Blame vs. Responsibility : Going the distance without getting knocked out!

CS2_-_ALI-LISTONAs I rapidly approach the 52nd anniversary of my birth, I can’t help but take a look in the rear view mirror at where I’ve been. Not so much just for the sake of nostalgia, but more importantly, to reflect on how I got to where I am today. This little stroll down memory lane brings to mind both good times and bad, failures and successes, and a lot of life lessons learned along the way. While I’ve managed to accumulate a few skills and a modest helping of wisdom, I have really only become an “expert” in one arena: I have mastered the art of starting over!

That may sound impressive at first, but I assure you its nothing to boast about. It would be akin to a boxer bragging about be able to take a punch. Sure, that’s a great quality to have if you’re a prize fighter, but you have to get the crap beat out of you (and remain standing) in order to prove it! I’ve taken some brutal hits in life, and found myself flat on my back on several occasions. Though there were times I wanted to stay down and avoid getting hit again, I’ve always managed to pull myself up and answer the bell for the next round. And somehow, miraculously, I’m still standing!

I suppose if I have anything of value to add to the lives of others, aside from an extensive list of “here’s what not to do”, it would be how I’ve avoided getting knocked down again for quite some time now. It has been nearly 20 years since my last “starting over,” and even though I’m still learning and growing, hopefully I can offer some hope and helpful insight for those who might still be reeling from life’s most recent combination of jabs, hooks, and upper cuts!

One of the most valuable realizations I’ve come to (the last time I came to!) was that every time I faced yet another crisis or catastrophe in life, my immediate response was to blame something or somebody for my misfortune. And there never seemed to be a shortage of suspects with whom I could assign fault: ex-wives, parents, bosses, bad luck, the IRS, the economy, Obama, the list goes on and on! It would be like Sonny Liston blaming Muhammad Ali for knocking him out! “If only he wouldn’t have hit me so many times!” Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it?

As long as our past or our present is someone else’s fault, then our future will always be someone else’s responsibility.

Eventually, I ended up completely alone and everything was still a train wreck. Someone had to pay, but there was nobody but me to point the finger at. Although this was closer to the truth than I had been before, I was still far from finding the solution. The bottom line is that blame doesn’t accomplish anything at all. Knowing whose fault it is changes nothing. I’ve found that blaming others leads only to anger, resentment and bitterness. Blaming myself results only in guilt, shame and regret.

The momentum of the battle finally shifted in my favor when I assumed responsibility for my own life. Even though I may have been wronged by others in the past, I had to face the truth that my life was a result of my thinking, my beliefs and perceptions, my choices and decisions, my actions and reactions. Somewhere I heard the old saying “if it is to be, then it is up to me.” Please do not misunderstand me here! I in no way am crediting complete self reliance as the secret to whatever success I’ve found in life. I have sought out, and continue to seek out, support, guidance and wisdom from God, family, friends, and trusted mentors. But ultimately the choice is mine alone. Ali may have been “the greatest of all time,” but he had great people in his corner as well!

Some final thoughts to consider: Just throwing in the towel and quitting the blame game was, in and of itself, not enough. I still had a lot of emotional residue to clear up. Resentment, guilt, and regret continued to affect my thinking and my relationships. It was only through learning how to forgive, and just as importantly, how to be forgiven, that I found the freedom, strength and ability to pursue the life I always longed for. (But that’s an entire blog topic all of its own!)

Until then, remember: This is your life and your responsibility. Get some great people in your corner, keep your gloves up, and keep fighting until the bell rings! You’re the Greatest You of All Time!

 

 

Celebrating Freedom

IMG_1034Another Fourth of July weekend has come to an end. Every year, we Americans celebrate the birth of our nation by gathering with friends and family, ooohing and aaahing over fireworks displays, and indulging in a char-grilled gluttony unmatched at any other time of year. I can’t help but wonder how many of us really pause to consider the significance of the holiday, or has it become just another watered down tradition, enthusiastically observed as a rite of summer and a little extra time off from work. In all fairness, it has been 240 years since our forefathers rebelled against the tyranny and oppression of the British Crown. It only stands to reason that we might not be able to fully appreciate this thing called freedom.

Thomas Jefferson defined freedom as “the right to choose; the right to create for oneself the alternatives of choice. Without the possibility of choice a man is not a man but a member, an instrument, a thing.” When you consider that perspective, we might not be as free as we’d like to think we are. Don’t worry! I’m not about to launch on some political, anti-establishment rant! I can think of plenty of instances in my own life when my ability to “create alternatives of choice” was greatly diminished, if not altogether nonexistent. Ironically, my reduced capacity of choice, these constraints on my personal freedom to pursue the life I wanted, were more often than not circumstances of my own creation.

Every toxic and unhealthy relationship that left me floundering like a drowning man with an anchor around my neck, was at some point “the one I just couldn’t live without.” I have exercised my right to “have fun” and almost perished in the prison of addiction. What I had once thought to be the pursuit of a “successful life” resulted in being enslaved by debt. Enjoying a life of excess here in the land of milk and honey, I ate my way into the bondage of obesity, weighed down with an extra 100 pounds of abundance. And finally, years of bad choices and failures left me paralyzed with fear and self- doubt. Apparently,  I can oppress myself without any government assistance at all!

Thankfully, I have found some degree of freedom from these self imposed chains, but those victories have not been over-night-successes. My liberation, without exception, has been a slow process, and, in many ways, is still a work in progress. I think my point here is that freedom is always a process, and every step along the way is worthy of celebration. As a nation, we claim July 4, 1776 as our country’s birthday. But that was only the official beginning of the process. In reality, it wasn’t until the Treaty of Paris was signed on September 3, 1783 that the United States of America was recognized as a sovereign nation, independent and free from British rule.

So, what’s holding you back? Are there forces limiting  your choices and options? Are you truly free to pursue the life you desire? Whether its a relationship, an addiction, or the limitations of your own thoughts, beliefs or current abilities, maybe today’s the day to make a declaration of your independence! It may only be a beginning, just a line drawn in the sand. It might not guarantee your success, but I promise, there can be no success without it!

I think that’s the significance of July 4th. They made a stand with a decided heart, and set forth on a coarse of action from which there would be no turning back. Their only options: Liberty or Death. What are you prepared to do for your freedom?

The Light of Hope

burning candle

I once heard someone ask: “What is the most important characteristic a person should try to develop?” I found this to be a very thought provoking question to consider. Several possible answers immediately came to mind. Integrity. Trustworthy. Persistent. Grateful. Teachable. I’m sure you could add to the list, and a strong case could be made for the value of each one.

While we can all agree there are many qualities that are desirable as a part of one’s character, I am convinced there is one that is absolutely indispensable: HOPE.

I’m not talking about, “I hope I win the lottery” or “I hope my ex gets hit by a falling meteorite.” Those are just examples of wishful thinking! I’m talking about the kind of hope that gives you a reason to keep trying, a belief in the possibility that something better is just around the corner.

You may never have considered just how essential hope is, unless you’ve ever found yourself without it. Sadly, I have experienced the utter despair of hopelessness, that place of all consuming darkness from which there appears to be no escape. Though it has been many years ago, I still remember (and hope to never forget) the paralyzing fear, the overwhelming sense of desperation, and the painful acknowledgment of complete defeat. I had reached the end of myself. Game over.

I don’t recall consciously saying a prayer. I was pretty sure that, if there was a God, He most certainly, like myself and everyone else, had long since given up on me. Maybe something within my soul cried out to its Creator for help. Perhaps His eye really is on the sparrow that falls from its nest. However it happened, I am certain that there is only a Divine explanation for my escape from that place of darkness.

No, the heavens didn’t part. There weren’t any white doves or burning bushes. In my experience, God generally accomplishes the miraculous in simple, less dramatic ways. He tends to use people to accomplish his purposes. That psychiatrist at the hospital who shared a scripture instead of a prescription, an old friend who shared how his life had changed, new friends who encouraged me. One small candle after another lighting my way.

It is in those most desperate times that hope becomes like a rope thrown to a drowning man. You don’t question it or analyze it. You just cling to it for dear life. Sometimes simply having something, anything, to hold on to, is enough. But I don’t want to imply that hope is only valuable as a last resort. I believe it to be the foundation of everything we accomplish in life. One definition of hope is “a desire that is accompanied by an expectation or belief in its fulfillment.” Hope, therefore, is the driving force and motivation behind everything we do.

Without hope, why would you get up and go to work each day? Isn’t that desire and expectation of a paycheck what gets you moving? Isn’t it hope that says “if I work hard, I might get that raise or promotion”? Do you think any entrepreneur ever started their own business without hope? Has anything ever been invented without it?

It is with high hopes that we fall in love and get married. And if it were not for hope, the divorce rate would be 100%! Why keep trying?

What hopes do you have for your children. That hope, that desire for them to have the best life possible, prompts us to nurture them, teach and educate them, encourage them, and, when necessary, discipline them.

I remember several years ago, we were going through a time of change. I had been certain of the direction we were heading when it became obvious that following that path was no longer an option. I was confused, disillusioned, and uncertain as to what to do. My wife gave me a card one day. The cover read, “We don’t always know what the plan is, but we know there is a plan.” Inside was the following passage of scripture: “For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” What a beautiful encouragement that was to me! Over time I’ve learned that starting with only the smallest seed of hope, and then acting upon it, will eventually produce faith, which the bible defines as “the assurance of things hoped for and the certainty of things not seen.”

Henry Ford once said, “Whether you believe you can or you believe you can’t, you’re right.” No matter where you are in life right now, or what you may be going through, one thing is for certain: your future will ultimately be shaped and determined by the level of your hope, what you believe is possible. If you find yourself coming up a little short in this department, I promise that if you look around, you can find someone who will share some of theirs with you. There’s more than enough to go around, and I hope you found some here!

 

 

Apologies, Appreciation, and Persistance

sorryWell, I’m back, and a little more than slightly embarrassed to admit its been nearly three weeks since I published my last blog post. I began this writing endeavor with a commitment to post new content each week. Though certainly not a prolific literary goal, it was something I felt I could consistently be faithful to accomplish. Apparently not! Once again, I failed to consider that we do not live in a vacuum. (although I must admit the last few weeks have sucked like a new Kirby!) The very limited time I have at home each week recently became consumed with the grief of a huge loss, the frustration of a big change at work, and a home improvement project that (as usual) was way more involved than anticipated.

Whether or not these disruptions were reasonable excuses or excusable reasons is neither here nor there. The fact remains that I am disappointed in my failure to keep my commitment. I’ve realized that sitting down at this computer, hunting and pecking my way through my thoughts and experiences, and then flinging them out into cyberspace for all to see, has become very important to me. In fact, I suspect I may benefit far more as the writer than you do as the reader!

I do, however, need to acknowledge that there are at least a few of you who faithfully read these offerings each week, and some who actually find them helpful. I know there are a few blogs I read and podcasts I listen to each week as part of my own personal growth and developement. I’ve come to look forward to them, and have felt a little “let down” on the rare occasion when a new post wasn’t there. So for those of you who have been following my weekly ramblings, I want to extend a sincere apology for falling off the wagon the last couple of weeks.

We live in a crazy, busy world, and are constantly bombarded with people, companies, and products competing for our attention. I want to express my gratitude and appreciation for those of you who take the time to read anything I might have to say. I never want to take that for granted.

In one of my favorite books, “The Traveler’s Gift” by Andy Andrews, the main character is presented with seven decisions that will change his life and eventually change the world. The seventh and final principle he is given states, “I will persist without exception.” In the past, I have been guilty of starting a lot of new things, but rarely following through. If for no other reason than to change my own modus operandi, I am re-affirming my pledge to you (and myself) to continue sharing insights that will hopefully add value, hope, and direction to your life. I will persist!

Thanks again for hanging out here with me for a few minutes! See you next week…without exception!

 

 

Pursuing Purpose and Passion

sun beams thru cloudsAt some point, we all ponder that age old question, “Why am I here?” I believe we’re all created with a deep inner desire to discover our purpose in life, to find our true calling. It would sure simplify matters if God would just part the heavens, and illuminate us with knowledge of His plan! In my experience however, He rarely (Never!) feels obligated to clue me in on the details; not even a hint, never mind something as dramatic as a burning bush! I suspect we benefit as much from seeking the answer as in actually finding it.

Even for those who don’t believe in the notion of a divine destiny, this search for meaning and significance is still just as real. In today’s culture, there is a lot of emphasis placed on finding your passion and pursuing your dreams. We buy into that entrepreneurial mantra that “if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” There are many who have managed to find that sweet spot where their passion, talent, and skill set intersect with a need in the market place. We call them successful.

While there’s certainly nothing wrong with such lofty pursuits, I think there is an inherent danger in this mind set. If your “dream job” seems forever out of reach, it could be easy to conclude that you have somehow failed, that your life has no meaning or purpose. In all honesty, I’ve felt this way before, and I can tell you that nothing feels quite as hopeless as being consigned to a life of insignificance.

Thankfully, I’ve learned that my sense of purpose or self worth is not contingent on outward circumstances, but rather on my perception. And believe me, the latter is often much easier to change than the former! In seeking a more accurate perspective, I’ve become convinced that our passion and purpose isn’t defined nearly as much by what we do, as it is by how we do it and who we’re doing it for!

I agree that passion is extremely important in life, much too important to be confined to a particular job you think you’d love to do. Passion should be a quality of character that we carry with us at all times, and applied to everything we do. Back in the day this was called “taking pride” in your work. Hell, anybody can be happy herding unicorns through fields of lilacs and rainbows for a living! But show me someone who can dig a ditch with a smile on his face, and I’ll show you a man of character. Choosing to be grateful just to have a job, and then performing it to the very best of your ability looks a lot like passion!

Finally, any measure of success that doesn’t focus on serving others is shallow and short lived at best. Renowned motivational Zig Ziglar famously said, “You can have anything in life you want, if you help enough other people get what they want.” That gets pretty close to the root of finding your purpose in life; if not in detail, at least in principle. A dear mentor of mine,  John “Moe” Holleran, used to quote a poem that I think best illustrates the point:

  • I sought my God; my God I could not see
  • I sought my soul; my soul eluded me
  • I sought my fellow man, and I found all three.

When I think only of my own happiness or personal sense of fulfillment, the idea of getting in that 18 wheeler later tonight and driving to San Antonio would feel like meaningless drudgery. But when I focus on the family I have to support, being an example to my kids and grandkids of what a work ethic looks like, and the many others who depend on me safely delivering that freight on time, suddenly this J.O.B. feels a little more important, almost like a noble calling. In fact, I’m not so sure I would ever deserve anything more out of life if I couldn’t first be faithful, and thankful, with what I’ve already been given.

So what’s the moral to the story? If you can’t find passion and purpose where you’re at, you’re not likely to find it somewhere else. Besides, all the cool unicorn herding jobs are already taken!

 

How comfortable is your rut? (a different look at adversity)

stuck_in_a_rutI, like a lot of folks, enjoy life the most when everything is going good. Job’s going ok, paying the bills on time, family’s all getting along, everybody’s healthy and happy! No surprises. No drama. No stress. Sign me up for routine and predictable every time!

After years of chaos and turmoil, I thought the whole point to this game of life was to find that blissful utopian state known as the Comfort Zone, set the cruise control, let Jesus take the wheel, and just sit back and enjoy the ride! From time to time, I’ve hit that sweet spot and thought, “Finally! Now I can relax!” I think we all know what happens next!

I’ve always heard people talk about being “stuck in a rut” as a bad thing, but, in a way, that’s exactly what I longed for. The great thing about being in a rut is that it makes it really easy to maintain your course of direction. The tragic downside to being in a rut is that it makes it really easy to maintain your course of direction!

I think the real culprit here is that word “easy”. Isn’t that what most of us are after? Our definition of a problem or crisis is anything that disrupts our ease and comfort. As a result, we tend to view changes in our normal routine with disdain and contempt. We refer to those seasons of life as hard times. However, when I use my awesome 20/20 hindsight, it’s very clear that the biggest problems, the greatest tragedies, the hardest and worst times of my life, were the necessary bumps in the road that jarred my out of my comfortable rut!

I’m experiencing some changes right now in my life. I’ve recently lost a great friend. My job situation has changed, and its not yet clear how it will affect my income and schedule. We’ve also starting remodeling our kitchen, and I’m the kind of guy that goes nuts if my wife rearranges the pictures on the wall! Am I uncomfortable? Yes. Sad? Absolutely. A little anxious? You bet! But here’s the strange thing: I’m not afraid. In fact, I find that I’m curiously excited! I can’t help but wonder what’s next!

Its all a matter of perspective. How we choose to see our situation. I’m convinced if you’re looking for problems, you’ll find them. But if you’re looking for solutions and opportunities, you are certain to find them as well!

So, how are things going right now? Is everything running smoothly? Is life treating you pretty good? And if so, is that really a good thing? You might just be stuck in a comfortable rut!

However, if you’re struggling and going through hard times right now, let me be the first to congratulate you! There’s no telling what you’re about to learn, or how much you’re about to grow! Who knows new opportunities may be just around the corner!

 

 

What Does a Legacy Look Like?

028The older I get, the more I find myself thinking about my legacy. How will I be remembered when I’m gone? What will I have passed down to my children and grandchildren? What did I invest into the lives of others? Did I make a difference? As I’ve begun to catch occasional glimpses of the finish line off in the distance, the need to answer these questions has become increasingly more urgent. I suppose it’s been one of  my primary motives for starting to write.While I certainly hope that the experiences and insights I share will be of some value, I can’t rule out the possibility that this blog is, at its core, nothing more than electronic graffiti, a feeble attempt to leave behind some little shred of evidence that I was here.

It’s a pretty safe bet that I won’t be leaving behind a wealthy estate for my heirs to build upon (or fight over)! It’s doubtful I’ll ever achieve a level of fame or notoriety that would secure my place in the history books. But I have come to believe that a life well lived, even a simple life, can change the world. I know this because I’ve seen it first hand. I know because one such life changed mine forever.

Just this past week I had to say goodbye to one of the greatest men I’ve ever known. For the last 19 years he was a second father, brother, mentor, and best friend to me. He wasn’t wealthy or famous, and by the world’s standards, not even what most would consider successful. Yet the influence and impact he had on the lives of those who knew him is immeasurable; stories of his generosity, kindness, and fun loving spirit, far too numerous to recount here. But maybe what he did isn’t nearly as important as how and why he did it. I think perhaps Jesus explained it better than I could:

“The greatest among you will be your servant. For he who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Matthew 20: 11 -12

Having the heart of a servant made Leon Barnes the Christian, husband, father, grandfather, employer, neighbor, and friend that he was. It was that spirit that not only attracted people to him, but drew them closer to the Lord he loved. He didn’t have to preach or quote scriptures. The way he lived said it all. He will never be forgotten. His legacy is both secure and eternal.

There is no doubt that who I have become (and am still becoming), has been shaped in a large way by his example. However, he didn’t act alone. I’ve been blessed with several mentors and friends along the way who poured into my life, and left a little of their legacy with me. There’s also no denying that I am my father’s son! Although his influence at times was an uninvited guest, I now cherish our relationship and am grateful for his wisdom.

Now that I think about it, most everyone in my life (including some of you who are reading this right now!) has is some way contributed to the sum total of who I am. But isn’t this true for all of us? I’ve always heard that “no man is an island,” and I think I’m starting to realize just how true that is. You see, we’re all connected. We all need each other. Everything we do, even the little things (perhaps especially the little things) matters…forever.

That’s the essence of the Butterfly Effect.

I’m beginning to realize that we don’t really leave a legacy behind at all…maybe we just pass them on and on and on…

So whose legacy has become a living part of your life? What kind of legacy are you passing on?