Satisfaction is my enemy

I figured something out. This came to me while I standing in front of the mirror in my bathroom. I’m not going to rehash particulars, because my mid-life crisis is well documented in way too many blogs. Short version, I was incredibly unsatisfied with my job, my visions of the future, my marriage, my guitar playing, my constant sickness (or depression depending on your point of view), my weight. So, I went on a lengthy, unplanned tear down of everything external. Amicably (as much as possible) divorced, quit my job, started practicing guitar and recently started working out 5 days a week… and that’s when it hit me. For the most part, I was satisfied with my suffering.

How messed up is that? I was satisfied being unhappy. Profoundly unhappy. And worse, it was both external and internal. Yes, my circumstances were not congruent with what I wanted out of life. But in my head, my “voice” wasn’t satisfied with who I was. I was a “good” guy, I was a “good employee” (well, for the most part), I was “good” husband to most eyes, good dad, good… you get the point. But here is the truth. I was “good enough.”

Give credit to God, my parents, my inner-drive, the protestant work ethic, whatever, I was not built for good enough. You can’t support my attitude (ego) with “good enough.” Good enough kills me. Being good enough eats me alive because in my own mind, “I’ll never be good enough.” And that’s the true conflict. But don’t get me wrong, I don’t “suffer” from low self-esteem. I am “blessed” with a drive to be better, an important distinction. I am built to never be satisfied. Improvement is like a drug for me. Personal, interpersonal, professional, spiritual, intellectual improvement is my heroin.

I don’t want to have a “good call” to a “good church.” I want to have a “damn good call” to a “fantastic church.” I don’t want to be a “good dad” I want to be the best dad I can for my great son. I don’t want to be a “good husband.” I want to be the kind of husband to a wife that not only gets me but actually likes me (and the “real” me, not my representative or who I might pretend to be). I want to be smarter, so I’ve got to read good books. I want to play music, dance, sing… live life. I’ve got too many people around me that need “life energy” or “light” to drain them. I want to be the kind of guy that people around me are filled up with substance and light. Charisma? No, Charismatic. Excitable. Eccentric. I want to be able to sit around a table with introverts and discuss books (when they venture out of their houses) and get into a groove with a drummer while I play bass, or play guitar and sing.

I’ve been through darkness, in my own way, and they only way I’ve come through it at all is copious amounts of light and ridiculous amounts of laughter. I will always be surrounded by darkness, I’m not going to light a candle. I’m not going to burn the candle at both ends. I’m going to shine like the sun – a star. I wasn’t built for “good enough.” If there is something that I have to “own” that’s it. I wasn’t made for mediocrity.

And neither were you.

If you’re going to sing – sing out loud.
If you’re going to play – then have fun.
If you’re going to dance – then let it fly.
If you’re going to study – then learn and share, don’t keep it to yourself.
If you’re going to speak – then share, do not judge.
If you’re going to keep accounting tables – then be immaculate.

What I’m trying to say is don’t be “good enough.” Good is the enemy of great (read that on a poster somewhere), and I want to be great (in my own way). So, you too can be exemplary. Be better than you were yesterday (the only you can really compete with), start with the attitude that you’re already good (thus addressing the self-esteem issue) – but you can be better (addressing the satisfaction issue) – and then put in the work (which ends up solving both!).

And that’s why this came to me in the mirror. One of the last (hopefully) competitions in my head is my weight. Truthfully, my fitness level, part of which my weight is a problem. I don’t like the way I look before. Now, I know I’ll never look like Keanu Reeves (for starters his hair is the wrong color) but I’m comfortable enough to say I think that guy is attractive (and the lifestyle, musician, bass player, etc. adds layers of cool. Or Brad Pitt (his eyes are blue). But I can look better. I’d just stepped off the scale and lost a “few” pounds this week. I was starting to feel down. Then I measured my mid-section and learned that my belly was smaller than it was 13 days ago (DDPYoga baby!) and I started to get all excited. Then it hit me, why? Why did one number make me sad and the other make me happy? Because one wasn’t as much as I wanted. The other was more than expected. I wasn’t satisfied with one, but was with the other. But here is what I did.

I went to the kitchen and grabbed a gallon bottle of milk and a half-gallon of orange juice. I put those in a backpack, put that backpack on backwards (on ma belly! so jelly!) for a bit. I sat down on the couch and watched TV, then went to the kitchen and ate my breakfast with that stuff on. I started collecting laundry – grooving to some music. I’m wearing it at my computer right now. It’s cumbersome, it’s in my way and it keeps slipping off my shoulders (to be grabbed by my tiny-tiny arms). It is absolutely ridiculous and makes me laugh.

But here is the point – that’s how much weight I’ve lost. All of a sudden, I’m not “satisfied,” I’m in the same zip code as giddy. It’s not “good enough,” Because my own goal is a lot more. So that means same level of focus with MORE work.

And that’s what I’ve figured out. I wasn’t built to be satisfied with good enough.
I was built good already, now it’s time to work to make things better.


A Letter to My Younger Self (My Inner Child Needs a Better Parent)

Hey Kid,
I’d tell you to stop being such a jerk, and be careful of hurting other people, but you don’t listen and probably stopped reading about [here]. But if you were to read this as a kid, just before Jr. High (now middle school) this is what I would tell you (no spoilers).

Running your mouth is eventually going to lead to you getting the stuffing kicked (literally) out of you at some point. But your mouth is going to be your “money-maker” in almost every job/career/call you choose. You have a power to tear people down or build people up. Have more “up” days than down ones.
You’re going to have a “pre-life” crisis. You are going to freak out and put all kinds of stress on yourself because you think that you have to “get it right” or the rest of your life is going to be following a path that you didn’t want to go down. Guess what, you’re going to make major changes in your life every couple years for about a decade. So stop trying to lock yourself down to one thing or another. In twenty years, most of those incredibly hard decisions are going to turn out to be unimportant. Sorry – that’s just life.

Your life is not a contest with anyone else, but it is going to be complicated. Because life is always going to throw stuff at you, some of it is hard, some of it is heavy and pointy and it’s going to leave scars. Sorry kid, I know you wanted the rock-star lifestyle of easy, fame and money – but your guitar heroes in my time, well, some of them are dead. Most have been through rehab, lost fame, and you’re not working very hard anyway, take some lessons. But seriously, you are always going to be facing something. Sorry, but that’s the truth. You can’t protect yourself from it, and you can’t walk away from most of it. So, make it your business to take care of your business. Don’t let the piles of dirt that fall into your days build up, they are very hard to move from place-to-place and once they become a hill or a mountain it takes forever to get rid of them. This is the fight of your life. This is everybody’s fight for life, but the sooner you get that, the better off you’ll be.
The fight for your life begins between your ears. You’ve got a decision to make – and the sooner you make it, the better it will go for you. Are you worth fighting for? Hate to bring it up, but I know there is a good chance right now, you don’t feel like you are. I don’t remember why, and it has yet to make sense, but right now you’re pretty messed up in the way you think. So let me help – you are going to live. I know it doesn’t feel like it. But I’m the older you – you’re going to live. Because deep in the recesses of your brain and your heart, below those thoughts that tell you otherwise, you actually like yourself and other people. But the problem is – you’ve got the order backwards.

I know, people are telling you that you are self-centered. Here’s a little hint: You are supposed to be. You are not supposed to be selfish. There is a difference. Selfish is putting yourself above other people, self-centered is what you are when you’re trying to work stuff out, and you have a lot of stuff to work out. You have to figure out who you are man, and so is everyone else.

Right now, you’re trying NOT to be selfish, even though you are, and like everyone else, always will be to a point. But not looking at yourself, figuring your own stuff out, you’re an empty suit of armor. People see you and think well of you, but they don’t see what is inside. That’s living a lie. You’ve got to fill the suit. You can have the greatest shining armor, people see it and admire it, but you’re going to be empty until you figure out the person inside. You’re never going to be able to accept praise for the armor AND most importantly, it’s heavy, takes a lot of maintenance and it’s not going to protect you. Plus, while you’re out fighting other people’s battles, the suit is going to fill up with nonsense that you just have to clean out.

While I’m on the subject. You are going to develop a hatred of suits. But for you, today, I want you to look at what you’re wearing and I’m going to make an observation, “You aren’t a real rebel if you dress, act, talk, walk just like all your friends.” That’s conformity. Sorry to say this young punk – but the stuff you’re doing that makes you a rebel was done by kids ten years before you, and will be done ten years after you. Want to be a rebel, do your homework.
I know it’s boring. I hate it too. But here is something you will learn. Repetition (like practicing scales) is the child of self-discipline, the mother of learning and the father of success. And relying on people outside of yourself to discipline you? It’s foolish, because they won’t always be around. Pick up your room, make your bed, go to work, not because someone else says you have to, but learn self-discipline. Trust me, if you do that now, you won’t have to reform your life in your forties. And here is the thing, it’s not your parent’s fault. God knows they tried, you’ll eventually appreciate it, but it isn’t up to them. It’s the choice you make between your ears.
When you fill the suit, you’re find out that the “enemy” is between your ears. All that negative self-talk, all that emotional weight, is there because YOU will make the active choice to carry it. Sure, it may have been FROM what happened to you, but if you keep it on your shoulders, it’s because you chose to bring it forward.
Here is a great secret of life kid, pay attention, people are always going to say negative things about you. If you’re doing something, you’re doing it wrong, or it’s not the right thing to do. If you’re not doing anything, then you are lazy. But, just like you figured out that your teacher’s opinion of you doesn’t really matter, you’ve got to thicken your skin to those people – and what they say is more of a reflection of themselves (things they don’t like about themselves or things they fear) or their own way of wearing the suit to cover up who they really are. Fight for yourself between your ears, and ANY of that negative stuff that comes in, either confront it or discard it, but one way or another put it behind you as fast as you can. You will struggle with this your entire life. But the weight of it all will only wear you down day to day if you decide to pick it up in the morning.

Which is why your safe-zone is about as safe as three-mile island (later Chernobyl). You’re building a blanket of negative self-talk and pain to carry with you. It’s comfortable, it’s well-known, and it isn’t a blanket. It’s an anchor – and that’s why you’re going to go a bit crazy for your mid-life crisis (you still don’t get a Corvette or Ferrari). Your inner-child is a bastard who is five times greedy and ten times needy, and the only person on this earth that can parent that little sucker is you. Your inner child needs a better parent. You’re going to have to do that. Don’t put it off for later because one other issue you’re going to deal with is that your “today” Rob is going to despise your “yesterday” Rob because he was such an idiot.

Look man, I know this is long, and doesn’t include any spoilers about sports-betting (did I mention, no time-machines) but it’s important. You are going to develop a unique ability to self-deceive. And the great part about that is, everything you say to other people, because it doesn’t come from truth, is going to be a lie. And your lies are going to hurt others, deeply, and you’re not going to even know you’re doing it. Because you’re so focused on the armor, no one gets to look inside. And that is going to be lonely.

So, when you’re in your mid to late forties, you’re going to have the dumbest mid-life crisis ever. You’re going to correct mistakes you knew you were making when you made them. You’re going to strip your life to the bones and then rebuild it. You’re going to raise your inner child in a very short period of time. And most importantly – you’re going to find happiness.

Not just in God, not just in a person, not just in a gig, not just in habits that you will change and wonder why you didn’t change before. You’re going to mess up, but it’s going to be ok. You are, believe it or not, going to live long enough to change your mind about a lot of things (Bill Cosby and Bruce Jenner in particular). And everything you believe about life, the future and everything is going to turn out to be wrong.

So do me a favor.

Relax. Your life hasn’t even started yet.

Do not start smoking again. Get some exercise and for the love of all that is holy, try to eat better.

Tell mom and dad you love them every day. You have no idea how important that will become later. And tell Sheryl she’s the best sister a guy could have, because she rarely lied, and when she did it was about parabolic cylinders and you will eventually stop caring about those.

Stop pining for the girl, redefining for the other one and when you meet her (you’ll know when) marry THAT girl. It’s going to break your heart but get you ready for what comes next.

Don’t stay too long and never go back to where you were before. Learn to let the past be dust, yearn for the future’s dream and work every day to make it happen.

Remember the words of your dad, and do not limit your possibilities.

Be kind to yourself, treat yourself the way you want others to treat you (because that way if no one cares enough to take care of you, you can do it yourself).

Fill the empty suit, and if you have to wear a suit, get a good tie.

Treat every single girl/woman that was kind enough to spend time with you, crush on you or just be nice to you with respect. Most of all, the ones that do not want to date you will end up good friends – do not violate that friendship, because thirty+ years later, some of them are your friends years later and while they may not introduce you to people to date (because secretly you’re their plan B because even though you’re a mess, you’re a hot mess) they will help you get your head together when you go all “piney”

Do not worry about someone else’s preferences of partners or politics, but learn what their favorite drink is, having it on hand shows class.

Write man, every day, and let other people read it. Their opinions may help you thicken your skin.


The Summersayin Family (One illustration for Six Sermons)

The Summersayin Family

Once upon a time there was a pastor named Kenneth. Ken was a bright young man and was more than excited to accept a new position as a solo pastor at the Watershed Community of Faith Church. The people learned quickly that he was a strong preacher and they had passed through their first year largely without incident. But towards the end of the first year, “that boy pastor” Ken started to notice something odd.

It seemed every month a new problem was bring brought to the board by the Summersayin family. In twelve months, He’d never met the Summersayins, but they were apparently powerful. And the Monday after his anniversary the elders were once again dealing with the concerns of the Summersayins. Pastor Ken started to doubt his work there and it took the fire right out of his preaching and the energy out of him being a pastor. After his second anniversary the board came to him and let him know that the Summersayins were thinking it might be time for him to move on.

Now, Ken was a very hard-headed kind of pastor. He loved that church, and he loved those people, and he didn’t mind that it had a short steeple and it seemed like everyone, except the Summersayins liked him. So he started seeking them out, and he couldn’t find out any of the Summersayin’s names. They weren’t on the roll, they weren’t on the attendance sheets, and according to the giving records, they’d never given anything to the church. He even went to the courthouse and he couldn’t find one single Summersayin’ in the county.

Yet, every month, when the board met, the Summersayins were still concerned about everything from planting seeds for grass outside to planting seeds of faith all over the county. So, as soon as the board got happy with his preaching and pastoring, he asked them to support a policy that any complaint had to be presented in person or at least in writing signed by the people that were concerned.

February came and Behold! Not a single Summersayin’ concern. There were concerns that came from the members of the church and the Board dealt with them accordingly.

March came and “Look here!” (a rough translation of behold) there were a couple of members with an idea for a summer festival to be held on the church grounds, including a tent, visiting preachers, dinner and hopefully some baptisms.

In April, the Reverend Kenny noticed that he didn’t get nervous before worship anymore and he was genuinely excited to come to church.

By September, Pastor Ken didn’t feel nervous before Board meetings anymore, apparently the Summersayins had left the church and it didn’t affect attendance or giving, But the whole mood of the church had changed.

Even the Beenheresawhile were active, and the Newcomers were helping out. Sure, they’d disagree over the taste of salt, but they never held it against each other in the fellowship hall.

After his third anniversary, Ken saw that the church had started doing new things, and while they didn’t work out all the time, there were no Summersayins around to tell them it wouldn’t work because they tried before in 1974. There were just people getting excited, serving in new ways, and they trusted each other that whatever strange idea they had, at least it was for the good of the church and the furtherance of God’s kingdom. And the board took care of it’s people, because everyone knew the names of the people trying to help the church, and how to comfort them when they didn’t get their way, even when they disagreed with preacher.

Over the next 23 years, Pastor Ken thought about moving on a couple times, but when he talked to other churches, it seemed the Summersayins had moved in and he’d already been through that once. Watershed CoF was no longer afraid to make them mad, or disappoint them, or say no. He already served a church that didn’t let the Summersayins steal energy from the mission of God, or direct the church anonymously, and he knew how rare a church that was – and when you find it, you don’t let it go without God speaking clearly.
____ *____

Can you find all six sermons intentionally written into this story?