One of my fondest childhood memories is munching on Ritz crackers while lying stretched out on the marigold shag carpet in my friend’s living room as we eagerly awaited the reruns of Batman and Mission Impossible. To this day, I still hold my breath and get goose bumps when I hear the opening sequence to Mission Impossible—“Your mission, should you choose to accept it…” As a 7-year-old boy, I was entranced by the possibility of adventure that lay at the doorstep of all the adults around me, but only if they “choose to accept it.”
Now that I’m firmly entrenched in that "adult world", I’m flooded by apprehension when faced with crossing that threshold to life’s next mission. To be honest, for most of my life, unlike Ethan Hunt, I became somewhat incapacitated each time an opportunity for change appeared, and most often, I was left staring at another lost possibility self-destructing in my hands.
Everything changed 18 months ago when I was on an extended medical leave for PTSD. After a lot of challenging work with a therapist who specializes in this field, I have slowly begun to dig into all the uncertainty and fear in my life. As you can imagine, it’s not that simple to reprogram your brain to embrace the things you spent more than 40 years running away from. In order to enact this seismic shift, I’ve initiated a three-pronged approach: acknowledge where I am in my life right now, identify where I want to be, and finally, nurture the buoyancy required to get there. Shifting my outlook in this way has allowed me to be more attuned to what I like to call “signposts” that help me along the way. I thought I would share with you a few of those “signposts” that I’ve stumbled upon this past week.
I was reading an interview with entrepreneur Jim Rohn in which he was quoted as saying: “You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.” I had never really thought about it like that before, but so much of my self-esteem and overall mood is a reflection of the people I open my life to. I’ve had to go through a social purge of late in order to distance myself from “Eeyores”, “energy vampires” and toxic relationships in general. I spent far too much of my life behaving like a social chameleon—adapting myself to the crowd I was with and morphing into what I believed others wanted me to be. I now understand that “friendship” and “love” are not defined by how much time you spend with someone, but by how authentic you can allow yourself to be when you are together. I’m also keenly aware that jettisoning the doubters and critics from my life does not mean that the “5 people I spend the most time with” should not be able to challenge me to be a better version of myself.
I enjoying listening to podcasts while I’m commuting on the subway, and just yesterday I heard two inspirational speakers on the Ted Radio Hour who really resonated with me. This first talk was with Diana Nyad, the long distance swimmer, who after four thwarted attempts, at the age of 64 finally made the 110-mile ocean crossing between Cuba and Florida. When asked what motivated her to keep going despite all the setbacks she faced, she said that she has always believed it’s important to “chase an elevated dream.” Like most people, I’ve had dreams and set goals, but I think I’ve been guilty of setting the bar a little low. Now that I’m building a “bigger life” for myself, like Diana, I am in hot pursuit of an “elevated dream”—one in which I can help other men rebuild their lives after coming to terms with childhood trauma.
The second TedTalk was delivered by Amy Purdy, who lost both of her legs below the knee to meningitis, but still went on to become a world-class snowboarder, model, entrepreneur, and even a contestant on the hit television series “Dancing With The Stars”. My favourite part of her talk was when she said that “Borders and obstacles can only do one of two things: stop us in our tracks or unleash our imagination.” What an incredible mindset for which to confront adversity in our life—something that doesn’t destroy us, but instead, is a springboard to unleash our “imagination” to do what Brene Brown refers to as “daring greatly.”
So, if you’re find yourself struggling right now, I invite you to look around at the “5 people closest to you” and ask yourself, “Do these people nourish my soul and challenge me to be better?” Consider building buoyancy into your life by looking upon adversity as a “mission you choose to accept.” In the words of the great Santiago from Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, "Man is not made for defeat… A man can be destroyed but not defeated."