Inspiration

How to Embrace the Change That is Before You

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Come gather ’round people

Wherever you roam

And admit that the waters

Around you have grown

And accept it that soon

You’ll be drenched to the bone

If your time to you is worth savin’

And you better start swimmin’

Or you’ll sink like a stone

For the times they are a-changin’

—Bob Dylan

Dylan’s reflection visits every day. Times are changing. Wisps of nostalgia and recollection of times past do not slow the Change Train. I just watched my home team lose in the first round to the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Phoenix Suns used to beat up on the Timberwolves year after year. But, no more. I used to be able to run twice a day every day of the week without struggle. But, no more. Father Time has influenced my capacity to bounce back and keep going. I enjoyed close to 30 years working with Psychological Counseling Services in Scottsdale, Arizona. It’s been three years since it all ended. The times have changed. 

And so it is for you too! What worked yesterday is not what works today. People say that raising children today is a lot different than 20 years ago. They say that the family unit is more under attack now than before. Perhaps, but it just underscores that times change. The world economy, society, and culture simply keep evolving. Nostalgia is nice but it doesn’t prepare for the present moment.  We learn by reflecting on the past but we bring forth what lessons we have gained and let go of the past. This is what it means to embrace the change that is before you. 

Nothing remains the same.

Here are some considerations regarding managing the change that is before you today:

1. With success or failure, adjust your attitude to be hungry and curious about the change that tomorrow’s challenge will bring. In his book, The Road Less Traveled, M. Scott Peck likens the journey through life to traveling through the desert. He said many people, desperate to quench their thirst, rejoice and celebrate when arriving at the first oasis in the desert. In fact, they are so happy that they decide to build an encampment and live there for the rest of their lives. He writes most people never adjust their sites to venture through the entire desert. There is nothing immoral or wrong about choosing to become an oasis-dweller. However, the flow of life brings the need for evaluation and change. What worked yesterday is unlikely to be as effective today. Some people say well I have been doing what I do for quite some time, why make significant change now. Recovery success lulls an addict to sleep. It will do the same to you with whatever pursuits are important to you. Yesterday is a word that reflects on the historical past. In order to thrive you must be willing to adjust to tomorrow’s change. I am not suggesting immediate wholesale change but I am suggesting always tweaking the edges and challenging the center toward becoming the best version of who you are. You don’t have to throw the baby out with the bathwater but you will need new refreshing bathwater for tomorrow. When you have miserably failed it is not difficult to yearn for something more. When you know much past success, that is when change is difficult to embrace. Evaluate the times around you. It might be business, recovery, or your significant relationship. The passing of time is the shadow of change. If your attitude does not include a desire to embrace new pathways, you will not be hungry or curious to adapt to what is needed in your recovery or your business tomorrow.

2. Come to terms with your limits: I am aware that there is an emphasis on reaching beyond your limits. In many applications to life I agree. Another important consideration is that when you know your limits well you can pivot and focus on doing something very different which you failed at before. Some people think that “no limits” means you just beat your head against the same wall time and again. After you take medication for your headache, consider the term limit as a metaphor. When you know your shortcomings you can access the brilliance that lies deep within you. your limits are only a suggestion to do something different that can be resourced deeper within you. You can go as deep within as you choose. You are less likely to be open to creative change as long as you only focus on the limit that you think you should be able to overcome. Why not work with it and go deep? Active acceptance of what is opens your heart to the creative genius—your brilliance that is limitless within.

3. Lean into the experiences that life brings you to: If you fail in your pursuits and cannot comprehend what the results of your efforts are trying to tell you, don’t be too quick to run to the next application for the possibility of success. Even if you are cornered by great financial pressure to figure out how to get some dough right now,  take time to sit with your failure—all your feelings, your thoughts and process what brought you to this point. Be real! Sift and sort for meaningfulness in the presence of your daily experience (recovery, business, or both). Counterintuitively, leaning into your experience of struggle, emotional pain, loss, and failure will help you move forward. Allowing dust to settle helps to establish a clear pathway. Life’s purpose in time and space is revealed through your willingness to be vulnerable.

4. Trust the process of transformation. If you could just have a blueprint that shows you where you are and reminds you that on the other side of your struggle and trouble, it will all look like this! But, transformation in life does not work this way. You must know that you cannot know what is happening in the moment of your transformation. It doesn’t occur in an instant. Like the rising sun, it happens in its time!  It is impossible to see what is emerging in your life when opportunities, health, and people are taken from your life. It is hard to believe in transformation when the feeling of deprivation is in every corner of your life. Transformation brings you to a place where you cannot go back. You can no more go back and create what you hoped for than you can wear the same pair of blue jeans when you were in junior high! Those experiences have been scoured from your life.

When you do embrace the change that is real in your life, you will be given the invitation and the power to welcome the experience of something new that will transform the limits that you thought were insurmountable in your past endeavors. It is from the place of embracing change that the transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau was inspired to write “I have learned this at least by my experience: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours”.

Embrace the change that is before you and experience the transformation that is to be a part of your destiny. 

What Can Be Learned From Those Who Do Not Make It

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Every blog post I have ever written addresses tools to help addicts avoid relapse, rebuild their lives, and deepen intimacy with themselves and others. I have worked in the field of addiction recovery for 28 years. There have been many inspirational success stories. There were some I thought would maintain long-term sobriety for years but left the program and went dark. There were others who I swore didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell to maintain sobriety, who became a source of inspiration for healing in the world they live. It’s impossible to know who will stick to a recovery program and who will not. 

Today’s post is about those who didn’t make it.  If you work in the field of addiction recovery you become conditioned to know that some addicts seeking recovery will respond and others won’t. It is tough when someone does respond and makes solid progress, then tragically goes back to old destructive behaviors. They disappear from group attendance and you don’t hear from them again.  It’s disappointing! Once you were close in communication and knew more about their life than anyone else on the planet. Then suddenly they’re gone, never to be heard from again. The situations that are most difficult are those who lost their lives in the fight against their demons.  It is difficult to let go of these tragedies. Over time there have been many in my professional life I never forget those whom I have worked with who lost their lives to their drug of choice.  I want to dedicate this blog to those who lost their battle with addiction and their lives. Part of me left this world with them when they lost the fight. I would like to share a few stories about those who tragically lost their battle against addiction. Of course, I have changed the names to protect their anonymity. 

Max was a truck driver. He was tough, burly, and an all-or-nothing type of thinker. He meant what he said and with determination would follow through with his recovery commitments. His weakness was gin and tonic. His wife Martha loved him and codependently tried to please him. When Max wasn’t drinking he was great. When he drank he was mean, unpredictable, and volatile. He was also bipolar and when he drank gin and tonic he would stop taking his medication.  Max routinely worked a 12-step program and credited a new-found faith in God for deepening his commitment to program work. All went well for Max during the many months I worked with him to overcome his addiction. However, throughout the course of time tension grew between Max and his wife. He began to struggle with the long over-the-road hours that his job demanded. He shut down communication with his wife and pulled away from others who had been helpful. 

He complained that the trucking company he worked for cheated him of his earnings.  He was resentful and angry that they reprimanded him for inaccurately documenting driving hours while on the road. His backslide was shockingly rampant. He became sporadic with his program. My contact with him became more crisis-focused around fights with his wife and less focused on vulnerability toward addictive cravings.  He stopped taking his meds and became more combative in our conversations. Then, one night his wife called me and said that Max had gone off the deep end. She said he holed himself up in a hotel with a couple of bottles of gin and tonic and a gun. She wanted me to call him so I did. Though Max was glad I called, he was very reactive and agitated. Someone had called the police because of erratic behavior witnessed by others at the hotel. When the police arrived they knocked on his door and he panicked.  He began screaming obscenities with irrational thoughts about his wife and the world around him. The police entered the room with a management key. Instantly Max picked up his gun pulled the trigger and shot himself in the head. I will never forget walking down the concrete corridor of the morgue at the hospital with his wife to identify his body. When they pulled the curtain back from the window in the room where his body lay, screams from his wife echoed throughout the concrete corridor of that hospital. Max was a dear man. Without the meds, he lost his reasoning. Without the support community, he lost his way, his self, and his life. I often wonder how many like Max remain in the bubble of self-destruction unable to tame their demons of addiction.

Steve was a medical professional, a family man, and a sex addict. He struggled with perfectionism trying to please his wife Wendy. When he failed to do so, which was often, he responded by shutting down with denial, half-truths, and lies by omission. Shame dogged him like a pack of wolves chasing him relentlessly through the woods. He just couldn’t handle the failure. He tried to beat himself up to a better place, and that never works.   His public persona was quiet and even keel. However, inwardly he was deeply troubled with visceral turmoil. His inner struggle began to explode at home. I worked with him and his wife for a season of time. There were many hours that I walked alongside while Steve languished in turbulence and unrest about his defensiveness and deceit. During that time he made good progress but would chronically relapse. He sought support through a 12-step recovery and made a few connections. He worked hard and demonstrated hope for healing. However, over time his gains faded into failure and he wallowed in shame and guilt. He began to isolate himself with bitter disappointment. Slowly, he began to cut out most of his therapy and 12-step support. The relationship with his wife that he prized and hoped would heal ended in divorce. He spiraled into uncontrollable depression and defeat. Shame ate away at his core self till nothing was left to build on. He lost sight of hope and help. He made one last effort in treatment with failed results. Steve wallowed in immense emotional pain.  In desperation to escape the pain and emotional struggle, he took his life while in close proximity to others who were trying to help him fan the flame of hope and resilience.  Overwhelmed with shame, misery, and mental illness that accompanied his compulsive sexual behavior, hope was snuffed out once and for all. Steve was a sensitive soul. He was not a hardened playboy with a long resume of sexual infidelity. He simply was unable to stop masturbating to porn and find a way to forgive himself. The hounds of shame had cornered him, and suicide was his only way out. 

Why is it that some people face the adversity of addiction and seem to transform their lives while others are unable to get back on their feet and even perish from the same challenge? Here are a few considerations gleaned from the stories of Max and Steve.

1. Shame dominated both men.  A rigid embrace of sobriety is not sustainable. Both men were clear about their bottom-line behaviors that indicated acting out. Neither knew how to bring themselves back to the center when lapse or relapse behavior occurred. They struggled with being stuck in the mud of shame and self-criticism. Staying stuck in shame without knowing how to crawl out of the muck and mire of failure distorts perspective and increases the mistaken belief that you can never recover right. Both men were perfectionists which is like throwing gasoline onto a fire of dry tinder. Many addicts in recovery never learn to stalk their shame in order to separate their behavior from their sense of self. So, if they do shitty behavior it means they are a piece of shit. Ultimately, if an addict stays stuck in a mistaken belief, h/she will produce results to support the distorted belief. Max always contended that he was not normal and would not be able to measure up to others. Steve was mired in perfectionism from day one. The harder they tried to get out of their own way, the deeper the hole they dug striving to do recovery perfectly. It was a major force that influenced their demise.

2. Both ignored developing self-parenting skills.  Recovery is about successfully learning to do self-care. The term “self-parenting” fits because subconsciously addicts try to fulfill parental needs, that were not met in childhood, through significant relationships in the present. Yet, what happens is that when you try to fulfill individual wholeness from a partner, the opposite occurs. It’s the old adage that 1/2 x 1/2 = 1/4 when you thought it would make a whole. To fulfill your quest for happiness and safety, it is required that you take responsibility for making yourself whole by addressing your own childhood neediness. The only way to become whole is to practice being your own parent. When Max came home physically and mentally exhausted because of his cross-country truck run, he expected Martha to fill his empty cup with attention and care. Martha ran around like a chicken with her head cut off trying to make Max comfortable and glad to be home. But, Max was a perfectionist and when he was needy no one on this side of heaven would possibly be able to fulfill his needs in the way he wanted. Steve was determined to do things just right to get the smile of approval from his wife. But in his mind, he always screwed up. To cover his shortcomings, he thought he needed to minimize hurt or lie about what seemed unsatisfactory. Both men’s attempts to rely on their partners for approval and self-care had a short shelf life. They were destined to fail and they did.

3. Both men wanted their partners to be emotionally close and then pulled away in isolation. Both Max and Steve were intimacy-disabled which is the essence of addiction. Each had plans to approach their partner with open hearts. We talk about different strategies to make it happen. Yet, mired in perfectionism, each was stymied. when the results did not turn out exactly as they had hoped. Max was disappointed after surprising Martha with dinner at a favorite restaurant. Martha was exhausted from cleaning and preparing the house for his return home from the road  She was too tired to be sexual after dinner. Max pouted and thought he screwed up and withdrew. The next day they fought about something small and silly cementing isolation between the two. Steve was under pressure the entire week with numerous surgeries in succession every day. His wife engaged a ladies’ night out on Thursday. By then Steve was totally exhausted, functioning on fumes. He decided to go to bed early. While checking his email, he gave in to the urge to look at porn and ended up masturbating. The next day when his wife asked how he did with his sobriety he lied and denied any challenges. Locked with shame he left for work isolated and lonely. He began to think he could not stop the porn, the masturbation, and the lies. Both shrunk from open-hearted confession with their 12-step groups. In the end, both were alone, isolated from themselves, their partners, their support, and their world. It drove both men to the edge and over. 

It is uncommon for most addicts who relapse to become so profoundly stuck that their only choice is to take themselves out. That said, it occurs more frequently than most realize. For sure, every addict who is stuck in the muck and mire of shame, who fails to practice healthy self-care and is isolated from support is destined to relapse. Without addressing these key areas of recovery you will not create long-term sobriety. It is important to learn from the pitfalls and failures of those who have hurt themselves and did not make it.

Confessions and Memories

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“What matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember it.” ― Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I am sitting in front of the home I grew up in my hometown. Memories flood my mind like a rolodex that won’t stop turning. The memories are very real. The current reality makes me question whether or not the past could have ever been true. The house I grew up on 17th Street is dilapidated. It needs painting and a major overhaul. Our neighbors, Mr. Hill and the Selbys are long since dead and gone. Their homes are an absolute disaster. Selby’s house used to be the nicest on the block. Mr. Hill was forever doing upgrades to his house. He was always painting the gutters, the trim or something else. Now his home is in such disarray and decay it is hard to believe anyone actually lives in the house. Both his and the Selbys’ houses should be demolished. As I assess the current existence of decay of my home, the memories just keep flooding in. 

Things I remember: 

….I remember throwing a rubber ball against the wooden steps playing a make-believe baseball game with my favorite team in mind, the Chicago Cubs. I threw the ball so many times against the steps that the wood broke and began to collapse. 

…..I remember the bare spots in our front yard that formed first, second, and third base from playing baseball with my brother and friends in the neighborhood. 

….I remember the upstairs window my older brothers would hang me out by my ankles, threatening to let me drop, just for the hell of it. 

….I remember the early days when we had to walk across town to go to church because we didn’t have a car. 

….I remember the boredom that came with Sunday church. Three hours in the morning and another 2 hours at night. It ruined watching the start of NFL games in the Fall and MLB on Sunday afternoons in the Summer.

It’s amazing how things that happened over 50 years ago can be so real in the here and now! Sometimes the bad memories wake me up to be relived anew. They roll around in my mind like a dryer that never turns off. Experiential therapies have been helpful. Hypnosis, EMDR, Regressive therapy, Somatic experience, guided meditation and music have all eased the compulsion of thought. Yet, the experiences that I have absorbed from home to church and everywhere in between are part of my blood and bone. Misbeliefs, abuse, theological brainwashing, patriarchal domination no longer rule or control my behavior. However, they are forever etched in my psychological DNA and color my everyday experience. I have learned to sit in a room experiencing life in the present while being aware of the cycle of past experiences that constantly spin and roll in the background of my mind. 

Here are some things I have learned from nostalgia:

  1. Nostalgia helps me to embrace feelings. Going home to the place I grew up in reminded me to come home to myself. Yearning for yesterday once more produces feelings of loneliness, emptiness, and wondering what might have been if things then were different. Living in feelings of the past can trigger a desire to focus on the future and never really be present in the here and now. However, I have learned to shift the experience of nostalgic feelings and come home to my present mind where loneliness can disappear. Sitting with past nostalgia is an invitation to enter the suffering of present struggles in the friendly safe confines of your own heart. Home is your island of self within which you can practice being gentle and kind. You do not need to fix or change anything—just be.
  1. Memories are best managed through mindful meditation. You may feel discomfort from the vacuum that exists within. There is a tendency to fill the vacuum with activity and attempts to connect to others through electronic devices. Yet, being busy to connect will not make you less lonely. You can be surrounded by people and immersed in activity yet experience intense loneliness. Meditation slows your life so that you can notice what you feel inside.
  1. Sitting is a revolution that connects nostalgia to the present moment. When you are not in good relationship with your romantic partner, family, friends, and the world around you, practice sitting. Bring relaxation to your body by noticing the in-breath and the out-breath. Observe your feelings without trying to change them. Notice your thoughts and let them be as they are. Recognize your true self as the sky and your feelings and thoughts like the clouds. They will come and go but your true self remains the sky. It will bring calmness and connection to yourself.
  1. Memories point to the reality that the way out is in. Memories have taught me that when my mind races about past abusive experiences or current suffering, the best way to work through unwanted thought is to go inward. Your body is your home. Your body is your feet, your lungs, etc. Slow down your busyness to notice your lungs through the in-breath and out-breath. Notice what your body is feeling or experiencing. You won’t be able to connect with others if you cannot connect with yourself. So embrace your feelings with tenderness. You will find yourself when you feel lost not by going outside yourself but by going within.

Memories managed effectively produce inspiration for you and others who are connected to you. Going home to yourself will allow you to work through nostalgia and accept life as it is. It will help you to be present moment by moment. In this way nostalgic memories will not dominate you. You will engage freedom from past experiences.

As you provide your own warmth and safety you will be an inspiration to those who are connected to you. Your experience of inner calm and connection will inspire others to go within. You will help others to find sanctuary and warmth in their own “home”. The illusion of nostalgia is resolved when you practice sitting with your feelings past and present. Coming home to yourself merges past feelings with present realities of experience and fosters a refuge of safety and warm connection. 

 Agility, Adjustment and Resilience—Necessary Capitol to Achieve Sobriety, Serenity, and Success

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When you begin a project it’s impossible to prepare for all the obstacles, difficulties, and challenges that lie before you. It doesn’t mean don’t plan. It just means you need more than the right connections, financial resources, and blueprint for creating what you hope to achieve.

A fixed rigid mindset will be your detriment. It is important to be stubborn with your intent to fulfill a dream. It is also essential to cultivate physical and mental agility. Adjusting your plans and approach in order to complete your goals is crucial. People who are unwilling to adjust and create new pathways become unbending which contributes to falling short of fulfilling their aspirations. 

Here is a list of considerations that come into play while you attempt to fulfill your pursuits whether it be entrepreneurial success, addiction sobriety, emotional serenity, or whatever else you aspire to achieve. 

#1: Intensity. Creating dreams requires intensity. Merriam-Webster defines intensity as extreme energy or force expended.  A synonym for intensity is passion. You will not be successful with a half-hearted effort. You must prepare your heart to be intense. 

When I was a kid my favorite football team was the Chicago Bears and my favorite player was middle linebacker Dick Butkus who just passed away a few days ago. Butkus was a living incarnation of intensity on the football field. During plays he was knocked down, he popped back up and sprinted to the other side of the field to make the tackle. Those who played or watched him knew that he was intense about achieving his goals on the football field. 

When I was Little Leaguer, I was intense about winning. When I pitched, if the players in the field were not “talking it up” with chatter, I would go to the teammate and get on his case. I thought that was what it took to win. 

We are not all football or baseball players or fans. Some people in pursuit of achievement do not fit the projected stereotype of one who is intense. They may appear calm and quiet but when you connect with their spirit you discover a burning intense desire within. The takeaway is that intensity is a necessary ingredient to fulfill whatever you are passionate about. A half-hearted effort will never fulfill your dreams. 

#2: Detach and surrender what you cannot control. You will not be able to control all of the factors as you pursue your goals. You must learn to be flexible and live life making constant adjustments. The more rigid you are, the more you must have what you want when you want it, and the less likely you will create your dreams. It’s not like you cannot create success but it is more likely success will begin to own you rather than the other way around.  Rigid people lose sight of the goal along the journey and even once the goal is accomplished, there is a subtle sense of hollow fulfillment. 

Practice the Serenity Prayer, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot control, change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Detaching from what you cannot control, being clear about your lane of responsibility, and staying there is the hardest simple thing to do in pursuing a life goal.  Dream fulfillment is dependent upon your capacity and commitment to let go of what you cannot control. Detachment is a daily lifestyle, not a one-and-done event. 

#3: Play the hand you have been dealt to the best of your ability and you will win! When things don’t work out as planned, it is easy to become stuck in self-pity. You will need to assess what are the strengths and resources you have to draw from and adjust your focus and strategy as you move forward. If you allow yourself to get bogged down in discouragement, self-pity, and self-defeat, you will not fulfill your dream.

Sunny Weingarten is a perfect example of someone who refused to be mired in self-pity. Sunny was a friend of mine when I was a minister in Denver, Colorado. He was a key member of the board of directors for a citywide ministry that I engaged. Sunny was struck down with polio when he was a young boy.  His days were controlled and confined to an iron lung every day of his young life. 

Sunny was determined to live life outside of the iron lung.  As a young adult, he disciplined himself and practiced forcing air into his lungs sort of swallowing and forcing air into his lungs outside of the iron lung enclosure. Eventually, he conditioned himself to live up to 10 hours outside of the lung. He purchased a Van, hired a driver, and engaged in life, including activities on my board.  He was a powerful energetic force. He began attending Denver Bronco football games and never missed a home game for over 20 years! In the course of time, Sunny tapped into his creative spirit and designed a lightweight portable lung that allowed him to operate outside of the lung for the entire day. Soon, drawing from his entrepreneurial spirit, he organized a company and flew around the world making a living selling his Port-a-lung to those in need! 

Sunny demonstrated passion with intensity, a willingness to surrender what he could not control, and played the hand he had been dealt as well as anyone I knew. Though confined to a wheelchair in the day and an iron lung at night, Sunny lived 70 years of life a true winner. 

When you are discouraged and tempted to wallow longer than necessary in a mud hole of self-pity, remember an old saying that says “When you don’t like the way you are sailing, don’t curse the wind, change your sail”.

Play the deck you have been dealt with intensity, detaching from what you cannot control, and what you desire and hope to create will become reality.

Brilliance is Being

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I just watched Novak Djokovic defeat Danill Medvedev in the finals of the U.S. Open tennis championship for an unprecedented 24th Grand Slam title of his career, more than anyone in the modern history of the game. He was gritty, vulnerable, yet outlasted his opponent who was terrific. After the win, he tore his shirt off and donned a tee shirt honoring his inspirational friend the late Kobe Bryant.  The shirt inscribed  “Mamba Forever”  with a picture of  Kobe and him together. 

Djokovic’s performance was brilliant. There were times in the match that it looked like he would lose. Yet, he fought back and prevailed.

After watching the event and listening to the interviews that seemed to last forever, once again I began to reflect on the concept of brilliance. I had written about the subject in a book I authored entitled, Dare to Be Average: Finding Brilliance in the Commonplace.  I thought to myself this feat of accomplishment is not commonplace. Here is an unbelievable athlete with tremendous drive inspired by another past great athlete of another sport. The two of them represent great achievement, excellence, and unparalleled brilliance. 

At best, I can be inspired to work harder with my time and talents so that I too can become a champion in my own right and venue in life. Of course, these aspirations are fine and motivate many to fight through all sorts of obstacles to achieve certain goals. 

The reality is that there can be only one U.S. Open champion at a time which lasts only one year until it must be repeated again. Does a championship dim the brilliance of the opponent?  Medvedev in his own right performed brilliantly. He was stellar with grit, determination and at times seemed to be the better player with greater endurance. Yet he lost. Does the loss mean he wasn’t brilliant? And, what about all the other competitors who succumbed in defeat leading up to the title match? Does their loss exclude them from being brilliant? And what about all the other people in the world who don’t play tennis or any other sport? Must they compete to be number 1 in something, somewhere in their life? My question led me to an understanding that there is no unparalleled brilliance because brilliance is about being and not doing or achieving great feats. 

People think to become great or brilliant they must perform illustrious accomplishments. It is appropriate to recognize achievement, but the essence of  brilliance comes from being. It is the understanding that what is etched in stone is that you are an unrepeatable miracle of the universe regardless of result. No victory will add to this reality and no defeat will take away from it. It’s deeper than being a good sport about losing. It’s about being connected and embracing all of yourself—the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s an understanding that life is a tapestry weaving together the bitter and the sweet, success, failure, triumph and tragedy. An outcome never defines personal brilliance. Definition is defined by the vision of destiny from within which supersedes any result. 

Josh McCown is a classic example of brilliance that goes beyond results. He was a journeyman quarterback who carved out a 16-year career in the NFL. He played for 12 teams during that span. He never achieved becoming a sustained starting quarterback with any team. Yet the number of years he played in the NFL is greater than many designated franchise quarterbacks in the league. At the end of his career, he coached the high school team that his two sons played on, while playing for the Philadelphia Eagles in a preseason game. throwing 2 touchdown passes and achieving a 122 quarterback rating. He was a backup quarterback who played in the post season playoffs for the Eagles in 2020, while coaching high school football. He was 18 for 24 with 174 yards passing! Quite a brilliant resume for a high school coach who was an average journeyman quarterback in the NFL.

Some of the greatest champions of all time are single-parent women who engage the relentless challenge of championing each day to make a living, care for self, and raise children without a partner and little to no help. Though unsung and unnoticed, these women rely upon their own brilliance to get it all done. 

The ingenuity of homeless people that live in and around my home in Phoenix is a testimony of awe and astonishment. Listening to stories of innovation and creativity from those who survive the 115-120 degree summer heat is a testimony of personal brilliance and an example of a different kind of wisdom. 

Wisdom comes in many different expressions. My late friend Sunny Weingarten was struck down by polio in the 1950’s as a young boy and confined to an iron lung. Over time he learned to force air into his lungs enabling him to get out of the iron lung for several hours a day. Ingeniously, he used time while in the lung to invent a portable lung and eventually flew to various parts of the world, offering his invention to the world! 

The reality is that we all have relentless brilliance in our being. We often do not recognize it because we do not know the language of our own wisdom. It is tempting to adopt someone else’s definition of brilliance and compare our insides with others’ outsides. 

People who are brilliant academically are often compared to Albert Einstein. Yet, I would suggest that Einstein was not brilliant because he figured out the theory of relativity but rather the theory of relativity came from what was brilliant within him. By going within he was able to unveil the wisdom that others identify as him being  smart. His intelligence came from within rather than from the outside/in. 

All living and non-living existence contain brilliance. There is mysterious brilliance in cicadas who stay underground for 17 years to avoid being eaten by predators! There is brilliance in the bar-tailed godwit, a bird who flies a migratory pattern from Alaska to New Zealand without stopping! There is brilliance in the interconnectedness of trees who release chemical signals to warn other trees of danger and help them prepare a defense. Finally, there is brilliance in the rock formations throughout the world and universe that house scientific wisdom yet to be mined or excavated!

Your wisdom is housed within your being. Before the events of each day of your life, brilliance prevails and is independent of the results at the end of the day. It is best revealed when you connect your focus with congruency of your values of heart.

Rather than Djokovic’s performance being described as unparalleled brilliance, it is in reality an example of the brilliance that lies within us all.

Failure Friendly

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It is impossible to live without failing at something unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default. —J.K. Rowling

The Oxford Dictionary defines failure as the lack of success in doing or achieving something. Really! Somehow, with so much emphasis placed upon not failing in our world, you would think they would come up with something more pronounced than that. If that’s what it is, who doesn’t fail, not once but dozens of times every day? I didn’t brush my teeth twice today, I ran two not three miles. I didn’t clean the house, wash the car, read 50 pages from the book I committed to wade through, meditate, and stop eating yogurt! Some days it seems that I don’t achieve anything that I committed to do! Does that make me a failure?

There is such emphasis upon hiding the “don’t be’s” that the things you achieve get overlooked or minimized. You did put your goals down on paper. You did run two of the three miles on your goal sheet. You did brush your teeth one time of the twice-a-day goal. You did read 10 of the 50 pages you committed to read. While there are many things you can do to adjust your focus, strategy, and effort to achieve more, you are less likely to maintain perspective without a more friendly view of the word failure.

Baseball great Mickey Mantle once reflected on the experience of his Hall of Fame baseball career. He said, “During my 18 years of Major League Baseball I came to bat almost 10,000 times. I struck out 1700 times and walked another 1,800 times. You figure a ball player will have about 500 at-bats a season. That means I played seven years without ever hitting the ball.”

The average experience of a baseball player is making an out, not getting a hit. In the presence of striving for success, even for someone as great as Mickey Mantle, there is a compelling story of difficulty and strife to share. Mantle’s authentic willingness to connect with his intimate battle with failure forced him to practice the fundamental basics of self-care. As a result, these commonplace experiences of struggle enabled him to look back at his Hall of Fame career and create a meaningful perspective from his experience of professional failure.

Here are a few things to reflect on when addressing failure in life.

1. Everyone experiences daily failure. It is one of the common threads of everyday living.

2. Make sure you underscore what you did do when you highlight what you didn’t.

3. Fail forward. Wallowing in the mud of failure only gets you more muddy and in need of a bath.

4. Take time to grieve. It’s a bummer to come up short after all that effort! Feel shitty! Embrace the bitterness, anger, disappointment, and emptiness that come with failed results. Express it fully! Philosophical reflection can come later.

5. Funnel your grief into action. Don’t act prematurely. When you embrace your feelings around failure, you will know when it’s time to get off your duff and act. Don’t allow negative self-talk to stymie your view of future destiny. Most achievements are completed amidst the roar of negative talk from the conniving inner critic that attempts to sabotage destiny. Learn to ignore the negativity within like an athlete learns to block out the hostile heckles and catcalls in a stadium.

6. Be a heart champion. Model how to go from blight to beauty. Know that failure is a part of life. Determine never to let an outcome define who you are. Instead, let your definition be determined by the vision of destiny you have within that supersedes any result.

7. Chisel out a North Star focus. Cultivate support from others around you to maintain an “eye of the tiger” pursuit of your purpose and plans of fulfilling your destiny.

8. Re-define prosperity. Rather than scaling back your vision, transcend your pursuit and go beyond concrete results that ultimately you don’t control. Embrace the unconditional confidence that no matter what you experience, you can go down and come back up.

9. Clarify what growth means toward the goal you seek to achieve. There are many definitions of growth. If you only know growth by measuring the end result, you will miss the incremental steps that are necessary to get to the end result. Carefully clarify each step needed in your journey. It will help you to enlighten what you can and cannot control.

Strength and inspiration come through the experience of failure by sharing and connecting with the human spirit of others. You will experience a genuine depth of human connection when you learn to stay in the presence of overwhelming discomfort triggered by failure. The human spirit is resilient and has the capacity to transform agony into poise and healing peace when the discomfort and heartache of failure is embraced and shared.