Tag Archives: struggle

Tough, Tougher and Toughest Critics

1891000_608271409241788_1949149654_nI remember I had a health teacher back from my freshman year of when I was in high school who sticks out in my mind for 2  distinct and pretty much unrelated reasons:

1) She was an Indiana fan while I was a Syracuse fan and our teams met in the 1987 NCAA Basketball Championship Game with that SOB Keith Smart his the game winner to down my Orangemen. (Thankfully, I’ve seen the light and I am all UConn now); and

2) She once told the other freshman health class that she thought I was someone who was extremely hard on myself, even if I kept a demeanor suggestion I was cool as a cucumber.

Why in the world she felt A-OK with describing this fact about me to 40-50 of my classmates is completely beyond me… but she was pretty accurate.

I’ve long been my toughest critic and, over time, I think I’ve only gotten harsher, in many ways.

I’ve even said if I saw someone else getting treated the way I treat myself, I would think whoever was doing that to them was a complete jerk, worthy of a smack in the mouth.

I had many years in my 30’s where I watched a few different people close to me go through the tremendous struggle of dealing with leukemia. It offered me a tremendous amount of perspective on what is truly difficult in this world versus that which is merely annoying. Funny how many people confuse those two things… well, until you see it firsthand and cannot fathom how you ever saw it differently before.

The positive of this is I complained less.

The challenge is that I probably overdid this and would never gripe or let out what was really bothering me on some issues because they paled in comparison to other struggles.

That’s why this photo (snagged from Elephant Journal) grabbed my attention to serve as a stark reminder that as much as accepting challenges with a detached sense of stoicism is good, balance is also a good thing.

It’s that funny dichotomy of that which makes you successful can also be a tremendous weakness.

To be as philosophically nerdy as possible (you know, the whole reason you come to this blog)… I need to balance out my Marcus Aurelius reading (stoicism with The Emperor’s Handbook) with a lot more Shunryu Suzuki (Zen buddhist with Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind).

Think of yourself on this point for a minute as well and I wouldn’t be surprised if you don’t find a plethora of nuggets from your day where you are a brutal self-critic.

I figure 42 is as good of a time as any to learn to be a little nice to myself anyway.

Great goal… but damn, that is a seriously lame mid-life crisis.  Thankfully that’s a myth anyway.

In The Grind

I’ve known a few different people in my life who have been stuck in health situations you wouldn’t wish upon anyone. Situations that would make even the most stouthearted people you’ve known droop their heads in despair.  There is nothing pretty, glamorous or glitzy to be found for someone pushing through those kinds of life moments – not surprising, of course.  They don’t do jazzy MTV reality shows about people battling leukemia.

But when I’ve looked at the way they’ve braved their way through those situations, I’ve always come away with a mixed bag of feelings that take me some time to sort out.  There is the inevitable sadness and questioning of why something so awful could possibly happen to someone so good.  There is the fleeting feelings of “Will they get better? Will they pull through?”  I feel really thankful that any of these notions (at least for me) were, in fact, fleeting and quickly replaced with a determined answer of “Damn straight they’ll get better.”

The most profound feeling I tend to have is a blended sense of pride in the dignity with which they carried themselves, admiration for their bravery and a very dedicated notion that I have absolutely nothing to complain about in my own life.  I mean, how could I?  Even the worst moments of my day are so thin and pale compared to even some of the best parts of their day.  The worst day you could possibly have in the office will simply melt in the face of the best day of someone with chemo.  It makes you get your mind right… and quickly.

Now here is what I find amazing about those in that fight: the people outside of the fight will see their courage, bravery and utter determination to fight through someone awful.  There is incredible heroism in it all.  But you know what?  Anyone going through that fight never sees it that way until maybe much, much later, when they have pulled through and the dust has settled… and probably not even then.

2011-05-12_18-12-44_443

When they are in the grind, there is nothing heroic to feel in that moment.  Just a push to get better.  A push to not feel like everything is crashing down.  A push for the next moment to feel better than the last one.  How heroic would you feel if you were stuck in a moment like that?  Not very.

It is only to those who stand outside and watch with terror and awe that it can be that way.

But this is why it’s so important to understand this feeling of pushing through those dark moments: When we have our own difficult journeys or life challenges, most of us will never feel as if there is some noble purpose to it all.  We are hyper-fixated on the fact that the moments sucks, we hate it and we just want to be through with it as fast as possible.  However, if we can have just a flash of inspiration in those dark times, a point of self-realization that our moment is actually an opportunity for us to show our mettle… then we have something good and real, even when stuck in the muck.

It reminds me of something I read recently where we shouldn’t pray for help, but should pray for challenges with which to prove ourselves.  Clearly no one is going to pray for a grave disease or the loss of a job or something like that.  Let’s not turn this into some kind of insane gauntlet of masochistic self-discovery.  But the perseverance of those who have gone through REAL hardships and have come through with grace and class have shown me that as bad as I may feel in the grind, there is always, always, always potential meaning to it for me.

The part that requires strength is accepting that fact, even when I am on my knees, broken and wishing it would all end.  That’s why the inspiration of those I’ve seen push through it before drive me.  And fight on, I will.

From Whence Shall Come Hope?

Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never Is, but always To be blest:
The soul, uneasy and confin’d from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.
Alexander Pope from An Essay on Man

Hope. It’s what keeps us going through the roughest of times and allows us to find a little something extra to pull out when we feel we are closing to giving in. In fact, I would argue that without hope, little progress would have ever occurred in human history. Why toil and struggle in some seemingly noble effort if there was not even the slightest shred of hope?

Sure, there are stories of heroic last stands in the face of insurmountable odds (The Spartans against the Persian Empire or the Alamo), but by and large, we don’t tend to want to put our hearts and souls into anything that feels pointless or predetermined.

Hope has been on my mind on a lot of late, truth be told. I tend to be an optimistic and hopeful person, but the last few weeks have been a struggle for me. If there is one thing that challenges my belief in the general goodness of life, it’s good or innocent people suffering.  I can’t help but think long and hard about the people of Japan, Haiti, Yemen, Libya and Egypt (and I know I likely missed at least one country that has been in the news of late).  But on a much more personal level, the events of a few people very close to me have also weighed heavily on my mind.  The woman that’s meant more to me than words can capture who is still fighting to recover from the after-effects of leukemia treatments and who, while just seeking a few moments of peace within which to recover, finds out the beloved dog who was there for every step of the fight of her illness has bone cancer.  Or one of my absolute best friends relapsing again with leukemia and contracting a bad (and incredibly scary) case of viral pneumonia to the point where he needed to be intubated to breathe.

It could be incredibly easy to lapse into a very gray funk… because, truth be told, hope seems to be missing temporarily or perhaps hiding in some dark corner where it’s waiting to reemerge.  Those two people so close to me… how would I tell them that “This too shall pass” or to keep believing when it seems like every step forward is soon followed by a rude shove forcing them to relent their hard-fought gains?  How do you stem the tears of someone who is trying to find a little solid footing, but now is heartbroken over the very likely need to say goodbye all-too-soon to the furry friend who was an absolute angel the last 8 years?  Anything said can easily come across hollow and insincere to even the most forgiving of viewpoints.

As I’ve often said in this blog, I don’t pretend to have all the answers and write more to share my own experiences as honestly as I can.  I do this in the hope that maybe just one other person will find a bit of insight or an ounce of comfort in what I have to say – that would be a tremendous win in my mind and heart.

So what to do?  Well, for me, the hope can often come from the very fight itself.  The situations that have been on my mind can all reach happy (or at least happier endings) and, hence, are worth fighting for.  My role becomes the shoulder to cry on and the friend to lean on.  Hmm… not sure if “role” even captures it properly.  Duty – I think that’s how I feel about it.  I feel incredibly blessed and fortunate that I do not have these horrible things happening to me and so I take it upon myself as my personal duty to bear as much as I can for those I care about.  If their hope wavers, mine will not and maybe… just maybe… they will fight a little harder or believe a little more because of that.

Life has so much out of our control.  That’s been the biggest lesson I’ve learned over the last 10 to 15 years.  My reaction to that is to gut it out and give my best to those precious areas I can control.  Sometimes I do it well and others times… ehh… maybe not so much, but I keep trying.  The fight itself is worth it… but more importantly… those that mean so much to me are worth even more.

Plus, life always will throw a moment like this one at you:

That's one fired up nephew
Christmas hope courtesy of my nephew

I defy anyone not to find hope in something like that.  I do every time I see it.