Friends and Enemies

A good friend is hard to find, they say. Actually, it’s more like a great friend is hard to find. Look at your own friend pool and select the one you’d place ‘best’ in front of ‘friend’. If you can identify a certain someone, then you have decided to be exclusive. It’s kind of like dating. Others may be on the fringe of being selected, but ultimately don’t hold that special something to earn the title. And if you’re fortunate, that certain someone has labeled you withe the same distinction. This is the essence of the best friend. 

Conversely, there is the enemy. The arch-rival; the nemesis; the one in opposition to your joy. At one point you may have tried to be cordial; to mend the barrier between you, but either you or the other party just wouldn’t have it. And it would seem that every meeting afterward has had the same ending: you don’t like them; they don’t like you; and if you could, you’d secretly like to see them fail, if possible. This is the essence of the enemy.

When I was growing up, I had a few good friends. I was fortunate to have a best friend too, and he and I have remained that way well into our 20s and now 30s. I feel even more fortunate looking back, seeing the times when we could have called it quits, but didn’t. Truly , we are best friends. And not surprisingly, the best men at each other’s weddings.

But, then there’s the enemy. That revolving door of faces I’ve encountered, ever-changing in a way that was dependent on where I was in life: elementary school, junior high, high school, college, the professional world – you name it, I had an adversary for nearly every major transition of my existence. I chose some of them; some of them chose me. I figured this was the natural way of things – like Darwin’s law enacted in real-life scenarios. Some people were just “out to get me” and I needed to get them first, if I could.

Not surprisingly, I found this type of life to be exhausting; chock full of missteps and empty victories. For example, spending so much time in rival mode can make a person into the thing he hates most: an enemy. I was a friend to many and had a best friend of my own, but how was I treating strangers? Was I someone I’d want to be friends with? Seems like a weird question to ask, but ask it of yourself. Then be honest with the answer. You may be shocked by what you discover.

A mentor of mine once said, “Enemies will let you trip and fall on the sword, but a true friend will have the courage to stop you where you are and tell you the direction you are headed is the wrong one.” 

In other words, being a great friend means taking risks with the people you love the most. You don’t even have to be best friends; just start with being a friend, first. I know many who have fallen into a less-than-admirable category – myself included. Preferring to sit on the sidelines, preferring to show up when things are good or when consult is easy; preferring to shy away from the encouragement necessary to see their friend succeed. That doesn’t sound like a “friendship” at all – one that’s reliance on conditions doesn’t hold the weight of a real bond. Over time, you may begin to see the line between friend and enemy become blurred. The primary reason for the confusion? Friends are interested in seeing each other succeed; they enjoy it when their friends have won something, beaten the odds, or conquered a major trial in life. But an enemy? They’d rather have things stay the way they are – comfortable, yet uncomfortable. Content, yet discontented. Continue to be identified in a narrow scope of existence, blinded from the possibilities of a broader horizon. They adhere to routine, no matter how juvenile or stagnate that routine may be.

I hope and pray my enemies become fewer and my friends grow greater. I will certainly find more opposition, but it’s not a future I must look forward to; only prepare. To be stuck in that old thought cycle of “they’re out to get me” sucks too much life from me. And I’d love to have more life if I can get it.

Persistence – That Creeping Voice

Before I finish any major project, I try to take a step back and let it simmer a while. This could be for an hour or two, maybe even a few days; any break mentally will do. It’s something I’ve learned to apply over the years; not something I put into practice right away. In fact, I used to be the type that would do whole projects in a single night, waiting till the last moment to make my move. But, that was mostly because I could. I’ve always thrived under pressure and whenever I was in a pinch, my best work would seem to come forth. It was great for a while, but I had no idea I was building some terrible habits within myself.

At first glance, it’s a familiar story: putting off the important stuff, allowing one’s self to get distracted, and then following through when it’s almost too late to wait any longer. Welcome to Procrastination 101: learning to work under deadlines when you should have started weeks ago. It’s an affliction that can be reinforced over many years without even knowing it. But, when life experience meets your own limitations, it might be a signal you need to change something.

For me, it was recognizing that creeping voice. The one that said, “You can get to this later,” but somehow managed to change its tone moments before I was near completion by stating, “You know, this isn’t going to work.” Now, I’m not claiming to have had bouts with multiple personalities, I’m merely trying to point out that common enemy we all face in the midst of something important to us: ourselves.

When the stakes are high and there is much at risk, we don’t find a friend in ourselves very often. We fight to drown out the noise of failure, albeit struggling to do so. As a Christian, I find it easy to blame everything on the devil. “The devil is after me again”; “I know the devil was in that,” but honestly, applying that type of hyper-spiritualism to everything we face is foolish. Every person does have a real counterattack coming against them and it’s not just from the father of lies – it’s coming from inside our own heads.

It doesn’t really make sense when you think about it. Why would your own mind allow negative thoughts to take precedent over positive ones? Especially when it knows (yes, we are self-aware beings) that success means a need for laser focus? Shouldn’t our brain know better? Shouldn’t it know we need a filter for those things to achieve maximum results? Of course it does, but the question is how well you’ve trained your mind to be that filter. Therein lies the difference.

My encouragement to anyone reading this is to consider what areas you struggle to have confidence in or struggle to find the proper initiative. It could be work. It could be a relationship. Or, if you’re me, it could be fighting to churn out 3,000+ words a day for that next book; all the while remembering the passion you had when you first started the journey.

So be encouraged; stay persistent, but also stay focused.

 

The Worst of Enemies

I wanted to share an epiphany I had this week. One that has to do with the battles we face. Trouble is (ironically), I’ve been fighting my own battle as to find the proper medium to share it. Mostly, because I wanted it to be short and sweet. A quick dose of pick-me-up and then gone. But Twitter only allows 160 characters and Facebook is chock full of random quizzes, shared videos, and daily updates about bad drivers so I didn’t want it to get lost in cyberspace. So back to the blog we go.

My moment of clarity came whilst I was standing on familiar terrain: warring over a crucial decision. And doing so with myself. There’s such a tendency to point fingers in life – to make it appear that we, ourselves, are without fault and the world is against us. In many ways, the world can be cruel, but the more I travel through this thing called ‘life’, I find the greatest enemy isn’t necessarily the Devil or any one person or circumstance: it’s me. If you’re a Type-A, insanely-driven perfectionist, you can relate. If you’re a Type-B, oftentimes procrastinator, you can also relate. And if you’re someone who isn’t sure of either, you too can relate. Basically, I feel like any one person can relate to being one’s own worst enemy.

This conclusion doesn’t sound practical. I feel we’d prefer not to believe we have an evil doppleganger somewhere inside of us. After all, that sounds crazy. However, I’d argue that we do. I’ve experienced it and I’m willing to bet that so many others have too. And he’s bigger and more in control than you think. The reason? He’s all about survival; reaction to situation. Not about living life, not about conquering new heights, and certainly not about victory.

There are several major projects I’m working towards – a novel, a short story compilation, a new website – so at times, I find myself becoming easily overwhelmed. And something inside me says, “Hey, it’s too much. Take a break.” And I do. And then a day, maybe two days later, I resent myself for taking that breather. So I gear up. I get going. And a week later, I’m further along. Then the voice returns and I’m back to being comfortable. Then, almost immediately after, I am defeated again. Ugh.

I’ve tried overcoming this internal enemy many times in my life, but only now – some 30 years later – am I getting a better handle on how to press through his advances. The secrets aren’t necessarily buried in well-written self-help books; no, I’ve found silent time to be the most life-giving. Quieting the mind is of utmost importance. It keeps distractions from becoming the focus and it keeps you from focusing on those distractions. I cringe when I hear people say they’re “so busy” all the time. Are you really? Or are you just really, really distracted? There is a difference. Consider if this applies to your life and take action against that.

As a writer, it’s so incredibly easy to get distracted. A new idea comes along and *ping*, it’s off to the races. But if the idea fizzles out and nothing gets done, then that feels like a failure. Then that voice comes back again. “You’ll never finish”; “Your ideas aren’t that good, try something else” – this is what can go through your head as a writer. More so than I’ve given credit to in the past, but I’m learning how to quiet that noise. How it’s me I’m fighting; not my next publication. A freeing and liberating feeling; one I’m slowly becoming more familiar with.