It’s a very big question. And I may have misworded it. The last part at least. Maybe it’s not about fixing everything. Maybe it’s about making a big change – the one you most want to make. But I decided to go as big as I could with it. Mission accomplished I think.
What if you were just one decision away from fixing everything?
I’m somewhat obsessed with growth, improvement, and transformation. Mostly my own because I figure I’ve got so much room for it. It’s not a humblebrag. It’s reality. But I’m not alone. We’ve all got room for plenty of growth, improvement, and transformation.
It’s not easy stuff. Highly uncomfortable. But worth it. The pressure to improve is more attractive to some than others.
I live in Dallas/Ft. Worth, but I’m an avid OU Sooner fan. I was traveling back home from a Thanksgiving trip when social media began reporting that OU football coach Lincoln Riley might be leaving Norman, Oklahoma heading to the University of Southern California. Riley had been a fixture in Norman for about 7 years, 5 of them as the head coach.
A few days later Brian Kelly left South Bend and Notre Dame to become the head honcho in Baton Rouge at LSU.
A week passed as Sooner fans anxiously waited to see who the next football coach would be. In the meanwhile, we were all pleased that Bob Stoops agreed to be the interim coach, willing to take the team to play Oregon in the Alamo Bowl.
Saturday evening, following the conference championship games, news began to spread fast that Brent Venables, D coordinator for Clemson for the past decade, and previous member of Bob Stoops’ coaching staff, would be named the next OU football coach. Just about every fan suspected as much almost as soon as Lincoln Riley fled Norman.
You’re not alright as you are!
You can be better. So can I.
That doesn’t mean we berate ourselves. Or discount our value and worth. It just means we’ve still got work to do today. Then tomorrow, we’ll have yet more work to do. And the day after that, and after that. Until we die. Until we run out of days.
Until we run out of days why should we run out of hope?
The potential future is the hope or the despair that afflicts us all.
Reflexive empathy is when you see someone experiencing emotional or physical trauma and you ‘feel their pain’ and will have a desire to relieve their suffering. But you can’t help everybody. And you can’t help just anybody. Sometimes you’re just not the right person for the task. It takes experience and wisdom to figure that out.
I’ve gone on record that in my dozen years of professional coaching, I’ve had ONE person who I wasn’t able to help because he just wouldn’t let me. Closed off. Non-responsive. Non-communicative. Guarded. And over time I realized he was that way with everybody. Does that mean nobody can help him? I don’t know, but I know I couldn’t. Then again, life isn’t over so I may never know if I helped him or not. But I can now live with it because it’s not my life – it’s his.
I know this much…there is only one person I can help, guaranteed. Me! The man in the mirror must be the number one candidate I try to help improve.
What if we’re just one decision away from fixing everything?
What if we’re just one decision away from wrecking everything?
“Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose, or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation.”
― Graham Greene, Ways of Escape
The troubled writer is more than a stereotype. Many writers, and other creatives, are vexed souls looking for solace in the art like King Saul longing for the music of David.
Cause and effect can be tough to figure out. We shouldn’t assume a correlation between the degree of vexation and creativity. I rather think we’re all vexed and we’re all creative. Some of us lean more toward one than the other. The human situation is both universal and uniquely individual.
The Graham Greene quote is from a book entitled, Ways of Escape. It’s a terrible book, but the quote seems worthwhile. Maybe Mr. Greene wonders how people who aren’t creative can manage to escape the human condition, but I view it a bit differently – in spite of how I titled today’s show. For me, it’s more about managing (dealing with; coping) the human situation with whatever tools we have. For me, it’s writing and podcasting. In that order. But let’s go ahead and acknowledge the elephant in the room as a Christian. Firstly, it’s about managing the human situation through faith, which includes reading scripture, prayer, worship and the other blessings found only in Jesus Christ. Those actions have eternal consequences so they matter most. Beyond that are other endeavors including leaning on a spouse, as I lean on Rhonda.
Then…there’s writing and podcasting. But there’s also listening to music and reading. This means, at least for me, there’s the consumption of information (learning something worthwhile) and there’s creativity (creating something worthwhile). I suppose I’m always doing both at the same time, but there are some seasons or moments where I’m more focused on one over the other. It’s hard for me to do one without the other though.
Escaping versus managing.
Avoiding versus dealing with it.
Running and hiding versus standing and facing it.
While I understand escaping – in whatever form it takes (running, hiding, avoiding, procrastinating, etc.) – I know it’s foolish to lean into it. Better to face it, sort it out as best we can, and put in the work to figure out what our best options may be.
I’m helping a person who is faced with some realities that he’d rather not face. I get it, but I also know it’s not helpful to run. He’s scheduled this time with me to talk. Hoping to give him more sense of control – after all, it is HIS life, I say, “You’re in charge of the conversation. Take this wherever you’d like. I’m here for you.” Silence. He shifts nervously in his chair for what seems like minutes. I say nothing, letting the silence just sit on top of us for a bit. It’s clear he’s struggling with this flight response – I’m hoping he’ll resist it and do the work to face it. “You’re in control of this. Do whatever you want,” I say. More silence. More shifting in his chair. He works up the words, “I want to end this call.” He decides to run and I let him. I simply say, “Okay” and then end the call. It happens. People frequently decide to run. The problem is, the thing we’re running from almost always catches us and overtakes us. I’ve yet to encounter a situation in my life where standing and fighting wasn’t the better alternative. Sometimes the fight is nothing at all. It’s simply staring down the problem. Other times it’s a vicious knife-like fight where you’re left bloody and exhausted. But even those fights are worthwhile compared to the alternative of running. None of us enjoy agony, but I suppose all of us prefer an abbreviated version a prolonged version. Running prolongs everything bad!
Besides, I’ve lived long enough to know that the man I’m attempting to help may stop running. Maybe not. It’s up to him. Not me. When and if he stops running I’m confident he’ll find a path forward. We come to things when we come to them. I’m always working hard to come to things as quickly as possible because I’m lazy and I’d like to avoid as much pain as possible. 😉
Do you really want to escape the human situation or would you rather improve yours?
Life isn’t likely that binary though. Sometimes we read novels, watch TV shows and movies, listen to music, work in the yard, pursue our hobbies and engage in other activities so we can get our minds off of one thing and onto something else for a while. It’s more of a respite than an escape. A respite is defined as “a short period of rest or relief from something difficult or unpleasant.” That’s not running and hiding. That’s more buying time as we process. Sure, it could become a habit and turn into a full sprint run-away tactic, but hopefully, we don’t lean into that.
That’s what happened in our life in the early fall of 2018. We encountered a situation that was difficult. Running from it wasn’t an option. It was too important. Too much was at stake. Wishing it was different wasn’t going to be an effective strategy. Is it ever?
We asked questions. We leaned heavily into our curiosity hoping to gain some insights and understanding. Within days some things became more clear while other things grew muddier and muddier. Then, we escaped. Physically we went away to a change of scenery. Not to hide, but to sort things out hoping lots of hiking and time in nature would help us process all our thoughts and feelings. It seemed the smart move. Turns out, it was a smart and wise move. For days we walked and talked. And walked and talked. And prayed. And prayed some more. We cried. And cried some more. Like injured or wounded animals in the wild, they lean on their surroundings to heal. It felt right to us to give that a go. It helped.
Have you ever watched an MMA (mixed martial arts) match? Typically both fighters have some proficiency in some form of martial arts. According to KarateCity.org, there are more than 170 forms of MMA. Lots of different tactics and strategies. During any given match you’ll likely see one fighter gain a momentary advantage. If they’re able, the other fighter will do whatever they can to escape the moment. They don’t want to get knocked out, choked out, or submitted with some inescapable hold. It’s about escaping the moment where they might lose the fight. That’s not hiding or running. That’s doing whatever you can to prolong the fight so you have some hope of victory. It’s an attempt to escape defeat!
Rhonda and I did that in 2018. Momentary escape. Time spent building ourselves up emotionally and spiritually for the fight ahead. Neither of us had the strength at that moment to handle the situation so the momentary retreat served us well.
You’ve experienced this. It happens when you’re in the shower. Or driving the car. Or not thinking about the elephant in the room. Suddenly, something comes to you. When you least expect it. Likely because you’re not looking for it. It appears. An answer. An idea. A thought. A feeling. One you leverage to move you forward. One you may have never experienced had you not – at that moment – avoided concentrating on the issue. Intentionally or unintentionally. Doesn’t really matter.
Sudden Situations, Lingering Situations
While thinking about my own behavior – and trying to learn how I might handle things better in the future – I realized there have been 2 distinctly different human situations. One is that sudden kick to the gut event. The thing you didn’t see coming. Those blindsided hits. The other are those slow, ongoing, daily grind situations that you’d like to change.
Our 2018 event was a sudden situation. Mostly.
I’ve had other situations, usually professionally related, that were more lingering, daily grind-it-out kind of things.
Neither is comfortable. Both are situations we’d rather not experience, but they’re also very different.
Boxers or MMA fighters jog around the ring or cage feeling one another out. They know they’re facing an opponent – a lingering situation. Well, they hope it lingers for themselves and they hope it ends abruptly for their opponent. So do we. With our life situations. We’d like to end the lingering situation for ourselves, but we’re careful to keep moving, watching our opponent’s every move. We may go round after round with no real punches thrown. It can be mentally exhausting – even physically exhausting. Thinking about how we hate this circumstance. Thinking of how we’d rather be somewhere else. Doing something else.
The rub is…we could do something. We don’t have to keep jogging around the ring, or dancing around the cage. We could go on the offense. Attack the opponent.
Some do. Some don’t. Ever wonder why? Yeah, me, too.
Wiring. Confidence. Preparation. There are likely lots of ingredients that lead a person to go on the attack. Or that lead others to retreat even when the opponent isn’t really attacking. I suspect it all boils down to fear. Fear likely drives us to attack our opponent in hopes of gaining an advantage before they do. Or fear drives us to retreat fearful they’ll catch us.
I’ve seen MMA or boxers dive headlong into the fray with reckless abandon hoping their frenetic attack will result in success. While it’s entertaining to watch, I’m certain I’d never do that. I’d be much more comfortable with a more methodical, but persistent forward approach. Jab, jab, jab, jab followed by a flurry of punches, then back off to regroup…unless you sense you’ve stunned the opponent. That’s where you’ve got to have a heightened awareness of the situation. Any sign of an advantage should result in a more intense effort to end this fight and knock this opponent out. When the opponent is on his heels, time to go all in and keep up the sustained attack.
I’d venture to guess that most of us react to sudden situations. We’re less proactive than I suspect we know we should be. For example, the fighter who doesn’t attack but remains on the defensive is suddenly caught with a good punch or take down. Now, panicked, he scrambles to respond. Those moments where he may have been debating with himself, “Should I go for it? Should I wait?” – they’re gone now. Now he’s in trouble. Big trouble. Desperate to avoid utter defeat he wriggles, he punches, he blocks, he twists, he rolls. Whatever he can do to avoid being beaten. Sometimes, if he’s skilled enough, he can escape. Other times, he’s going to lose. He waited too long. He played it wrong.
I know that feeling. Life sometimes wins. Because sometimes I hesitated in going on the attack, hoping to avoid the fight. Or hoping life would retreat. It doesn’t. Ever. I know this. But the mind is a funny thing. And not always funny, haha. Funny stupid. Funny foolish.
We dance with life thinking that more time will improve our chances of success. Whatever our view is of winning. But life doesn’t often work that way. Buying time merely hoping for random chance to play to our favor. Like we talked about last week – random chances do happen, but this much seems true, when we’re putting some actions forward. Hopefully, meaningful and significant actions. Life has surely taught most of us that doing something is usually better than doing nothing. Unless, of course, the thing we do is foolish. Hence, our show – this podcast – with a focus on leaning toward wisdom! 😉
That space between a sudden situation and a lingering one – where it’s really yet to be established – seems an ideal spot to survey the opponent. To buy some time, dance the ring and keep your eyes peeled for signs of another sudden attack. Time to gather yourself and figure out what your first punch might look like. Time to spot the opponent’s tendencies. To see when they drop their guard. To spot how you can best leverage what you’re good at to strike a defeating blow!
But when the data has been gathered, it’s time to move in. Time to go on the attack. But when?
Well, that’s impossible to say because you’re the one in the ring or the cage. You’re the one who knows what you know. Who sees what you see. Who feels what you feel. What are you seeing? Feeling? Believing? And can you trust it? Others can help you. People can serve us to help us see things more clearly. But even our closest confidants can’t do it for us.
Some weeks ago a friend got the news. His closest friend had been in a car wreck. The friend was hurt, but would be fine. The friend’s wife of about 10 years…was not okay. She was killed. Instantly, lives changed. Instantly, a human situation knocked some people to their knees causing them to gasp for air. I don’t know how long the grief will endure or what that endurance will look like. To each his own. We have to find our way forward through the tears and sorrow. And it’s uniquely our own experience. Not something anybody should – or can – judge. Some weeks ago I posted this on Instagram.
Those are the time you’d most like to hide. Fall asleep hoping to wake up to a different – a better – reality. Wishing the nightmare would be over and you’d wake up and things would be fine. But instead, we might be more prone to fall into a deep, dark place where we make an awful situation even worse. It happens when people lean into substances – intoxicants. But evidently, even critters do it. The physical stimulus so powerful we struggle to resist. Feelings so enormously powerful we neglect our own well-being to pursue them. No, I’ve not read this book, but it does seem interesting to me.
Best I can tell, we either cope or attack. We defend or we go on the offense. We manage or we impose change. We overcome or endure. And yes, we either win or lose. We succumb or we celebrate.
It doesn’t feel so cut and dried in my life. Yours?
Sometimes I don’t feel like I won in the moment, but after some time passes, it’s clear that I have won more than I lost. Or it’s clear that my victory is far more sound than the defeat. Sometimes, it’s the realization that my defeat – however bad it may seem – it’s nearly as bad as it might have been. Mostly, I find myself in hindsight being thankful. For the sadness. For the struggle. For the sorrow. For the lessons learned – lessons I wouldn’t have otherwise ever had. Because winning doesn’t teach me much of anything.
Armed with all this sorrow. Armed with all this defeat. Armed with all these times when I wanted to escape instead of fight. I’ve learned some important lessons that I suspect you’ve learned, too.
One, we must always defend.
It doesn’t mean we refuse to trust others. It does mean we guard ourselves against circumstances, choices, decisions and people who don’t care about us being our best. It means against foes, we defend. Always. Amongst friends, we trust. Always. Until evidence proves we should make a different decision. And sometimes, it does. No reason to never trust again. No reason to refrain from being vulnerable with people who care deeply about us, and for us.
Two, we must always fight.
Mostly, ourselves. Our inclination to avoid. To run. To hide. To procrastinate. To retreat.
Part of wise fighting involves surveying the opponent – the human situation. What’s going on here? Where am I most likely to get hurt – or knocked out completely? Protection isn’t just passive observance, but it’s a vital attempt to keep the enemy at bay. To maintain distance by fending them off with our own punches and attacks so we keep human situations on their heels.
I don’t know anything about firearms, but I’ve had plenty of people who do tell me that the best thing a person can do when being attacked is run. I know that seems counter to everything I’ve said so far, but stay with me. In a physical fight it’s a form – an effective form – of fighting. To put distance between you and the attacker. These are sudden situations. Dangerous situations. Situations like the MMA fighter who is suddenly taken to the ground and the attacker is going for a chokehold. You simply have to survive the situation, get back to your feet and live to keep fighting.
Police officers will tell you that if a person is quite a distance away – I don’t precisely how far away – then run. In spite of what you see on TV hitting a moving target with a handgun is very difficult. The greater the distance and the more movement, the more difficult it is. That’s why you see people in TV shows zigging and zagging as they run from a shooter. Time is your enemy so you can’t stall or wait. You cut and run as fast as possible, moving all the while to make it more difficult for the shooter to have an advantage. Because distance is your friend.
Running isn’t the point, but distance is. Distance may be time. Or space. Or both. It’s part of the fighting process.
By the way, I also know from professionals that if you must fight – and the attacker has a weapon, like a gun – you must gain control of that weapon. If you don’t, you’re in high danger. First things first, get control of the attacker’s weapon. Full control. Then beat them senseless with it. 😉
Three, we must always move forward. Even if it means retreating momentarily so we can revive ourselves.
Change. Growth. Improvement.
The computer world knows CGI as computer-generated imagery. Think Pixar. But many TV shows and movies incorporate vast amounts of CGI or virtually produced images that look very real to us. My version of CGI is change, growth, and improvement. It too is very real. It’s always virtually produced first in our mind. We imagine it. We think it. We feel it. We believe it. We act on it and make it happen. We convert it from a creation in our minds to a reality in our bodies.
Or we don’t.
This is the running and hiding we must avoid at all costs. Running and hiding from change, growth and improvement. But I see people do it all the time. And I understand the temptation. We all do.
We think we’re running and hiding from the human situation, but we’re not. We may be completely powerless to alter that. The husband who loses his wife in a car accident must face the reality that she’s gone. But he must also face the reality – in time – that his life continues. Hiding from the circumstance is what it may feel like, but the value is in facing himself. It’s in finding a way forward in his own change, growth and improvement as he figures out how to best navigate this life without her. Nothing easy about it. Especially when you’re attempting to do it with a broken heart.
For me, the creation of a new episode – the writing in a journal, or on a website (like now) – is part of the process. It’s not about escaping the human situation. It’s not about escaping what should be my appropriate response to the human situation. It’s about coping, managing, defending, attacking and dealing with the things life presents every day. It’s about donning headphones in the wee hours of the morning listening to Billy Strings and the boys play, Know It All (or just about anything else).
It’s about firing up a microphone and talking with you. It’s about sharing what I’m thinking and feeling. It’s about communicating and connecting.
I don’t know what your *with* looks like. But you’ve got some *withs*. Things you do to help you manage the human situation. Make sure they’re helpful, not harmful. Constructive and not destructive. Better to write than drink. Better to play music (either on an instrument or through headphones) than to intoxicate. Better to face your reality than to run and hide from it.
Me? I’m gonna stick with things I know I can trust in. God. Prayer. The Bible. That’s the foundation of it all. Followed closely by my reliance on my wife, Rhonda. Then it’s writing, creating, podcasting, sorting out thoughts by communicating and connecting with you. Along the way, there’s always music. Lots and lots of music!
P.S. Here’s a t-shirt you may want or need. Click the image. It’s not even an affiliate link. 😉
Back when we had physical bookstores I’d frequent them. And spend lots of time prowling the aisles.
When I hit my 4th decade as a human I began to notice books about people who didn’t achieve their greatest success while they were young. It was likely prompted by my realization that I was no longer young. It made me wonder if I had achieved my greatest success already. Or if the best was yet to come.
I’m still waiting to find the answer. As the saying goes, “Time will tell.” Problem is, time is running out so I have to figure this out really quickly.
Some folks think it’s best to peak, then walk away. Or come to the end. To peak just before it’s over. The problem with that is reduced time to enjoy the peak. Or the experience of the peak.
But what is the peak anyway? Where is it? Would you know it if you even saw it?
Not likely. Because no matter how high you climb, there’s always someplace higher.
At some point I jotted down a phrase in a notebook, “late-life lucky.”
Eventually, I registered that domain. You can buy it if you want ’cause I doubt I’ll do anything with it. Buy it today for just $1,100. It’ll help me fund my current ideal outcome – to get a place over in Arkansas. No, it won’t help me a tremendous amount, but every little bit counts when you’re getting late in life and still searching for luck. 😉
Through the years I’ve dipped my toes into periods of study, reading, and pondering the randomness of things. Things like serendipity, timing, happy (or unhappy) accidents, and random chance.
“I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.”
God granted Solomon his desire to have wisdom. Coupled with divine inspiration, Solomon delivered some powerful insights about life. Truth.
“…but time and chance happeneth to them all.”
Some have told me, “I don’t believe in luck.” To which I ask, “Define ‘luck.'”
Then the conversation suddenly gets very quiet. Or defensive.
I’ve noticed there are two primary ways people tend to view luck. One is, “I don’t have any good luck. I’m unlucky.” The other is, “Luck had nothing to do with it. I worked hard.”
Scientific American published a blog post in 2018 entitled, The Role of Luck in Life Success Is Far Greater Than We Realized. By the way, there are millions of Google results on website articles about luck and why successful people don’t acknowledge the role luck plays. If you’re bored and need a hole to dive down into sometimes, it’s a pretty good one. 😉
Luck plays a much bigger role than we admit because – well, we’d prefer to think our brilliance is mostly to blame – not randomness or something other than what we control.
That Scientific American article contains these bullet points to illustrate the point that sheer talent and other personal traits aren’t the only influencers on success:
About half of the differences in income across people worldwide is explained by their country of residence and by the income distribution within that country
Scientific impact is randomly distributed, with high productivity alone having a limited effect on the likelihood of high-impact work in a scientific career
The chance of becoming a CEO is influenced by your name or month of birth
The number of CEOs born in June and July is much smaller than the number of CEOs born in other months
Those with last names earlier in the alphabet are more likely to receive tenure at top departments
The display of middle initials increases positive evaluations of people’s intellectual capacities and achievements
People with easy to pronounce names are judged more positively than those with difficult-to-pronounce names
Females with masculine-sounding names are more successful in legal careers.
Schmidt said, “Lucky of birth, lucky of having intellectual and intelligent family home life, upbringing, global upbringing, etc.”
“The best things in your life will come from the people that you hang out with,” Schmidt said. “That has worked incredibly well for me.”
That same article also cites Warren Buffet and Mark Zuckerberg. Wealth creation requires luck. Maybe a lot more luck than we realize.
Let’s hone in on the late-life part of this ’cause I’m there. Or maybe I should say, I’m here.
Where is here? For me, it’s after you reach a point where it’s evident you have more past than future. Of course, that’s relative and impossible to precisely know. I’m not sure exactly when it hit me, but it seems it was somewhere around 42. Maybe sooner. Some might accuse me of being optimistic. 😉
From then until now I may be on borrowed time. But that was 22 years ago, which happens to be half the time of my married life. On January 2, 2022, we’ll have been married 44 years. I no longer think much about having more past than future. Now I mostly think about his little future I likely have. I’m running out of runway for whatever luck I hope to attract! Which prompts a question…
Do you speed up on a shortened runway?
Of course, you do. Well, you do if you want to get airborne before you have to ditch.
But the runway represents a few different things. In the sense of representing success or higher achievement, you want to experience it as fast as possible. So you hit the gas. But when the runway represents your life, hitting the gas to reach the end of the runway seems foolish. Metaphors don’t always work out so neatly.
“Late-life” – this phase where you’re no longer vexed with what you’ll be when you grow up – is an interesting place. You think older people lose energy, ambition, hair, eyesight, skin tautness, balance, and skill. But maybe not. Okay, maybe not all of those — just most of them. It’s not that clear cut though. I’ve never been this experienced, had this much know-how, known whom I can most trust (and those I can’t), been more clear about who and what is important – and known more precisely what I don’t want – and gaining more clarity on what I do want.
My ideal outcome – just like yours – is subject to change. Mine did change. There was a time, not too many years ago, where I thought I knew precisely what I wanted and what I would, and would not do. But life happened and I changed my mind as I surveyed those changes. Which brought about something else – something late-life taught me. You’re a finite resource.
Intellectually we know that’s true, but we don’t often behave as though we understand it. We squander our time. Our money. Our opportunities. Neglect is a killer. Dwell too long on your neglect and you’ll spiral into depression. No, don’t do that. Instead, draw that imaginary line in the sand and make up your mind to do better. Even if only slightly. Beginning with gratitude – being thankful. A timely subject given that we’re approaching Thursday, November 25th – Thanksgiving Day!
Why I Registered LateLifeLucky.com
One, because luck, random favor, or serendipity isn’t the sole domain of early life or youth.
Two, because it’s hopeful. Whether good fortune comes your way or not, there’s hope that it may. Hope that you may be able to influence it in your favor, no matter how old you are. No matter how long you’ve been slogging away at it.
That’s why I did it. And it’s why I still love the phrase.
When it works – when momentum builds and you’re gaining traction, do you care why? Maybe to figure out what works best. To figure out what doesn’t work. Otherwise, we’re just glad things are working better.
Do more of what works. Do less of what doesn’t. Sage advice, huh? It sounds ridiculous, but it’s really not. What’s shocking is how often we don’t follow that simple formula. Maybe we don’t pay attention to things to discern the difference between what works better and what doesn’t. Maybe we think the answer has to be more elaborate than that. Maybe we overthink it. Maybe we underthink it. A million things can go wrong to foil our success.
Desire: Don’t Underestimate It
I’ve never known any high achievers who lacked the desire to improve. I’ve known plenty of wannabes who did.
Lots of books, articles, and more have been produced on how to get from here to there. Each of them presupposes there’s a desire to improve and grow. To change. It’s just not always true.
Some people have no desire to change. No desire to grow or improve. Just watch their behavior. Compare it to their words. Pretty obvious that some people lack desire.
Even so, desire isn’t enough to make you lucky. It’s not even likely to make you luckier! Unless you have some inordinate amount of desire.
Saturday morning during ESPN’s College GameDay there was a feature story on Nebraska football player Damian Jackson. A kid raised in Las Vegas by a single mom, Damian admits he got in trouble for being stupid. He entered the Navy and decided, as an 18-year-old, to try out to become a Seal. He described himself as too stupid to quit so he made it. For 4 years he was a Navy Seal, dispatched to combat. When his time was up he faced a choice – re-enlist or attempt something new. He decided he wanted to try college football. Why not? He had never played before but figured he’d enroll at Nebraska because they were a top 25 program. He’d try to be a walk-on. He failed. But he persisted in bugging the coaches until they finally relented. Learning football, for the first time, at the D1 level was an uphill climb, but today he’s a senior, due to graduate in December 2021 and he’s playing on a scholarship. The young man is the epitome of desire and determination. During the feature story on ESPN Damian said, “If you have a dream, exhaust every option.”
“If you have a dream, exhaust every option.”
You have to have a dream. Okay, you have to want something more.
Not everybody does – not enough to pursue it. Lots of people are with their dreams or desires like I am with learning to play the guitar. I’d love to know how to play, but I’m unwilling to pay the price to learn. Turns out I’d much rather listen to good guitarists than be one myself. Great guitar players are driven to play, not listen. I’m far more driven to listen than the play.
Many people are like that with most things we desire. We’re more in love with having it, or being it than we are getting it or becoming it. One we can dream about and imagine how great it would be. The other requires hard work, sacrifice and determination. So maybe it’s not about having a dream. Maybe it’s more about pursuing an ideal outcome! Actually doing something to move forward. And if we commit to do the work, then maybe – just maybe – some luck will follow.
This much is sure. If we don’t put in the work, luck won’t follow. So I suppose we’re all faced with the guarantee of failure even if we’re never guaranteed success. Just neglect to put in the work and failure is sure!
“Late-life lucky” is about exercising wisdom to figure out new ideal outcomes later in life, then commit to making it happen. So I guess it really isn’t about luck at all. It helps, but maybe it’s not necessary.
Damian Jackson didn’t rely on luck to make the Nebraska football team. He just persisted until he got the result he wanted. I’m sure he’d have taken any luck that came his way, but he wasn’t waiting for it. And there’s the rub.
What Are You Waiting For?
“My ship to come in.”
These are some of the things we wait for. They’re all representative of luck. Good fortunate. A break. Things to just fall our way. It’s a life lived in the Land of Maybe. Maybe it’ll happen. Maybe it’ll come true for us.
The phrase “late-life lucky” doesn’t mean that to me though. And it dawns on me that it’s more about how others see what I’m chasing at this stage of my life – later in life. Yes, I’m absolutely hoping some things fall into place, but only after I put the pieces together. Like a puzzle piece you know fits, but it needs a bit wiggling to get it to fit – I’m hoping to figure out where the pieces go so I can be busy wiggling the piece into place! I’m not waiting for the pieces to miraculously line themselves up.
There’s something more about the late-life part of lucky. A joint pursuit, two sides of the same coin. Running from something while running toward something else.
Details don’t matter because our ideal outcome is personal. It’s what we most want to make happen. As world-class mountain climbers say, “Commit, then figure it out.”
People smarter than me have long ago figured out that speed matters. The faster we commit, the more quickly we get on with figuring it out. Those of us who have ever had little kids in our life know. Some of the grandkids used to be very timid to jump into our swimming pool. They’d stand on the edge, peering into the water. Thinking about it. Then back away from the edge. Then approach the edge again. The longer they thought about it, the more they’d delay jumping in. Fear grew until they’d likely just refuse to jump. Many of us behave exactly the same way with our own ideal outcomes. Like my grandkids who would like to jump into the pool, we’d like to jump into action to achieve our ideal outcome…but if we hesitate, it becomes easier to keep hesitating until eventually…we just give up.
I first wrote down the phrase, “late life lucky” because I was thinking of what I most wanted to happen, at this later stage of my life, and I knew I didn’t want to delay taking meaningful action. Mostly, I didn’t feel like I had the time to waste. It wasn’t fearful to commit. It was more fearful not to. Maybe that’s because it’s a late life thing. Maybe it’s because it’s something I’m pretty passionate to pursue. Maybe it’s because it’s such an important thing with important ramifications. Or maybe, it’s all of that.
No point in waiting. It’s better to do something about it.
Back in November 2014 a new podcast was taking the world by storm. It was barely 2 months old at the time, but Serial, a new podcast from the creators of This American Life, hosted by Sarah Koenig, become the biggest podcast hit ever. Here’s how their website describes the show…
Serial will follow one story – a true story – over the course of a whole season. We’ll follow the plot and characters wherever they take us and we won’t know what happens at the end of the story until we get there, not long before you get there with us. Each week we’ll bring you the latest chapter, so it’s important to listen in order, starting with Episode 1.
In typical fashion of other extraordinary storytelling podcasts (like my all-time favorite, now retired show, The Story with Dick Gordon), Serial has superior production elements, but mostly a compelling story.
It’s Baltimore, 1999. Hae Min Lee, a popular high-school senior, disappears after school one day. Six weeks later detectives arrest her classmate and ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, for her murder. He says he’s innocent – though he can’t exactly remember what he was doing on that January afternoon. But someone can. A classmate at Woodlawn High School says she knows where Adnan was. The trouble is, she’s nowhere to be found.
The case of this first season of Serial focuses on a single accuser named Jay. Jay tells police a story with vivid details about how Adnan murdered his ex-girlfriend, Hae. Without any DNA or other hard evidence, a jury quickly convicts him of first-degree murder. Is Jay telling the truth? What about the other testimony that came out during the trial. Sarah, the host of the show, reveals how so-called facts can be used and misused when accusations are made.
Is Jay a false accuser? Adnan is in a Maryland maximum-security prison. There’s not much he can do about it other than continue to proclaim his innocence. Well, there’s actually quite a lot more he can do inside his own head. He can grow increasingly angry, bitter, resentful, and cynical. Who could blame him?
Why Do People Falsely Accuse?
It’s ancient going back to the beginning. According to the Genesis record of the Old Testament, the first false accusation was the devil, disguised as a serpent, lying about God to Adam and Eve. God warned them to not eat of the tree in the midst of the Garden, the tree of knowledge of good and evil. God pronounced the punishment, “Thou shalt surely die.” With the insertion of one word – “not” – the devil falsely accused God by telling them they would not die. Since then, the number of false accusations is beyond our ability to compute. Christians understand the biblical truth that Christ was crucified on the basis of false accusations. The Bible says it was for envy.
In the Old Testament, the 9th commandment of the 10 is “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor” Then why do people do it?
I don’t claim to be smart enough to know all the reasons, but I think we’ve all got quite a few good ideas based on our own experiences, the experiences of friends or family, and all the stories we’ve heard or read.
Judas betrayed Christ for some money. That continues to be a big player for some I think. Greed and covetousness are major drivers for lots of people. It’s manifested in divorce courtrooms all across the world I suppose. And like that sound clip from Serial, people can use kernels of truth mixed in with gobs of deceit to spin an accusation that will play to their favor. In an ugly divorce battle where the husband wants to hang onto more of his wealth and the wife wants to gain more of it…both can amplify the negative behaviors of the other. Dollars drive deceit.
Finger-pointing isn’t just child’s play. Grown up’s do it, too. All the stories we’ve seen on TV of the cellmate who enters a courtroom saying he heard a confession that never happened. He testifies against the defendant in exchange for a lighter sentence or some other benefit.
Sometimes finger-pointing can be even more sinister when the guilty person deflects their own bad actions by falsely accusing somebody else. It smacks of a bit like what defense attorneys call “plan B” – the practice of giving a judge or jury another plausible scenario involving somebody other than their client.
Hatred and other emotions can drive some to falsely accuse a person. Jealousy, envy, contempt, vengeance, and every other negative emotion you can name have been drivers behind false accusations.
But the real reason – the bottom line behind why people falsely accuse others is pretty straightforward…to harm them. False accusers are determined to inflict harm and pain on the people they accuse. The more specific reasons and motivations aren’t terribly important I don’t suppose because, in the end, it’s all about harming somebody. And it’s made worse because it’s all based on deceit and lies.
Suffering Wrongly vs. Suffering Rightly
Governments exist to maintain order and punish wrongdoers. Sometimes they get it wrong. The Innocence Project defines itself as a national litigation and public policy organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted individuals through DNA testing and reforming the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice. According to their website, they’ve been able to exonerate 321 people since they began in 1992. Governments sometimes get it wrong.
But they don’t always get it wrong. Guilty criminals are convicted daily for their crimes. If society is dangerous, it’s made much safer because some people suffer rightly. They deserve it.
False accusations disrupt the system of justice. Instead, people suffer wrongly, undeserving of their punishment.
1 Peter 3:17 “For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing than for evil doing.”
As bad as it would be to suffer under a false accusation, that’s better than suffering because you’re guilty. If the main character in Serial, Adnan, is innocent and stuck in prison…that’s awful. But if he’s guilty of murdering his ex-girlfriend, that’s worse.
This doesn’t make suffering easier. In many ways, it makes it more difficult. You know you’re not guilty when you’re falsely accused, but others may not know it or believe it. Coping with the injustice is hard. I know. It’s happened to me before. And I don’t mean all those idiotic teenage drama sessions or pre-teen versions. Kids aren’t the most perceptive people on the planet. That makes the story of this season’s Serial podcast even more disturbing. The people involved were 17 years old or so when this drama unfolded. We’ve all see it and maybe even been part of it. Thankfully for most of us, those youthful dramas aren’t as serious as a murder charge.
When you’re a kid the stakes seem high ’cause you’re a kid. All you know is what you know and you don’t know what you don’t know. Your view of the world is pretty small really. That makes a false accusation – “Randy likes Sarah” – when Randy doesn’t like Sarah, seems like a devastating thing. In real-time, it is. A few years later it’s laughable though.
Kids can be cruel, but adults tend to behave far more sinister when it comes to false accusations. The stakes can be much higher, too. Careers can be ruined. Marriages, too.
Things Aren’t Always What They Seem
A man goes to lunch with a group of women from work. It’s completely innocent. Until a friend of his wife sees them and lets her imagination run free. At one point during the meal the group is laughing and in a single instance, the man puts his hand on one woman’s forearm. He doesn’t grab it. He just barely touches it. Before he gets home that evening his wife’s friend will have reported the incident to his wife, driving her suspicions to question him when walks in the door. Shocked that anybody would dare think he’s acting inappropriately with a co-worker or that he’s behaving badly toward his wife by flirting with other women, he attempts to convey what properly happened.
A joke was told by the woman seated to his right. As the table was laughing he reacted by what he describes as “pushing her arm” in a gesture used by many people so as to say, “Stop it.” Besides, he argues, how crazy would a man have to be to dine with 3 female co-workers and publicly behave inappropriately with any of them? Well, his wife is overly sensitive and quite paranoid. And depending on how much he loves him or trusts him, this seemingly innocent lunch can quickly spiral out of control. I know because such things have happened to men I’ve known. No, not me. I don’t eat lunch, silly!
Haven’t you seen something or heard something and drawn an incorrect conclusion? Sure. Everybody who is old enough to have any self-awareness at all has done it. We hear a fragment of a conversation and assume people are talking about one thing, only to find out they’re talking about something completely different. It happens. And we feel foolish when we find out we had it all wrong.
Now, think of the times that such things might be happening, but we never find out we have it wrong. We walk away thinking we know exactly what they were talking about. Maybe we repeat it to somebody. Then they tell somebody. All the while, we’re all spreading something that is completely inaccurate.
Sometimes People Convince Themselves They Know The Truth
But sometimes they’re wrong. People have the capacity to convince themselves of many things. Remember, men used to think the world was held by Atlas whilst standing on a turtle. Then sophistication kicked in and they thought it was flat a much better truth. Okay, don’t hate me for using two more Bible verses, but I must because they fit.
Isaiah 40:22 “It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.”
Job 26:7 “He stretcheth out the north over the empty place, and hangeth the earth upon nothing.”
Oh, if men had only read their Bibles they’d have known. But instead, it seemed wiser to create a truth and wasn’t the truth at all. And so it goes with delusions and suppositions. We’re sometimes convinced we absolutely know the truth. Sometimes we’re wrong.
Dealing With False Accusers Requires Understanding Context
I’ve never been hauled off to jail and been charged with a crime. When you’re falsely accused and arrested, that’s in a category that’s far more serious than anything I’ve endured. But if it happened, I’ve watched enough cop shows to know I would not open my mouth except to say, “I want my lawyer.”
Then I’d do whatever I had to in order to secure the services of the biggest, baddest criminal defense attorney around. I wouldn’t want just anybody. Not if my freedom was at risk. I would not rely on my innocence to bring me a victory. Again, I’ve seen too many cop shows to know that doesn’t always work out. I’d mortgage everything I own to defend myself so I could stay out of prison. And so I could defend myself from a wrongful conviction. Even then, I might find myself behind bars. It happens. But you’ve gotta give it your best shot, right?
Thankfully, most of us don’t have to endure that degree of false accusation. We suffer at much lower levels, involving much less risk.
Somebody at work says something about us. They falsely accuse us. What do we do? What should we do?
Well, it depends on what it is and the context of it. I mean, if I’m accused of stealing somebody’s parking space once and that accusation was made by one co-worker to another in casual conversation…I’m ignoring it. Why respond and pick a fight? It just doesn’t seem worth it.
If I’m accused of stealing office supplies by a co-worker who submits a written report to a supervisor about it, I’m lining up my defenses and going on the attack.
For me, I guess false accusations made against me involve a few factors.
1. How serious is the charge?
I know people get wrapped around the axle of justice and all that, but do you really want to devote your entire life to answering every false accusation? I just don’t think it’s profitable to treat them all equally, so I don’t.
If the charge is serious, then I weigh that. If it’s insignificant, I don’t even bother to weigh it. I just let it go.
2. To whom is the false accusation made?
Is it closely held by one person to another? Is it more widespread? Again, if it’s insignificant I’m likely to not care how widespread. But I’m going to likely consider one more factor first.
3. What are the consequences?
Sometimes molehills turn into mountains because we fail to do what Barney Fife was always urging Andy Griffith to do.
Even innocuous false accusations can mushroom out of control until we extinguish them early. Consequences are mostly determined by the first two factors. A seemingly minor false accusation may require some proactive handling because of the scope of people involved. This is where wisdom in judgment helps. Carefully survey the people involved, the magnitude of the accusation, and the potential downsides to letting it linger.
A Clear Conscience Laughs At False Accusations”
That’s a popular notion, but I don’t agree with it. There’s nothing funny about false accusations. And many times we’d better do a lot more than laugh at them if we’re going to properly handle them. It’s like so many little ditties that sound smart but are really stupid. For a long time I’ve thought of doing an entire show on nothing other than the things people say that sound smart, but really aren’t. Right off the top of my head, I can think of 3 that you hear all the time.
“Life is a journey, not a destination. The journey is the reward.”
Really? I don’t think so.
Counterpoint: Go on vacation and tell the kids to enjoy the trip more than arrival to Disneyland. They know that’s not right. You do, too. That’s why you can’t wait to get there!
“If I can do it, anybody can.”
It depends on who you are. We’re not all created equally. Einstein discovered some things that I couldn’t. I’m betting you couldn’t either.
“It’s always darkest before dawn.”
Here in Texas, we get thunderstorms and tornados. It can get dark quickly. Then comes the thunder and lightning. We rank right behind Florida in injuries and death from lightning strikes. But high winds and tornados are more devastating.
It’s dark before the storm. And besides, before dawn, the skies always grow lighter…not darker.
Well, that’s how it is with this witty phrase about laughing at false accusations. Adnan of the Serial podcast appears to have a clear conscience, but no amount of laughing is going to get him released from a prison sentence. We’d all be foolish to simply dismiss every false accusation. That doesn’t mean we jump on all of them like a famous brand might defend even the slightest trademark infringement. Some fights just aren’t worth it. But others are! Some false accusations can eat you alive. Others just annoy the snot out of you.
Once I was facing a false accusation from somebody who believed the earth was flat. There was no convincing him otherwise. And the hardest part about it was that it didn’t involve a specific false accusation. In fact, the person refused to say what it was he had against me. He simply objected to my being approved for something because he “knew things.” I went to him privately asking him to tell me what I had done so I could make it right. Nope. He refused. I invited somebody to mediate and sit down with both of us. This poor person tried for more than an hour – and I did, too – to facilitate a peaceful remedy. Again, the person refused to budge. He still objected but without any specific accusations. Eventually, I just had to let it go. I didn’t know what else to do.
During this time my son, who was still living at home, was talking with me one day. We were talking about the topic of being falsely accused of things. I told him what I believe is true and wise.
If you’re going to do anything to make a difference, you’re going to upset people. People are going to aim arrows at you. But the option to do nothing just doesn’t work. So prepare to defend yourself if you must and grow thick skin.
It’s been over twenty years since my son and I had that conversation, but nothing has changed my mind. I still think it’s the way to go. For me, it’s no longer about justice or injustice. It’s about being able to do the right thing and refusing to let the false accusers get in your way. Sometimes people and things get in your way. You just have to find your way around those hurdles and keep doing what you know is right.
Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you and your family are well.
Words. Phrases. Lyrics. It’s often the spark for ideas, questions, and conversation. Connection ensues.
Communication isn’t the same as connecting.
We communicate by speaking, writing, and body language. Communication is one person sending and one receiving. But that’s not connecting. Communication is aimed at intellectually understanding. Connecting is aimed at emotional understanding. That’s how relationships are built. And that’s more often than not how these episodes are formed. Makes sense because Leaning Toward Wisdom is a collaborative endeavor.
Do you think we’ve connected? Is there any emotional bond between us? As a listener to this podcast, I hope we’ve found some sort of connection. Otherwise, I doubt you’d be listening.
Connection requires the people involved to get in. I got in on day one with you years ago when I started this podcast. I’m hoping you’ll get in – if you haven’t already – and contribute to making this Leaning Toward Wisdom connection work for you?
It started with a conversation about kindness versus niceness. I’ve discussed that before so I won’t dive too deeply into it again today except to point out that being kind is helpful, being nice is mostly about being polite – but not likely being very helpful. Which is where the conversation quickly went to with the question, “What’s helpful? What’s hurtful?” The context was challenging with kindness.
Focusing in on the word “hurtful,” I offered a counter. Let’s make it harmful instead because it be hurtful to pour alcohol on a skinned knee of our child, but it’s helpful. Harmful is something entirely different though. It’s detrimental.
When you make your living by coaching people to higher performance you have to lean heavily into kindness because until people feel completely safe, you can’t serve them. Safe means we know – with certainty – that people have our best interest at heart. They want us to succeed. They want us to thrive. They want us to grow. They’re committed to helping and equally committed to avoiding harming us.
Being challenged isn’t always fun, but when it’s done in safety it’s not harmful. Uncomfortable? Almost always. Putting us in a position where we’re driven to think more deeply? Always. Giving us a choice of how to respond? Always.
As my friend and I talk about helping or harming it was clear we were really talking about some different scenarios and different kinds of people. There are times when people may think they’re being helpful, but they’re not. Times when people are disguising being harmful as helpful. Times when people may genuinely want to help, but go about it so poorly they harm.
I’m fond of how the British refer to coaching as being in the helping business. I think of myself as being in the helping business. I’d hate to think of myself as being in the harming business. Criminals are in the harming business. Immoral businesses are in the harming business. Sin businesses are in the harming business. Look around…there’s an awful lot of profit and feverish activity in the harming business.
Last week I pointed out what’s on my whiteboard.
It’s implied in my whiteboard statement that I’m trying to figure out how to make the biggest POSITIVE difference. The biggest HELPFUL difference.
Am I always successful? No, I don’t always succeed at my intended consequences.
There are unintended consequences. Would that we were always judged by our intentions. Or would that be good?
Are our intentions always honorable? Do you really want to be judged by your intentions?
Sometimes our intentions may be rightly aimed at helpful, but sometimes not.
I stumbled across a documentary on Amazon Prime the other day, The Identity Theft of Mitch Mustain. It’s a 2014 documentary about a young man, a quarterback from Springdale, Arkansas. A phenom playing for then high-school coach Gus Malzahn, who later went on to become Offensive Coordinator at Arkansas, then Tulsa and would up as head coach of Auburn before being fired and now he’s at Central Flordia. Mitch, and a core group of his offensive buddies, had wild success in Arkansas high school football playing for Malzahn. The entire core group all got D1 scholarships.
I’m watching this story of coaches, adults, tasked with helping young men, high school, and college-age guys. Throughout the documentary, I wondered about the role of these adults and thought about my conversation with my friend. Are these adults being helpful or harmful? Particularly, in his football life was Mitch Mustain helped or harmed? Did these people have his interest at heart or did they have their own best interest at heart?
Credit. Who will get the credit? That so often is at the heart of the matter. Arkansas head coach – at the time – Houston Nutt versus Gus Malzahn, the offensive coordinator he was pressured to hire so he could successfully recruit these kids from Springdale. Nutt, the run, run, run coach. Malzahn, the throw-it-all-over-the-field control freak. The kids? Likely pawns in a much bigger game not entirely played on the football field.
Conflict with upperclassmen who resented these new flashy freshmen coming in. Divided locker rooms. Divided loyalties. People chasing the spotlight. People pursuing credit so they can outshine their peers. Classic conflict of who is larger and more in charge. Who will shine brightest?
Neither Nutt nor Malzahn participated in the documentary. I get it. Not much to gain by speaking out. Meanwhile, Mitch doesn’t come across as filled with blame. He doesn’t seem bitter. Rather, he’s pretty matter-of-fact about it all. Some argue that he didn’t have D1 college skills. Others think he was victimized by selfish coaches. I don’t know what’s real or true, but I do think he – and many young athletes of all ages – suffer sometimes at the hands of people who declare they’re trying to help, but they’re not. Maybe they’re not trying to be harmful, but by watching out mostly for themselves, everybody else is just collateral damage.
But then I wonder about coming in specific chapters in somebody’s life. A coach. A player. A group of coaches or players. Does that accurately depict who they are? Not likely. But it may.
Over the years, coach Malzahn has shown himself to be a pompous, smartest-man-in-the-room kind of a guy. That doesn’t mean he is, but many people have described him that way. Media and others. I have no way to know. I’ve never met him. He may be just the opposite of those things for all I know. I know one chapter does not our entire story make. But I also know that our story is the sum of our chapters and if we write a number of chapters that have a consistent theme – then we’re likely telling the truth.
It speaks to this conversation I’m having with a friend about helpful or harmful though. A person would open the book to my life and happen on a chapter that isn’t my best and conclude from a paragraph, a page, or an entire chapter, “He’s not helpful. He’s harmful.” That’s absolutely possible.
When I think about our stories and chapters I realize we could open the book on somebody’s life – anybody’s life – and find horrible stories of defeat, sorrow, sadness, challenge, suffering, even despair. The lows might be very low for some. Less so for others. Ditto on the highs. Read a chapter on the highs for Elon Musk and they’re going to be vastly higher than any highs I’ve ever – or ever will – experience. But no matter. Everybody has chapters of highs and lows. Is it fair to judge any of us on a single chapter? Probably not.
The conversation morphs to how we show up. How people see us.
I remind my conversation partner that three years ago I experienced a family tragedy that wrecked me. You’ve experienced sorrow and been knocked to your knees before. Mat Kearney, a Nashville-based (originally from Oregon) singer/songwriter had a hit song years ago, Closer To Love. There’s a lyric in that song, “we’re all one phone call from our knees.”
Have you ever lost somebody you loved? Most of us have. Did you map out your grief? No, it’s organic. It happens and you react. Always at your best. Maybe not. But it is what it is.
My tragedy changed me. It changed my demeanor. It changed almost everything. Did I plan on it? Of course not. Did I enjoy it? Not one bit.
We look at the circumstances others endure and think, “I’d deal with that differently.” Would you though? How do you know?
We may think we know, but until faced with it…we don’t really know. In some situations in the past 3 years, I’ve grown tremendously. In other situations, it’s not been my best. Grief is like that though. It’s a process and you wake up each day either with determination or resignation. Some days you experience both – many times. It’s a roller coaster ride known best by those of us who are in it – whatever IT is. We’ve all got our burdens.
Our individual struggles can propel us toward greater empathy or greater judgment. I’m sure some folks look at me and think, “He should be over that by now.” Maybe they’re right. But I’m not. And there are details that only my closest family members know. My journey didn’t’ happen 3 years ago and end. There have been numerous stories built all along the way. But nobody knows! I don’t feel it’s my job to share all the gory details. I just hope along the way I get a bit of grace. Mostly, I do. But sometimes I don’t. Such is life.
I’m not intentionally hanging onto it. It just lingers, like a storm cloud that refuses to be blown away. I don’t know what to do other than to ride it out knowing I have no idea how long it may take. Because the story is still being written. And in my case, somebody else is writing the story while I’m busy trying to write my own – as best I can. You already know I refuse to see myself as a victim, but in one sense – we’re all victims. Victims to the writing others are doing, the choices they’re making in their life that impact our life. So we respond, react and make our choices based on the hand we’re dealt. We take full responsibility for what happens to us knowing it’s the only path forward. But it doesn’t make us infallible. Or always getting it right in real-time. Mostly, I think – in our best moments – we’re working hard to figure it out so we can get it right. Failure is part of figuring it out.
But it’s not always a matter of right or wrong. Of success or failure. Sometimes, it’s like my grief, it’s just life and working every day to endure it and looking for some way forward so you can not be paralyzed and fall into an abyss.
You think you know how you’d respond to a circumstance you’ve not yet experienced. But you really don’t know.
My circumstance happened and I responded. Because life demands you respond. You try to deploy your best wisdom and find yourself doing what you have to.
I learned long ago that life’s problems are either overcome or endured. We can’t overcome every sorrow or struggle. We have to endure it and figure out how life can move forward. It takes however long it takes.
Grief is something people enjoy judging. I don’t know what your grief looks like. My grief doesn’t always look the same. I’ve lost grandparents and close friends. For me to judge somebody based on what I think their response to grief should be…that doesn’t seem right.
When it comes to being helpful or harmful we have to figure out which lane we want to be in.
“What do you think about people who intentionally are harmful, but they do it under the guise of being helpful?” he asks.
“You’re talking about hypocrisy,” I said.
Pretending to be one thing while being something different. That was the conversation. “What do you do with that?” he asked. “I don’t have any deep answers other than you protect yourself,” I said.
But vulnerability works, too. It gets complicated quickly. Protect yourself. Open yourself up. How do you do both? At the same time?
My best answer was, “Be selective.” We have to discern whether somebody is helpful to us or whether they’re harmful.
“What do you do?” he asked.
Over the next few minutes, I recounted to him instances where I simply withdrew and ended a relationship. Professional circumstances where there was no ill-will, no ill-intentions – just a situation where all parties were no longer getting much from the relationship. So we part ways. And that’s that. It happens every single day in business. And it can happen in life, too. Friendships where it’s largely one-sided so it fades and eventually ends. That’s usually how things go for most of us.
Sometimes there’s an event – a moment where things go south. Disagreements or conflicts happen. Since I was a little boy I’ve worked to be a peacemaker. Mostly ’cause I didn’t want to see anybody get in trouble. And I certainly wanted to avoid trouble for myself. I learned, at an early age, to quickly distance from people determined to make trouble. I knew better – thanks to parental training – to avoid letting people negatively influence me. Over the years, I’ve tried to be even quicker at making those determinations because time is precious and protection is important.
Simultaneously, I’m prone to be open with people willing bent toward empathy. It’s not hard for me to share, connect and engage with people who feel safe with me. I can see how people might get gun-shy to be open, but I don’t think that’s worthwhile – not for me. I don’t want to risk losing what might otherwise be a great connection for me and for the other person. Life is too short and too hard. We need others and so I’m always ready to be available.
“When somebody proves harmful, what do you do?” I’m asked.
“I walk away,” I replied. “Sometimes I run,” I joked.
“Have you ever had somebody who wouldn’t let you walk away?”
“Once. And I told them repeatedly they were unsafe for me. I repeatedly attempted to ask them to leave me alone.” That’s all you can do, I think. Of course, it depends on who they are to you. I know people who have such relationships in their families. That makes it difficult, but I can only assume. It’s always harder if some context puts you in the same space as the harmful person consistently. There aren’t any cut-and-dried answers here. As with many things, we have to figure out what we need to do. I don’t judge being harmful – a person or a circumstance – lightly. I have compelling evidence which shows me it’s in my best interest to steer clear. And that’s what I choose to do.
I tell my friend that for me there are two important factors and in this order: spiritual welfare and mental (or emotional welfare). And both of them intersect.
Because God is first I’m committed to protecting myself spiritually. Usually, I’m the one doing myself damage in this regard. Selfishness is the killer. For all of us. We want what we want and in some moments of temptation, we surrender to what we want rather than what God wants for us. I’m sometimes guilty of that.
Then I have to be mindful of people and situations that might cause me spiritual harm. There are people who are not good for me to be around. Some because they live in a way that I don’t want to. Some because they don’t have my best spiritual interests at heart. It’s up to each of us to determine what best moves us forward and what hinders us. What’s helpful and what’s harmful.
My mental health matters mostly because it has such a strong impact on my spiritual health. And most everything else. You know that to be true in your own life. How you feel and what you think determines everything. So we have to guard our heart – our mind. You can’t expose it to just anything or anybody. If you do, it’s a high-risk proposition.
There’s only ever been one person I’ve told, “You’re the most unsafe person on the planet for me.” And I’ve told them that twice. To their face. They’ll leave me alone for a bit, but usually, something compels them to cycle back around to me with some accusatory, judgmental conversation. And when it happens again (and I rather suspect it will), I’ll repeat myself and do my very best to keep my guard up so I can protect my spiritual and mental welfare. Because that’s my responsibility to myself. To avoid harm. And to avoid harming!
Now, what about you? What about me?
Are we helpful or harmful?
Don’t get sucked into thinking that you’re the right person for everybody. Or for every situation. Nobody is.
There are people in your life for whom you’re the ideal person to help. There are others for whom you’re the most ideal person to harm. Even unintentionally. So often we impose ourselves into the lives of others – perhaps arrogantly thinking it’s our job, or our role, to help – but we may be wrong. Body language. Verbal cues. Bold statements. By paying attention to how others respond to us, or don’t – we can better determine if we can help. And if we can’t help, best to avoid things altogether. Why risk harming simply because we can’t help? We do that when we make it more about us than them. Our desire to be somebody’s hero won’t make us a hero. Best to stop trying and leave things alone so somebody else might help.
We’ve likely heard that the oath doctors take is, “First, do no harm.” Well, that’s not true. Doctors cut us open. They poke. They prod. Sometimes doctors hurt us, but it’s in an effort to help us. Sometimes in my coaching clients are hurt by coming face to face with some realities they’ve never faced before. Not to cause them pain or injury, but to help them move forward with growth, improvement, and change. Surgery, and self-enlightenment, aren’t fun! But they can be life-changing profitable.
But to avoid doing harm, that may be as great a gift as helping. To know when to refrain. When to step back. When to walk away. Lest we’re guilty of harming somebody.