I can’t draw a straight line. Evidently I can’t live one either.
There was a time my life ran in straight lines. I set a goal. I got there. I set a goal. I got there. It was hard work, at times gratifying, at times frustrating.
That straight line mentality helped me develop 3 fledgeling technology startups into industry powerhouses. It helped me build two marketing firms. It was the path I used to help grow the churches I was in.
Set goals. Stay on the path till the goal is met. It’s tried and true. Every book on “getting there” talks about goals that way. You have to have them. You have to work them.
I’m still pretty good at doing the goal —> achieve thing. I help others do it too in my consulting and coaching work.
The problem was, and I really didn’t understand it then, is that while that straight line path was satisfying and rewarding (and it was both), it wasn’t nourishing.
Slowly, slowly, oh so slowly, I found myself being drained. I wasn’t even aware of it. It’s amazing how that happens, how your life, your real life, drains out of you one drop at a time and you hardly notice. You think you are doing the right things because the world around you, perhaps even the people around you are always telling you that you are.
You are too busy, too focused on the goal. to understand what’s happening, how your spirit is being drained, how the best you is being swallowed and replaced by the goal. Your eyes are so focused ahead, that you can’t see what is.
Been there. Done that. Own the T-shirt.
Some people do this their whole lives. Some are happy with it. It’s how they mark their self-worth, but the list of goals and accomplishments. God bless ’em. I am envious of their sense of satisfaction and their peace.
Many, and I mean MANY, are not so satisfied. They plow on, aware things are not as they should be deep down, but for many reasons – lack of knowing better, fear of change, fear of what they will find when they look too deep, fear of loss, fear of…. well, the list is very, very long.
Most of these who are not satisfied just live with it. Not quite joyful (which is different than happy), not quite miserable. Sometimes they chip around the edges of their dissatisfaction, take a course here or there, read a book or few. make a few changes, and change the equation a bit, but still never quite get the balance to a place where life is truly joy-filled and deeply satisfying.
Some of those who are not satisfied, a few, a very few, make the decision to change, and work hard at it. I call these the smart ones. They decide the need for a better life overrides the fear of change. Most of my coaching clients fall into this category. Successful people who what to change their success level, who understand that doing things the same way, or chipping at change won’t get them but so far. So they make big changes, they become more mindful and deliberate.
I was not one of the smart ones. I fell in the last category. One of the lucky ones.
Those for whom it all falls apart.
It did for me. I fell apart. I lost my sense of spirituality, my creativeness, my drive as my marriage and life came unglued about a decade ago. I functioned, sort of. I got work done. I met deadlines. I took the kids on mission trips and vacations. But I was a husk. I had been, I realize now, a husk for a long time. There was little of ME left. I lived in a dark place, a place of depression, and a place of living by inertia, not joy. Habit, not purpose.
I was one of the lucky ones. I got help. I did the work. Step by step, over years, I dug out. I lived in faith even when I did not feel the faith because at the start, I could not see a goal or a horizon or joy. I just knew I could not live in that empty place forever.
I call myself one of the lucky ones because I survive that painful place. Some do not. I see people broken by life all the time, nearly every day. Ones left broken on the roadside. Roadkill.
I call myself one of the lucky ones, because I found good people to guide me and love me through the darkness, and back to myself. To help me find the lessons of my own life without telling me what they were. They were wise and patient and persistent. And literally saved my life.
I was lucky because I found that if I get to my best self, the best opportunities for work and friends and love come to me. That I only need one goal – to understand myself and how to be as good as I can be. Not perfect, simply striving every day, EVERY DAY, to push beyond my own weaknesses and fear and be. If I do that, the rest of life seems to fall into place.
Frankly, I would have rather been one of the smart ones. I admire them tremendously. But being one of those whose life came unraveled taught me something that being smart could not have. It taught me appreciation.
When you lose everything important to you, and find your way back, everything takes on a new value. Every joy. Every conversation. Every meal. Every poem written. Every good book read. Every moment in the sunshine. Every everything. Even the detours and delays because precious.
That gratitude is at a level I never experienced in my straight line life. And it allows me to look at that dark time, and the loss and the pain and the anger and hurt of that time in a good light. It was hard, but it led me here, to a place of unimagined joy.
Even in the struggle.
Yep, there is still struggle. It’s not a life of roses and certainty. Some days I think I am living in a deep fog, not even able to see the path right in front of me. It’s scary some days.
But I am one of the lucky ones. I survived Hell, separation from God and self. and came back. When you survive that, you know the truth. You’re gonna be fine.
And you’re gonna have a heck of a tale to tell on the other side.
Be well. Travel wisely.