The other night I had a friend reach out to get my advice on some things going on in life. Now, if you have read my first book you know that giving advice to people is exactly how I started the journey to publishing all of my books. So it is nothing new for me to offer my opinion to someone who asks for it. I have a rule about advice, which many should adopt: I do not give advice focused on what I would do if I were in the situation, but rather what that person should consider doing in his/her situation. Truth is, I am not the one in the situation. I also think it is important to play devil's advocate when giving advice. In other words, looking at things from the outside perspective not just from the friend's perspective. Anyway, let's move on from the PSA and get to the point.
As my friend and I are talking and going through what is going on in life, we have this exchange:
Me: You're too smart and introspective to continue to limit yourself like that.
Friend: Or maybe you're wrong about me.
Me: If you want me to be. (Note: This is very important to this blog)
F: I don't. But it's a fear. You're the only one that's consistently trying to build me up and all I can think is, what if you're wrong?
What if I'm wrong? That is the question my friend had, and it is the question I have had too.
What if I am right?
See, this conversation stopped being totally about my friend who is struggling with tough choices in a life and became about me, about other people I know, and even about you. That one question resonated with me so deeply; it touched a part of me that needed re-evaluation and fixing in myself. Before I go into that I have to say that I am grateful for conversations like these because in helping others I often find time to reflect on my own choices. Anyway, to understand what I am mean I have to bring this back to the memory my friend's comment touched. If this was a movie I would have me looking into the distance as the image blurs from present day to yesteryear. But it's not a movie, so I have to go with an introspective image instead.
I often tell a story about triumph in my life. I've used it thousands of times to prove that we can overcome anything or anyone. The story is about the time I was in the 6th grade (11-12 years old) and I was sitting in the lunch area with a female friend of mine after school. She was waiting on her mother alone, so I hung out with her since I walked home around the corner from school by myself. We were just talking and joking when her mother came around the corner and called her to come to her. She scolded her daughter and said something that I have never forgotten to this day:
"I don't want you hanging with that boy. He is nothing but trouble. He will be dead or in jail by the time he is 18."
Now, I know some of you just read that and gasped or shook your head or some other reaction at the vileness of those words. To be honest, I see the mom as trying to keep her daughter from making what she sees as mistake. I wasn't the best kid, BUT I didn't need to hear that shit either. In any case, that isn't the point. Every time I talk to students and classes, I talk about this story. I say this woman said I wasn't going to be anything, and everyday I get the chance to prove her wrong. I say things like, "I wasn't supposed to live past 18, so I look at every day as a gift." Yes, I turned her words, eventually, into my own personal battle cry. And, with it, I have helped many others. Until my friend's words hit me two nights ago. It brought me to a question, different from my friend's, mind you, but still a question.
Why carry that with you at all?
I use this woman's words to share my triumph. I use her protection of her daughter at my expense to prove that I could be something. I use her wrongness to show that no one knows what we are going to be in life. I can't complain about letting it motivate me. Can I? I haven't been to jail. I haven't killed anyone. I don't have dozens of babies around the world. In fact, to the best of my knowledge, I only created one kid. I had a great military career and am now a three-time published author, motivator, motivational-speaker, and all-around inspirational person. Her words are part of my VICTORY! Or is it?
You see, all my life my mother (and father) would look at my report cards or letters home from the teachers with a little disappointment on her face and say things like, "Sean, you are so much smarter than this. You can be anything you want to be if you use your intelligence." She never scolded me for failing. She always turned it back to the fact that I am better than what I am showing the world. I have ALWAYS had at least one person in my corner saying I could be better than anything I dreamed if I wanted to be. Here's the thing: I knew they were right, but yet I still focused on the negatives and negative people. When I succeeded it wasn't because I proved my mother (or those who said I was better) right. It was because I proved my, as we say today, "haters" wrong. My conversation with my friend has me rethinking all of it and after 5000 words I get to the lesson of this rabbit hole I find myself traveling down or, for the sake of my cool pictures, the path I'm on, be it in the woods or down a trail.
We have learned in this life that we must prove people wrong. We have trained our minds to focus on the battle against others. No matter what the journey is, we create, like some fantasy fiction game, an enemy to defeat. The problem is that the "enemy" is in the mirror. We need something to triumph over to add validation to our victory. So we carry the doubters and the haters with us. We can't see the skills because we hear the echoes of those who have yelled that we have no skills. That is a problem. We are carrying shit, for lack of better word, on our journey. We are letting it hold us down. We are letting it cloud our views. We are letting it keep us from embracing the great in our world, just so we can get somewhere and yell, "I told you I would beat you."
Ask yourself: are you focused on the support you have or the support you don't get? I think to my mom and all the struggles and battles she put up with while I simply did dumb shit after dumb shit (apparently the word "shit" wants to be heard today). Instead of proving her right and putting in the work to be great, I focused on everything and everyone else. Think about this: which "I told you so" would you really want to hear? The one from your supporter or the one from your detractor? When I created my first book I sent it to my mother as a Mother's Day surprise. I was on the phone when she opened it. Her elation came from a deep place, from back when I was a kid and she would say, "Sean, you are better than this." For me, it felt great. If I saw my childhood friend's mother and she was proud of me and even was happy to be wrong, it wouldn't feel nearly as good as proving right those who saw more in me.
It is odd that we seem to give more credence to those who say mean or hurtful or unsupportive things to us. Our children do it. Business people do it. Teachers do it. I do it. You do it... Hell, everyone seems to do it. Things gained with a negative still have a negative taste to it. For instance, I hate vinegar (so much so I spelled it wrong four times writing this). If you put vinegar in most foods I'd taste it and hate the dish. If I hate vinegar so much, why would I be like, "Yea! I made this mac and cheese without you, Vinegar. I want to thank all those haters who said I needed vinegar" ? The truth is I made a great mac and cheese with what I wanted. I put in the work. Vinegar had nothing to do with it. We need to stop attaching that to our journeys. Instead of thinking about proving them wrong, find those who want more out of you and prove them right. How do we do that? I'm glad you asked.
Deep within us is a talent. Deep within us is a special gift. When we find it, we excel and soar.
When someone sees more in you than you see... believe them.
When someone says you have a lot of potential... believe them.
When someone takes time over and over and over and over again to help you reach that next level... work harder to be better.
When you doubt yourself, your path, your purpose, or whatever it may be, don't tap into the naysayers, no matter who those people are, be it family, friend, or enemy. Instead, go back to those who believed in you.
You see, from within you a light shines, and it in turn brightens the world. The only way it can be diminished is IF you allow it to be diminished. No one has the power to do it. No one can put out your light, your fire, or your gifts. Too many people are connecting themselves to things that don't build them up. Isn't it time we stopped doing that? We are more than we can ever believe ourselves to be if we are willing to attack it with our light.
I'm going to end with these few thoughts:
First, as long as I live, I will continue to tell my friend that there is so much more greatness inside that is waiting to come out. Not because I am trying to be nice, but because I mean it. If I am the only one that says it, so be it. I will continue to do so until my friend believes it too.
Second, I'm no longer giving credit to my childhood friend's mother for helping me stand up and do something. Truth is, I made many more mistakes in-between then and now, and what she said 32-plus years ago should have always been irrelevant to me. Now it is because I have people who have always been behind me saying I can do it. I would rather tap into them for my strength.
Thirdly, there will always be people who will say you can't fly. Maybe they are right. They will say you can't swim. Maybe they are right. There will be people who say you can fly with the Eagles. Maybe they are right. There will people who will say you can swim to the deepest part of the ocean. Maybe they are right. In the end, it won't matter which you believe because you are the one that has to climb on that rail, stare over the side, look up and look down and...
Jump so you can fly, or jump so you can dive deep. It is all up to you. Whatever it is you reach, make sure it is those who have believed in you and your skills.
For the record, in that picture, I am jumping into water where I can't see the bottom. I don't like swimming in water like that (I have an irrational belief a shark is going to eat me). I am on a ledge with no way to hang on and only the heels of my feet are on the railing. Oh, and I don't really do heights either. My son (13 or so when we took this pic) is on the right side of the picture waiting for me to jump in like he did just before me. In my head is the naysayer, which just so happens to be in my own voice. In the water and on one of the rocks are my believers. Who do you think I listened to? That's right, I jumped in. Then, I jumped in again. And again. And again. I could jump. I could swim. I could avoid getting eaten by a shark which doesn't live in those waters. Screw that my irrationality knows no bounds. More importantly, I could be what my son saw in me: his father who doesn't let fear stand in the way of doing amazing things. One of those times we jumped, we jumped together, the kid and I. It was amazing.
One more picture to illustrate one last thing. Yes, I know I said that already, but it's my blog, and I can add extensions. lol. This picture of this rail yard makes me think of this last thought: Everyone of us is on a journey and we all choose a track.
Some of us will make it all the way to our destination and some will have to come back.
In the end, it will be those who supported us and told us to keep chugging along.
When you get to the destination, be proud to prove them right instead of proving someone else wrong.
Your journey has only just begun. LETME!