I have decided to share that booklet with you. I've updated it a bit, and I will be posting it here, chapter by chapter. If you find it valuable, please invite your friends, family and other peeps to read it, too. (However, please remember that this is copyrighted material, so you can't sell it to anyone.)
Here, then, is the Preface and Chapter 1:
GOD DIDN’T GIVE ME THESE TALENTS SO I COULD BE MISERABLE NOT USING THEM
I run into them time and time again: people who are unhappy with their lives. They are male and female, friends, acquaintances, business associates, and people in the aisles of stores. They are guarded about it, but dying to express to someone that life isn’t going at all like they thought it would. There is despair, hopelessness, and sadness in their eyes and in their body language. Some overeat to dull the pain. Others undereat to feel in control, or just out of nervous anxiety. Still others bury themselves in work or other pursuits to the point that these endeavors pull them away from family and friends, making them feel more isolated than ever.
And that’s the strangest thing: all of these people are walking the same space, feeling the same pain, and each of them is thinking he or she is the only one who feels this way. I know, because I was one of them.
As a writer, I have made the study of people my life’s work. I ponder what I see to find out what makes people do what they do. It has been and continues to be a fascinating pursuit.
This book is not an attempt to offer clinical counsel. It is simply the story and observations of one person who has been there. One who nearly lost herself in the shuffle. One who found herself, and has built a happy, rewarding life. The thoughts and ideas explored in this text are my own. Most of them come from lessons I have learned the hard way—and those are the ones that stick with a person. I hope you find some value in them.
Chapter One: How Did I Get So Low?
Why don’t we talk about this? So many people are walking around miserable! Fulfillment is central to our beings; yet we isolate ourselves and suffer in silence, thinking we are the only ones who feel cheated, and everyone else is sooooo happy. What happened to those idealistic youths who thought they could conquer the world?
I hear your answer: they grew up and faced reality. Okay, to some degree, that’s true. On the other hand, many of our dreams were beaten out of us by the hard knocks of life; and we, silly beings that we are, accepted our fates and walked away, leaving our dreams in shambles on the ground.
I see the wounded warriors quite often. That is, after people feel comfortable enough to unfold their wings and let me see their true colors. They talk about their wings as if they were gray and dusty—like everyday moth wings—nothing special. But then they start to talk about what those wings could have been (if they can even remember) and to what heights they could have carried them. The dust starts to fall away; and soon I see displayed before me colors so vibrant that monarchs and blue swallowtails would be jealous.
These people are talking about their lives: how they see reality, and how they wish for something else. I’ve been through a good deal of that kind of thinking myself. Some think, “If I had known my life would turn out like this, I never would have…married him…married her…had kids…taken that job…moved to this town…,” whatever it is in their lives that seems unfulfilling. I think most of us face it at some point. Unfortunately, many people get to that point and think there is no way to change anything.
How does it happen? Lots of ways. A family that thinks your dreams are ridiculous. A class you didn’t do well in at school. Siblings who repeatedly reminded you as a child that you weren’t the oldest or the smartest or the biggest, or the best looking, or whatever. An abusive relationship, in childhood or adulthood, that made you feel that you didn’t deserve any better. A failed relationship. A failed business. Getting fired from a job. Or maybe just getting in over your head. There are as many dream-shattering experiences as there are people.
For me it was a case of taking a large bite out of life. I won’t say “more than I could chew,” but I took on a lot in a very short period of time; and at one point, I lost sight of where I was going.
My husband and I married, and within two months were expecting our first child. Another followed shortly, and another, and another until we had six. After the second baby, my husband went back to school. We studied our options and realized that this was the best thing to do, because this was the fulfillment of his dream, and consequently, partly my dream, too. Afterward, there would be the early years of climbing the corporate ladder. We both went into it with our eyes wide open—we just didn’t know we were in a clearing, and that a much denser thicket lay ahead!
I became the one who raised the children for those years. We teased that we would hang a life-size picture of “Uncle Daddy” on the wall so the children wouldn’t forget what he looked like. He was home as much as possible, but school, full-time work, and church responsibilities added up to lots of hours away.
I learned to fix the garbage disposal, hold the butterfly valve open so our old van would start, repair the sump pump in the basement at 2 a.m., and a myriad of other jobs I had never considered would be part of my “skills” list. Meanwhile, there was the house to keep up and all the constant needs of the children.
I was prepared. I took it on willingly. I loved what we were doing and where it would take us. I was fully committed. But I still reached a point where I felt I was losing control. I felt I was in over my head; and with so many people depending on me, I could see no way to change anything.
Now let’s look at that “over your head” thing. The truth is, if anything has altered your view of yourself, you probably feel that you’re in over your head. You feel that somehow you’ve lost control, and that you are no longer the person who is directing your own life. When you’ve lost sight of your dreams, you find yourself going through the motions, reacting to circumstances you feel you cannot change. You may go to a job you hate, come home to an ever-growing list of things that need to be done and never will be, feel overwhelmed by the needs and/or demands of your family, do whatever other people think you need to do, and seldom, if ever, take care of yourself.
Take care of yourself? That’s selfish! Exercise? I don’t have time. Read something just for fun? That’s for kids and retired people. Visit my best friend? I’d love to, if I could get away. Watch my diet? Hey, we have to use convenience foods and grab snacks on the fly—there’s no other choice! Sleep eight hours? You have to be kidding! And so your life rolls along, out of control, day after day, years racing by before you know it, and you see no way out. You feel like you’ve spun the wheel, made a bet, and lost, and there’s no way to get back what you’ve given up. Nothing could be further from the truth.
What has really happened is that you’ve lost the sense of who you really are; but as long as people are breathing, there is hope of regaining their hold on the true reality of who lives inside their bodies. That doesn’t mean we all file for divorce, give the kids to Grandma to raise, quit our jobs, or anything else so drastic and self-defeating. It means we start the slow and careful search to find out what we are on the planet to accomplish.
That was a tough one for me. For years I had been so busy being somebody’s wife, somebody’s mommy, somebody’s (fill in the blank), that I had completely forgotten who I was. I mean who I really was, before any of those responsibilities came along.
Every one of us was put here for at least two reasons, and usually many more than that. I know of babies who only stayed a few months, but in those months touched many lives that are forever changed because of their influence. If those whose lives are so short can have so profound an effect on people and events, how much more are we who have grown to adulthood expected to accomplish?
A movie that has made a profound mark on my life is Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life.” For reasons best left to explanation later, I had the opportunity to study that film and dissect it literally word for word. The focus of the plot is, of course, the impact George Bailey had on his little corner of the world, and how the ripples of his choices fanned out to touch others (even to touch the world—because he saved his brother’s life, and his brother, as a fighter pilot, saved many others).
George, too, saw himself as a victim of circumstance in many ways, of dreams unlived and adventures unknown; but he came to know that the very things that drove him to dream the dreams of his youth had shaped his life. Following the personality of the character, I think that when he grabbed hold of himself and looked at what he had accomplished, he realized that the seeds of his ambitions were still there, still viable, just waiting for the nurture they needed to grow.
So how do we find that in ourselves? How do we get to a place where we can feel good about how we spend our time, and about the choices we are making?