You find yourself at an impasse. You’re at a cross road and you’re not sure which way to go. You know that something needs to change. But what?
The beginning of a personal life change is always hard. You’re new to your routine. All of the changes around you are uncomfortable. Your old comforts, habits and assumptions are not there to serve you anymore. It’s all new and suddenly we realize that we are the routine that we set for ourselves. This is us, each day, morning, noon and night.
We become our thoughts and our feelings; even if either of them are inaccurate or false, we become the product of our thinking.
I remember being at the bottom of a mountain. I was overweight and I over-packed. I was about to embark on my very first hike, which means there was no turning back. I was committed, which meant that the hike was underway and I was nowhere close to home.
My body was quickly reminded that I could not carry the weight. I wanted to quit. I wanted to be back on the ground where it was comfortable. I wanted to go home and eat something. I could sit on the couch, relax, have no stress, no pain, but the fact was that none of this would help me. I was already committed. I was already on the hill, walking up the incline, panting and breathing heavy enough that I could hear the sound of my heartbeat echoing in my chest.
I remember thinking, “What the hell did I just sign up for?”
I remember coming to the understanding that I had already given up on myself. I realized that my system of life needed to change.
I needed to update my thinking. I needed to update my ways of living. I could literally feel the degradation of my decisions. I let myself go. I was out of shape and out of breath and at times, I swore that if I didn’t take a break, I was going to die from a heart attack.
I was too young to be that old. I was too young to be so out of shape and hopeless.
I was not obese, nor am I pretending to be in any worse shape than I was. However, it was clear that my body could not physically perform.
My food choices were unhelpful. My exercise was non-existent and all the while, I am climbing up the side of a mountain asking the same question every five minutes. “How much farther do we have to go?”
I see this as a perfect analogy –
I remember a story that came from one of my old sales managers. This was decades ago, so of course; salaries are different these days. The cost of living is far different from what it used to be back in 1994. However, the math and the concept still holds true.
My sales manager told me, “I remember when I was thinking about how much money I needed to make me happy.”
He said, “I thought that everything would be fine, once I broke the 60k mark.”
Then he told me, “And after I broke 60k, I thought ‘Maybe I’ll be more comfortable after I break 75k,’ and then it was 100 and 150 until I realized that if I don’t fill the void inside of me, I can make a million and still be miserable.”
In a lecture called, “Stop chasing what you think will make you happy,” Alan Watts began with these words: So long as you are trying to make progress, you will go up. But up always implies down, so while you’re trying to get better and better and better, that means that when you get to the best you can only go on to the worst. And so you go round and round and round, ever chasing the illusion, that there’s something outside yourself, outside your “here and now” to be attained that will make things better. And the thing is to recover from that illusion.”
My version of “Self” has constantly and consistently evolved since birth. Each day, I learn something new. Each morning, I face a new time with a new beginning and new outcomes. At one point, I lost myself in the pattern of habitual outcomes. I found myself locked in the concepts of our social constructs.
I was misguided by the so-called blueprints of happiness; in which case, I believed in the provided descriptions of success. I subscribed to the common definitions of manhood, happiness, and the basic models of what life should look like. Meanwhile, I never fed the value of what life should look like for me.
I thought I would be happy once I earned a certain amount of money. I thought I would be happy when I lost my excess weight. I thought I would be happy if I had the right job and worked with the right people. Maybe I’d be happier if I had the right car (or whatever that means) and the right address with the right connections. But no.
The only thing that I have seen to be consistently true is if there’s a void so deep and so hopeless inside of us, nothing outwardly rich can fill that source of personal poverty.
I was in one of my first interviews to become a specialist. My day job was paying my bills, which was fine. However, I needed something that would pay my heart.
The way I saw this is most people take a job to provide for their family. But I needed a job to provide for my sanity.
I was told more times than I could count: if you love what you do then you never go to work a day in your life. I was told that passionless living can only lead to a passionless life.
And what kind of life is that?
Much, if not all, of my search for happiness was based on outward things. Much of this was based on an outward appearance. I never realized that anything outwardly would only satisfy my exterior. But I needed more. I fed the ideas of status and even when I had status, I felt nothing.
I was tired of believing that I had nothing, which meant that I needed to find something. I needed something that I could touch, taste and feel.
I needed to find an ongoing presence of self but instead, I found fear. I found habits. I found patterns and systems of living that did not work for me.
As I saw it, my changes were best defined in the analogy of my first hike. I wanted the victory. I wanted the thrill but the thrill came with a cost. And when the novelty wore off, I wanted to quit. I wanted the easy way. I didn’t want to hurt or struggle through pain.
I wanted to be at the mountaintop and see the view from the overlook but the only way to get to this place is to work. That’s right. You guessed it.
Work is a four letter word.
Last week, a woman leapt to her death from her Midtown apartment. She was 30 years old, a Miss USA winner, on television, and regardless of all the money, accolades and the popularity or attention, there was still too much missing. There was no shortage of money or love or attention; yet, as much as all this is worth, wealth like this does not always solve the problems of internal poverty.
I used to be afraid to laugh. I used to be afraid to want things. I was afraid enough that I would never allow myself to be excited or feel the thrill of wonder.
Perhaps I’ve told you about my boyhood memory of the tooth fairy. I lost my tooth at the bus stop. Maybe I was in first or second grade. I waited with the other kids for the bus to come. Meanwhile, I had been wiggling the tooth for more than a day, just waiting for my it to fall out. And it did. My tooth fell out a few minutes before the bus came.
I was happy about this. I was excited enough to tell the others at the bus stop. I was excited enough to tell everyone that the tooth fairy was going to come. And that’s when the theft happened.
One of the sixth graders made fun of me. He laughed at me and called me a “Stupid little kid!” He did this in front of everybody.
The rest of the kids at the bus stop laughed at me too. And while yes, I was young and yes, unfortunately this is part of being a kid; it is also true that this is where we learn about the thefts of our emotion.
Nobody ever wants to be foolish. No one ever wants to be the one laughed at; but more, no one ever wants to find out that their beliefs were untrue.
We live in a world where people literally keep themselves from excitement because there is too much of a risk and too much pain when it comes to disappointment. It was in June 1991. I woke up on the floor of a bathroom in a treatment facility. The noose around my neck had slipped.
I survived . . .
I used to think I was stupid.
I used to think I was crazy.
But crazy people don’t think they’re crazy.
They think they’re sane. It’s everybody else who’s crazy.
And for the record, stupid people don’t think they’re stupid.
They think they’re smart. It’s the rest of the word that’s stupid.
But me, I had to come to the hard realization that my self-judgments and all of my self-persecution would never allow me to be wealthy enough to enjoy my life.
I had to learn how to step out of myself. I work on this every day. And sometimes, it’s like that mountain that I tried to climb.
I’m tired and I want to go back. I want to quit. But other times, life is exactly like that hike. I hurt and I ache. I step and I climb, and finally: I find myself at the overlook.
I see what I’ve accomplished. I defied the narrative in my head. I didn’t take the easy way. I fought and I earned. But no matter how tired I was, I had to remember one simple thing. Don’t look down. It’s too easy to fall and too easy to give up.
See the sights. Make your move because the ends will pay far more than a quick fix.
Remember that everybody wants to be rich but then again, true wealth comes from within.
Otherwise, all we are is personally poor.
As in bankrupt, exhausted or depleted.
Or worse: Broke.