The Opportunities in Life’s Challenges – Part 2

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may be aware that I sprained my ankle and wound up on crutches a while back. I’m happy to report that last week, I was able to start walking without the crutches and for the last few days, I’ve been walking with no limp at all and have resumed my regular workout schedule – albeit carefully! I am very happy and excited to get back to full throttle in the gym and all other areas of my life very soon.

Over the years, I’ve been through a lot of these situations but I haven’t always handled them very well. This time, my attitude was much better than ever before and it really helped. For one thing, it made the whole experience feel like much less of an inconvenience. But also, while I certainly can’t prove this, may even have helped to speed up my healing process. This was a serious ankle sprain; we’re talking about a joint being in the wrong position when it hit the floor, going much further in that direction, and causing immediate and fairly severe pain. I was on crutches over a month as a result of a previous sprain of similar severity. The mind can be incredibly powerful and this has been documented plenty of times in medical contexts. In this case, I believe that by having mine in a good, healthy state, I put it to work on healing my ankle faster.

Whether or not that is true, the whole episode has been a great reminder for me. Each and every one of us has so much to be thankful for in life. It can be very easy to focus on negative things that appear more significant in the moment and ignore the positives. Believe me, I have spent far too much of my life looking at things that way. But when you lose something fundamental – like the ability to walk – you suddenly realize the fallacy in this. Or at least I do. There are plenty of people who would give almost anything just to be able to walk ever again. Temporarily experiencing a taste of their reality for myself gave me a valuable dose of perspective. Every morning, when I got out of bed and realized I would need the crutches to progress any further, I got a fresh reminder. Thankfully, this condition didn’t last long enough for it to stop surprising me when I woke up!

Of course this experience will fade to some deep, dark corner of my memory bank before too long. But this time around, my goal is to slow down that process. Remember my challenge from a few posts ago? It would make it much easier to get started and to excel at it if the threshold were as low as being thankful to be able to walk, run, jump, work out, etc. And why not set it that low? Gratitude can enrich anyone’s life to an almost infinite degree and if you can get the ball rolling, even just a little bit, you’re moving in the right direction. It doesn’t matter how you do it.

This is where I have to call myself out. As disappointing as it is, I’ve allowed myself to get bogged down with some frustrations in my work over the last week or so. I’m doing all I can to improve the realities of these few situations and while I wait for my efforts to hopefully produce results, writing this post is helping me to refocus on what’s most important. Writing this blog often does, which is a big part of why I enjoy doing it. And to keep that going, I’m going to lay out a new challenge for myself and for anyone who would like to join me.

The next time I get frustrated with a situation, I’m going to look at it as an opportunity to improve myself – because that is exactly what any problem is. My goal is to avoid reacting rashly and instead, to think about the situation logically – starting with taking responsibility, which is so crucial. What actions of mine led me here? What could I have done differently? What can I do now that is likely to make things better? Once I have a game plan for both current and future improvement, I can focus on executing it. This process will be much more effective than letting emotions take over and complaining about it. Of course, like so many worthwhile things in life, this is a simple concept that will be difficult to implement. I’m going to try my best to be up to the challenge – whenever I do get my next opportunity. Hopefully you will as well if you choose to do this with me!

Today I’m Going to Challenge You

It is no secret among those who know me that I have struggled with depression for most of my life. While it seems counterintuitive, there does appear to be a strong correlation between the prevalence of this problem and the unprecedented and continuing economic success our country has enjoyed. So if you struggle with it, there is absolutely nothing wrong with you. Most of us do, at least some of the time, and our circumstances in life really don’t seem to have a significant effect on that. As difficult as depression symptoms are to deal with, the sheer persistence of the disease in the face of long term, consistent efforts to eradicate it, has been the most frustrating aspect for me.

However, there is plenty to be hopeful about. Several months ago, I started making a more focused effort than ever to get my depression under control. First I had to accept, once and for all, that depression is a part of me and probably always will be. Acceptance is so important! As I understand it, suffering isn’t a direct result of circumstances, but rather, the result of the difference between those circumstances and one’s expectations. So in other words, anyone can be unhappy if he isn’t willing to accept reality. This is a large part of the explanation for miserable billionaires and happy people who don’t know where their next meals are coming from.

Accepting the reality that I will always have depression to contend with was a huge help. The next big step was taking responsibility for my own mental health. Too often in my life I’ve leaned on mental health professionals, thinking that if I invested enough time and money, I would have to see results. But just like with anything else, that isn’t enough. Simply going through the motions didn’t work for me. I wasted thousands of dollars in copays and hundreds of hours because I went in with the wrong mindset. The correct mindset, as in any situation, is to take responsibility – not for making the investment, but for attaining the RESULTS. When I finally did that around the middle of last year, I naturally started putting in the focused work that was necessary and everything changed.

What were my tactics? For one thing, I started reading with the specific purpose of defeating depression. Some of the books that really helped me include: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, The Four Agreements by Miguel Ruiz, Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David Burns, Self-Compassion: The Power of Being Kind to Yourself by Kristin Neff, Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life by Eric Greitens, Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALS Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, and Mind Over Mood: Change How You Feel By Changing the Way You Think by Dennis Greenberger, Christine Padesky, and Aaron Beck. But beyond just reading, I started actively working on changing my thought process. There are hundreds of very worthwhile exercises and things to think about in just the books I listed and I highly recommend working through them all to find the ones that help you.

But reading books takes time. Today I want to challenge you to start with one simple, but incredibly powerful concept: gratitude. This isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned it in this young blog and that is no accident. Why is it so important? If you can change the way you think and start looking for positives instead of negatives, a few things will happen. Biologically, you will literally change your physical brain as you force it to work in different ways. That means that thinking positively will become easier with practice just like lifting weights does as your muscles get stronger. You will likely notice that your happiness level increases fairly quickly. But maybe the most exciting thing that will happen when you make it a priority to be thankful for the good things in your life is that you will get more of them. That’s right; changing the way you think will literally change your circumstances in life.

This isn’t some silly gimmick or pseudo-science. I’m not talking about thinking about things you want and the universe magically manifesting them for you. What I’m talking about is real. How does it work? When you start focusing on positive things in your life and being thankful for them, you will start to see more of them. This is human nature; you tend to find what you’re looking for and miss a lot of what you aren’t. When you start seeing more positive things, you start feeling better. When that happens, you start acting differently. You make an extra sales call. You meet a smoking hot girl and ask her out on the spot. Or maybe you just simply hold the door for someone. When you change your actions, your results start to change. Each of the examples I just listed can lead to something good happening for you and if you make enough changes like them, they certainly will. The first step to success is simply showing up and doing something. Success has a way of snowballing really quickly so literally all you have to do is start the process and ride the momentum from there and things will improve.

So how am I going to challenge you today? I want you to focus on making gratitude a part of your life. Immediately. In order for this to be as effective as possible, it needs to be obnoxious. Start keeping a notebook around or taking notes in your phone or whatever works for you. Every hour you’re awake, write down something you’re thankful for. Every single hour. I guarantee you can think of something. It can be as big as getting a promotion at work or as small as a conversation you had that you enjoyed. Still can’t find something? I bet you aren’t dying of cancer right now. I’ll bet even more that a tsunami didn’t just destroy your house and all your belongings. Try not to lean on the “it could always be worse” crutch too often but you can use it when you have to.

At the end of each day, review your list and pick out your favorites. Think about them as you lay in bed and go to sleep. There is no better way to start a night of restful sleep. Look back over previous days’ lists whenever you’re starting to feel down and remind yourself of some of the blessings in your life until the mood passes.

This exercise isn’t going to cure anyone’s depression. Much like alcoholism, I am not sure there is a cure. I think you just have to acknowledge that it exists and commit to fighting it every day. Do my gratitude challenge for a week or two and see how you feel. See if it is easier to come up with an item to add to the list than it was when you started. You are already going to notice progress and that is a money back guarantee! Obviously this doesn’t end your war. But it puts one battle in the win column. Next, pick out something else to try. Remember, big victories are made up of many little ones. If anyone decides to complete my challenge, I would love to hear about the results. So leave a comment or email me at admin@healthwealthpower.com and let me know how it worked for you.

The Opportunities in Life’s Challenges

And just like that, I’ve come crashing right back down to earth – quite literally in fact. I tried not to be too over the top as I celebrated my good fortune in my last post but the universe noticed anyway. Literally the next morning I suffered a severe ankle sprain in a basketball game and I’ll likely be on crutches for at least a month or two. That’s the way life goes sometimes. I’ve found that particularly if you haven’t faced any difficult situations recently, you can expect that to change before too long. And no amount of money will exempt you.

I get frustrated with these situations like anyone else. Crutches certainly aren’t very convenient for a guy who spends a lot of his time driving around; and neither is a painful right ankle the size of a softball for that matter! But life isn’t any more willing to take a break for me than it is for anyone else. So I’m driving very gingerly and maintaining a much longer following distance than usual. And yes, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a few choice words for the couple of folks who forced me to slam on my brakes today in spite of my efforts to avoid having to. To be fair, they weren’t singling me out; they’re just as reckless and negligent around the vast majority of people on the road whose ankles are healthy. But this post isn’t about the horrible drivers in this town so I digress.

When I’m forced to deal with a situation like this, I try to focus on being thankful for things I normally take for granted. For example, it’s awfully nice to be able to walk to my car without crutches and carry items in my hands instead of in the backpack I’m using now. It’s a privilege to be able to seek out extra exercise through the course of a day rather than having to avoid it. I know these things every day but today, they’re right in my face to the point where I have no way to ignore them. Normally it’s fun to be able to play a round of golf or even a game of pool but today any attempt at either would be painful and futile. All day, I’ve been mentally adding things I would never give a second thought to otherwise to this list and although I’m annoyed that I can’t do them right now, I’m doing my best to look on the bright side.

After all, there are people who will never walk again – not even with crutches. Hell, there are people who have never walked at all and never will. This experience gives me a window into the perspective of someone living that kind of life. I will be fully functional again before too long but hopefully I will have this in the back of my mind the next time I see someone who isn’t and have more empathy than I did before. This isn’t my first time living the temporary crutch life. But I’m older and wiser than I was last time so I believe I will learn my lessons more effectively than ever before. If I’m able to look at this experience with the right attitude at least part of the time, it can be an excellent opportunity to improve myself.

And that is the case with every challenge you face in life. Every single one. My divorce was far and away the most difficult one I’ve faced so far. But I’ve easily grown more as a person in the years since it happened than I had in the entirety of my life leading up to that point. I understand myself, others, and life itself much better than I ever could have before I went through that. I still remember a guy from high school who had been paralyzed from the waist down, was confined to a wheelchair, and even with his hands had only limited motor function. But I don’t remember him for any of that; I remember him because he was simply phenomenal. He couldn’t change his past or even a lot of his present but he was absolutely determined to make the most of what he did have control over and it came out in a seemingly unstoppable positive energy that immediately lit up any room he entered. At that age I barely understood what I was looking at in him but he had taken an incredibly unfair event in his life and used it to turn himself into someone truly awe inspiring. Most of us will never have that caliber of bad luck but all of us will have some and we would do very well to handle our situations with the attitude he handled his.

We all know a perpetual victim. Something is always happening TO him or every time you talk to her, she has something to complain about. Those people are never going to grow unless something wakes them up. I know because for many years, I was one of them. Your life literally IS all of the things that happen to and around you, whether good, bad, or anywhere in between. Eat and drink the joy of the good moments with all your heart but when the bad ones come, those are the opportunities. If you take advantage of them, you will turn even the bad moments into more good ones and yourself into a better, stronger, more capable person. If you add it all up, it equals a better and more significant life. It isn’t easy. But what worthwhile thing is?

A Day of Triumph and Reflection

Today was a very big day for me. This morning I was informed that I recently achieved one of the sought after milestones of people in my line of work: a five figure payday from a single deal! So I’ve been enjoying the hell out of my moment all day and now I want to reflect a little bit, both to mark this for myself and to hopefully inspire someone else to keep fighting the good fight even when it doesn’t feel like it’s accomplishing anything.

First and foremost, I am overwhelmed with gratitude. Only a few years ago, I was working a salaried office job where I didn’t get any bonuses at all. If that version of me could see me today, I don’t know if he would believe it. It was just impossible to see even the possibility of a day like this from where I was at that time. A very small portion of the population knows what it’s like to be able to make this much money this quickly – probably a single digit percentage. It is an incredible privilege to be among them and even more so given that this isn’t even a terribly unusual occurrence in my profession.  

Of course I have worked very hard to get here. This particular deal took weeks of back and forth and culminated in a whirlwind trip that included a flight to Memphis, driving halfway across the state to Jackson and back, and another flight to Chicago, all in about a twenty four hour period. And of course I have also had some good breaks. Those do typically come to capable people who work hard. But I also got plenty of help from some incredible people. One woman was willing to go to bat for me with a good friend of hers (now a good friend of mine) who happened to be a superstar with my current employer before I even knew the company existed. My manager treats me very well, works his ass off every day, and does an amazing job making everything I do possible behind the scenes. Most of my fellow sales reps have been welcoming and helpful but a few have treated me like family and provided endless mentoring, advice, insight, and support all along the difficult journey from brand new, first time sales rep to whatever it is that I am today. Obviously my life isn’t perfect and neither is my employer. But I have gotten better and better at focusing on the positive side of things and the results have been wonderful. I couldn’t be more thankful for the many people who have contributed to my ongoing success and I will be lucky to pay it all forward if I live to be 100.

Gratitude is obvious on a day like this. And of course part of me is incredibly excited. But I also surprised myself. Part of me just kind of shrugged this whole thing off. How does that make sense when I’ve been pursuing this day for almost three years? I think this is where the “it’s the journey, not the destination” quote comes in. Sure, longing for this “destination” has fueled a lot of my activities for a long time. But somewhere along the line, it became about something else. As I started to succeed with deals that led to big paydays, of course I was happy about the money. But I noticed that I derived more satisfaction from the personal growth that had allowed me to make it. These deals were the kinds of opportunities I had failed to convert on or possibly not even noticed at all just a year or two prior. I don’t think there is any feeling in life quite like the one you get when you realize you can do something now that you couldn’t before.

And today is similar. Yes, I scored a big one. But there is a very good chance I will do it again this year and possibly more than once. I have a handful of deals nearly as big in the works as I type this. I probably won’t close every one. But I will almost definitely close some of them. The incredibly fortunate reality is that I am on a relatively lucrative career path and am at the point where things are starting to go my way more consistently. The excitement I feel over this win comes from viewing it through the window of my past whereas the feelings of pride, contentment, and joy are from where I sit today.This can be an amazing life if you work hard and position yourself in such a way that it is likely to pay off. None of this would have happened if I hadn’t gotten myself a good education or taken advantage of the opportunities in the not so great jobs I had before this one. There were plenty of days when I felt like I wasn’t making any progress and sometimes I didn’t want to go to work at all but I did it anyway and did my best to learn more than my job required and go above and beyond in any way I could. I also wouldn’t be enjoying my current success if I hadn’t worked hard resiliently in this job. For every day like this one, there were probably a few dozen where I struggled mightily and didn’t come away with a win at all much less a big one like this. Even today, while basking in the glow of my good fortune, I was hung up on while making some cold calls. Life never stops being difficult but if you do the right things consistently, your capabilities will never stop increasing either and you will win more and more often. When I started this job, being hung up on would have bothered me. Today I simply shrugged and moved on to the next name on the list. That change didn’t happen by itself and it wasn’t easy. But if I hadn’t done everything it took to make it happen, today would never have happened either.

That’s all for now. Have a wonderful night, sleep well, and go out and be the best possible version of yourself tomorrow! You never know what might happen if you do.

A Happy Night of Insomnia

It’s 2am and in spite of the very comfortable bed in my hotel room, I woke up and can’t get back to sleep. Insomnia is nothing new to me but it is unusual lately which has been a wonderful improvement. But the cause is even more unusual. I can’t seem to stop my mind from racing out of sheer joyful awe. This is going to get pretty personal so if you don’t want to humanize me, stop reading right now.

The last few years have been a whirlwind for me. In 2016, my marriage fell apart in catastrophic, but sadly fairly typical fashion. I lost most of what I loved and cared about in life. For at least a year after, I went through a tunnel of depression, terrible decisions, and little noticeable improvement. Not only had I lost my wife, I had also made a major job change soon after. It was a dramatic step up in both challenge and compensation but at a time when my personal stakes were already very elevated and my mental state was volatile at best. I had lost almost any sense of security exactly when I needed it most. Of course security is mostly an illusion so I wasn’t really any worse off. But it certainly felt that way and I nearly broke on numerous occasions.

And the situation got worse before it got better. One enterprising soul used my weakened emotional state as an opportunity to manipulate and take advantage of me for personal gain. I’ve forgiven this person but also discontinued any form of relationship as I believe any prudent person would have. I am not mentioning this to disparage anyone, but simply to illustrate my story more effectively. Anyway, it sounds strange but this sequence of events seemed to hammer home lessons I somehow hadn’t fully learned from the divorce. This was all very painful at the time but I certainly wouldn’t want to give any of it back now as the incredible value of the experience is mine for the rest of my life. Today I probably err on the side of being too guarded but at the advantage of being much less likely to be an emotional plaything for anyone. Most importantly, I got through it all. And two primary factors allowed me to do it.  

First, I had some amazing people in my corner. They are all flawed human beings like anyone else but they were instrumental to my recovery. So much love flowed from this group. I don’t come from a warm family of people and that’s nothing against any of them, it’s just the way they are. But for that reason, this overwhelming outpouring of nearly unconditional love was like nothing I had ever known before. It came from a variety of sources including people I hadn’t even known long and it was exactly what I needed to remind me that the person in the previous paragraph was the exception and not the rule.

Second, I took responsibility for my own health and success. The pity party had to end for a full recovery to be possible and it had only continued so long because I had developed the bad habit of leaning on people’s sympathy. Consequently, this is exactly how I had become an easy mark for someone masquerading as a sympathetic figure. Fully embracing this new total responsibility to myself was a crucial turning point. Ever since then, my mental health and stability have been reaching new heights on a regular basis and I have even been able to pay forward some of the support I received.

This brings me back to my insomnia. Where am I today that such a rush of positive sentiment is keeping me awake? Right now I’m on a short business trip. I’ve been accomplishing all my big picture goals one way or another but I’m also taking a little time tomorrow (ok, today now) to tour a historic mansion. I expect I will love it and go home richer for the experience in a way money can’t buy. I’m also eating delicious food, getting decent road workouts in, and generally enjoying myself in the process of this trip. When I go home, I will enjoy a weekend full of great football (that is as long as the Seahawks and the Texans win, fingers crossed) and spending some time with great friends. A somewhat disappointing December on the business side has turned into a January that is suddenly on the brink of success early on. Overall, I don’t believe I have ever been this happy.

I’m not a religious man but I can’t help but notice the parallels with the old testament story of Job. I lost everything not long ago but I have gained back much more than I had in the first place. I thought I was happy but it turns out I didn’t even have a clue what happiness could be. Life has a way of clearing out what doesn’t belong to make room for what does. It certainly didn’t feel that way at the time but that is exactly what happened for me. I decided to take a little break from my tossing and turning to attempt to record the genuine euphoria of this moment. I don’t know if I will ever be this happy again but I do know I’m going to make the most of it while I can. Be well, folks. Hopefully I’ll be able to get some sleep now.

Update: I was not able to. But I got through the day and managed to be creative and patient enough to overcome a big setback to salvage half of a profitable deal against fairly long odds.