Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Wednesday Wisdom: Picking Up the Pieces


Did she make you cry?
Make you break down?
Shatter your illusions of love?
And is it over now, do you know how [to]
Pick up the pieces and go home?
- "Gold Dust Woman" by Stevie Nicks 

 Picture: In the Aftermath of Hurricane Irma 
In my previous Wednesday Wisdom, I mentioned two essential life skills, the ability to stick to a job and the ability to change directions. This article focuses on a third: the ability, when tragedy strikes, to pick up the pieces and rebuild your life.

Here's a painful story we've all heard way too often, one that really hurts when it happens to someone we dearly love:

Boy and Girl fall in love and get married. Boy goes to medical school; Girl drops out of college to support the family and raise babies. Boy completes medical school, and they move to their dream job, dream home. Life is finally good . . . for a while . . . until . . . until Boy gets a wandering eye. He hooks up with Younger Woman. Boy and Girl divorce. Girl gets the children and is left to pick up the pieces with no college, no job.

I don't need to tell you that this life is not for sissies. Sooner or later, we all face major catastrophes, whether a marriage devastated by infidelity and divorce; the death of a loved one; a major illness; a home destroyed by a fire, tornado, or hurricane; the loss of employment; the failure of your business; the unraveling of a vital relationship; a family member entangled in addiction; or any of a dozen other disasters.

Then what?

I once interviewed a couple whose oldest son had drowned in the prime of his young adulthood. A few years later, their oldest grandson, whom they were raising, was killed in a tragic accident. I asked them how they coped with the excruciating pain of this double blow. I was deeply moved by the wisdom of their answer.

"We looked at our lives and we recognized that we had a choice," they told me. "We could be bitter, or we could be better. We decided to be better." They studied the grieving process, learned how to relate their own pain to the pain of others, and became bereavement counselors. They now use their own experiences to help other families who have lost children and grandchildren.

So, when life sucker-punches us in the nose, we have to ask ourselves: will we be bitter or will we be better?

When we've taken a brutal blow, it's OK to staunch the bleeding and brush ourselves off.  We can give ourselves permission to grieve for a season. We can allow ourselves the time to reorient ourselves to a newly-changed world. Then, we can gather our bearings and decide how we will make ourselves better - how we will learn and grow from this adversity.

In his masterful "Good Timber," Douglas Malloch explains how opposition, strife, hard work, and tough times not only make us better people but bring greater abundance in life and open the way to a richer, fuller future.

The tree that never had to fight
For sun and sky and air and light,
But stood out in the open plain
And always got its share of rain,
Never became a forest king
But lived and died a scrubby thing.

The man who never had to toil
To gain and farm his patch of soil,
Who never had to win his share
Of sun and sky and light and air,
Never became a manly man
But lived and died as he began.

Good timber does not grow with ease,
The stronger wind, the stronger trees,
The further sky, the greater length,
The more the storm, the more the strength.
By sun and cold, by rain and snow,
In trees and men good timbers grow.

Where thickest lies the forest growth
We find the patriarchs of both.
And they hold counsel with the stars
Whose broken branches show the scars
Of many winds and much of strife.
This is the common law of life.

Every setback holds within it the seeds of growth and the promise of a better tomorrow - IF we choose to see it that way. There is new strength over the horizon. There is a new dawn just beyond the darkness. The things we endure can make us wiser, stronger, more empathetic, and, ultimately and ironically more joyful. "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning" (Psalms 30:5).

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Wednesday Wisdom: The Ability to Change Directions


Your power to choose the direction of your life allows you to reinvent yourself, to change your future, and to powerfully influence the rest of creation. - Stephen R. Covey


This week my wife and I are enjoying a spring break visit from our daughter Sara. At the ripe old age of 36, Sara decided to leave a successful and comfortable career in IT/Customer Service and test the unknown waters of law school.
When Sara asked me beforehand what I thought of her going to law school, I discouraged her. I told her that with a glut of lawyers in this country, lots of newly-minted lawyers were miserably unemployed. The only way it would be a good move, I said, would be if she did exceptionally well. Rather than being daunted by my rather grim assessment, she took it as a personal challenge. She prepared intensively for the LSAT and scored in the 98th percentile. Based on those results and her other credentials, she received a total of $1.25 million in scholarship offers from several high-quality law schools, and eventually accepted one at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
She's now finishing her second year with an excellent class ranking, is a member of the law review, and has a prestigious internship this summer with a highly respected federal bankruptcy judge in Greensboro. I have no doubt she will leave a significant mark on the legal profession, like her father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and great-uncle before her.
* * * * *
My assistant at Walk-in Wills, Meghan Rogers, was a highly-regarded high-school English teacher, chair of the English Department, and an administrator at her school. She has a Master's degree in English and has taught college-level English and literature classes. But after 10 years in the classroom, she felt that teaching was not taking her where she wanted to be. She made the difficult decision to steer her life in a different direction.
A few months later, I picked her resume out of more than 200 applications I received to fill the new position at Walk-in Wills. She passed the online exercises I sent her with flying colors and then stood head and shoulders above all the other candidates (even though she's only 5' 3" tall) when my wife and I interviewed her for the job.
She's taken to this new career like a fish to water and is a warm and welcoming member of the Walk-in Wills team. She greets our clients with a cheerful smile, helps them understand this new model of legal services, and handles their work with intelligence, discretion, and wisdom beyond her years. There's a big future ahead of her.
* * * * *
Of all the talents that lead to success in life, two of the most important are the ability to stick to a job until it's finished and the ability to change directions when the current path isn't leading to the right destination. While on the surface these capabilities may seem contradictory to each other, they are not. The first is a TACTICAL skill: when you are in the right place, you must push forward and complete the task at hand. The second is STRATEGIC: it requires knowing you are not where you need to be (or are not headed there) and having the courage to change course.
Lao Tzu famously said, "If you do not change direction you may end up where you are headed." That's not a problem if you like where you're headed; indeed, in that case it would be foolish to keep flopping around from path to path. Under those circumstances, perseverance is the appropriate virtue. I applaud those who, knowing they've made the right choice, have the tenacity to push forward even when the way is hard.
But if you know in your gut that where you are or where you're headed isn't where you should be, the ability to change directions is essential to your long-term success and happiness. In that situation, resolute persistence is NOT a virtue but a curse. When you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is to stop digging. Figure out where you should be and correct your course. The longer you stay on the wrong road, the harder it will be to get on the right one.
I salute the Saras and Meghans of the world who have the sense to realize that their lives are headed in a less-than-ideal direction and the courage to put on the brakes and turn around. I tip my hat to those who have the faith to follow their dreams and make something better of themselves, as scary as that may sometimes be. I commend the brave souls who choose the more difficult path, the "road less traveled," in pursuit of a more excellent future.
Which leads obviously to one of my favorite poems.
"The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.