Wednesday, June 10, 2009
"You can measure a man by the opposition it takes to discourage him."
I don't know much about Robert C. Savage, but I do love that above quote of his on the subject of Courage:
Ah, Courage! The dictionary defines it as: “the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery.”
For the past few months I have been facing such fierce opposition that it threatened to swallow me, my courage, and all my little dreams, whole. I’ve been fighting until my fists have been made red with blood, and my punch-drunk mind clouded by the haze of steady discouragement. I’ve been fighting with my wits and my heart, while battling the bullshit parts of my enemy. And though, I haven't been exactly down for the count, the wind was knocked out of me. Coping has been difficult under such adversarial circumstances... and then there's this other nemesis nagging inside my head that screams how: I'll never be a champion, if I keep losing fights!
I’ve also been listening to the other side of my brain... the part that whispers: maybe a True Champion is one who knows which battles are worth the fight.
There have been times in my life when I tried, really TRIED to win a fight, and overcome by the dueling forces of passion and retribution, I did in fact, win. I was never really a tough guy, a thug, or a bully, but those who mistakenly thought I was a punk were in for a rude and bloody awakening. I've had exactly four physical fights in my entire life, and I won all but one.
Yet, there are other kinds of fights we encounter in life; fights we try so hard to win, only to end up failing so miserably. Has that ever happened to you?
True Story: A long time ago, I attended a friend's birthday party. It was held at a local bowling alley. I was nine, and had never bowled before. Frankly, it never interested me. But being a keen observer even then, I watched the others go through the motions of giving out their shoe sizes to the clerk, retrieving those butt-ugly rented shoes, slipping into them, and choosing a ball that suited them. I watched each one stepping up, getting into the stance, drawing back, releasing the ball and sending it rolling furiously down the lane. Granted, not everyone bowled a strike or hit all the pins they were aiming for, but at LEAST they managed knocked some pins down.
Cool. Cool. Coolness. Maybe I was way too young to be nervous. Maybe I was too excited at trying this new thing so it never entered my mind that I might not be any good at it. When it came MY turn, I did everything I'd seen the others do. However, in doing so, I displayed absolutely NO style, no grace, no finesse, NO SKILLZ whatsoever in it!
That's when it HIT me: Wow! I REALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLY SUCK at this!
It's a very profound moment when you realize that you truly suck at something.
No doubt, it made for a hideous display. I imagine myself looking beyond pitiful, ugly, uncoordinated and a hundred other unsightly things as I attempted this procedure. The result was that heavy-ass ball rolled, veered and went straight into the gutter, each time. This happened again and again to my utter mortification: GUTTER BALL!
Though this alone was bad enough… the worst part was that, suddenly, I was being whispered about. I could FEEL it... that creepy sensation of sheer foolishness standing still. The edgy chorus of nine and ten-year-old laughter invaded my ears, my heart and my spirit. I was being laughed at, loudly, in stereophonic surround sound! This hurt in a way that seemed to make me crumble, at least internally. Yes, some mild form of pseudo encouragement came from one sensitive parent... but mostly I was just laughed at. Hard! Obviously, I had no sense of humor about myself, and because of this, I was NOT a big fan of this harsh sound of laughter, nor being the actual object of it... at age nine.
Hell, I was not a fan of being laughed at age 18, 19, or 28 or 29 for that matter!
Long story short: I never attempted to bowl again.
Perhaps the razor of youthful trauma slices a lasting memory into the skin of us, and it leaves behind something that feels like a deeply wounding incision. The scar remains. This was, for me, a kind of embarrassment that made me stop fighting to win, to stop trying when progress eluded me, and to lose faith in my abilities at achieving VICTORY.
Who needs the slicing jaws of ridicule wrecking all kinds and varieties of havoc on their psyche? Me? I didn't. So, whenever possible, I made it my business to avoid situations where failure was a distinct possibility.
Instead of COURAGE, I chose coolness. Cool people were, by nature, just too damn cool to be embarrassed.
The bigger realization of Cool Lin: Because of my avoidance of failure at any cost, I ended up lacking the COURAGE and the HEART of a true champion.
* * * *
The reality is that The Creator Blesses us all with particular gifts. I was in a search of just what GIFTS I'd been given, and how best to use them. If things didn't come easily for me, or if I lacked the grace and courage needed to perform certain feats, I quickly abandoned them for the things I found I could do well. I wanted to engage myself in only what I could exceed in, and to win at. This was the food and the breakfast of my cool.
While rolling that way saved me from the stigma of being the brunt of jokes, it didn't do jack to build and fortify my character. People with the greatest character possess the courage to fall on their faces. They will bust their asses again and again, and yet THEY get back up and they keep trying. Courage. Eventually, many of them achieve the goals they've set for themselves; they reach some success, or at least, they knock those damn pins down in the bowling alleys of life! Courage.
Anyone who knows me would tell you, I'm a pretty optimistic person. That said, I never truly believed in the old adage that we can do anything we put our minds to... because many things in this world are simply beyond our reach, they exceed our grasp, or they venture beyond our inherit abilities. We can try and try until we're red in the eye, but moving mountains is not a human feat. I've had some mountains in my way. Trust! That doesn't necessarily mean that we're supposed to give up, to stop climbing, to throw up both our hands, or wave a white flag and surrender. It may just mean we have to apply a bit more finesse to our approach. Maybe we must refine our swagger, and use our minds (instead of our brawn or our anger) in a different way.
This is something I've learned in the past few years, and the lesson has come a little late. Failure is a part of every human experience. It is through failure that we learn our most valuable life lessons.
Yes, it's important to know what we can do. It's vital that we are aware of our strengths and what we're capable of achieving... and it's also just as important to know our weaknesses, and to be aware that they'll be some limitations in our output.
Lately, I've been asking myself, why have I been so chronically afraid to step out of that little box? You know, the box of limitations I'd placed myself inside of to guard and protect me from the dreaded terror of failure. More to the point, what was I really GAINING from living in that box? After all, what's the worst thing that can happen when stepping out of that comfort zone? I'll fall down, go BOOM... and bust my ass! Big deal! Big shit. I'd only be in the company of tens of billions. What made me think myself so special that I'd arrogantly go through this existence without experiencing defeats, failures, instances of egg on my face, or of suffering the after-effects of a bruised ego? I'm no different than anyone else.
As a resort of this realization, I've been RECLAIMING my inner champion. I’ve stopped running away from my weaknesses. I’m snatching JOY, and pocketing COURAGE! I've stopped dreading becoming that embarrassed and mortified kid at a bowling lane. I am now embarking on the process of conquering some of my fears. NOT all of them at once, mind you... but some of those core and major fears that crippled me emotionally, or left me feeling limited, stunted, sub-par, ineffectual... and by doing so, I am steadily increasing my potential as a person, a man, a flawed flesh and bone entity.
What I'm discovering (and this is HUGE!) is that I'm a far more resourceful agent for change than I ever believed I could be. I'm exceedingly more capable than I ever allowed myself credit for, and that alone is mad empowering! What I'm realizing is that my greatest opposition in any crisis is NOT some person in a superior position, not naysayers in suits, not some faceless stranger in the way of my heart’s pursuits, not some insecure hater, and not some hardened criminal. The greatest opposition of all had been no one, but me.
Telling ourselves we CAN'T do something, we shouldn't attempt something, or that we are bound to FAIL, THIS is our greatest enemy. We alone must learn to fight that inner negative voice. The voice that screams NO; the voice that doesn't believe in The Self, THAT mofo is our nemesis!
I used to think that I'd never be a champion at anything. I was wrong. A True Champion knows which battles are worth the fight. Courage.
Yes, I am very much a work in progress. Still, I'm aiming for the day, I can personify that famous quote by Robert C. Savage:
"You can measure a man by the opposition it takes to discourage him."
Color me, ENCOURAGED.