“Mark, help I’m drowning,” a friend shared this morning over coffee.
Tony experienced from previous discussions that amazing insights always came from our conversations. What he didn’t know was just how intentional I was about supporting that occurring.
By the end of our meeting, he encouraged me, “Mark, you need to write your next blog on this topic.” Tony (not his actual name) was right. Here it is…
The issue Tony shared is one everyone has faced: His ability to see into his future had diminished from clear to foggy. And, naturally, navigation is quite difficult unless you can see.
This produced anxiousness amidst his uncertainty, and when his stress was up, anger towards himself flared and spilled over toward the people he cared about most, his family. Hiding his frustration, he attempted to help everyone else while neglecting his needs. He felt trapped and overwhelmed despite appearing superhuman to his team and boss. When “drowning,” someone isn’t looking at their distant future; they are just trying to survive. Tony’s attention had moved away from the light in his life and his desire to impact the world meaningfully, to the fog emerging from the immediate issues.
Before this employer, Tony had been out of work, and cash had become an issue. This new job fit well and was a port in the storm financially. He had high hopes of applying his skills and making a difference. However, the culture that appeared spectacular at first presented cracks early. Despite loving the people and his work, a key relationship had grown cancerous. Tony was dealing with a Jekyll and Hyde personality, and despite managing it for some time, it was draining his passion. He started questioning whether he was at the right company and on purpose with his life.
I shared a story with Tony about blowing a stop sign at sixteen following a night of outdoor hockey. The temperature had risen, and fog rolled in until it was too thick to see the puck. Driving home should have been out of the question, but I did it anyway. As the stop sign passed, I caught a glimpse of the familiar red octagon and slammed on the brakes. Anticipating hitting the closed metal farm gate just beyond the t-intersection, my eyes closed, and I waited for impact. As the car stopped without incident, I slowly opened my eyes. Thankfully, the gate had been left open, and after the literal dust settled, my eyes rested on a massive tree ten feet in front of my hood. Thanking my lucky stars, I drove home.
“Tony, what if there was a way to lift the fog on your situation and gain clarity about the right actions for yourself and everyone involved?
“I was hoping you would say that. What do we do?”
“Tony, imagine you are in a massive dark room, and the only light source is through a tiny hole at the far end. If you keep your eyes on the light, you will reach the end and exit the room. If you take your eyes off that light, your mind will start to imagine what is lurking in the shadows. The coat rack may look like an intruder with a weapon. A sofa may appear as a dangerous crouching tiger. Your fears will surface. Keeping your eyes on the light is the only way out, or so it seems. What I learned is that we have a source of light within us. When we stop looking outside for that source of light and look within, we will never be in a ‘dark room’ again. As this metaphorical light expands, our awareness expands and navigating our life becomes much easier.
“How so?” Tony asked.
“What is something you learned to play or do as a child and later you became skilled at doing?”
“Baseball. I eventually made it to the college level,” he said.
“Great. Now, think of yourself developing as a player. Was everyone supportive?”
“No, in fact one coach disliked me quite a bit. I overheard him telling another coach I was too small to play beyond high school, and to focus his attention on other players.”
“Now, recall how you played after you heard that.”
Tony thought about it and shared, “I went 0 for 14 batting and made more errors over those next few weeks than ever in my career.”
“That’s it, Tony. That was your dark room and you focused your attention on the crouching tiger or the negative voice of your coach. Do you recall how you got out of it?”
“Sure. I went to church and prayed for help. As I sat there praying, I saw an image in my mind of playing baseball for Augustana College, where my sister had gone to school. I fit in club and was playing at a high level in my mind. I felt a peace wash over me and realized I could do it. Following that I got back on my game in high school and went for it.”
“That’s it! You just exampled it. When looking for outside validation of your baseball abilities, you found it in your coaches. They were your light. When your high school coach removed that light, you found yourself in the dark. That is when your performance suffered and you felt lost. You found a way to regain perspective and rediscover the light in you, As you did your fears subsided and you could see your baseball future more clearly. By the way, when you are consistently in tuned to this inner light, you quicken the rhythms of your life too.”
“Rhythms?” Tony asked.
“Yes. Everything has a rhythm to it, a flow. There is an ideal rhythm and a non-ideal rhythm to something. For example, an ideal rhythm for resolving your work situation may be 3 months. However, if not navigated optimally with the assistance of the light, it could last for years and in some cases for careers. You went 0 and 14 and were on a path to ending your baseball career in high school. Had you failed to find that inner sight to your college future you would have been done, right?”
“For sure. Instead, I did what was necessary to turn my small stature into a strength and became the fastest player on the team and most consistent hitter with the fewest errors.”
“Right. Your ideal rhythm included four years of high school and onto a successful college career. You couldn’t skip high school ball. So that time was factored into your ideal rhythm. There is also an ideal rhythm to navigating this job situation, and you will align with it if you look within yourself and reconnect with that inner light you found when in high school. As you reconnect, your ideal path will illuminate naturally and once again you will feel energized, learn to trust that inner guidance and be tuned into your life Mission, one that is uniquely yours. You may join with others to fulfill it, but it won’t be because of fear and lack. Instead, it will be from strength, love and all that you need. Your rhythm will quicken and joy and happiness more accessible. Fulfillment will be everyday and not off in some far distant future.”
“I want that. This is amazing. You need to write your blog about this.”
Later, Tony shared a key point in our conversation for him: The idea of accepting this particular job as a “port in the storm.” It provided him with short-term comfort to alleviate financial stress, but he now shares, “If I can travel through life with my inner “lights on,” I would navigate around these false ports (filled with empty promises) and make better choices.”
And, there it is. Until next time….
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* inspired by an actual discussion with details modified to maintain privacy