The journey is the reward. – Chinese Proverb
Life is a remarkable journey that is travelled no matter if we like the road conditions, or not.
And even though our journeys may take separate paths, I think most of us want the some things in life – we want to be loved, to be happy and to make the most of the time we have.
By sharing our journeys, we provide inspiration, hope and a sense of connectedness that goes beyond how we might otherwise see each other. Simply put, the journey to becoming ourselves is a little less intimidating, and a little more empowering when it is shared. There’s strength in numbers and the collective wisdom of many is more enlightening than the singular wisdom of one.
So, here’s my journey. I share it minus the millions of details that I could have added, but as a properly-sized window into my life so you won’t feel alone as you continue on your own special, beautiful journey – road hazards and all.
The journey to becoming me
One advantage of approaching middle age is I’m learning how to trace my life back to the times, places and events that shaped me into the person I once was; and to the person I am becoming today. While painful, this journey is also incredibly freeing.
When I look back now, with time’s healing grace, I see a young child who never really had a chance.
My family lived in an old log house where the curtains would close at 3 o’clock every afternoon so my mother could attend to her daily ritual. The only thing that wasn’t certain was if her glass would be full of bourbon or rum. My father would bring home both, just in case.
At the age of six I developed a stuttering problem so pronounced that my school brought in a speech therapist to work with me. I saw the therapist for the next eight years. As if that wasn’t bad enough, I also had to start wearing eyeglasses. So there I was – a first grader who couldn’t see without the help of Coke-bottle sized eyeglasses and who couldn’t finish a sentence.
Both circumstances made me a target for the playground bullies. Their words wounded my soul. I can still hear their taunting when someone is being critical of my work. And with agonizing clarity, I can still remember what it felt like to be on the edge of the playground, alone, and left out.
A blessing and a curse
But in a stroke of bittersweet irony, the pain I endured as a child has proven to be a both blessing and a curse.
The blessing manifested itself by a passion to make something of my life – to improve myself. My frustration with my situation at home and at school made me determined, if not obsessed; to make certain my life mattered.
I wore my past as a badge of protest and, perhaps, entitlement. My past clouded me and it controlled me.
Later in life, my past did eventually curse me.
I was resolved to do things that separated me from my past. I worked full-time in college while taking a full course load. I was afraid if I didn’t push myself then I couldn’t escape the world I despised.
The price for this overachievement was high. It was paid in few meaningful friendships, no spiritual connection, and the failure to notice or appreciate the simple things in life.
The price of success
After college, marriage soon followed. I was teaching high school English when Mary Beth and I had our first child. After our son was born, it become clear that the financial goals I had set for myself in college were not achievable on a teacher’s salary, so I quit my job and accepted a sales position with a publishing company.
Early in my sales career the only thing that mattered to me was my personal success. The scars of my past commanded me to keep a singular focus on what I thought was important so old wounds wouldn’t open and ooze doubt and shame onto my fragile self-confidence.
Rather than focusing in meaningful relationships, I sought solace in my work.
A turning point
This was the sum of life until the summer of 2003 when I turned 41. Separated from my wife, emotionally distanced from my children and alienated from God, my life was in emotional and spiritual decay.
My self-confidence had retreated all the way back to the time when I was a six-year-old boy teased for being a “four-eyes” who couldn’t finish a sentence.
Then a true miracle happened. In an effort to save my family, my marriage, and myself, I attended my first Breakthrough seminar. These seminars focused on a very simple truth: You cannot change or heal what you do not acknowledge.
Before attending the seminar, I didn’t realize it wasn’t the teasing I received as a child or the ineffectiveness of my parents that contributed to my disconnectedness. I learned it was my responsibility to become a whole person, to become a whole man with a whole heart, regardless of the circumstances I encountered along the way.
I learned if my heart was going to connect with the hearts of others, I had to be the one to connect it. I learned it was up to me to create the life I want.
Now, almost nine years later I can say I have found my heart; I have rescued the little boy who was hiding behind the drawn curtains and I’m learning that on the days when I’m not feeling confident, at least I have the awareness to ask, “What would a confident man do?”
While the road conditions have improved, the journey to becoming me is still underway. I will continue to share it on this blog as a way to connect with others who want to walk me.