Living in ways they never imagined possible. Finding their lives in a new normal that is deplorable compared to who they once were.

Loving nobody but themselves. Caring about nothing but how victimized they feel by anybody and everybody who has ever loved them.

Lying. Cheating. Stealing. Crawling into ever descending gutters of human choice they can find or create. All the while feeling worse and worse about themselves but unable or unwilling to change their course.

Take any breakable item you’d like. A nice plate. A favorite coffee cup. A bowl. Something you enjoy. Something you find valuable – not necessarily expensive, but something you esteem regularly because you use it and it brings you joy.

Throw it on the floor. Treat it as though it now no longer matters to you. Treat it as though it has betrayed you and made you angry. Break it into as many pieces as possible and see it scattered across the floor. Gone! Destroyed.

Unable to hold your morning coffee.

Unable to hold your favorite breakfast cereal or dessert.

The item you once loved now broken into so many pieces you can’t count them all. And you wonder, “How will I ever get this back together?”

Shattered lives are far more difficult to put back together though.

The glassware doesn’t fight your work to put it back together. People do.

The glassware doesn’t deny being broken. People do.

When a life goes off the rails and shatters, unlike the glassware – it breaks other lives, too. A bowl that hits the floor doesn’t cause the other bowls in the cupboard to break. But a human being does. When a life shatters, those who love that life are broken hearted. It can’t be prevented. It’s the price demanded by love.

Truth. Responsibility.

I’m hard pressed to find two terms that more properly define how we should live if we hope to contribute to humanity and live a meaningful life. These are choices we can make. Refusing them brings us shattered lives, broken hearts and loss of faith, and our soul. Our opportunity to provide light to the world – however much light one life can provide (which is quite a lot actually) – dissipates and eventually disappears when we refuse to choose truth and responsibility.

The alternative choice made by many is to lie to themselves and to others. Liars won’t bear responsibility. So it’s killing two ideals with one choice. An easy path to a wrecked life that corrupts all of us. Think your life has no impact on the rest of the world? That’s the biggest lie of all perhaps.

Lives that refuse to face the truth of themselves and their circumstances are doomed. Hopeless. How can it be anything else when you won’t stare down your problems with a determination to become better.

It’s all about improvement, not perfection.

It’s about growth, not achievement.

It’s about individual commitment to live a good life. A life dedicated to truth to responsibility.

The cause? Well, it can be almost anything. Immaturity. Selfishness. Substance abuse and addiction. Lack of self-control. Misplaced affections. Poor influences.

Whatever the impetus, shattered lives are the domain of accountable people capable of making a choice. In other words, they’re without excuse. It doesn’t mean there aren’t contributing reasons, but it means people willing to shatter their lives leaned into those reasons, opting to use them as excuses. In that regard, they choose to be victims. Victims of their own choosing. Even though they most often don’t see it that way. No surprise…because truth and responsibility don’t define how they live. They prefer lies, dishonesty, and fault-finding.

What do you do with a shattered life? It depends. On whose life it is.

If it’s yours, you get whatever help you must. I’m not bold enough (or crazy enough) to tell you to buck up and do what you must to get things fixed. Would that it were that easy. But it’s not. Ever.

We like smooth, easy, quick answers to really complex problems. It’s not realistic and often does more harm. Lives are complicated. Our problems are complex.

People can help us. But not until we’re ready.

Some people claim bravery is the first step, but bravery is quite a ways up the road from where the journey begins. It begins with some realization that this ain’t working. It’s that whole “coming to yourself” magic that every person must experience before growth or improvement can happen. Until we come to ourselves and realize the current habits of our life are not working to serve us – or anybody else who loves us – nothing is going to change. We’re closed off to any opportunity to become better human beings until our guilt, shame and whatever else we’re feeling is more than we can or want to handle. Hence, that proverbial rock bottom.

Others can see how shattered our lives are, but we’re always going to be the last to know. It’s the counter leadership phenomenon. Great leaders see the future first. Shattered lives see the truth last. It’s why people who eventually come to themselves all say (100% of them), “I can’t believe that was me!” They couldn’t see it even though everybody else could. By the time they see it, the shattering has likely gone on for quite some time wrecking everything in its path.

If the shattered life is somebody else’s – there’s nothing you can do to actively change it. It’s not your life. What you see doesn’t matter. It only matters what they see. Letting people we love shatter their life is difficult, but not really – because we’re powerless to stop them. Letting them go and enduring their bitterness toward people they’ve known and loved all their life is hard, but you can’t do one thing to prevent it. Shattered lives are built on lies, finger-pointing, excuse-making and not facing the truth. Don’t waste your time trying to figure it out because it’s a superior level of delusion that only other shattered lives see or understand.

Until the fog lifts.

Unless the fog lifts.

It doesn’t always lift. Sometimes the fog consumes people and they’re lost forever. The lucky and blessed ones hit some point in their lives where they give some consideration to an alternative. It’s why some people recovering from a shattered life express it like this…

“I suddenly thought, ‘What am I doing?'”

When life is so broken we look in the mirror and realize it’s us – we’ve done this – then we’re beginning to make a decision to lean into the truth. But only when we’re sick of the lies.

Shattered lives are wasted lives. Sadly, the waste isn’t confined to their life. Every shattered life has shattered the lives of people who care about them. Broken hearts are scattered in the wake of every shattered life.

Sadness. Shame. Embarrassment. Guilt. It’s all part of the territory owned by the shattered life. Again, it’s complicated. But the shattered life is so delusion-based it forces the remedy to be more complicated than it truly is. Again, it’s the polar opposite of great leadership.

Great leaders break down problems into the simplest terms so the solution can be quickly implemented. It’s one way great leaders are able to see the future first. They’ve solved the problem in their mind before they ever take any action.

The shattered life works in exactly the opposite way. The shattered life can’t see things for what they really are until everybody else has seen it first. They see it last. Largely because in their delusion they’ve overcomplicated everything. In their head, they’ve traveled too far down the road to change it. Their guilt and shame seem unfixable. They can’t break it down into the simplest terms so they can get started. So they don’t start. They continue to do what they did to shatter their life, spiraling down lower and lower. In search for the bottom.

Broken hearts know that bottom is relative. And there are no maps. For too many the bottom is death. Often by their own hands. Again, it’s the inability to see a solution to a problem that can be fixed.

Love leaves. First, it leaves a shattered life. When a life breaks love is a casualty. Love of self. Love of others. And very quickly, love of God because God IS love.

Peace and joy leave, too. Because those accompany truth and love.

Something has to fill that void left by the absence of love, peace and joy. Enter selfishness and the constant, never-satisfied pursuit to feel better. Just something else contributing to the delay of coming to oneself. Behaviors that shove the shattered life to the back of the line in recognizing the cause of the destruction.

Life goes from bad to worse, but momentary relief comes with an intense focus on every bad event, circumstance or mistreatment. Life morphs into a running scoreboard where every injustice is cataloged and relived. “See? That’s why it’s not my fault.”

Nevermind that 100% of humanity have endured countless injustices, bad events, misfortune, and poor treatment. Thankfully, not everybody concentrates on the negative. Many are able to stare down the poorest of circumstances and make the declaration, “That won’t define me.”

Giving up on God isn’t so surprising because the shattered life has first given up on themselves. It doesn’t appear so, at first, but it’s in essence what has happened. The shattered life abandons wisdom, responsibility and truth. With nothing else to lose and nobody else left to blame (because they’ve now run out of fingers with which to point), they aim as high as possible. Heaven. God.

It’s God’s fault. God did this to them.

All because they can’t see life – their life – for what it truly is.

All because they give themselves over to lies and deceit.

Jesus told a story in Luke 16:19-31 “Now there was a certain rich man, and he was clothed in purple and fine linen, faring sumptuously every day: and a certain beggar named Lazarus was laid at his gate, full of sores, and desiring to be fed with the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table; yea, even the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and that he was carried away by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: and the rich man also died, and was buried. And in Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things: but now here he is comforted, and thou art in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, that they that would pass from hence to you may not be able, and that none may cross over from thence to us. And he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house; for I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. But Abraham saith, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one go to them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, if one rise from the dead.”

There are some interesting facts brought out in this story. One, the rich man was blind. He didn’t see things as they truly were. His life was devoted to the delusion that this life was all about serving himself. He was successful, or so he thought. Shattered lives see life the same way. “I’m doing what I want.” Shattered lives serve only themselves and they think it’s just fine.

Two, the rich man didn’t think about God and Judgment until he understood he had it all wrong. Eternity changes things. Fact is, it changes everything. You don’t have to believe in God if you don’t want to. It doesn’t impact God’s existence. Or your ultimate accountability for how you live. Believe what you want. Deny what you want. Makes no bit of difference to the facts. Your lies don’t change anything except your vision to see things as they truly are. Just like this rich man.

Three, he knew there were no do-overs for him, but he didn’t want his brothers to end up in this same fate. Lost. He begged that the beggar Lazarus be sent back to earth from the grave to warn them.

Four, the BIG truth. Shattered lives won’t listen to anybody, even if somebody came back from the dead to warn them. The hard-headed blindness of the shattered life can’t be repaired by an outside influencer. It can only be fixed when the shattered life makes the declaration, “I want to see things as they really are. No matter how painful it may be to see it.”

Truth. That’s the only fix. And when truth is embraced…other things enter to help repair the damage done. Love. Peace. Forgiveness. Joy. These replace guilt, shame, embarrassment, resentment, blame and bitterness. Hardly seems like a fair fight, right? That’s because those of us who see it accurately are leaning toward wisdom. We see it, but those shattered lives that are part of our life break out hearts and lay us low. Vexing us with the nagging question, “Why can’t they see it?”

I have no answer. They just can’t. Better said, they just won’t see it.

It’s hard to look at the mess we make. Harder still to admit that we broke it.

But here’s the truth. When and if the shattered life can decide to look at it and own it…EVERYTHING IMPROVES. It’s the only path back. And depending on the depth and breadth of the shattering (which can be quite extensive), everything – EVERYTHING – is infinitely improved from what it was when the shattering just continued day after day. Not everything can be fixed, but shattered lives can be put back together. Repairs can be made. Forgiveness granted. Goodness restored. You’d think the upside would be apparent, but again, blindness is complete and total when you’re life is shattered.

Until you want to see.

Until you want to see the truth.

Until you’re ready to stare at it without blinking.

Until you’re ready to accept the fact that there’s no future in living a lie. No goodness. No love. No forgiveness. No remedy for guilt, shame and embarrassment.

Control. Restoration is about accepting control of our own life. Warts and all. Reclaiming our life is about realizing we alone shoulder the burden of crafting the quality of our life.

Gratitude. Restoration is also about recognizing how blessed we are. Shattered lives don’t experience any gratitude. But restored lives are filled with it. Consider the life of the Apostle Paul. If any man serving God faithfully could complain of his lot in life, it was Paul. But he was too busy counting his blessings. Too busy be appreciative of the opportunity the Lord gave him. Too busy being grateful for what awaited him after life here.

Long term. Restoration isn’t about short-term thinking. Shattered lives working toward repair are committed to the long haul. Life can be shattered in a moment. Restoration can take a lifetime. But your life will be as long as it’s going to be anyway, so you may as well devote your time to restoration and stop breaking your life. It’s like a person going to work every day from 9 to 5 and hating every second of it. Hating it won’t make it better. You’ve got to spend 9 to 5 there anyway…you may as well work harder to enjoy it, especially if you’re unable or unwilling to change it.

Hope is a wonderful thing. Shattered lives have given up on that, too. The list of good things sacrificed by shattered lives just keeps growing longer and longer as the person remains devoted to their broken life. Truth. Love. Joy. Peace. Forgiveness. Responsibility. Accountability. Hope. Such a high price!

In recent months I’ve been focused on forgiveness. Namely, how intently God wants to grant it because God is happy when He’s got the opportunity to forgive us. Why? Because He loves us.

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life.”

2Pet. 3:9 “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some count slackness; but is longsuffering to you-ward, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”

Shattered lives won’t see any of this. Because they can’t see they’re shattered.

In the meantime, those of us who love somebody with a shattered life…we endure the grief and knowledge that our vision does nothing to help them. But it curses us with the truth of having to watch them head straight for a crash. We pray they survive the crash and emerge willing to finally see things as they are. We pray they reach a place where they’re ready to give up all the dark horrors for the light.

Hope can be restored. So can love. Along with joy and peace. Responsibility and accountability. Faith, too. But only if truth precedes it all. Which means honesty must rule the moment, the day and all of life.

Shattered lives prepared to find mending decide that the cost of their actions is excessive. The sacrifices are too great. Too much downside, no upside.

Talk with people who surround the mended shattered life and you see as much joy among them as anybody. People who have patiently and anxiously waited for the person to come to themselves. And now people who couldn’t be happier if it had been their own life mended. It’s the compassion friends and family feel. People whose hearts were broken, but are now mended.

Shattered gives way to put back together.

Broken gives way to being mended.

Lost gives way to being found.

Randy

Last month I read an article entitled, “Ron Howard once explained why Opie’s attitude changed after the first season of The Andy Griffith Show.”

One little segment of the article grabbed my attention.

What would happen if Opie knew that Andy was smarter than him? How about if Opie actually respected his dad? I just thought it might be different.’

I’m betting you never knew that Ron Howard’s dad, Rance, influenced the show to completely change how Opie behaved, especially with Andy. It’s some valuable insight on parental wisdom.

Every parent is challenged by kids who think they know more than they do, and who think they understand more than they do.

Research tells us the human brain isn’t fully developed until around the age of 25. According to the University of Rochester Medical Center website, the rational part of a teen’s brain works very differently than adults. Adults think with the prefrontal cortex, the rational part of the brain. That’s the part of the brain that provides good judgment. Without that, you’ll never lean toward wisdom. It’s the part of your brain that calculates the long-term consequences. Teens live by processing things with the emotional part of their brain. In their brains, the connection between rational and emotional is still developing. That’s why teens live drama-filled lives. It’s also why they’re often unable to explain what they were thinking. “What were you thinking?” asks every parent! They don’t know because they weren’t thinking so much as they were feeling.

Parenting is hard. Really hard.

Grandparenting is way easier.

Partly because we now have a perspective we lacked when we were young. We can see things we’d have done differently. Plus, the burden of all the child-rearing decision making isn’t on us. When that pressure isn’t there on a daily basis…it changes everything. And that distance from these kids we love provides a mutual viewpoint – the way they see us and the way we see them – that serves us both. We’re able to model behavior so they have a role model to remember. They’re able to keep us lively and maintain sight of what it’s all about. That life is mostly about how much value we can provide one another.

As kids grow up, they hopefully become increasingly aware of how self-control looks. Teens are impulsive. Adults should not be. Instead, we hope to display thoughtful intentions to our kids. We want them to see that we’re making decisions with a long-term view. That’s why we don’t buy stupid crap. It’s why we save. It’s why we behave responsibly. We hope by showing our kids what wise behavior looks like, they’ll embrace their own lives of wisdom.

But that question that serves as the title of today’s show is fascinating. What would happen if kids knew their parents were smarter than them?

Sadly, I know some parents who aren’t smarter than their kids. Well, to be more accurate, they don’t behave smarter than their kids. Parents who are colossally selfish, highly emotional, short-term thinkers given to consistent impulsive behavior. What do their children think? Better yet, what do they feel?

I can only theorize, but it can’t be good for the parent. In what surely should be one of the most important relationships on the planet, kids should grow up respecting their parents not because it’s demanded (or just because God commands it) but because the parents behave in a way to warrant it. Too many don’t. They betray their children and forfeit respect.

The more I thought about the question the more I kept turning it around a bit. What would happen if parents were smarter than their kids and acted like it? Then, in keeping with the theme of this podcast I changed “smarter” to “wiser.”

What would happen if parents were wiser than their children and acted like it?

What would that look like? For the parents? For the children?

Rance Howard knew his son’s TV character, Opie Taylor, would behave more respectfully toward his TV dad, Andy. It would also change how Andy behaved toward his TV son. Turns out it did…and it wasn’t such a subtle change. Mostly because Rance Howard focused on one thing he felt was powerfully important as a parent and a child, R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

Cue Aretha!

It’s the bottom line way to ask the question of our time together today. What would happen if parents and children had mutual respect for one another? What would happen if children didn’t think their parents were moronic baffoons? What if parents thought how and what their children felt was worth understanding?

Too much to ask for? You think?

Permit an aging father to harken back to when my children were small. And permit me to tell those of you listening who may not yet know this about me – I’m a man of faith. God, the Bible and the Lord’s Church are supremely important. Just here some of you are thinking, “Here we go. He’s a religious nut who raised his kids to be members of his cult.” 😀 Quite the contrary. Questions were fostered. And that’s why I bring up this particular point of context.

Some parents embrace and bark quite loudly about the religious training of children. “Let THEM decide,” they shout. But they don’t let their children decide other, more mundane things. I know parents who barely let their children decide what sport they’d like to play.

I bring this up because it’s a very emotionally charged topic making it suitable for thought-provoking dialogue. Also, because I look back and know my wife and I got this whole respect thing right. So it’s worth revisiting with you for whatever benefit you may be able to gain. If you’re not religious, then replace that topic with the one you prefer. Politics? Morality? You decide.

We’re church-going folks. Rather than ram anything down the throats of our children we talked about it. Mostly our conversations revolved around one big question: WHY?

Why were we church-going people? Why did we attend the church we attended? Why did we believe what we believed? What was the source of religious authority for us? No questions were off-limits. Absolutely none.

By the time our children were in middle school they have asked a million questions. Well, I wasn’t keeping count, but it had to be close. They weren’t coerced or pressured. They were taught and trained, which is what every responsible parent does for their children. My wife and I taught them to be respectful to their teachers and classmates. We taught them to be appropriately cautious and equally, to be appropriately adventurous. We taught them to ask questions, although like most kids – that came quite naturally to their curious minds. Something we tried to always foster – their curiosity.

We were never the parents who held that “because I told you so” philosophy – although I admit it was ridiculously tempting on those days when it felt like we’d answered 1,000 questions. Dialogue and conversation was the order of every day. And that respect thing always fueled those conversations to sound more like adult-to-adult conversations. We were the parents who NEVER engaged in baby talk even when our kids were babies. (I still throw up a little bit in my mouth when I hear baby talk, but that’s a personal bias I have)

Our children respected us because we first respected them.

Our children knew we were smart because we recognized their smartness. We each proved our intellect daily to one another. As their parents, we proved our sense of good judgment every single day to our children. They saw our decision-making. They understood it, too – because we happily explained it. No major decisions were made by us in isolation. The kids were always involved, even if they didn’t always get a vote.

Whether it was religious, school, news, morality, philosophy or anything else — we fostered deep, ongoing dialogue. No question was foolish or stupid. In fact, we spent considerable time answering the unasked questions – the ones we felt should be asked. Remember, we were the adults in the relationship so we were the leaders!

And that brings up something else very important – leadership. Parents serve their children. It’s leadership at the highest level. Our children weren’t there to serve us. We owed them. They didn’t owe us. Well, to be fair…they only owed us the respect we deserved as their parents because of the respect we gave them first.

Our lives centered on our children. That’s how it should be. Together we were four individual people operating – sometimes more successfully than at other times – as one family unit.

That’s how it went until they were no longer children. And along the path of growing up – my wife and I also grew up. We grew up in the sense that at each age my wife and I embraced the growth of our children. Letting go wasn’t hard for us. We did it at every step of the journey.

Leaning Toward Wisdom began as documentation I could create for my children and future grandchildren (I didn’t have any when I began). Passing along life lessons. That was the goal. It still is.

The curiosity that once ruled my house when the kids were small still lives. Today, it’s alive in the kids of my kids. But it’s alive in my life and my wife’s life, too.

Respect isn’t always what it should be. I don’t suppose it ever is. Mostly because people love to judge. And because sometimes things happen that cause people to lose their way – and sometimes to lose themselves.

Life happens. Sometimes the toll is high. Sometimes our own foolishness puts us in a spin where we’re unable to grab the controls of our lives and prevent from hitting the oncoming mountain. But as parents, it’s our job to help our children stay safe, learn wisdom and learn respect – for themselves and for others. And in my house, for God, too.

What would happen if kids knew their parents were smarter than them?

I can answer it. They’d accelerate their learning. The kids would most benefit. Far more than their parents. But both would grow. Hopefully, together. And embrace the respect that would serve kids and parents to have a solid relationship the rest of their lives. How cool would that be?

Here’s a link to the Instagram post that caught my eye when it was posted just Wednesday. The photo is an older gentleman laying on his side, leaning on one arm – in what appears to be a park. He’s somewhere in Paris, even though the Instagram account is HumansFromNY. Sometimes the posts are from other places. It’s a fascinating account. The gentleman pictured looks like Walter Matthau.

The post copy says this:

“One day she told me she was getting a lawyer. I tried to play catch-up, but it was too late. Apparently I wasn’t enough of a leader in the relationship. We’d fallen into too much of a routine. Or at least that’s what I was told. I’ve been alone for thirteen years now. The hardest part for me was losing the sense of family. My youngest daughter barely speaks to me anymore. I’ve seen her maybe fifteen times since the divorce. I have a five-month-old granddaughter that I haven’t even met. I don’t understand it. I wasn’t that bad. I didn’t openly argue with their mother. I never had an affair. I was present. I was affectionate. Maybe I was a little strict, but she was a tough teenager. We were afraid for her. She was only fifteen and going to nightclubs. There was a lot of screaming back then: ‘you’re an asshole,’ ‘you’re not my father,’ things like that. And maybe her mind is still locked in that time. Now we speak maybe once a year. Whenever I ask her about it, she feels attacked. It’s awkward. There’s no familiarity anymore. And it’s not getting any better. Time is working against us. Because I feel like I’m losing the feeling of being a dad. Of loving. Of caring. Obviously that’s not true, or I wouldn’t be talking about it. But everything fades eventually. At least when someone dies, you can mourn. It’s so much harder when someone just disappears.” (Paris, France)

A recent headline captured my attention.

Selena Gomez Says Her Girl Squad Kept Her From Hitting Rock Bottom

Not because I’m a Selena Gomez fan or follower, but because I have had people in my life who struggled with making poor decisions. I’m in no position to dispute or comment on Selena’s life or struggles. I’ve read enough to know that like many young performers she’s had her share of life struggles. Beyond that, nothing is clear to me.

She’s human. She struggles sometimes. She’s from here in the DFW area where life was hard. Poverty and the assorted ailments that accompany it were part of her life.

She hit big by getting on the Hannah Montana show and by 16 she had a recording contract. I respect what I know of her rags to riches story. But once again I stress – she’s human. She struggles sometimes.

I hope she’s doing well. And perhaps her girl squad indeed did keep her from hitting rock bottom. Let’s assume hitting rock bottom wouldn’t have been a good thing for her – the catalyst to propel her forward. We hope people who hit rock bottom use it for their benefit, but some (perhaps most) don’t. Selena may be among them. I don’t know.

Hitting rock bottom has been on my mind for the past 6 months or so. Sparked by somebody I care deeply about. Somebody behaving dangerously. A life filled with self-destruction. A life that went from serving and helping others to a life immersed in selfishness and hurt. A wasted life. We’ve all seen it happen. Many of us have seen it happen to somebody we know – or used to know – well. We lament that we’re unable to influence them to find their way back to a more positive way of life. A life that’s profitable for them and others.

I’m not mathematically or scientifically inclined, but if I were – and if I were young – I’d head straight into neuroscience and psychology. I was looking around at the books that surround me. Mostly, my books fall into a handful of categories:

a. Religious (Bible commentaries, Bible dictionaries, biographies, debates and more)

b. Business (that includes biographies)

c. Psychology (the mind, why people do what they do, etc.)

d. Other (the smallest category includes satire, non-business biographies, etc.)

Psychology has always been a top topic of interest and curiosity for me. My own. And others.

Watching people. Trying to figure them out. Always favorite things. But I’m a natural born noticer.

Even so, some behaviors are difficult – if not impossible – to fully understand. At least neuroscience and psychology provide some answers.

Brain chemistry is increasingly fascinating to me. I wish I could better understand it but I have a hard enough time connecting dots on beliefs, assumptions, perspectives, emotions, motivations, drives and all the other things that compel behavior.

There’s a story in the Bible, a parable actually. The Lord told the story in Luke 15:11-32.

And he said, A certain man had two sons: and the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of thy substance that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living. And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together and took his journey into a far country; and there he wasted his substance with riotous living. And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that country; and he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. But when he came to himself he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight: I am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. And he arose, and came to his father. But while he was yet afar off, his father saw him, and was moved with compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight: I am no more worthy to be called thy son. But the father said to his servants, Bring forth quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: and bring the fatted calf, and kill it, and let us eat, and make merry: for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry. Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called to him one of the servants, and inquired what these things might be. And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. But he was angry, and would not go in: and his father came out, and entreated him. But he answered and said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, and I never transgressed a commandment of thine; and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: but when this thy son came, who hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou killedst for him the fatted calf. And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that is mine is thine. But it was meet to make merry and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.

Here’s a son who hit bottom and it was exactly what needed to happen so he could reach higher ground. His pig pen moment was his salvation. What would have happened if he hadn’t hit rock bottom? Do we dare figure that his life would have never been what it became? He likely would have never returned home. His entire life would have been wasted…not just his inheritance. Luckily he ran out of money and it was the best thing to happen to him.

It’s only natural to want to spare people pain. We care about people and don’t want them to suffer. Unfortunately, suffering is exactly what some people need – like the prodigal. Without it, no growth. No improvement.

Helping Others Figure It Out

Over at my GrowGreat.com podcast – a business podcast – I’m constantly saying, “you’ll figure it out.” My role is to help leaders do that. Fact is, it’s our role – all of us individually and collectively – to help one another figure it out (whatever IT is).

Enabling. We hear that word a lot when people are wrestling with how to help friends or family bent on destructive behavior. It’s not what we intend to do – enable people to behave badly – but it’s the net result. That fine line between accepting and facing responsibility or being protected from it. Accountability is often missing.

Poor behavior often begets more poor behavior. A downward spiral can be hard to correct because there’s insufficient motivation to do it.

Alcohol, pills, drugs, crime, immorality, dishonesty…we’re all capable of bad behavior. Sometimes it’s due to poor or lost character. People change. They abandon beliefs and qualities that once served them to keep them on track. Poor choices that set people on a course from which they don’t correct unless or until something forces a change. The value of rock bottom.

Helping people is hard.  Preventing people from learning – that could be the result of keeping people from hitting rock bottom. We think we’re helping, but we may be actually helping them get in the way of their own growth and improvement.

Bad events are sometimes blessings.

Bad things happen to everybody. They’re not unique to just you. Nor are they unique to only those we may think are deserving. Bad things happen to good people and bad people alike.

Some years ago the Psychology Today website published a blog post entitled, “Bad Things Happen To Everyone.”

The article points out that when adversity strikes we have two choices: accept it or suffer. It’s the stuff of optimism versus pessimism. We either understand (and truly recognize) that we’re not cursed. That our bad events and circumstances are temporary. We commit to doing what we must to get through it so we can emerge victorious on the other side.

Or…

We embrace that we’re a victim. The universe is conspiring against us. Our self-talk is filled with telling ourselves, “Why do things like this always happen to me?”

Mary is 18 and depressed. Home life isn’t safe. Alcoholic parents prone to drug use have taken a toll on Mary. She starts cutting herself. It’s her senior year in high school and she has no prospects for the future. One evening she cuts herself too deeply and ends up in the hospital. She just about killed herself.

Linda is a 19-year-old college freshman working as a volunteer in the hospital. Serendipity brings these two girls together.

Linda wants to pursue social work of some sort. That’s what took her to this hospital work where a chance encounter with Mary began a friendship that would serve both girls.

Mary, laying in the hospital and enduring psychiatric help for the first time in her life, readily confesses that had this low, low moment not happened – she’d likely be dead. Medical, psychiatric help and Linda helped save her life. The bottom was her way up. And out.

Mary confesses that had she not hit her version of the bottom…she has no idea how her life may have worked out.

Like many people, I’ve been impacted by the current opioid crisis. In the past year, I’ve encountered so many families who have been touched by this crisis. The many stories I hear are heart-wrenching. Stories of what were once good people – responsible people – who over time, under the influence of prescribed pain killers lose themselves.

I’ve heard dozens of stories, mostly from people themselves – people who surrendered to the pain killers prescribed to them. Thankfully, these were the ones who found rock bottom and made the wise choice to climb up and out. I always wonder about those whose story ends in failure. Even the success stories are filled with sadness and loss. Hitting rock bottom can serve us, but it can take e heavy toll on those around us. Those who love us the most.

His real name isn’t Bob, but Bob injured his back while on the job. That was 18 years ago. The pain grew in spite of 2 surgeries. Bob wound up going to a pain management doctor where fentanyl patches were prescribed. At first, Bob felt like his life had been saved.

Bob’s life was a mess though. He’d grown distanced from his wife. The kids weren’t close to him. He felt the guilt of not being the husband or father he knew he should be. The kind of man he knew he could be. The guilt was often so oppressive he couldn’t stand it. So he drank.

A doctor also prescribed some anti-anxiety and anti-depressants to help Bob cope. They didn’t. Help. They did alter his personality. So much so that the kids wondered what had happened to him. He spoke differently, behaved differently and reacted differently. They knew dad drank too much sometimes, but they didn’t have all the facts of how medications were ruling his life – and altering his brain chemistry. Nobody did. Not even Bob.

Bob missed more work. Spent more days in bed than he could track. His life consisted mostly of him chasing a feeling. A feeling of no pain. A feeling void of anxiety. Bob wasn’t happy and couldn’t remember the last he had been. Guilt was increasing, but he was committed to hiding. Lies and fronting were daily habits for him.

Until one day he returned home from work to an empty house. His wife of 12 years and his two children were gone. All their clothing. All their personal possessions. On the kitchen table was a large manila envelope. Inside divorce papers and a letter from his wife. It was over. She’d had enough.

Bob was angry. You might think this was bottom, but it wasn’t. Bob was resentful, bitter and mad. He hadn’t done anything wrong. He was suffering. His boss. His wife. His children. Nobody understood. This was all their fault.

So Bob drank.

One early evening Bob was driving to the store. He was still being treated with Fentanyl patches and a variety of other medications prescribed by his therapist. He was crafty with the alcohol and was able to manage to abstain for days prior to pain management visits where he was routinely drug tested. But this evening things would go horribly bad. Bob hadn’t yet hit rock bottom.

It had been a few months since the family left. His wife, determined to move forward with the divorce, was unwavering. Bob just grew increasingly angry with her. All day on this Saturday he’d spent the day feeling sorry for himself…and blaming all the people who surrounded him. So off to the store he went after having finished what was left of the last six-pack. Intent on buying more beer. Maybe even something stronger.

He exited the store, got in his car and pulled out of the store parking lot. About 2 blocks away it happened. A jogger wearing a reflective vest and a headband with a light on it suddenly hit the right front portion of his car. He slammed on the brakes, jumped out and saw her laying on the pavement unconscious and bleeding. Another car coming from the opposite direction had stopped and was already calling 9-1-1.

Police came. EMTs, too. The jogger was taken to the hospital. Bob, after failing a field sobriety test, was arrested and taken to jail.

Welcome to rock bottom, Bob.

Bob sat in jail wondering how in the world he had ever ended up here. He wasn’t guilty of anything other than having hurt his back on the job many years ago. People didn’t understand how badly he felt. Nobody understood. This was all a big mistake, but he was innocent.

Here we are a few years removed and today Bob admits, “I knew it was all my fault. I just refused to accept reality. I was in such a fog I didn’t know which end was up. I absolutely knew this was down though.”

Bob’s story is like so many I’ve heard over the last year. They’re all the same. And it’s fascinating to me. They are ALL exactly the same!

Bob continues, “I lost my wife and family. At least today I have a decent relationship with my kids, but it’ll never be what it should be. And it’s my fault.”

“I can’t believe that was me,” says Bob. And that’s what I have heard over and over from everybody who finds their way out of the prescribed pain killer abyss. That expression, or one very similar, is uttered by every single person I’ve talked with who found their way beyond prescribed opioids.

Here’s the funny thing about hitting rock bottom. It often involves an outside stimulus. Namely, a substance or substances. Alcohol. Drugs. Prescribed or otherwise. Addiction. To something.

Me? I’m especially interested in opioids because that’s the very reason I’m quite interested in rock bottom. My only interest in hitting rock bottom is the good it can accomplish. Like many other people who have lost people they love to various issues, I want the very best for the person I love. But right now they’re lost seemingly unable to find their way back home. And it wrecks me.

But I know my bottom isn’t their bottom. They have to hit their own or they’re not likely going to alter their course. And I know it won’t end well if they don’t figure this out.

Bob’s words and all the other stories of the many others ring in my ears. “It’s like it wasn’t me.”

Each person behaved in ways that were 180 degrees from how they once behaved. They betrayed spouses, children, family, friends, faith and whatever else had once been valuable to them. Some were able to climb out of the bottom and regain much of what they lost. None walked away fully whole. Every single one paid a very high price, but each one is thankful today that they didn’t lose more.

“I just can’t believe I did that.”

“I would have never believed I could do that.”

Words of profound bewilderment about their own choices and behaviors.

Bob’s victim fully recovered. He accepted a deal with the district attorney to plead guilty. He served on prison time, but between the criminal ordeal and the civil suit filed by the jogger…Bob lost everything he had. And more. He’ll spend the rest of his life paying off a debt he knows he can’t repay.

Alimony to the wife he forsook.

Child support to the children he didn’t serve.

Money to the jogger whose life he disrupted.

Fines and attorney fees to the society he failed.

One big colossal failure. That’s how Bob eventually saw his life. But only when he hit rock bottom. In spite of all the loss, Bob is a very different man. Today he’ll tell you he’s the man his wife married. No matter that she’s not going to take him back, she’s happy he’s found himself. At least he’s not the miserable human being he once was around their children.

Bob got his life back. His career is on track toward heights that wouldn’t have been possible with the opioids. His children are beginning to gain respect for their father…again. He struggles with forgiving himself for all the damage he’s done, but he’ll tell you he’s getting better each week. “It’s a process,” says Bob. “I know I’ll be in this process the rest of my life, but at least today I have a life.”

What’s most fascinating to me about hitting rock bottom – and the lives of those who need it most – is the story of the prior life. These folks were responsible, upstanding citizens. Most will tell you they were once morally upright, too. “I would have never cheated on my spouse,” is a common refrain. But they did. “I would have never lost our life savings,” say others. But they did. “I would have never jeopardized my career,” say some. But they did.

Each and every one was once something very different than who they became. They look back after hitting rock bottom and none can recognize the person they became. The person who needed to hit rock bottom.

How can we help them?

That’s the question I wish I could answer, but I’m going to disappoint you. I don’t have an answer. That’s the subject of my own pain. Desperately wanting to help somebody I love find their way back to who they once were – to who they truly are.

Character. It’s at the heart of the fall people take when they surrender to bad things like addiction. Their character fades. The beliefs and convictions that once ruled their life give way to utter selfishness. Whatever compass guided their lives disappears in a life devoted to doing only what they want to do. Everybody else in their life is the cause of their pain and suffering. Their brain thinks they deserve whatever they want. So they pursue whatever makes them feel good at the moment. But it never lasts…keeping them on the merry-go-round of always chasing, never catching.

The recovery of character, self-respect, and self-forgiveness are compelling reasons for not standing in the way of letting those we love hit rock bottom. Sadly, there are no signs to tell us “Welcome, You’ve Just Hit Rock Bottom.” But we know it when we see it. And it either kills us or helps us look up to see blue sky and work like crazy to get back up.

Making Less More

Note: This post originally appeared only to the private Facebook group. If you want inside, just click here.

IS IT ESSENTIAL?

DOES IT MATTER?

DO YOU CARE ABOUT IT?

HOW MUCH DO YOU CARE ABOUT IT?

He was Oklahoma’s favorite son. For good reason. He died 84 years ago this coming August.

Coming soon — an episode (perhaps an entire series of episodes) on simplicity, essentials, less, contentment, and significance.

My fascination with minimalism began when I first started reading about a guy named Leo Babauta who lived in Guam. It was a profile on him talking about how he’d dramatically altered his life. He had just begun a new blog called Zen Habits. His blog was among the very first ones that I subscribed to using an RSS reader (remember those?). That was umpteen years ago, but it began my curiosity about minimalism as a lifestyle (when I was a kid we’d have said, “What’s that? Living like a monk?”).

This is the year — the year I’m going to personally begin the metamorphosis. I’m trying to figure out how I’m going to go about it and how I’m going to document it. But I’m emotionally, mentally and physically committed to getting it done. Managing the expectations of it has been the hardest thing to figure out. But today – for some unknown reason – I made up my mind to put just a single expectation on it: to get it done. No deadline. No timeline.

Today’s spark helped me diminish (not eliminate) the fretfulness in trying to decide in my head, “What will I get rid of?”

The rational part of me understands the notion that if I’ve not touched it in a year (pick whatever timeframe suits you), then I’m not likely going to miss it. But such thoughts send you down the bunny trail of other thoughts. For instance, “Will I regret getting rid of it?” That’s a different question that provides a different answer. I’ve got boxes of stuff I’ve not looked at in a long, long time. But I may regret getting rid of it just the same.

Enter the phrase, “Build a bridge and get over it.” Which is what I’m planning to do. Honestly, I’m going into this emotional/mental phase – the phase just prior to beginning the physical “doing” part – with the determination to see how far I can take it. In other words, how much stuff can I eliminate in my life? How few things – tangible things – can I make part of my daily life? I suspect I can rid my life of more than 80% of everything.

Some things won’t be hard. Wardrobe. I’m not a clotheshorse. Suits, ties, and dress shirts – those stay. I need them mostly for church. But daily wardrobe challenges can easily be met with sameness. I enjoy sameness so the black jeans and whatever else might make up some daily wear doesn’t frighten me.

Books. This will be near the top of my challenges. But I plan to go through and simply pose a 3-word challenge: yes, no, maybe. Yes, will stay. No will go. Maybe I’ll think about, but not too long.

Music. I’ve got thousands of CDs. Legally, I need to retain them even though I’ve ripped nearly all of them. I fret about the digital archive crashing some day. Hard drives do fail. It’s a big investment and one I enjoy daily – like books. So it’s a concern.

Kitchen. I’m already a minimalist in this department. I’ve got one bowl I use for nearly everything. From cereal to steamed broccoli to whatever else. One bowl. I’ve got one glass. A glow-in-the-dark drink container that has made an appearance in some videos I’m sure. It’s the only one I ever use. EVER. And I’ve got 2 (count ’em) forks. I suppose I can add one spoon to the mix and one good knife. Other than that I’ve got one good baking sheet, a good stick-free skillet and a flipper. I could just about ditch everything else, but Rhonda will have ideas.*

*NOTE: This is MY deal. I’m not imposing this on Rhonda.

The Yellow Studio. This is among the many reasons I’m trying to crowdfund a RODE RODECASTER PRO. The Yellow Studio is filled with yards of cables, tons of gear and big boom arms for the microphones. Mixers, preamps, compressors. It’s just too much. And too complex. I want more room – more open space here inside The Yellow Studio.

**WANT TO HELP ME GET A RODECASTER PRO?**

Go to this page and learn how: https://leaningtowardwisdom.com/support-the-podcast/

Keepsakes and memories. These can also present a challenge. But I’m determined that if it hasn’t got anything to do with family or exceptionally close friends, then it’s going away. The boxes of stuff I have from my years running companies is staggering. It’s going into the fire (wherever the fire is if there indeed is one).

So that’s the deal.

Tomorrow around noon I’m going dark. Email, social media, and the whole 9 yards. I’m going to think through this, do some reading, have some conversations with Rhonda and figure out a plan of attack, then Lord willing, in a week or so the task will begin.

Got any thoughts or wisdom you’d like to share? Well, the only place to do that is inside the private Facebook group.

And now, it’s time to step away a bit. As you know, I do this fairly regularly when I feel the need. It’s the introversion kicking in where I know I need to retreat to up my energy.

Thanks,
Randy

The Going Up Was Worth The Coming Down (5026)

See him wasted on the sidewalk in his jacket and his jeans,
Wearing yesterday’s misfortunes like a smile.
Once he had a future full of money, love, and dreams,
Which he spent like they was going out of style,
And he keeps right on a’changing for the better or the worse,
Searching for a shrine he’s never found,
Never knowing if believing is a blessing or a curse,
Or if the going up was worth the coming down.

He’s a poet, he’s a picker,
He’s a prophet, he’s a pusher,
He’s a pilgrim and a preacher, and a problem when he’s stoned.
He’s a walking contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction,
Taking every wrong direction on his lonely way back home.

He has tasted good and evil in your bedrooms and your bars,
And he’s traded in tomorrow for today.
Running from his devils, Lord, and reaching for the stars,
And losing all he’s loved along the way.
But if this world keeps right on turning for the better or the worse,
And all he ever gets is older and around,
From the rocking of the cradle to the rolling of the hearse,
The going up was worth the comin’ down.

He’s a poet, he’s a picker,
He’s a prophet, he’s a pusher,
He’s a pilgrim and a preacher, and a problem when he’s stoned.
He’s a walking contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction,
Taking every wrong direction on his lonely way back home.

The lyrics are by Kris Kristofferson. The song is “The Pilgrim, Chapter 33.” It appeared on his second album released in 1971, “The Silver Tongued Devil and I.” The man can write. This song has so many great lines it’s tough to single in on any one of them. You know me, few things captivate me like a great lyric and this song could supply at least half a dozen episodes.

Many people have experienced it. Both the going up and the coming down.

Sometimes I get on a biography roll. Reading them. Watching them on TV. A week or so ago while doing some writing and other computer work I decided to stay tuned to the NFL Network and watch a series of episodes of A Football Life. It featured coaches. Mike Ditka. Mike Holmgren. Marty Schottenheimer. Don Shula. Jimmy Johnson. Bill Cowher. And more. It was a nice biography marathon.

Great football coaches. Different each and every one. Some won more than others. But Mike Ditka, perhaps the fiercest of them all – certainly the biggest bull in the china closet – used Kristofferson’s line at the end of his episode, “The going up was worth the comin’ down.”

I was in my early teens when I first heard Kristofferson. We mostly knew him for the song made famous by Janis Joplin, “Me and Bobby McGee.” He was flying helicopters in southern Louisiana for an off-shore oil company when he wrote it. For some reason, I remember that. I likely read it in Rolling Stone. And likely remember it because I was living in Louisiana.

Even as a kid I was a sucker for a good line. Kristofferson could write great lines. Not surprising since he was a Rhode scholar at Oxford and proficient in the English language. He had 2 of the 3 skills I most admire: language and music. Art, specifically cartooning, is the 3rd. For all I know Kris is a great closet cartoonist. Wouldn’t that be something? 😉

Going up. Coming down.

Of course, going up is worth coming down – assuming you survive the coming down. Velocity will determine that. If you come down fast enough, you’ll hit hard enough…it’ll kill ya! Worth it? Well, it depends.

It depends on how high you went and how old you are when you come down. Ideally, you go very high, stay there for years, and toward the end of your natural life – say somewhere around 100 – you crash and burn. Totally worth it!

But if you go up to step ladder height and you’re not yet a teenager, but you fall and hit your head, killing yourself (or worse)…so NOT worth it. But I doubt Kris was scrutinizing the line so much. Many good lines can be ruined by over examination. Just take ’em as they come and don’t rob them of their glory.

Up. Down.

Ebb. Flow.

Plus. Minus.

On. Off.

Good. Bad.

Happy. Sad.

Life is made up of contrasting experiences and emotions. Life isn’t a hi-light reel. Or a brilliant Instagram moment. It’s a lot of defeat, angst, and wrestling with what to do. The going up is fueled because we’re tired of being down!

Coming down is the price paid for climbing up. We all know that going up won’t result in a permanent condition, but still we give it all we’ve got because the time spent there is worth it.

Like all forms of entropy, coming down can be a permanent condition. Well, there’s always new lows to achieve I suppose, but defeat can absolutely be a lifelong obsession if we allow it.

When people we love lose their way whether it’s physical sickness, mental illness, addiction or any number of other maladies that can ruin us…we often make a wishful declaration about their need to hit rock bottom.

“I hope they hit rock bottom and realize what they need to change before it’s too late.”

Rock bottom is that proverbial place that can help us see more clearly. It’s only proverbial in the sense that we have a hard time quantifying it, but we know it when we see it. It’s a real place with an improper description. Rock bottom implies it’s as low as a person can go, but mostly we realize there’s always a new lower level to which one can sink. Ruin and despair have no bottom.

But elation and success have no limit either. How high is high enough? Nobody knows because nobody ever arrived. The capacity for human improvement is never fully realized. Measure it any way you choose and the best you’ll be able to do is to compare it to somebody else. What a flimsy way to measure it. Your current state may best mine, but that offers little insights on what either of us is capable of. What’s possible for you may be impossible for me. And vice versa. In the end, how you stack up to me, or anybody else is of no consequence.

Then why do we spend so much time examining the going up and the going down of other people?

Because the comparisons help us feel better about ourselves. Or worse. Sometimes we enjoy feeling worse. Sometimes we don’t.

The irony of ironies is that most of our comparisons are to people we don’t really know or care about. That Instagram influencer. That book author. That keynote speaker. That CEO. That YouTube star.

It’s the people on the list. Any list.

The top 1000 influencers.

The top 30 under 30. The top 40 under 40.

The Fortune 100. The Fortune 500.

Guruism. Hero worship. It’s likely more envy than worship for many.

We’re down compared to their up. There goes optimism. Enter all the negative emotions of feeling like we’re doing something wrong. The whole world is on some exotic vacation while I’m struggling to make the car payment each month. It’s the reality we see.

Completely fake, but it’s still the story we tell ourselves. The view we think accurately depicts how pathetic we truly are. Nevermind that REM is still singing the anthem to the universe, “Everybody hurts…sometimes.”

So we see the coming down. Maybe even cheering it along when it happens. That whole build them up so we can knock them down thing we seem to enjoy as a sport.

We’re not in the news so there’s that! Thankful we’re not in their shoes. Never mind that we still owe $87 on our credit card for these shoes, but those idiots could be headed to prison. Whew! Our life isn’t so bad after all.

All the conflicting thoughts and ideas we hold – at the same time – is fascinating. Envious of the rich and famous. Relief that we’re so much better than the rich and infamous. Drawn to the interesting people while simultaneously yearning for some peaceful monotony where we can just be with people we love.

Hello Ying, meet Yang.

It’s the push-pull of our lives. The going up versus the coming down. The climbing up versus the falling down.

Must we fall down? Well, we’re puzzled by those who choose to climb down. The ones who walk away from what we perceive to be a grand life — why in the world would they do that? Something must be wrong with them? You don’t climb down when you’re at the top. You wait until you’re pushed, or you fall because you just couldn’t maintain your footing at that altitude any longer. Again, it’s the story we prefer. Mostly because we may not feel we’ve ever experienced going up.

We’re wrong. Deluded.

What if THIS is up?

There’s a phenomenon I understood back in my 20’s. Namely, that the water level of how we live is tough to change. We think when we earn a certain income, then we’ll feel like we’re up. That’s what success certainly will feel like.

But when we arrive there it feels no different than any other altitude we’ve ever occupied. Within mere months (folks who claim to know tell us within 90 days or so) our lives are pretty much as before. Warts and all.

Even lottery winners who gain vast sums learn the hard way that life largely goes unchanged except for new toys and new heartaches. Just today I saw that a 24-year-old young man, Manuel Franco, in Wisconsin won the Powerball lottery.

Franco is taking the $477 million lump sum payment from Wisconsin Lottery. He told reporters he does not plan to play Powerball again.

Odds are his life will be forever changed. Odds are his life won’t be changed for the better, but we’ll see. He’s got much more to fret and worry about now. Like him, we only imagine the upside of such events. “Wouldn’t it be great?” we think. Parts of it might. But it makes me wonder if the going up is worth the coming down. It isn’t always.

I’ve been married to the same woman for over 41 years. It’s been intentional. I love her. She’s likely tired of me. 😉

I know people who can’t imagine such a life. BORING! Unexciting.

The other day I was talking with somebody about my hope to see at least the beginning of a shift. A shift away from pundits, gurus, and influencers. A shift away from so many feeling the need to brag about themselves and how special they are compared to the rest of us mere mortals. A shift away from the pompous arrogance that permeates probably every culture on the planet.

What would I love to see in its place?

A shift to focus on the collective. A shift toward the realization that a single exceptional life isn’t restricted to a person we think has lived an interesting life because of some extraordinary circumstances or accomplishes. But rather a shift toward focusing on the collective power that fuels every individual life on the planet.

A focus on the WE rather than I.

I’m optimistic but realistic. It won’t likely happen, but it’s a nice thought. And I bring it up because of this going up and coming down roller coaster that depicts all our lives.

Some can view my marriage as mundane, boring and uneventful. Never mind that I’m kinda drawn to mundane, boring and uneventful. 😀

A man who has been married 3 times may well have more stories to tell. And perhaps more interesting stories.

Which of us is up? Which of us is down? One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor.

Kristofferson got it right. The going up was worth the coming down. It’s called living. We’re all doing it. Some better than others. Some wiser than others. Some doing it as well as they can. Others not trying very hard at all to do it well.

My conclusion isn’t so profound really. Can we be better human beings? Can we provide value to others? Can we serve our family and friends? Or do we provide problems for others? Do we provide pain and suffering? Are we trying to serve others, or are we too busy serving ourselves – and lamenting why others aren’t serving us better?

Optimism. Pessimism.

Doing our best to lean toward wisdom.

Doing our best to lean into whatever impulses fuel our desires. Never mind about you. It’s about me.

You gotta serve somebody. It seems to me the going up is worth the coming down if we get that part of it right. If we get it wrong, then it’s not likely going to matter. Our life is just one downward spiral of selfishness.

It’s not the fall that kills you. It’s the landing.