The Slide and the Trap
I’m pretty sure everyone has been here. You look at your life and you realize you need a change. Excited, you head down the sidewalk in the right direction only to find yourself a few months later seemingly a mile behind where you started. Next thing you know, you’re off the sidewalk altogether, sitting up against a tree trunk, waking up to the realization of where you are and asking yourself, “How did I get here?“.
This blog post is about that backward slide and my personal story of how I got here. Perhaps this post is more about catharsis for me; a chance to put my thoughts down on “paper” and sort them out. Perhaps it will help some of you take a look at your own lives and take action before you find yourself sitting against the tree trunk as well.
2015 was a good year, on the outside at least. I had some wins in my professional life that were exciting and by many measures admirable. New opportunities abounded and the fast pace of it all provided a thrill. I was relatively healthy, took more vacation time than usual, and found that I liked spending time with my family more than I used to. I saved more than I spent, kept busy, and did my best to stay on top of it all. It seemed like a successful year.
On the inside though, I had unwittingly walked right into a trap. How did I get here? Here’s the back story.
A couple of years ago I started an MBA program (that I subsequently dropped out of) and our team decided to give a presentation on Success. In our preparations, we came to the conclusion that success can simply be defined as choosing what it is that you want to accomplish and accomplishing it. More simply, and for the math people in the room,
Intent + Accomplishment = Success
On the flip side, the act of stumbling into good things, while seemingly positive, lacks that element of intent that makes true success. This is where the trap lies.
A few years ago, when I was enjoying simple but true success in my life, I took a leap and had my dreams crushed (more on this another time). I felt like my life had turned into the cover of Shel Silverstein’s classic book, Where the Sidewalk Ends.
Up to that point, and despite challenges all along the way, everything I had set out to accomplish by this point in my life, I had (more or less). Nothing spectacular, but the list was complete, except for the dream that failed. I reached the end of my sidewalk and looked out at the field that lay before me, uninspired. I found myself wandering for several years looking for the path to inspiration; something to reinvigorate my soul.
Here’s the strange thing, and where the insidious trap lies. While I didn’t find the inspiration I was looking for, I found pseudo success. I found opportunities with just enough thrill in them to coax me off my intentional march and get me to sit down or wander back the way I’d come. On the outside, they were good things. But I wasn’t on the search for good things. I was looking for great and inspiring things!
So the trap that I stumbled into was living a life, unintentional. While on the outside things have looked good, those same things have been the ones that have kept me from pursuing an intentional life. Things have been just good enough to keep me from standing up and pursuing the great and inspiring things I seek.
The Current State of Affairs
The fact is my health is starting to suffer, my relationships are going flat, my motivation has waned, and perhaps most importantly, my inner fire has dimmed to barely a flicker. Painfully, all of this has happened under the guise of success. The very things I’ve spent my energy on in the past few years aren’t what they seem and are instead traps that cause me stress, grief, and frankly don’t inspire me.
Most frustratingly, I find myself the deepest kind of hypocrite as I write this on Escaping Gravity, a blog dedicated to just the opposite. Despite my best intentions, I have thus far failed to escape the gravity holding me down.
In a recent Ted Talk entitled How to quit your life (and reboot), Priya Parker voiced a simple but haunting observation she made in her research that described how I feel, more clearly than I could ever articulate.
In essence, the things I believe in aren’t reflected in the actions I take in my every day life and I believe this happens to many if not most of us on a nearly daily basis. We believe in things academically, but when it comes to action, we bend away from those very beliefs. It’s my belief that we can reshape our lives to be what we want them to be and escape the gravity that holds us down. Now I need my choices to match my idealism.
2016 will be the year that all of this changes. I don’t yet know how, but it will happen. Perhaps this blog can chronicle my journey from inner ruin to inner life. I realize that many share these same struggles and I welcome the feedback as well as the participation of everyone as we share the struggles of escaping the lives we’re living to live the lives we want.