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WHY WAIT TO BE GREAT?
It's Either Now or Too Late
By Terry Hawkins
Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. Copyright © 2013 Terry Hawkins
All rights reserved.
There Are Only Two Times in Life: Now and Too Late!
We all have a story. The basic premise of living provides us with a smorgasbord of possible opportunities to add to our story. We gather stories within our story, and the longer we live, the more "scenes" we add; thus by the end of our life we have built a story that is long, rich, and completely unique to us. No one else ever has or ever will have our story—this is one of the most amazing miracles of life.
As much as our stories may differ, they also unite us in one common element that no human being can ever avoid—our ability to feel. Our stories trigger a variety of feelings that can either propel us forward or keep us stifled and paralyzed in the past.
We often hear people say that it is the events and experiences of our lives that shape us into who we are, but is that really the case? Why is it that two people can experience the same event and yet each be affected in a completely different way? Is it the story of our life that determines our happiness, or is it the position from which we view our story—the story we tell ourselves about our story? Is it this interpretation that affects the decisions we make, how we feel about our life, and how we feel about those in it?
Many years ago I was sitting in my office, reading through the participant list for the next management training program I was conducting for one of our clients. While scrolling, I noticed a handwritten note beside one of the names. It read: Lynn—husband died four weeks ago. Lynn had participated in our sales and service program just over a year earlier.
When the course began, we started introducing ourselves to one another. Eventually, it was Lynn's turn to speak. When I asked her how she was feeling, she replied, "Not that good!" Not recalling that note, I thoughtlessly said, "Oh, why not? It can't be that bad!" Her face reddened and her eyes filled with tears, and in that moment I remembered the note. She was the one whose husband who had died four weeks earlier. I didn't know what to say. I couldn't imagine what it was like to experience that kind of loss. I felt so stupid and awkward for being flippant. Yet despite my obvious discomfort at my faux pas, she responded with warmth and love. She said that she had come to the program because she wanted to laugh again, as her recent life had been so sad, and she was happy to be here.
That night, when I went to bed in my hotel room, I decided to let my imagination run wild, without boundaries. I tried to imagine what it would be like to lose someone that close to me—someone I loved with all my heart. I imagined myself never having that person in my life again. I fully associated with the thought. It hurt. The pain spread through every limb, every vein, and every heartbeat. It was almost too much for me to bear. Yet in the training room I had seen a woman with the courage to confront her deepest anguish and face the world, allowing herself to laugh and cry as she needed to.
Lynn spent the next couple of days immersing herself in the program. During one particular section she actually laughed so much she cried. As she wiped away the tears, she told us how wonderful it was to be crying from happiness, not sadness. It's hard to find the words to describe the special feeling of watching someone experience joy again after so much sadness. When Lynn talked about her husband, her entire face lit up. He was her soul mate, her lover, her everything! Before meeting him, she had spent many years in an unhappy marriage. This wonderful man had finally given her the joy that had eluded her with her first husband.
Lynn told us that they had been building their dream home, and to speed things along financially, he had moved from his position at the Customs Department (where he had worked for twenty years) to take up a position as a courier. Six weeks later, he had walked into a building and unknowingly inhaled the deadly bacteria for Legionnaires' disease. Ten days later, he was dead. Her mate, her lover, her confidant, her friend, was gone.
I looked at the sadness in her eyes and felt an urgent need to take her emptiness away. I desperately wanted her to be happy, and I realized that I was responding to my own fears of losing those that I loved. Grief is a necessary part of healing. By wanting Lynn to not feel her grief, I was trying to protect myself from the pain of death. We try so hard to run away from the really painful emotions of life, yet they must be experienced; otherwise, we can't move on.
Over the next twelve months, I saw Lynn a few times at my presentations and workshops. We also sent each other occasional e-mails, including one about a monkey that made her laugh so much she got a stitch in her side! In one of those e-mails, she asked me to make a voice recording for her. She said she needed something from me that spoke to her—and her alone—to get her through the dark days.
She said, "Terry, you say things that inspire me and make me feel alive. Get me out of this rut I'm in. Make me a recording that I can play in the car when I'm feeling down."
I promised her I would send it.
The next time I saw Lynn was a few months later at a one-day workshop I was conducting. She asked about the recording, and I apologized for not sending it. I confessed that I was so nervous about what she might think that I hadn't gotten around to doing it; I didn't want to embarrass myself. She reassured me, encouraged me, and even begged me to do it. We had a few laughs and a big hug, and I promised her I would do it by Christmas.
Well, time rolled by, and I thought about that recording nearly every day. I kept thinking about how special Lynn was and how pathetic I was for procrastinating. But in truth, I was nervous about what others might think of what I would say. I kept asking myself what I was waiting for. Did I need my message to be perfect? Should it be profound? And who was I to judge that anyway?
I was paralyzed with indecision just thinking about it! Then came the new year, and the phone rang.
"Do you know Lynn from Perth?"
There Are Only Two Times in Life: Now and Too Late! 5 "Why, yes!" I said with a touch of guilt, remembering the unfinished recording.
* * *
"She died last night in her sleep."
* * *
There are only two times in life: NOW and TOO LATE!
I state that phrase nearly every day of my life. For the most part, I live it, because there really are only two times in life—this moment, and then it's gone! If this is the case, then why do so many of us wait to be great? Why do we get so stymied by life that we become frozen? Why does it become so difficult to seize each moment with passion and courage? Is it because we are afraid?
We all get afraid at times, but it's sad when that fear paralyzes us and prevents us from moving forward. This is not a message about physical death. It's a message about the death we have while we're still alive.
That night, I cried for Lynn, and I cried for me. I cried that I hadn't done what she thought I was capable of doing. I cried for the fact that I could have made her life a little easier—but I hadn't. Why?
Because I was afraid!
Life is full of learning experiences for all of us; no one escapes. It's packed with situations that give us wisdom and understanding—but what if those experiences are so painful that we get stuck in the pain and thus stop moving forward?
Not more than twenty-four hours had passed when I received another phone call. It was a second blow. A young man I had worked with a few weeks before—a beautiful, talented, intelligent twenty-one-year-old—had been sentenced to prison for a drug offense. Again there was sadness in my heart. I remembered the beautiful, innocent face of this young man with such a promising future. It was hard to think of him being locked away with hardened criminals in a prison cell, all because of a few unwise choices.
A third blow came a few days later. A friend called to tell me that his eighteen-year-old sister had tried to kill herself. She had jumped off a bridge four floors high—and survived! How desperate must she have been to not see a way out and to make an attempt on her own life?
I wanted to scream and yell for all three of them!
In the course of training and presenting to thousands of audiences, I've heard endless stories about people who have been to hell and back. I've also discovered some lessons and drawn some conclusions from these tragedies and triumphs. The biggest conclusion I've come to is this: I have yet to meet anyone who has had a charmed life. Every one of us has experienced something in our life from which we still carry scars. Some of the scars are self-inflicted, and some are a result of what others have done to us. They vary in intensity, and some are more painful than others. But behind every face lies an amazing story! All of us have been touched by life in some way, and I am reminded of this every day. Whenever I look at a stranger's face, I wonder what story this person could tell me and what painful past lies inside.
Our most painful memories are usually only exacerbated when we try to numb the feeling by running away. I spent many years of my life filled with shame and anger about my past, trying to pretend that it never happened. I too have experienced dark times in which I simply wanted to be able to erase some of those unpleasant, painful memories, and I also spent many of my younger years stuck in that empty hole called "What if?"
A woman so heartbroken, wondering why fate had dealt her such a harsh card; a young man with his whole future in front of him, now facing the stark reality of time in prison; a teenager so desperate to silence her pain, now confronting her own survival. These three—Lynn, the young drug user, and my friend's sister—all had something in common, just as you and I probably do.
What controls their destinies? How will these experiences affect their lives? And is the actual experience the defining moment in their lives?
It is never the actual experience that defines us. It is how we perceive these experiences that defines how we will live the rest of our lives. That is the defining moment!
All we have is now. In each moment we are given the choice of how to interpret and react to each situation.
Unfortunately, many of us are completely unaware that we hold the key to our own happiness—we hold the pen that can write the new story of how our life can be.
So let's look at some of the things that get in the way of this happiness and why we wait to be great.
Get Out of That Pit!
As human beings, it is innate for us to want to improve ourselves and strive for a better life, and I'm sure we've all had those bursts of desire to look after ourselves, to do better. Have you ever been in the mind-set, for example, in which you decided to get fit? You know the feeling—you feel like it's time to turn your life around, to go from being a lazy loafer to a lean, mean, healthy machine.
You start the week like the reincarnation of Olympian Jesse Owens. You set the alarm for 5:30 a.m. The moment it goes off, you spring out of bed and change into your exercise clothes. Off you go, with a bounce in your step and a vision of being the next marathon winner at the Olympic Games. You get on the treadmill and push up that hill. You hop on the weight machines and complete three sets on each. The sweat is dripping from you like Niagara Falls. Ahhh, what a workout!
Day Two. (It's probably safe to say it's a Tuesday.) Beep! Beep! Beep! The alarm goes off. This time, you have a little conversation with yourself:
"Gosh, I feel really tired this morning, and I've got a huge day at work ahead of me. My legs are so sore from yesterday's workout. I really think I should take it easy. I could do some serious harm if I overdo it. Maybe I'll sleep in this morning and go to the gym after work. My muscles won't be as sore by then. Yeah! I'll sleep in. I deserve it!"
You hit the snooze button.
Have you ever been in this headspace? We usually go there when we want to implement change in our life—whether it's exercise, eating, communicating differently, completing assignments or work projects, or even vowing to be more patient with our kids. It's that crucial moment when we decide to take a certain path.
So what's the key difference between staying in bed and getting up to go for that run? The answer for me is Flipman or Pitman?
In everything we do, we have two possible paths of thinking. One enhances our now, and the other causes us missed opportunities (too late). I have turned these two mind-sets into two characters with whom we can easily identify. The superhero (Flipman) creates and enhances our being. The villain (Pitman) represents the destructive, negative state in which we can exist. I wanted us to have this simple metaphor so we could call ourselves on our own game playing—a metaphor that would make it easy to identify any feelings, thoughts, or behaviors that did not help us move through our pain and out the other side. I wanted us to be able to choose our response to life's events in a simple but powerful way, and to stop avoiding the brilliant yet sometimes excruciatingly painful path of self-discovery.
Flipman and Pitman are the lead characters in the internal movie that we play every day inside the movie theater of our mind. This movie enacts our moment-by-moment perceptions of events and situations that occur in our day-today life. The plot of this internal movie is the story of our life as it unfolds. With every decision and choice we make, we train our brain to support us in either a Pitman way of life or a Flipman way of life.
When we choose to live in the moment, the now, and embrace each experience and what it has to give us, we don't wait to be great. We move forward and evolve—this is Flipman.
When we avoid our pain, whatever that is—the discomfort, the fear, the anxiety of "what if" or "if only," the sadness, the anger, the grief, the frustration, the jealousy, the resentment—we put our life on pause, and Pitman becomes our constant companion. We continue to create results that we don't want and then complain that someone or something did it to us.
Rather than making this another philosophical way to live, I wanted us to have a strategy, a process that we could implement whenever we wanted to choose a more empowered way to live—I wanted us to be able to choose Flipman's Strategy and not Pitman's Path. When we wait to be great, we miss the moment; it's gone, and it's too late. By also understanding Pitman's Path, we can easily identify what stops us from taking action, now. In order for us to disempower Pitman, we need a full comprehension of the grasp he can have on our life. Chapters 2 through 9 explore when we are in danger of taking Pitman's Path; Chapter 10 onward shows us how to create the life that we want and how to implement Flipman's Strategy.
I am often asked why I use the name Flipman. Originally (and for many years) I used the name Stickman, quite simply because I would draw a stick figure to explain the process to my audiences. One day I was feeling quite frustrated in my attempt to quickly introduce the concept to a new colleague verbally. He just wasn't getting it until I blurted out, "You just flip it. When you're being a Pitman you flip your negative thinking, feeling, and behavior to the opposite." As soon as I saw the instant understanding on his face, I knew the name Flipman was so much more appropriate. Please note that the term "Flipman" is not meant to be gender-specific. The "-man" represents human. Over the years, people have fondly personalized Flipman. We now have Flip-woman, Flip-chick, Flip-boy, and Flip-girl. Just for commonality (and simplicity!), in this book we will be calling him Flipman.
But first, let's meet Pitman.
To fully understand this twosome, let's get a really clear picture of who Pitman is, so that we can instantly recognize him when he wants to play havoc with our life. We can all relate to him. My two sons know all about Pitman (as with Flipman, no specific gender is intended). When Jackson was little, if I sent him to his room for inappropriate behavior, I would hear him chanting, "I love Pitman! I love Pitman!" Even as a small boy, he knew he was in the Pit—hence, the chanting to annoy me!
So where does Pitman live? In the Pit, of course! But he doesn't live in just any old Pit; he lives in the Pit of Misery! We all know the Pit. It's the place we go to when life seems wretched and lonely, when we feel beaten, when everyone is against us and no one understands us. When we feel isolated and all alone. When it looks like it just won't get any better. We've all been to the Pit, haven't we?
We visit the Pit when we think we haven't got enough money, or when we think we're too fat, too skinny, too lonely, too sad, too tired, or too lost, or when we're just fed up! We go there when we think we're being picked on, left behind, criticized, or pushed too far. We go there when we feel underwhelmed or overwhelmed or even just plain bored. Consequently, we can begin to feel helpless, angry, mean, paranoid, nasty, empty, afraid, and Pitiful—like a victim. It's the place where we feel sorry for ourselves when life gets a little too hard. When we are in the Pit of Misery, we are a living, breathing, walking, talking Pitman! Some of us go to the Pit for an hour, others go there for a day, and there are many of us who go to the Pit a bit too often and for a bit too long. Some people live their entire life in the Pit. We all go to the Pit; it's how long we stay there that makes all the difference.
Excerpted from WHY WAIT TO BE GREAT? by Terry Hawkins. Copyright © 2013 by Terry Hawkins. Excerpted by permission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc..
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