The Work

The woman in my life, the woman I love and is now my bride, has been after me to write something about “doing the work” for ages. I have some time between appointments today to write, so here we go…

I am a creature of habit.

I am not certain if I always was, or if this is something relatively new, a creation of the past decade. Certainly, for the first 25 years or so of my career, there was nothing resembling a schedule, nothing resembling normal.

Working in the Television industry, even on the technical side, is like that, a life of constantly changing deadlines and demands careening from crisis to crisis like a drunk riding a bicycle. Add to that the normal wackiness of life, family and church, and you got me, never sure what I was doing an hour from now, much less a day or week ahead.

I thought I thrived on that chaos. Certainly, by most accounts, I did the juggling thing fantastically well. I seemed to be able to keep a never-ending array of madness in the air with that “never let them see you sweat” attitude my mother instilled in me at a young age. People used to tell me, all the time, that they could not understand how I could do so much.

Looking back though, I am not sure it was so good for me. I was an adrenaline junkie, living off the high of “making it work”, no matter how crazy “It” was. Adrenaline has a purpose – it gives you that extra “mph” you need in a time of crisis. To do that, it uses a tremendous amount of energy that is stored up to carry you through the day to day. You can only run on that energy sapping miracle adrenaline so long before it drains you dry.

That’s science.

I got away with it so long, I think, because I had what I thought was an exceptional marriage. That was my foundation. And when that came undone, so did I. But the truth is, I have come to understand, that I was coming undone even with that foundation. I was likely muddling my way into depression already. Without rest, I was draining any reserves I had – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.

I came undone. Regular readers know this. It’s history. And they know it was a long journey back.

That journey involved work. Developing habits that not just helped me understand where things went off the track, what I was responsible for and what I wasn’t, but also the building of new habits and the reclaiming of old ones.

The old ones centered around rebuilding my spiritual life and and my creative life. These has been two sustaining parts of my life that, as life got busier and busier, got crowded out. I thought both of them were optional somehow.

I was wrong.

When you cut out the things that sustain you, whatever they are, you begin to shrink, to wither, to set yourself on a downward path. It may take a year, or five, or more, but you are driving yourself over a cliff. Cutting off those things, whatever they are, is like moving your house plant into a dark room. It lives for a while, but eventually, starved for light, it will die.

The other part of the rebuilding was developing habits. Routines. I had not had them for decades and I wasn’t sure I was made for them, but my therapist insisted I work at it. It turned out to be good advice. Life has enough craziness on its own that we don’t need to add to it. We need a foundation to stand on and com come back and rebuild on to keep us stable. And I was sorely lacking in foundation.

From that came my habit of writing poetry each day. Of starting my day with meditation and prayer. Slowly, I’ve migrated my work to something no less busy, but more predictable, no less challenging, but less prone to crisis management. I spent time being still, looking inward, at my own life and struggles and mistakes.

That sucked. (I know, “sucked” is not a preachery word, but sometimes it’s the only word that fits. It hurt. It was hard. I felt stupid sometimes. I felt weak sometimes. I felt vulnerable pretty much all of the time. I cried at times. I got angry sometimes. None of this is good stuff. I don’t have to tell you that. You already know. But that was the work. Without the pain of going through the hard stuff, there was no light at the other end. So I went through years of drudgery and work and all that sucky stuff.

And I am healthier for it.

I think sometimes we get caught up in being the fixer, the one who makes it happen, the miracle worker, the go-to person, that we don’t understand what a steady diet of that life does to us. It can suck us dry.

Towards the end, when I was sucked dry and falling apart, everything continued. I worked. And well. I did church work, and fairly well. The have-to-do stuff continued. I had a habit of doing. No matter what. Some people knew what I was going through. Most didn’t. I just plowed on, a shell, breathing, living, doing, with no life in me.

A lot of us do that, I think. At least I see it a lot. Sometimes, in my role as pastor or as a life coach, I see the coming apart, the lives without foundations. And the cost of that.

But here’s the flip side. I have also learned that no matter how undone we become, there is a path back. It’s hard. It takes time. It can be painful. There’s no miracle cure to our pain. No magic bullet that makes us all better and full of life and joy and personal power. The therapists and coaches and counselors out there know this. There is way back from everything, anything. It’s generally not complicated. But it’s work.

Did I mention it takes work?  It’s not easy. It’s not fast.  There’s no secret to it. There are people who can help us get from here to there, where ever we have been and where ever we want to go. Get their help (and few of us can do it alone. That’s just a fact.) and we can crawl out of our hole. We can reach for our stars. And we can get to a better joyful place.

But we have to do the work. Deal with the pain, not run from it. Face the fears down (and they always back down if we do.). It’s not a spring. It’s a slog.

Let me repeat myself. There is always a way back. Always. It is not a mystery. We know the paths. But it is never easy. Never.

Is it worth it? I think so. I was in my fifties when it came undone for me. It took years of work. Things got better slowly. But they got better.  New habits and reclaiming old ones have made my life something it had not been for decades – a thing of joy. Not perfect, but joyful, engaged, and fulfilled. If I died today, it was worth it. Fortunately, I come from long lived stock, so I am looking forward to a lot more years ofo good stuff. Not because I am wise or smart or anything special. I’m NOT anything special. Just a guy. So if I could slog my way to a better place, anyone can.

It just takes doing the work. Slogging through it. A habit of stubbornness to go along with a willingness to be vulnerable. No secret.

Just work.

That’s my take anyway. There’s always hope – to be more, to get out from under, to make change. To start a new business or to grow an existing one. I’ve lived it. I’ve seen it over and over again in my work and life. Excuses are easy. Work is hard. Running is easy. Work is hard. Doing nothing is easy. Blaming everyone else around us is easy. Work is hard.

But here’s the strange thing. At least I find it strange. Once I begin the work in earnest, it gets easier. No matter what the work is. Even the work on ourselves. We get a momentum. We see results. Because that is what work does.

It gets results. Completely without magic.

Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

Magnetic compass on a world map

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