For almost a decade I’ve been a student of why and how people change. It is said in recovery culture that people change when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of changing. Aside from being really insightful, that’s more than a little depressing.
Of course, pain can be a great motivator of change, like when you pull your hand away from a hot stove. But thankfully, pain isn’t the only reason people change. In fact, many times change can be…well…fun. Think about some of the choices you’ve made that brought about change: going to college or getting married or pursuing an internship or traveling overseas or accepting a job offer. It’s not likely that you made these or similar decisions because you were in pain. At least I hope not.
I have friends who went to grad school not because the pain of having an undergraduate degree was so great, but because the pleasure of having a graduate degree was so much greater. Likewise, how would you react if you heard someone say, “I got married because the pain of being alone became too great”?
Or if someone went after his dream job and said in the interview, “I’d like to work here because the pain of working with the bozos in Department C is just too great.”
What I love about life is that people change not only because of pain but very often because of pleasure. They change not only because their current life hurts but also because the future could feel so much better. Sometimes we change not to make something stop but to start something new. And right now, in your life and mine, there are things waiting to be made new. Right now, there is a future out there waiting for you.
And it’s good. It’s not a future of endless pain but of fulfilling pleasure. It’s a future not of drudgery but of joy. And it’s worth changing for. It’s worth risking for.
You and Me and Life
The best advice I received before I started writing this book was to pick one person that I wanted to write to and write just for that person. I thought a lot about that. I thought about how I could write this book to a friend on the East Coast or a particular family member. I could pick someone of a specific spiritual background or a specific age. Faces flashed in my mind. Whom to pick? Who needs this book the most? And after all that deliberation, I decided, at long last, to write this book to…myself. (What can I say? I’m a narcissist.)
Let me explain: I dedicated this book to someone else when I got done writing it. But I’ve discovered over the past several years that there are lots of people like me who face the same struggles I face. There are lots of people who experience the same frustrations with life as I do. I don’t know anyone better than I know myself, and I wanted to write this book primarily because I needed it. The ideas in this book have changed my life, which is why I’m sharing them with you. My hope is that they’ll be as helpful to you as they have been to me.
I Am Not Brad Pitt
Several years ago I was working with a team of college students, and they arranged it so that a group of inner-city kids could come watch a college basketball game with us. Many of these kids had never been outside their neighborhoods, let alone to a real college arena with all the lights and cheering crowds.
During the course of the game, we bought the kids pizza. As I was handing out slices, one little girl tugged on my shirt. I looked down and she looked up and said, “Are you Brad Pitt?”
White people all look the same.
At the risk of stating the obvious: I am not Brad Pitt. Brad is famous and beautiful, and he has opportunities that most of us will never fully understand. This book was not written for him.
This book isn’t about how to be famous, nor is it about thrill seeking. It’s not about filling the void of our lives with near-death experiences so we can say we’ve really lived.
This is not a book where a number of naturally likable people tell you how you, too, can become more likable. This isn’t one of those books where naturally attractive and athletic people tell you how to win friends and influence people, make more money, and find awesome success. Nor will natural geniuses explain how you can raise your IQ.
I am a fairly normal guy. I have strengths and weaknesses just like everyone else. I have hopes and dreams and fears and insecurities. I’m responsible for my life, just like you’re responsible for your life. I have never gone skydiving. I have never gone shark diving. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve even bobbed for apples. I don’t drive a motorcycle or a fast car.
I don’t search for thrills, but I do search for life. I want to live a meaningful life, and my guess is you do too.
This book isn’t a typical self-help book. It’s my attempt to create a road map that leads to a more meaningful life and to challenge you to take the risks required to get there. Starting with chapter 1, I’ll be vigorously and joyfully attacking some of the most common ways we look at growth, learning, and the tools needed to accomplish both. I’ll suggest that we should approach our own growth and learning in a very different, more exciting, and transformative way.
Here are some of the questions we’ll explore:
• What does it look like to create a lifestyle of healthy risk-taking?
• Why do the standard ways that we learn things almost always leave us unchanged?
• How can we learn in different ways so we can more rapidly become who we were meant to be?
As I was writing this book, I had a list that I wrote to remind me why what I was doing was important, and it eventually found its way into this introduction. I wrote it so that when things got tough, whenever I felt like giving up, I could look at the list and be reminded that this conversation matters. It’s a list of becauses.
The list applies to my life, to the message of this book, to my company—Spark Good—and I hope to your life as well. It serves as a manifesto of sorts for all of us who have decided that, finally, we are ready to do what it takes to change our lives and the world around us. When the process of change takes an unexpected turn and you start to feel discouraged, I invite you to use this list of becauses to help you stay the course.
I do what I do because tonight
• people feel more helpless than they truly are;
• people are suffering from solvable problems;
• people are lonely and desire to know and be known;
• people have undeveloped potential;
• good is trapped underneath our fear of failure;
• people are busy and distracted from the things they truly care about;
• people have leadership abilities that are undeveloped;
• ideas that could change the world are trapped in our minds;
• people are living lives of passivity;
• people are bored;
• people are anxious and don’t know why;
• people are restless for a deeper experience of God;
• people are drowning in a sea of information;
• people are overexposed to boring ideas that become exciting only when they are applied;
• people’s communities have grown stale and stagnant; and
• people have destinies that their wills are not yet able to create.
—The Spark Good Reasons, Summer 2011
This list pretty well sums up why, in 2009, I started creating groups to facilitate healthy risk-taking so people could live more meaningful lives. We call them Spark Groups. Out of these groups have emerged beautiful stories of risk and growth.
In fact, thousands of people could tell their stories in this book. And before long, you can tell your story too. The first risk of all is one that anyone can take: just keep reading.