When You’re Going Through Hell…

When I was in college, I had the great fortune to meet a very insightful developmental psychology lecturer who turned into an informal mentor for a time.  He’d been all over the country, he’d done a lot of wild things and he had a lot of complicated thoughts about success. 

I’ve been thinking about him a lot lately because I’ve been on a journey of a sort. I couldn’t figure out exactly what was going wrong in my life, just that something was out of balance.

As it turned out, a lot was out of balance.  I’d let others dictate my own needs for so long that I forgot I even had any.  It sounds like the sort of thing that only happens in Hallmark movies, but I can assure you, it happens to people every day.

We forget that we deserve to have peace and joy and success and redefining moments.  We forget we deserve more than to merely exist. We forget we need more because we’re told there’s nothing left for us at the end of it all.

Today’s blog is for you, the writer with a teapot that’s constantly filling the cups of others, only to find that there’s nothing left for you.  This blog is for you and I give it freely, while leaving something for myself.

The Journey and the Destination

Back to that psychology lecturer I once knew.  His name was John. A lot of men are named John, so that alone wasn’t terribly remarkable.  He was an old hippie, which was also not terribly remarkable, though at the time I hadn’t met a lot of hippies and for me maybe it was a bigger deal than I realized in the 1990s.

John knew better than I did what my journey was going to look like. I don’t know quite how that was, but maybe it’s the kind of thing that comes with that specialty.  I’d already been in and out of school a few times, trying to work and have a life and not doing particularly well at juggling any of it. Maybe that’s why he’s wedged so firmly in my mind and why those times spent with him still resonate.

See, at the time I felt like I was all alone in the world, facing a lot of challenges no one else faced.  I was trying to get a degree that was constantly having roadblocks thrown up in front of it, from my initial diagnosis of diabetes and subsequently learning how to manage it, the financial fallout from developing an autoimmune disease so early in life, the loss of a Big Dream when the whole concept of the local newspaper started imploding around me, the loss of people who meant the world to me.

The 1990s were a wild time for me.  Won’t lie.

John, though, he never once let me lean on these things or treat them like defeats.  I wasn’t even in his department, but he didn’t care. He was a kindred soul of sorts.  He would remind me that every time it felt like I’d been hit in the face with a rock, I needed to pick that goddamn rock up and figure out what I can learn from it.

And, although I have never been short of mentors who helped me get to where I needed to be, John was a sort of umbrella that I still open in times of peril.  Even though we’re not in contact anymore and he’d probably not even remember me now, he’s up there on that list of people who influenced me so profoundly that I can’t begin to thank them.

The Big Thing He Taught Me

Sorry, I’ve sort of buried the lede here, but it’s also a bit by design.  See, the big takeaway from my time with John was that there’s not a lot to be had from a life lived without adversity.  Not that it’s a great thing to always live in turmoil. I mean, you’ve got to have balance. But in tough times, it can be tempting to look at people who seem to have had some pretty smooth sailing and just envy the fuck out of them.

Trust me, I feel that so hard.  Some days I’d trade all these character-building scars for some straightforward success and a lot fewer speedbumps.

But that’s when I drag that man out of my memory bank.  Because the thing that old hippie taught me – that the journey was the thing, not the destination – you can’t begin to understand how many times that has saved me.  From myself, from others. From the world.

John taught me to see hope and wonder in a world full of booby traps.  

It was a gift.  

It was a life preserver.

There are people you can never thank in the moment because the words won’t come.  There are people you may not even realize have made such a profound impact until they’re long gone.  There are people you will always need, even long after they’ve forgotten you.

When times are tough, remember the philosophy of my friend John.  It’s about the journey and how you handle the troubles along the way, not how quickly you get to where you think you need to be going.

And also remember that you deserve to have your own needs met, even when that means you get to add a whole minefield to the road ahead of you.  So when that client is being overly demanding, when that person in your life can’t respect you and your choices, go forth boldly. You are not alone.  John and I both have your back.

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