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 – Feigning Happiness

It’s hard to be happy when your situation is not an advantageous one. But, I feel that it’s even harder to pretend being happy – even if your situation isn’t necessarily a bad one. It’s December and I should be moving on to the next topic, but ironic as it sounds, I’m feeling stubborn about moving on and felt it right to release another post on persistence. This time, covering the subject of happiness.

Feigning happiness is a tough act to keep up on a consistent basis. Growing up, I had a hard time dealing with the fact that my father had a debilitating illness, and I didn’t want people to know it either. Even my closest of friends stayed in the dark. And when asked what might be wrong with my dad, I came up with an original story to keep the secret hidden. Faking it seemed easier and for a time, that seemed to make the most sense. But, as I’m saying, it worked for a time. 

The problem with putting up a mask is that it’s reliant on the reactions of others. If someone asks you, “how are you doing?” and your conditioned response is always “Great!” then the person asking has no reason to dig any deeper – even if what you’re really saying is, “I’m really struggling, but I don’t know how to say it. Please keep asking.”

I used to be in the thinking that this was a good way to keep people around me. That I was doing other people a service so as to not cause any bad vibes, but I’ve found this to actually be the opposite. A mask is a selfish thing because ultimately, the mask belongs to me. It’s not something people hand over when they see me; it’s something I can put up when I want to. But, in that same breath, it’s something I can let build up if I allow others the right to define how that mask will look.

That’s why feelings aren’t a good indicator of how you are doing. One day you could be up; another you could be down. And I know some people who think, or have thought, that this is a bad thing – me, included. That every day, every hour, every minute – they need to be at the utmost level of their happy zone. But, that’s just not realistic and it’s not healthy either. Peace of mind should be a better goal than 24-hour happiness. That’s where all the joy comes in and joy has no masks.

I find this to be another of life’s great battles, but it’s certainly worth it. When I pray – something I highly encourage – I pray for peace of mind before I pray for happiness. A mind at rest can hear the clearest of voice’s and it’s something I want to become better at daily.

Which, once again, is another challenge in life worth being persistent about.

 

 

 

Courage – what does it look like?

Last month I focused in on joy. What brings someone joy? What doesn’t? People will spend a good deal of their day – and life – trying to attach themselves to what makes them happy, but never really get to that point of joy. I wanted to examine that further and for the most part, I did. But, I was also a bit distracted last month. In a good way though – I got married.

You might say that I have plenty to be joyous about. Wedding, honeymoon, beginning life with a best friend – yes, these are all awesome things. Daunting, but exciting and a great transition into the topic this month: courage.

It’s a hard term to define nowadays. What is courage? What does courage even look like? Ask someone 80 – 100 years ago and courage may look like defending one’s country or feeding the mouths of the hungry; a black and white concept with immediate results. Ask someone from 50-60 years ago and courage takes a new form: inaction becomes mistaken for action and calls to war separate people rather than bringing them together. Flash forward to the present and the image of courage is even more skewed; less clear and murkier than ever. In fact, courage now looks like this: sitting at home, “knowing what’s wrong with the world”, yet possessing neither the fortitude nor the incentive to act on the wrongness we feel. This new courage is all about hiding – the complete opposite of what the word means. The 21st century “warrior” builds barriers around one’s self, makes more money than his neighbor, and leads as comfortable an existence as possible.

Don’t believe me? Consider the protagonists of today’s popular stories and movies. And like it or not, the stories we are willing to indulge ourselves in – the stories we pay attention to – help define what is worthy of being called, courageous. On one side, there is the unattainable image: the perfect mate who never wrongs you or the impossibly-shaped supermodel made only for you. Neither persona exists as a whole – sorry. But then, you have the other extreme: the slacker; the privileged fool; the self-entitled comedian. All of which can exist, but share none of the qualities with being “courageous.” And with such opposite ideals flying around, people may find themselves struggling to achieve one of the two; thinking if one cannot be attained, then the other must be what he or she is meant for.

For example:

“If I can’t be the hero, then I can definitely be the slacker who will eventually get his day.”

“If I can’t be funny or land that awesome job, then I’ll work hard to get that perfect soul mate to make my life complete.”

These may not sound like actual statements, but through a person’s actions, we can observe where these unconscious agreements have become conscious reality.

I find myself severely convicted by this growing trend. More than in recent years. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, maybe it’s because I just got married, or maybe it’s just because it’s always ticked me off – for whatever the reason, I burn with the foreboding sense that courage is a trait most men – and women – will never understand. Not until we make the effort to reevaluate courage will we see the difference. And courage is not always about getting recognized; it’s about the willingness to face and fight battles we’d normally run away from. Confronting an abusive relationship, not giving into despair and depression, acting on a civil injustice rather than standing idly by, etc. The list goes on…. Courage isn’t about having a grand stage; it’s about growth.

My most recent of reads, Killing Lions, by John and Sam Eldredge, strives to showcase the lack of courage our society faces and honestly, I agree with them. Not because I’m a crotchety old soul who hates fun – it’s because the epidemic is true. The world is in need of more courageous men and women. And that doesn’t mean more rich people, more ultra-successful entrepreneurs or people who get elevated to a top management position. It’s about daily living that isn’t racked by fear, but moved with a sense that the world is messy and in need of those willing to get their hands dirty and clean it up.

Joy: Friends and Writing

Writers tend to lead a solitary existence (insert crying face).

No secret to anyone who claims to be a writer, but to the ever hopeful and aspiring young scribe, this may come as a harsh truth. Yes, you may need to be with people less if you aspire to be a published author. But, if you’re willing to sacrifice a few social hours for writing hours, you’ll embrace a new understanding of what it takes to be a written warrior. As ridiculous or enlightening as that may sound.

But, what about your social life? How do friends – people you’d hopefully define as “joy-bringers” – how do they fit into your life? Us lonely writers need to seek out friends every now and again, but what about anyone else looking for common ground and a good conversation? Well, we live in an age of identifiable “top 5’s” and “10 reasons to know when…,” but truth is, friendship is literally born out of joy; not fleeting happiness. Here’s some reasons why – from a writer’s perspective, of course:

Friends will build your spirits, not your walls

Hanging around your friends should give you energy, not take it away. Introvert, extrovert – neither distinction really matters. Friends have a unique effect on your psyche and your overall health. And the resulting effect should be a renewed spirit, not a desire to lock yourself away.

Shared experience breeds life

Writers need experience if they are to write about experience. And friends can provide you with this crucial element if you let them. Granted, not all experience can be good, but every experience can be beneficial to a person’s growth in the long run. How does someone deal with heartbreak? By leaning on the shoulder of the one they call “friend” – that’s a start. Or how does someone know what it means to win something together? By winning with someone at your side – that’s how. Despite the circumstances, all experiences can eventually lead to a better outcome. And having a friend by your side is a good way to go about it.

Emotional Intelligence – What’s that?

In the same way you get energy or gain experience, you can also become the recipient of an increased emotional intelligence. What does that even mean? Well, consider how your friends intrigue you. They bring old news and new news with them. It’s not that every moment has to be exciting; however, there’s definitely something about them that’s as comfortable as it is challenging. And having a ‘ying’ to your ‘yang’ is a powerful force when walking life’s journey.

Isolation is not life

I’m not someone who does well with solitary confinement – ironic, considering my line of work. If I’m faced with long periods of alone time, I talk out loud. Just to hear a voice, I’ll talk out loud. Not because I want someone to answer back, but just because I like to know I’m not just trapped inside my head. One of the biggest traps we face today is fighting isolation. For as much as social media has connected us, it’s also distanced our perception of what “life” and community really look like. And no, it’s not about having over 1,000 Facebook friends – it’s having at least one or two people you knowingly can call on to give updates on regular life “status.” You know, real life status. And that’s the opposite of isolation.

It’s also something called joy. 

 

The Joy

Last month I decided to look at pressure and how that affects a person – specifically in the realm of writing. With plenty of writing ventures up in the air, I’m feeling both the angst and the excitement of many good plans coming to fruition – or not coming to fruition. ‘Such is life,’ some may say. But, that’s only looking at the problem rather than where you’ll eventually get to. And where you should see yourself getting to is a place of joy.

This month, I’m more about the joy – or rather, I want to be more about the joyPressure tends to steal joy away; eventually leading us to “comfortable dissatisfaction”: a locale where the majority of middle-class Americans are liable to find themselves. It’s a draining existence if you don’t make a conscious effort to pull yourself out of that dark void and it’s a place where a close friend of mine saw me headed – so he took action. But, instead of doing the “normal American thing” and taking me out for a happy hour, he gave me a book to read and promised to follow up with me to make sure I was reading it. Well, I started reading it and he followed up as promised. The book was called, 40 Days to a Joy-Filled Life and it’s written by Tommy Newberry, president of the 1% Club and a recognized leader in business/family mentoring. Here’s a pic of the front cover:

40 Days to a Joy-Filled Life, by Tommy Newberry

40 Days to a Joy-Filled Life, by Tommy Newberry

The book’s cover is unassuming – it appears to be have been written by Wal-Mart’s founder – but don’t be deceived: there’s a ton of good material worthy of application. And I wanted to highlight a few I’ve taken and applied thus far.

The first being this: how we prepare our minds is a reflection of how we will respond later.  For example, when something happens and it’s unexpected, do you focus on the good? Or do you focus on the bad? This is not the same as being happy-go-lucky or being naive all the time. The difference is preparation. A guy cuts me off in traffic and suddenly, I’m angry all morning. All because of one guy’s errant traffic violation. My response exposes me as being ill-prepared. Not for the bad driver, but for circumstances I can’t control.

To piggy-back off that idea, Newberry argues how we are not our emotions. Our feelings fluctuate constantly throughout the day and they can dictate our experiences if we allow them. Therefore, recognize an emotion as being a fleeting arrangement and you can distance yourself from the emotion before it consumes you. Sounds so easy, doesn’t it? Well, it would be easy if it weren’t worth the effort. A good thing to train yourself for those “heat of the moment” situations.

Lastly, the conscious mind can only populate one thought at a time so why troubleshoot more than one? I find this to be the most applicable for the modern worker. Emails, social media, texting – all can be severe distractions from what really needs attention. Too many detractors means too little time to deal with matters elsewhere.

I would encourage any person to pick up Mr. Newberry’s book and give it a read. More than just a great exercise, it’s good for the mind and the soul – literally. Just don’t plan on me calling you to keep you on task like my friend did. Find a close friend of your own. Unless, of course, I’m your friend already. Then, I’ll consider it. With a smile.