I’ve been in a very difficult period of transition lately. Over the past three weeks, it’s gotten even more difficult and is really becoming overwhelming. Especially during this time, I found the following poem to be both challenging and encouraging. The Calf Path, by Sam Foss, was mentioned by a commenter on Leadership Freak. By his reference, the poem is found here.
Not your typical pump-me-up motivational line? Death is hardly a popular topic, even among those with strong religious beliefs. Once in a while, though, it hits us square in the face.
I’ve been dealing with a weird medical thing for about 8 months. At first the doctors thought it was a fungal infection of some kind (how’s your breakfast?), but it just won’t respond to anti-fungal meds. This past week, my doctor took a biopsy.
“Well, it could be [insert doctorese], which is no big deal. It could be just a weird fungal thing. I’m also going to have it tested for Lymphoma. It’s a long shot, but some forms get away from us.”
“Ok,” I responded almost with a shrug. He’s the doctor. The way he said Lymphoma, though, led me to Google it. And all of a sudden I could be fighting a nasty blood cancer.
Before I wax too dramatic, I don’t have a diagnosis yet. The biopsy will take a while. But I don’t need to have cancer to know that I’m dying. All of us are.
In my time as a Funeral Director, I saw children who didn’t get their first breath and centenarians take their last. There’s not a rule on when we’re born or when we’ll die.
We read about people all the time who decided to live their last year or two really big. I won’t offer you a six-step program to do that, I’ll just ask you one question: Why wait?
The biopsy could come back looking really ugly with some form of prognosis. But whether it does or not, I refuse to wait any more to live life big.
I want to build a legacy every day. I want to leave an impression on a LOT of people. I want to raise kids who do the same. And I refuse to wait “until I’m dying” to do any of it.
Let’s quit ignoring the proverbial elephant in the room. Let’s straighten our backs, look Death in the face and say “Challenge Accepted.” Let’s not treat it like a stalking predator but like a constant reminder to do it now.
I’m not telling you to sell all of your possessions and move to the islands. I’m telling you to do that thing you know you ought to do. I’m telling you to give and serve and love and live…before you die.
Remember the first time you did something you thought you couldn’t do? It was exhilarating! You were unstoppable. Look out world, there was a new Sheriff in town.
Only it wasn’t long before your badge was ripped off. Motivationally destitute, you’re wondering how you ended up in your own jail cell! There’s a new Sheriff in town, and he’s big and mean and ugly.
His name is:
- Physical Ability
There’s something you know you want to do– know you ought to do– but won’t. One or more of these limits are taunting you from outside the jail cell, swinging the keys they took from your belt.
The remarkable thing is that all of these things are tools. Each of the limits you’re under should contribute to your success! Instead, you’ve magnified their influence on your life and handed over your badge. You’ve allowed these limits– and yourself– to believe that they get a vote.
But you were elected by a majority of one: YOU!
Not only are you the Sheriff in town, you’re the Mayor, the Judge, and the Sanitation Worker. It’s time to pack up the trash you believe about your limits and haul it to the dump.
Turn these tools around and use them to accomplish your goals and dreams. Don’t allow limits to use you to accomplish your defeat and ho-hummery.
You might not control your job or other circumstances, but when it comes down to it your only limit is YOU. Who controls that?
My wife and I are big fans of “The Biggest Loser”. Each episode, we pop the top off of some ice cream (only halfway joking here) and tune in to the timeless story of human strength: to overcome, to change a life, to be the Biggest Loser.
I am not surprised, season after season, when a trainer sits down with one of the contestants and asks: “What’s holding you back?” I’m even less surprised to hear contestants recount heartbreaking tales of loss:
- Repeated miscarriages
- A child or sibling’s tragic death
- Losing a parent
Year after year, half-baked grief turns up in these contestants’ stories. It’s probably somewhere in yours, too:
- The pressure to be what your sibling was is driving you mad.
- Guilt from a strained relationship is deterring you from forming new ones.
- Perceived failure to live up to a parent’s standards leads to unhealthy coping methods.
Even if you’re not in one of these dramatic situations, you’ve probably been impacted by grief in some way. An incomplete or nonexistent grieving process will hold you back in way you may not even realize. Take a moment to reflect:
- List the Losses: Make a list of the last three or four significant losses you’ve experienced. This doesn’t have to involve death; a loss could mean moving on from a community or church, leaving a job, losing a friend, etc.
- Examine the Relationships: Take an honest look at the relationships involved in the loss. If you left your workplace, for example, think of how you interacted with coworkers and supervisors. Which of these should you seek to carry forward? If you’ve been through a death in your family, specifically examine the relationship between yourself and that person. Are there lessons you learned? Memories that will sustain you in difficult times?
- Identify Sticking Points: Ask yourself some tough questions. What do you regret most in that/those relationship/s? Is there something you left undone or unsaid? This can be incredibly difficult for children of abusive parents or others in similar situations as they grieve a loss in that relationship, but it’s even more important to confront in these situations. Speaking of parental issues, do you hang onto unrealistic expectations they may have had for you? How about something hurtful that they said during your childhood?
- Seek Closure: Where possible, rectify those issues you came up against. Seek (and give) forgiveness where others have hurt you. Seek (and give) understanding. Even if you’re dealing with the loss of a loved one, this is a particularly important step. I’m not trying to talk you into a Lifetime Movie Network moment, screaming at a headstone or pounding on the grave. I’m suggesting that these are issues you sit down and work through in your own heart. By the way, you may need to extend some grace and forgiveness to yourself.
I’m neither a psychologist nor a mental health professional. In my time serving families in the midst of loss, though, this has been the pattern of grief. Fascinating is the fact that “loss” doesn’t have to mean the death of a loved one! When we have that experience, it’s important to pause, reflect, appreciate, and when we’re ready, find a way to move forward.
How have you gotten through a significant loss in your life?
That debilitating sense of hopelessness? The listless feeling of a man powerless to control his future? It’s called despair, and it can crush your spirit.
Lately, I’ve been struggling with despair. I wish it were a “these are the times that try men’s souls” kind of despair. The simple fact is that despair attacks us in more intimate ways: career situations, home life, friendships are all targets.
Career trajectory may be the most desperate topic for most young people. Whether it’s the paralyzing plethora of opportunities (merely perceived or more realistic) presented to most of us or the constant depression dogma of down-economy prognoses, many young people will find themselves stuck in a funk– a state of despair.
I’ve found myself exactly there. Even with a seemingly perfect prospective future, despair creeps in. Here’s how I’m dealing with it (and how you can, too):
- Chart Your Course. You’ve got to know where you’re going if you’re going to get there. This doesn’t mean you have to sit down and write out every single detail. It also doesn’t mean you have to stick to your current circumstances. Chart out the course you want to take. What are your dreams and passions? What are your strengths? Where the two intersect, jot out a rough plan on how to get where you want to go.
- Consult Your Inner Circle. To be successful and climb out of the funk of despair, you’re going to need the advice and help of those closest to you. For me, this would mean my wife and a few friends. If you’re married or in a serious relationship, your partner’s buy-in is essential; securing it may require some re-charting. Don’t let physical connections be your limit, though. As a Christian, I would also spend time in prayer and reflection, desiring those tiny internal revelations that God uses to set us in motion.
- Commit. Perhaps the most important step, committing is often the hardest thing for people to do. These days, the buzzword seems to be “opportunity cost”. What opportunities do you have to give up in order to take advantage of the one you want to pursue? Toss it out with the garbage! You’ve charted a course and got the buy-in of those who matter to you. Commit to your course and your emotional health. Commit to those one or two things you need to pursue to get where you want to be.
- Confront Uncertainty. Uncertainty can be paralyzing. Whether it’s in your head or in the minds of your colleagues or superiors, you’ve got to confront it. Once you’ve committed, you need to know that those upon whom your plan depends are not going to rip the carpet out from under you. I have experienced this numerous times; uncertainty or a lack of commitment from a superior can sabotage your efforts and plunge you into deeper despair.
- Change It Up When You Must. No plan is perfect. Along the way, you will run into obstacles that threaten derailment. Rather than putting your head down and plowing right of the bridge, alter course when appropriate. Progress is about learning and growth! As you discover strengths or weaknesses, adjust to take advantage of them or find a partner who can come alongside and complement you.
Defeating despair is no small task. If I told you I had the perfect formula for preventing despair I’d be lying; it will creep up on you. But marinating in that place is not an option for those hoping to live a happy and productive life. Chart, Consult, Commit, Confront, and Change to defeat despair and take responsibility for your sense of fulfillment.