Life is a journey… | the ramblings and writings of a guy who prefers to write on paper, but can't live without the internet…

5 Minutes

I had one of those rock polishing kits as a kid.  You would take rocks and some water in a plastic jar and dump in the first of several packets of powder.  Then you’d place this container on its side on this plastic base with an electric motor.  The motor would roll the container around and around.  Think of a can of vegetables that falls on the floor and rolls across the floor, except you don’t drop anything and it only stops rolling when you turned off the little motor.  After a certain amount of time you would take the plastic jar, dump out the water and rinse off the rocks before filling it back up with water and adding the next packet.  This process would repeat itself until you had added the last packet.  When the final spin was complete, you poured out this container which had been filled with rough, ugly rocks and sludge.  I was always amazed at the results.

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“All I know is that for 5 minutes I listened to you talk and I saw how ready people were to listen to you.”

That statement overwhelmed me for a moment or two as I remembered my self introduction at a business breakfast this morning.  In the conversation that led up to that statement, my friend and I had been talking about my goals and my journey in life.  Most of this conversation was just a repetition of things I’ve talked about many times before.  Somehow I can sense the destination.  I know that it is out there, that it exists.  But I simply can’t see a path, can’t find a starting point, and I just don’t know how or where to start.  And, I am very simply afraid.

After I had taken a second or two to process his comment, my friend wrapped up our conversation by telling me that I should just put this goal out there and allow it to be a possibility.  Simply allowing it to be a real possibility, a real option, something that has all the potential in the world to exist and has nothing working against it.(1)  This is entirely too easy for us to do as human beings.  It can’t be simple like that, there’s always 101 different things that get in the way, that will keep things from happening, that make the goal impossible.  We aren’t good enough, we aren’t smart enough, we don’t have enough education, we aren’t rich enough, we aren’t successful enough.  We aren’t enough to let our goals be possible.  It is so easy to short sell our own goals and our own future.  It’s comfortable.  In fact, we are constantly pushing ourselves to be more educated, more intelligent, more beautiful, more wealthy.  And all at the same time we tell ourselves we aren’t smart enough, intelligent enough, beautiful enough or rich enough.  It’s a continual cycle of being told that you have to be more something for good things to happen to you.  And the stories we tell ourselves echo back that we just aren’t good enough.

Being stuck in this cycle of not being ‘enough’, we end up so busy keeping up with the internal and external Joneses that we fail to recognize that they are trying to keep up with us!  Stop to think about that for just a second.  Really take a look at what we have allowed ourselves to create.  Because of the constant battle with ourselves, we end up creating a self inflicted Penrose ladder to success.  The rungs we climb are a never ending escalation, a constantly building stalemate because we will never be ‘enough’ and always want ‘more’.  We live in a MAD world where there is no winner.  A world where we tear each other apart as we continue to climb the ladder.  The ladder that constantly keeps us wondering, why can we still see the Jonses in front of us when we can turn around and see them behind us.

Self sabotage seems to be one of the most gratifying things that most people do to themselves.  We love telling ourselves we have to be better, that we have to be more ‘more’.  All the while feeding ourselves with the idea that we aren’t enough ‘enough’.  How many times have you found yourself sitting in the land of wanting?  There you sit, surrounded by the dreams and desires of being more, while constantly setting the traps we fall into every time we take a step.  It’s a tough place to be, when you constantly tell yourself that you aren’t enough to achieve your goals and dreams.  Double when you start taking shots at your own self-esteem because you haven’t caught up with the Joneses.  And wouldn’t you know it, the ammunition we use is mass produced by our own fame of mind every time we think to ourselves that we aren’t enough ‘enough’.

Consider for a moment your reaction to that last statement.  Chances are that somewhere in the back of your mind you kicked yourself for not being smart ‘enough’ to see that, or strong ‘enough’ to fight it, or worthy ‘enough’ to defeat it or any one of your personal not ‘enough’ statements.  It’s that reaction, that split second that proves just how easy it is to continue the pattern.

Once you see the ladder for what it is, there are three stages you can find yourself in:

  • You keep climbing the ladder.
  • You stop climbing the ladder.
  • You let go of the ladder.

After having climbed my own ladders for a long time, I came to the understanding that I was the one who made the choice to reach for the next rung.  Slowly but surely, it dawned on me that I had to deal with these ladders.  The moment I realized that I didn’t have to be stuck on the damn ladder anymore was the moment I realized that the ladder to success doesn’t lead to fulfillment in life.  The ladder can’t lead to fulfillment, it is a Penrose ladder remember?  It feeds itself in a never ending loop.  Staying on that ladder means never reaching the top and never getting off.  If you choose to stay on the ladder, at least your calves will be rock solid from all the climbing.  You’re gonna need those rock solid calves if you keep going, it’s a long climb.

When you accept the fact that the ladder doesn’t lead to fulfillment, it starts to make sense to stop climbing.  If you stop climbing long enough, you might start to think that things aren’t so bad from up here.  Sure, you’re not at the top of the ladder.  But that also means you sure as heck aren’t at the bottom of the ladder!  Time to celebrate your calves and give ’em a well deserved rest.  It really doesn’t seem so bad to stop moving.  But even if you stop moving, you’re still stuck in the loop.  You’re still on the ladder.  You’ve pulled off the interstate, but even though you’ve given up on the journey you’re still attached to the destination.  And because you still cling to the desire for more ‘more’, you never get rid of the feeling that you don’t have enough ‘enough’.  You’re not alone though.  I’ve got a few ladders where I built my own rest stops!  The good news is that this is the stage where you can start to recognize what the ‘more’ and ‘enough’ are really all about.

No matter how nice the rest-stop is or how much fun you have with the diversion, eventually something has to give.  You could start climbing again.  It’s familiar, you know what it looks like, what it feels like and what to expect along the way.  You could give up on climbing and try to fight the ‘more’ and ‘enough’ from where you are.  Staying still can be just as hard as climbing. You know the lay of the land, but things get stagnant and boring.  And you can easily become complacent if you stick around here too long.  You also have way too much time to sit around and contemplate how you aren’t making any progress anymore.  So how do you go about letting go of the ladder?  Where do you find the courage to let go of the rung and fall backwards into the unknown?  What happens when you let go?  When will you hit the ground, and exactly what are you supposed to do then?!

The first thing you do is stop asking questions!

But how do I…?   STOP IT!!

So what should I…?   STOP IT!!

Don’t I need…?   STOP IT!!

Am I…?   STOP IT!!

Those question always comes back to me, me, me.

To be clear, letting go of the ladder isn’t giving up.  Giving up is stopping the climb but holding on for dear life.

Letting go of he ladder is about knowing that you are already good enough, and that you have more than you ever realized!  I’m not talking about accepting all that you are and have, I’m talking about knowing it!  I’m talking about knowing ‘balls to bones’ that you are ‘enough’, I’m talking about knowing unquestionably that you have ‘more’.  Letting go is knowing that you won’t fall, and knowing beyond any doubt that there is no fall that you can’t pick yourself up from.  Those falls are great chances to learn to let go all over again!  This is so much more than accepting things as they are.  You have to know that how wonderful the world really is, how lucky you already are.  You have to face the fear of failure and realize how much you do actually deserve the things that you are afraid of reaching for.

It really is this simple.  But we fight it like caged animals because we love our fear because it keeps us safe, we love the climb because it gives us a few minutes of a rush every once in a while.  Letting go of the ladder?  That’s a constant rush because life is alive, real, immediate, and completely engaging!  It’s walking down the street with your headphones in, singing at the top of your lungs as you jump around piles of leaves on the side of the road! (2)

Letting go of the ladder isn’t easy.  In fact, it’s one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do.  And it is something that I will be doing as bravely as possible for the rest of my life.  When it gets easier, I’ll let you know!

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So what’s with the rock polishing kit?  Well, as a kid I always wondered how could something so plain, boring and ugly like pavement rocks and gravel can take so much abuse over and over again but come out smooth, shiny and beautiful?  The older I get, the more I understand that instead of complaining about life, instead of being afraid of life, instead of letting the turmoil and stress and failures all feed into my problems.  I understand that each one of us rolls around in our own muck and constantly bump up against each other and our own walls.  That rolling around is life.  And life could suck.  We could feel like failures all the time, we could hate ourselves for mistakes made lifetimes ago, we could hurt ourselves and those around us, we could grow bored waiting for life to get better.  Or life could be an amazing, exciting, challenging and unbelievable!  We could live our lives in the middle of the insanity, love ourselves for being who we are and laugh at ourselves for all the silliness and insanity we have been a part of!  We can see that life is already happening around us, that life is the gritty details sometimes and that it can really be difficult.  But those difficulties and challenges are things that we overcome.  They are also what polish what we thought was ugly, useless, plain and worthless into a shining, glowing, object that no longer resembles what it once was.  We realize that we are beautiful, amazing and worthy of all that life has to offer us!

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1. This is the best way I could come up with to summarize what was an amazing conversation without repeating the whole thing.

2. I saw a kid doing this one day.  Not stopping my car and going over to dance around with him for a while made me sad for the rest of the day.  I’ve made up for this by the number of days I’ve spent walking around San Francisco singing out loud and dancing to myself!

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