My Version of Walden Pond

So here I sit…alone in a cabin in the woods feeling a bit like Henry David Thoreau.  Being outside in the darkness, feeling the breeze move across my face, miles from highways and enjoying the sound of nothingness affords a person time to think.  Time is granted to reflect on what is, at this point, nearly a decade-long journey.  Journey probably isn’t the correct word.  A decade long struggle full on peaks and vallies, ebbs and flows, wins and losses.  This evening I wanted to sit down, albeit using the pale light of a cellular phone and the transient data signal I am picking up from the tower a few miles away, and share a few thoughts with you about change.

The Journey

I have said before to those who have asked that I strongly believe that the biggest issue with people which derails their success is that, in our “microwave culture,” we don’t permit ourselves the middle acts of the play.  We introduce the actor playing…well, us I guess, to be “the person I am now.”  Then we pin up pictures of the actor that we want to play the future us (here’s looking at you Vin Diesel!) and we say “this is my definition of success.”

The difficulty in that mode of thinking is what I call the “Underpants Gnome Fallacy.”  Years ago, there was an episode of the television show South Park which featured the underpants gnomes.  They had a three-part strategy for success:

  • Phase 1:  Collect Underpants
  • Phase 2:  ?
  • Phase 3:  Profit

This is our issue – we know the us we see now, and we know the us we define as “successful,” but somewhere along the way we forgot to ask two key questions:

  1. What about the stuff between start and success?
  2. What happens if success doesn’t look like I imagine it?

Embracing the Middle

Th difficulty is that we see before and after pictures of weight loss or body recomposition all day long.  You can google the term “before and after” and find all sorts of examples.  But we seldom see “During” photos.  Very often, we are guilty of hating who we are, loving our vision of success, but at no point do we learn to embrace the middle – all the stuff that happens between start and success.  We get focused in on the outcome and so we begin to chase trends, become very faddish in our approach, and instead what we should be doing is to fall in love with the process…to learn to love the journey more than the destination.

We forget, in the midst of the present struggles, that there is always another journey or another struggle.  There is always another obstacle in the way.  But what we seem incapable of grasping is that it is in the obstacle, through the journey, and as we wage war on the status quo – it is there (and only there) in which we earn the scars that define us, the strength which sustains us, and the hope which delivers us.

Who you are is determined by the choices you have made this far, but who you are becoming will be determined only by the struggles that you choose to engage in and for which you are prepared to fight.  To the death, if needed.

What About The Destination?

And then we reach that point.  Likely (hopefully) weatherworn, bruised, and victorious…and we look in the mirror and ask ourselves – how do I look as compared with my original prediction.  Should Vin Diesel play me in the movie about my life?  Or maybe Marty Feldman is a better choice? (Go ahead…look him up. I’ll wait!).

We all have preconceived ideas about what success will look like, but we sometimes arrive and think to ourselves, “Is this what it should be?  Did I make a wrong turn?”

The thing I would leave you with here is the idea that you cannot determine the outcome at either the outset nor the middle of your journey.  While you (and only you) can determine when this is far enough along the path, the secret to success is that there will be storms, obstacles, and challenges – all of that stuff in the middle – which will cause you to take detours along the way.

In Summary

To wrap up my existential rant, I want to encourage you.  Especially those of you who have a lengthy journey ahead.  As you take the first step on today’s “stuff in the middle” my hope is that you would embrace the journey as much as you lust for the payoff.  Commit yourselves to the success of behavior and not the cult of outcome.  Push yourself along the path by learning to embrace and even enjoy the difficult things of any important life change.  Find their demands refreshing, renewing, and rewarding – don’t take the lazy approach of calling them “stepping stones,” as the lessons they teach and the strength they can impart are worth carrying with you throughout life.