If I Can Survive
My Own Narrative,
I’m Certain I’ll
This is the time of year where we are easily tricked. Nature is disguising which season we are in. Tricks are played as a 45 degree day with rain settles in. Are we in Fall? Winter? Spring?
Tiny piles of snow leave us clues. But so do the leaf piles stacked up against fences.
How easily distracted we were just a season ago determined whether the tree leaves made it into a bag or not. Whether they made it into a consuming backyard fire turning our fall night into a glowing reminder of the warm summer which is slipping behind us.
The earth is laying down its best snares. Gray skies are hovering around still. We are bewildered due to the length of gray we’ve already seen, reminding us clearly we’ve past through Winter depression. Still, it seems like a trap for our senses. Can Spring really be near? Which cloudy fog am I still caught in?
Distinguishing moments are ahead. There are anniversaries. There are joys and hopes of forward progress.
It’s the lingering gray though. It’s not symbolism anymore as much as it is a part of our being, forged deep inside us. It shouldn’t be discarded, because this would mean discarding ourselves. It can’t be coveted either, for it lifts the gray too high.
We wander through a season trying to breakthrough into a glorious Warmth. The present, though, is reminding us there is no time-limit for our drift through such indecipherable seasons.
A truly confusing time it is. Nature continually cloaks.
Audaciously, we continue to hope.
There was a reason for the photo I took on January 7th, 2016. But maybe there were two reasons, and the other reason would begin showing itself later as the calling collided with action.
I asked my roommate at the time to take the picture in 2016 because I was updating my LinkedIn profile and wanted something more professional looking. I never took pictures of myself back then.
I thought the 2016 photo and several others I took that evening looked great. And they did. They were some of the better intentional photos I took of myself in recent times back then. I had a fresh haircut earlier that evening. I had a nice pull over on. I was forcing a smile.
Not at all during that night did I consider this a before picture. It wasn’t just a poorly lit attempt at a more professional looking picture of myself. It would in fact take on the role of a before picture.
In the weeks following I began shedding my first few pounds as I was hitting the gym every day during the week. It was a lot of weight lost at first actually. That may have been all I needed for momentum, because I was addicted at that point. I was finally putting in the work in gaining energy. It’s all I wanted to do as a goal really. Workout, get the workout high with the oxygen flowing and the heart pumping. I certainly was putting in work to back up what I knew needed to happen for a long time.
But the ‘work’ to change happened a long time prior to this early 2016 picture. That’s kinda why it’s not really a before picture to me in some ways. It is an in the middle of picture.
The ‘work’ prior to what was about to unfold physically was ‘work’ instilling a sense of value, a sense of purpose, a sense of beloved-ness back into me. It was a small community of men going through life together, becoming vulnerable with each other, and coming alongside each other where my predicament was given a space to be voiced out loud, as funny as it sounded out loud to me.
In this group of guys they steadfastly, with immense compassion, allowed me to not only voice how I was aware I had gained a ton of weight (because its physical anyway, we can all see), but begin for the first time figuring out why. But more important than the why, more important and vital than the forensic analysis of figuring out and tracing and decoding the faults, shame, and lack of personal disciple was the compassionate message voiced out loud every time we would meet.
You are greatly loved by Jesus.
Of course I knew that growing up Christian. Of course that was a matter of fact. But little did I know how much I needed to hear it from friends out loud. Not just read it or ponder it or even hear it verbally from someone standing on a stage. I had no idea how much I needed to hear from people who I call friends say out loud in the same room to me ‘Father, Papa, Abba, Daddy, He loves you. He really does.’
The strength in this consistent message is profound when it comes from those you call friends. It is nothing to read about anymore. It isn’t a sermon to study notes from. It isn’t a study bible highlighted over and over. It was verbally communicated across a room from friends getting real with each other. And profoundly, getting real with their rescuing God, Who, lovingly wants us to know our value with our hearts and not just our heads.
That was the ‘work’ setting itself up for what follows. What follows is only a physical manifestation as well, like how you could see I was out of shape from the outside previously. The physicality changes dramatically and that’s what we get to see and celebrate in our culture and that’s it. Or so I thought.
I didn’t get back to where I was physically once before. I blew past it. The shirt I am wearing on the right in the January 2018 picture today, two years to the exact day from the before picture, is a shirt I bought ten years ago. And it sort of barely fit back then. It’s thermal wear, but it didn’t matter, it was going to be worn underneath anyways. Today though, it fits like a glove.
I also didn’t get back to where I was ten years ago mentally. I feel like I am 20 years younger actually. My mind is sharper than it’s ever been. It’s kinda scary how mentally focused I am now a days. Like good scary.
There is much ‘work’ still to be done. That is what life is for in the here and now. I don’t want to kid anyone in thinking everything is fine right now as I type this out. I don’t want to say hey, workout and that leads to healing. That was my story. It is my story. But even that is only a sliver of my story and merely a physical manifestation of my story.
But I know the following now more than ever. As Viktor Frankl maintains in his book Man’s Search For Meaning, there is profound meaning inside the suffering of life. There is redemption available from the suffering. And there is the opportunity to help guide others because of the sufferings we face.
Jesus offers a Love so strong it will go to the most amazing lengths and depths and heights to reach where you are.
I never knew it was going to be a before picture. That wasn’t it’s reason. Maybe it will serve many other symbolic ‘befores’ in my life.
I knew I needed to change. The reasons I set out to change were clear. Noble run of the mill variety reasons.
I wasn’t as productive as I should be.
I was lethargic.
I didn’t read as much as I would like.
I needed better hobbies with my downtime.
That’s cool. Good items to turn around for sure.
But never could I have imagined the lifestyle changes I began making were all going to help me withstand what was coming. Had I not changed when I did, there is no way I see myself coming out on the other side of events which were lying in wait ready to strike later on. Debilitating events. Crippling occurrences.
These negative events were ahead. They were going to happen regardless. Whether I was going to be a changed man or not, whether I was going to be prepared or not, whether I could take it or not, these events cared not. They were coming.
But prior to these negative turns ahead in my story, and of course without me knowing they were going to happen, I was building an incredible foundation of change.
It was late 2015, and I vowed to pivot from the person I was becoming. I began a process of change at a time marked by a significant number (I turned 30).
There was a faint sense of a new year’s resolution behind it, but I always like to describe how the specific changes were starting well before January 1st. At least momentum was building so I didn’t have to make a promise or resolution I knew would be abandoned. These were changes not to wait on come new year’s day but changes I started the months prior. When new year’s day did come around I’ll admit there was a little boost added.
2016 started off witnessing these changes: eating better; actually going to the gym; becoming infatuated with daily productivity schedules from the likes of Michael Hyatt, Donald Miller and others; reading a ton more on my own time.
And I was implementing all of this. Slowly and surely, some more than others, I began finding myself putting into daily practice incredible improvements. My mind was becoming sharper. My health was improving.
I was preparing myself to be better overall at all the things I already had in my life, the minor challenges I may have faced at the time, and the manageable responsibilities I had. Manageable now in comparison to what I see in my review mirror.
Sometimes in the midst of the great personal changes we commit ourselves to, disruptions bulldoze their way in, which not only should throw us off course, but destroy us all together.
I’ve heard it phrased as attacks. Some people will view these disruptions as inevitable challenges. Whatever the perspective, they came for me, they were furious, and they would have likely ended me otherwise.
But it is precisely because I started the lifestyle changes which allowed me to take on several upcoming blows. Discovering now that, if I had not committed to change when I did, and now in light of what was ahead, an incredibly humbling tone strikes deep within my core.
None of the negative story turns were what I was training for either when I set out to change. I was training within the lens of positive turns. When the negative turns came, there is no way I could have made it through if I had not already begun a path of change.
It’s a bad practice in general to play the mental game of looking backwards, trying to figure out how different things would be in the present if you hadn’t done X, or if Y hadn’t come along unexpectedly. Mainly because you were doing X, or Y did come along.
All I know is if you know you need to make a positive change in your life, there is absolutely no better time than within the calm right now. It’s wildly beyond cliche. It’s truth is life saving.
The changes you’ll have to make reacting to negative events, which will come, are merely survival changes.
The changes you make proactively while the opportunity is at hand for you to make them are changes rooting themselves deeply into you, preparing you to handle more than you ever planned to take on. They just are. Take heart and lay the better foundation today.
I’d wish my past year onto no one. Friend or enemy.
I’ve gone through several violent interruptions. Wake up calls I never saw coming. Wake up calls I saw coming. Reflection compounded upon reflection. A lingering pause allowing for second, third, even eighth levels of thinking about what to do now.
But would I wish my past year onto me? Yes. I’d never abandon what I’ve gone through. I wouldn’t trade it in for a ‘pleasant’ year at all.
What people say with cliche verbiage is true. If I didn’t go through hell, if I didn’t go through pain, if I didn’t go through terror, I’d never become who I am today.
The key word above is through. Coming out on the other side of it all doesn’t mean I’ve arrived at the formulaic movie ending where the climactic scene ties all loose ends together as the protagonist is surely changed for the better. Going through means I made it through the terrible occurrences. I’ve made it to some sort of ‘ok, that all really happened?!’ state of being.
The climatic scene isn’t here yet.
Going through is sort of like the part of the movie Castaway where Chuck Noland is finally rescued from the island he was stranded on for years. The suffering is finally over after all that time on the island, and in real time as the audience watched a man talk to a volleyball!
But now Chuck needs to get to Kelly Frears.
Off the island, surrounded by people, but still in a profound loneliness. A pain which needs fixing.
He is, however, not at all the same Chuck prior to the plane crash.
As I see what I’ve gone through over a year’s time, I realize the habits, rituals, and reactions to how things panned out are exactly the things carrying me into the next phase. I’m prepared in a way I never planned to be prepared.
This is exactly the point of another cliche. Lean in. Yes, lean into your situation, even if it is terrible and not what the trajectory was originally. Lean into the lessons learned. Lean into the new habits. Lean into how you survived, and carry the lessons learned not only into your new life but also into the lives of others.
My past year was an apprenticeship I didn’t sign up for. My future now contains endings I didn’t want either. But these climactic scenes will be more meaningful than I ever could have imagined had I not gone through it all.
When I was in elementary school I had to go to speech therapy because I couldn’t talk correctly.
In elementary school I had to wear prescription shoes to cure myself from walking tiptoe. They basically looked like dress shoes. Imagine wearing dress shoes but prescription dress shoes in elementary school. Go ahead, imagine.
I was told I was lazy by several teachers because I couldn’t focus at all, but I got good grades (and that is a tip to where this article is heading).
I say all these things slightly against the advice of Ramit Sethi’s pointed article on the trappings of vulnerability culture. I first heard this in detail on the James Altucher Show when Ramit said he’s tired of people being vulnerable ahead of being excellent at something, basically spilling their guts on the Internet without having tasted the sort of success which gives credibility to their exposed vulnerabilities. I totally agree.
When I began overcoming my conflicts by coming to grips with the incredible God given value I have in me, I started to see shortcomings as superpowers society was beating out of me. Only recently have I seen them as assets, value God gave me. Challenges to refine, not discard.
By not becoming vulnerable, or let’s call it honest self awareness, I enter too many situations where I’m trying to fit into a world that doesn’t really know what to do with a Misfit like me. By putting on a mask and trying to fit in I just make things worse for myself because then I think there’s something wrong with me when things are not working out. They’re not working out because I haven’t dared enough to be more myself and double down at getting better at perceived weaknesses. The weaknesses are actually strengths in disguise.
It’s refreshing to know there are James Altucher’s out there who yes, after success, can write about their most intimate shortcomings, their most intimate flaws.
It’s great to hear from Richard Branson that he’s dyslexic. It’s ten times more refreshing to read how he overcame it in spite of it being there, embracing it is a part of him, and figuring out how it actually is a superpower of his.
They are encouraging because they are the aspirational leader. What I find most encouraging about their stories is weakness came before excellence. They began harnessing their shortcomings prior to excelling. They didn’t enter into the comfort of success and then faced shortcomings. Misfit nature came when they were born. Their misfit nature was given to them. Their weaknesses were gifts, but they had no idea what to do with these gifts initially. Neither did I.
Having not become a Branson, Altucher, or Sethi yet myself, should this post even exist? Yes it should. Because I believe I need to reach out to my fellow metal head misfits so we can move along in confidence with our true gifts.
Over the past three years, in close community, I’ve gone through the process of slowly waking up to who I really am. This process sparked the awareness I needed to begin losing the weight I gained. The weight gain and lack of self-care was a mask I put on without realizing it because I was miserable ignoring my weaknesses (unrefined superpowers) while attempting to bolster societal strengths which I don’t posses.
If I don’t shed my weight by first focusing on what is really going on inside of me, then I don’t release any of these words to the world.
And this doesn’t happen.
A friend recently told me my weight loss encouraged him, realizing he too can lose weight. Then he went about doing it. I didn’t have to say much at all to him before, I just joyfully shared how I had to work on my inner value, and gave a couple food and exercise tips here and there (maybe a lot of tips with my hyperactive mind).
First I know I am a walking talking speech impediment, then I practice over and over the art of clarity in communication, knowing my sporadic mind is actually a gift when I refine it, not discard it.
First I know I walk on my tiptoes as a kid, then I realize come time for sports in high school I can run as fast as the more athletic kids because I run on the balls of my feet, something the coaches have to constantly teach the other kids.
First I am told I am lazy by teachers, then I realize it’s because I have this racing mind thinking of a billion things at once and I need to simply harness this power and focus intensely on a few things I really care about. Like getting into shape.
First I know I am loved as I am, then I have the freedom to change.
We’re supposed to be misfits. And together we’re suppose to excel. We’re meant to succeed together as ourselves by sharing our shortcomings so we can lead to the excellence in front of us.
There’s an episode of The Adventures of Pete & Pete titled Time Tunnel. It is one of my favorite episodes from one of my favorite childhood shows. In the episode, brothers Big Pete and Little Pete explain how every daylight savings night they take seriously the opportunity to travel back in time to relive the hour that just went by.
As a ten year old kid I was dumbfounded not at the idea we actually travel through time twice a year, but that I had never utilized fall back for this purpose: go back in time for an hour and make amends with how poorly you might have spent that hour. Or how great you spent it. Or just do it again. We are actually gifted a re-do annually.
If I am really good at one thing, like, I can put a flag on something and claim this is my territory and I just kill at it, it would be reflection. It’s not just because I studied history as an undergraduate, but because I study my past all the time. I am always reflecting. Even as a ten year old kid I recall writing journals with a sort of sacredness to the practice of reflecting on the day or big moment that just occurred.
I almost would charge myself with using too much of my present time’s energy towards reflection on my past. There is a balance of course. The practice of looking back at one’s mistakes, one’s victories, or just anything random from the past is an excellent discipline helping re-orient one’s self as to who they are and how’d they get here to the present.
We easily lose sight of how we got to the present. When we do we allow false narratives to hijack the truth of how we arrived in our present situation. By reflecting on the past in order to help course correct our present, we do a good service for ourselves by mentally confirming what actually happened versus what might have happened.
False narratives fill the void quickly and become terrible baggage, positive or negative false narratives the same, because it’s simply not how we got to the present. What we hope for, what I at least hope for with this exercise of intentional reflection, is to find the pivot points which were key and realize what I should or should not do the next time around.
But now I propose we shift this discipline of reflection forward to the future itself and time travel backwards to our present. What happens when we have the vision of our future self telling our present self how we got to our future condition? Couldn’t we use this information to engineer ourselves towards our future self?
What happens is a life-hack so powerful it is frightening when you embrace this exercise fully. The key is taking the same emotional ride when reflecting on a past event in the present, and transferring this same exercise to your future self reflecting on your present self.
Author Tim Ferriss stumbled upon this accidentally when he wrote a piece of fiction. It was a short story “about going skiing, retiring to the ski lodge to sip hot chocolate and wine, and ending up seated across the table from a wise old stranger….this stranger turns out to be my future self. It was a fun story to write, but – and this sounds a bit weird – I also got a lot of actionable, specific advice by going through the exercise. When I put my pen down, I was somewhat puzzled and thought, “I don’t know what I just did there, but it seems like a funky magic trick.”” (Tools of Titans, 443). His future self essentially encourages his present to get to his future self. It was a life-hack of epic proportions.
We are blessed with the incredible opportunity of having another day today. What we do with today will determine our future. Well duh! But I don’t believe we live presently aware enough most of the time to know we are defining our future moment by moment, choice by choice. We get to carve out maybe an inch or two of progress right now in this very moment, progressing towards a future self we desire.
The total mind blowing aspect to this visualization is to take the same clarity we get from looking at our past right now, and transfer this clarity to the future self looking at our current self. We end up feeling we have a better grip at how to handle bad or good things that happened in our past and what we can do to move forward.
By applying this same rush of optimism having seen the future for a moment, even if it is in Pete & Pete’s case only for a mere hour, we unlock the gravity of the powerful tool we posses. Our actions right now determine our future.
You get the opportunity to correct your future self. You get the opportunity to live out the good version of your future self. Right this moment, you can make the first positive incremental move towards who you need to become.
We all get the opportunity to go back in time. Pete & Pete were onto something every autumn.
You are killing yourself when you intentionally stop doing things you are good at and enjoy doing. There is no way to soften the language. You are allowing a part of yourself to suffocate slowly. Death may not come tomorrow but it’s accelerated now.
I know. I saw the results up close and personal.
For reasons I am only scratching the surface in understanding, I stuffed things I enjoyed inside a ‘to-do-later’ box. Of course the intentions were to open the box when convenient. Maybe after I earned X amount of dollars. Maybe when I gained middle management status type security. Probably by the time I forgot what I liked and was good at all together.
The side effects of this? Well you end up having to fill your void of what you love with something. I got real fat, I didn’t personally grow, and I used my ‘free-time’ and those X dollars on things I ‘liked’ such as video games, beer halls, and fast food lines.
I’ve conducted a lot of research on this recently, having read several people who express a very similar message: most of us end up placing things in a box we had a child-like faith and love for. Things we scoff at now because we don’t think we are that good at it. Even though we are good at it. Things we deeply love.
Some of the most common themes in explaining this curious behavior are the following:
We are most afraid of what we love.
It sounds counter-intuitive, and if you are afraid of spiders you may have a point, you actually don’t love spiders. But what several authors have pointed out which is true is we are afraid of failing at what we most love.
In a vain attempt of keeping ourselves safe, we preserve our current state of having never risked anything in order to not experience potential ridicule messing up something we love. It’s kind of like plastic covering your couches to prevent people from sitting on them. Seriously, what on earth is going on there.
We can’t do what we loved and were good at doing as kids because we are not kids anymore.
Well, right. But the problem with that line of thinking is you stop at applying the reasons why you would flip through baseball cards for hours, diligently categorizing them by card number, memorizing the patterns of each page as you flip through the thick binder because of your photographic memory, and being pleased Alex Rodriguez and Mark McGwire’s rookie cards are in your collection (I’m a child of the 90’s, so much hope in all those pure home-runs paying for college).
Unless you own a card shop and need to flip through baseball cards still, that’s not what you are suppose to be doing now. You are suppose to be categorizing items, putting them in their proper place, creating order out of mess, recalling things with your photographic memory and being an on demand human Google resource by putting ideas together.
We have created a mess by now and are slogging through triage just to maintain.
Sure. But. Here is an incredible discovery in the midst of triage. If you start piece by piece, a moment here and there, to let back in the thing you love so much and are good at, it not only starts to establish itself again but actually helps in the process of triage.
So we’ve made a mess by taking the wrong career path, or creating obligations we must tend to (ahem, creating offspring), or signing up to volunteer for things society or someone outside our selves said was a good thing to sign up and commit time and energy to. In the midst of all that, you have to intentionally carve out time (which you have if you actually love the thing) to get what you love going again.
Or better yet. You start applying what you love and are naturally good at to the commitments you’ve made. They may be not ideal obligations, but today is literally the time to start applying what you love to do towards what you do now. Maybe your kids never knew you were a woodworker until you pick it back up and teach them how to use a wood lathe.
If you don’t pick whatever your ‘it’ is back up, you might as well hire a woodworker to build your casket. You’ve essentially said no to living out what you are good at and love.
Stop dying by doing. Become a kid again. Put it to practice even in the middle of the mess you are in.
The rhythmic pilgrimage cycles back today,
A ritual imprinting itself onto my heart
Not as relief but as duty,
My life as I have known it depends on it.
Surrounded by others settling into the camp,
We will come with our burdens, our expectations,
Our hopes which were spilled out across the grounds,
And love will rise from shattered pieces.
If this is only an autumn occurrence
Somehow I was not told of its ending in the winter,
Nor last spring, nor this summer,
As the place I journey to on this day forgot to stay
Inside its autumn home and wandered with me
Through seasons I’d wish upon not a single soul.
This ritual, this holy event, it haunted all year.
This day, this pilgrimage, hitched a ride back with me
It journeyed with me to come to my holy place,
And never let me alone till I finally said:
“Here is my crushed self,
Here is my true self,
Take it, I hope others will take it too.”
If you can come to a point where you are humbled enough to know things aren’t working the way they should be then there is an incredible opportunity at hand. The moment is right there for a major pivot point in your life.
Awareness is something which begs to be acted upon. I become aware of the situation I am in and know it is not what I want, I know it is not what I need, I know it is not where I am suppose to be at at all.
This is exactly the ripe moment. This realization is the catalyst for change.
It doesn’t have to be acted upon right now. Because if it’s strong enough of a realization it will stay with you for a while. It will prod your mind and heart for however long it takes for the next part to kick in.
This part is the action. To do something about it. And it can be the smallest change or alteration to what you need to accomplish. I mean the smallest. But you got to find yourself acting upon it.
But first and foremost it truly is this moment of realization. Coming to grips with change is tough because of the humbling aspect of it. I really think it’s the main, if not only hurdle.
I find the hardest part of change is arriving at the realization I have to change, and then doing something about it.
Once I accept I don’t have much right, the act of changing isn’t challenging. The work can get started finally. The work is actually the exciting part.