I guess the old adage is true. As we age, we become wiser. Or, maybe it’s that we learn to let go of the pride we learned to blanket ourselves with at such an early age.
We’re taught, especially the guys, to keep our feelings internalized. To keep your chin up….to never let them see you sweat.
Failure is bad. Second is simply the first loser. This is what is tattooed on our psyche at an early age.
The fact is, the world isn’t getting any easier. We live in a non-stop world of one upmanship (is that a word? Maybe not : ).
Look at my perfect life. This is many times the default response.
What if the truth is that perfection is a myth and pride is the wrong way to approach anything?
What if we all decided to be real? To look our fears in the face….to punch our fears in the face?
My name is Jon…most of you know me in some capacity…whether you’ve read anything I’ve written or we know each other more intimately. It’s nice to meet you. You may ask, why are you introducing yourself? Well, if I’m being honest, I’ve let pride and a never-ending quest for perfection keep me from being real.
You see, I’m as imperfect as they come. So, I guess I’m re-introducing myself to you : )
If you look at me from the outside, it looks like I have it all together. A healthy family, 3 kids, a dog, a great job, a nice house, nice car….etc., etc. What if I told you that I struggle?
And, even more, what if I told you that I know a lot of you struggle? My friend Kary talks about the universal emotion that everyone experiences…do you know what that is? Most you probably think – Love….maybe joy. What if I told you the universal emotion we all experience….is Pain. Pain. Hurt. We all hurt in some way. Maybe you’re not going through something now, but if you look deep inside, I imagine you all have experienced pain in some profound way.
What if we changed our perception of this pain? Is it possible to embrace our pain…to embrace our struggles.
I believe the answer is a firm YES. And, it’s taken me a long time to realize that.
I grew up with a charmed life. I was good at a lot – sports, academics, etc. But, that also brought about a desire to be…well, perfect. And, when failure came, I had no idea how to handle it.
If my parents had issues (they eventually divorced)….it wasn’t let’s face it and talk about it…it was, let’s internalize it and go find success in another channel like athletics. Then, when adversity hits, like maybe not living up to my potential in my athletic career (that’s short for getting benched at one point on my college soccer team)…I become a failure in everything else. At least this was the story I started to tell myself.
Then, the snowball effect takes place…and instead of dealing with struggles, I internalized everything. Well, except for my therapists throughout the years.
For the last 20 years, I’ve struggled. If you know me and hang with me, you probably have no idea. In fact, you’d probably be very surprised. The truth is – I’m really freaking good at compartmentalizing things. I know b/c my therapist and I talk about this now : )
My hope is that we all learn to own our stories. I say this b/c I know that in the last year I’ve finally taken significant steps toward owning it. It’s small steps…and putting this out more publicly is part of that process. But, I think that by me owning this…I’m hoping that it gives others the hope that being real and embracing life’s struggles may be the key to overcoming them. After all, the story of Daniel in the Lion’s Den (Daniel 6) – Daniel’s faith and his EMBRACING of the lions (that could have taken his life at any moment)…that’s what got him through it. In fact, there are some accounts that say Daniel pet the lions and the lions were purring. What if we looked our struggles in the face and accepted them…pet them…and take on the mindset of – this is part of me now. I have a choice…we all have a choice.
In the last four years, I’ve lost a pretty close friend to suicide and another close friend’s wife for the same reason. I can’t fathom the pain they were going through. I do know that they were probably too proud….too perfect….to just accept their situations and their frailty….and to seek help.
Today, I tell you about my struggles with anxiety and depression, not for you to feel sorry for me. And, not for me to feel better about myself. I tell you b/c I know that so many go through some type of pain….and so many of us feel like we can’t let our guard down and show our weakness.
But, I’m learning that in our openness…in our “being ok” with our weakness…well, this actually produces a strength – maybe a strength we’ve never imagined.
I’m a Christian…yet, I never really have been an ultra believer. It wasn’t until the last year, where I’ve been accepting my circumstances, that I’ve felt a real connection to my faith. It’s true – in the well, that’s where the power is. Don’t forget that. No matter what you may be going through. As I said at my friend TJ’s funeral in March, where there’s pain, there’s hope. Where there’s death, there’s life. Sometimes we have to kill our old selves off, to experience a rebirth of what we’re really meant to be…to do…to stand for…to live for. Maybe that’s the secret to life.
Last July, I had the opportunity to speak on stage at an event called the World Domination Summit. I stood before 2,500 world-changers and talked about a project I worked on with my friend Adam. You can learn more about that project here, but I’ll give you the summary. Adam lives at Creative Living, a non-profit I serve on the board of. Creative Living provides independent living for the physically disabled. We have a 24/7 Resident Assistant on-site to help with things most of us take for granted – like picking up something we dropped or getting a glass of water. Adam’s story resonated with me greatly. He struggled with depression and drug abuse, which led to his accident. He was also a very successful athlete. We partnered together and raised almost $10,000 for him to get an editor and publish his book. I didn’t realize it at the time but Adam was put into my life to make me realize that being real, being authentic, was the true path to happiness. He always had a smile on his face and was very up front with his mistakes, his struggles and his determination to make good on his life, despite his circumstances. It’s funny b/c Adam would probably tell you that I helped him a lot (and am maybe even a mentor). The truth is that, and I didn’t realize at the time, but Adam was teaching me this whole time. Maybe that’s why his story resonated with me so much. He’s living the Hero’s Journey.
I talked about our project on stage and was blessed to hear the sounds of 2,500 people applauding Adam’s accomplishment. But, something didn’t feel right. With that success and that experience, I felt an emptiness like I had never felt before. Here I was being a Catalyst for someone else….and, yet, I wasn’t being a Catalyst for myself. I felt an overwhelming sense of not being congruent at that moment and for months after. I knew the answer was being more authentic. But, it takes some time to put it out there.
Little by little things started to happen….and, by the way, this continues to be a major work in progress. Being more real with Michelle, my wife. Dealing with struggles, with imperfections, has opened the door to a more powerful relationship.
You see, when you’re not real with what you’re going through, you start to mask everything. You start to despise failure and failure begins to creep up on you.
Over time, my work product suffered. 9 years ago, at 30, I was on top of my career. I was the up and coming sales rep – just got a big promotion. But, that was short-lived as my insecurities would eventually take over. Little failures here and there (and there are many in a sales career), and my old ways of striving for perfection and falling short came crawling back. This led to doubt….and doubting yourself is a recipe for disaster. I love to speak publicly, always have. But, there was a time when I couldn’t speak with confidence. In fact, there was a time that I had panic attacks even in basic sales presentations. I was able to mask them pretty damn well, but on one fateful day, I had one during an internal meeting where I was presenting. And, had to fake a headache to get “off stage”. It was embarrassing to say the least. Here I was, someone who loved to speak and who’s bread and butter was talking and presenting….and, I could barely get up in front of people. Looking back, this was all a symptom of a larger issue. This issue of not being authentic…not embracing my challenges, not opening up about constant anxiety and depression.
Look, there are so many things I look back on over the years and question. Part of me feels really bad that I’ve been writing on The Catalyst Project for the last few years when, in fact, I’ve been the one who probably needs the most help : ) I’ve been thinking about being more public with these struggles for a long time. I know that keeping things in caused a lot of harm to me and the moment I started opening up more, my world began to change.
My hope is that this gives you hope. My hope is that we all stop looking at people on the outside and think they have it all together. I know it’s difficult in this social media world we live in. I’m a fan of social media by the way…it has many amazing things and keeps us all connected. It does, however, provide a platform where we only show our surface areas…our smiling faces and amazing vacations. My fear is that our younger generation is growing up on social media and ONLY seeing the positive side of everyone’s lives. I know it’s a big challenge in our community and I’m sure many of yours. The truth is that almost everyone, if not every single person, has stuff they deal with that is ugly. And, I truly believe that if we can all embrace this ugliness a little bit more and not run from it, we’ll all be better off.
So, I guess this post is somewhat a call to arms. For me, for you, for all of us. It’s very easy to hide behind the curtains of pride. But, I think it’s time we start to live a more authentic, congruent life that we’re meant to live. Life will kick you upside the head. If we embody a sense of faith, a sense of hope, and a sense of being okay with the mess…maybe, just maybe, we’ll be able to live a life we were meant to live.
My big advice is to not take things at face value. There may be someone out there that can find benefit in your authenticity. And, someone out there who may just need your shoulder to cry on…or your ear to talk to.
I’m continuing to own my story. It’s a work in progress. It won’t always be pretty, but I’m embracing that.
What about you? I’d love to hear more about your story. Don’t hesitate to reach out. Maybe there’s power in all of us telling our stories….our true, authentic stories. It’s not too late…it’s never too late…to write a new story.