Journal – Finding Meaning in Goodbye (getting unstuck)

My father died Saturday (December 30), as do all fathers, as do all sons. Ubiquity doesn’t erase uniqueness – not of feelings, nor of the individuals caught in the gristmill of existence. Mortality, the thought of it and the fact of it, is either the source of dread or the source of inspiration. And that can change moment to moment; particularly if I don’t keep an eye on the manic hobgoblin I call my subconscious.

I love life but you wouldn’t guess that from how I’ve been living, around Thanksgiving I slowed down and life began to happen at me – like being overtaken from behind by a leopard. Today was the day I was going to turn it around, as was yesterday, and the day before. I’ve been here before, and will probably return, and I thought it would be a good chance to take a moment to observe myself in this moment of inaction. As a reminder to me (and maybe a help to you) of how to break “the spell” of this kind of inertia. (Note: There’s a line, fuzzy but real, where no amount of personal initiative works and you need to seek professional help. Not being able to set and achieve goals isn’t an end, but an opportunity to grow if you have the strength to get the help you need.)

So how am I going to break out of this? First a quick explanation of what “this” is. I have a core set of goals covering health, creative and learning (my shorthand is “controlled evolution”) and support behaviors (time management, emotional ecosystem management, life management – i.e. food, clothing, cleaning, budgeting, bill paying). If one or two of these fail, it’s pretty easy to recover but they also have a built in ability to fall like dominoes – where I just allow nihilistic darkness to take over. It’s one of the downsides of living in a country of such great abundance – we have the freedom to be nihilists. And super fat. But, back to how I’m going to break out of this self-perpetuating funk.

1. Gratitude – I genuinely despise how this concept has been cheapened into a bumper sticker philosophy. It’s the cornerstone of the human capacity to strive. If you’re not grateful for what you’ve got, even if it’s that you’re still alive and can fight another day, you’ll never be able to believe in something more – something beyond this moment. I am grateful, I just forget. My father’s death sucked some of that from me, but that was me mourning my own loss. My father never forgot us, to the very end he knew who we were, some of his last words were him bragging to a nurse about what a wonderful family he had. I’m grateful to have a strong mother, who can lose what was closest to her, and move forward. I’m grateful I can do the same, and in so doing, maybe be a better man in the process. As long as I have breath and my facilities, I will cherish the time I have if only for the reason that I have the time. I’ll be grateful that I can be curious, can discover new things, can learn new things and can be delighted by all of it.

2. Inventory – I need to look at what I’ve got, what I need and what I want. All of these are important to putting some ground under my feet, where I can get some traction. If there’s a single description for this stuck feeling it’s the sense that there’s no forward momentum. And my spirit (as I suspect is true for everyone) craves that sense of moving forward. Knowing what I have helps bolster my gratitude, and helps me evaluate my wants. What things will give me lasting fulfillment vs. what will give me temporary succor? What has meaning vs. what has the illusion of meaning (if you’ve ever gotten stuck in a TV news, or Law & Order loop you’ve felt this).

3. Prioritize – I need a few things, and I want a lot of things. Picking what gets my energy is one of the hardest things to do. Self-delusion can get the best of me, where I “think” I can do everything, only to be slapped in the face by reality and subsequently lose energy. It took a lot of trial and error to figure this out, but what I’ve learned is after I’ve created my prioritized list it’s best to only do the first for a couple of weeks. After I’ve proved I can do the one thing, I can slowly add new things from the list, one every week or two. Having a full-time job sucks a lot of time and energy out of my week, and being realistic (yet ambitious) about what “else” I can do avoids the “I’m not doing enough” demon, which can knock me off the horse. That demon basically gets me comfortable with thinking about what I should be doing, and somehow mistaking that thinking as doing something. Madness!

4. Commit – As I write this it’s becoming clear to me what I need to do, that’s why I’d recommend you doing the same, committing thoughts to writing helps to clear out a lot of energy-sucking ghosts. Committing to my priorities is what changes things, moves me from the comfortable realm of delusion to the uncomfortable realm of the provable. One of the hardest things is coming to grips with how banal sounding these goals can be. Exercising five days a week does not sound impressive, but the focused commitment it’s going to take from me is. After I reestablish this routine (which I’ve done many times in my life, and its why I know how foundational it is, we people are little more than a chemical and bone soup and it’s easy for that soup recipe to go wonky).Commitments require conceiving > planning > action > proof. Each commitment should have a goal, and a goal is nothing more than a desire + a plan + a deadline. I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time studying and documenting all of this, go to Fundamental:Success if you think I’m kidding).

5. Action – It’s mentally a long road to action, but it can be done in the blink of an eye. If I’m truly grateful, understand where I am, have a value system that makes prioritization possible and routinely make commitments to myself (with all that entails, I have to be honest above all, acknowledge weakness and summon my strengths) taking action is just a gut check. But it’s a gut check every day, the minute I think “I’ve got this” I’m lost. I have to remind myself that nihilism may be “right” but if I like the delusion that I have meaning and derive joy from that delusion, I have to pay the price to sustain the delusion. And now that I’ve written all of this, that’s just what I’m going to do!

This isn’t the first time I’ve written something like this, and it won’t be the last – that’s part of the deal of never giving up. My family and I have experienced loss this week, as will all families for all time. If I know one thing about my father, it’s that he may think my approach to things is nutty, but enjoy that I have the passion to put my money where my mouth is – and be a man of my word. I’m going to post this, then get about the business of taking action. If this helps you do the same, that’s great.

There are two things I wish for myself, and for you, and that’s to be kind, and be excellent.