Where We Find Ourselves

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“You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?” – Talking Heads “Once in a Lifetime”

There are places we find ourselves. We didn’t intend to go there. We caught out reflection in the glass section of the door frame and realized, “yeah, I guess this is where I’m going.” Whether it’s an emergency room, district court, or the first AA meeting…this isn’t where we were planning to go. These are still points in a person’s life – times that force us to take stock and consider where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going.

I sat in the ER of a local hospital today next to an 85 year old man. I didn’t intend to be there I just was. He looked like he’d been there a lot lately and he looked scared. Without meaning to I started guessing as to why he was there. He was a dignified gentleman in a three piece suit and the kind of hat that only old men wear. He looked fearful. I listened to him talk with a reserve duty soldier about the Korean War. When the soldier left I tried to look friendly in case he wanted to talk, but he just looked more and more anxious. Finally he went to the front desk and asked in a very small voice, “Can I see my wife? Is she okay?” My heart went out to him. He doesn’t want to be there. He just is.

When you see someone in their 80’s do you ever just want to ask them if they’re ready to die or if they’re mindful of how much time they may have left? Maybe I’m the only one that does that but I suspect we all do. I want to ask them if it turned out like they hoped it would. Better? Worse? Was it unexpectedly wonderful? Did they get to have the family they wanted? The career they wanted? Did their dreams comes true? I imagine myself at that age and if I’m not careful I’ll lose sleep. Will I have enough money to retire and travel? Will I outlive the people I’m supposed to? Still point. Take stock. Where am I going and how will I get there?

As it happens I am blessed beyond words. I have a wonderful family, a growing business, and at times it has been unexpectedly wonderful. I have a job in which I do my best to help people get a life. The life they want. We talk about where they want to go and how they can get there. I ask them the same question that the front desk lady at the ER asked me, “How are you?” I’m awesome. Thanks for asking. I was just bored and thought I’d come down and see what you folks are up to.

I met with a young man recently and I asked him where he’s at. He told me, “I’m stuck in the world of Can’t and I need to find the way out.” I listened to his familiar tale about how all of his thinking just gets him lost. He’s smart and that’s a fine thing to be but he has no wisdom. It’s not his fault. Nobody gave him any. I suggested to him that the best kind of wisdom is learning from other people’s mistakes. Turns out that’s what he was trying to do. He was looking at the whole of his father’s life as what not to do.

Knowing what you don’t want is a fine starting point. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do a lot to show you how to know what you do want. Having clarity about what you want and grasping the steps towards it is scary. When you know what you need to do, you become accountable to yourself and risk letting you and the people you love down. Growing up is hard at any age.

There are things that young men tend not to know and who would expect them to if no one has told them? I told him it was ok to be scared of making mistakes and that the good news was that he will be making a lot of them. He was not pleased to hear this.

I explained that if he never fails it will only because he never tried to do anything all that impressive. He grasped this momentarily and went back to his long list of Can’t(s). I suggested that he add the word “yet” after each “can’t” and that he change his list of “should(s)” to “could(s).” He liked this and with the patience of an alcoholic he demanded to know what he would do next. We talked about taking big goals and breaking them down into small manageable tasks. We did that together and with utter predictability the young man became overwhelmed at how much work there is to do! I apologized sarcastically and asked if he’d like to go back to being overwhelmed because it involves less work. He gets it now. If he wants something great – if he wants to be something great – he needs to work his ass off and be in the company of others who are doing the same thing.

I’ve known people of every age who are afraid to do the work because they know it will change them. I confront them with the option of settling for far less than they can have. I see settling as an acceptable choice but only if it is done in the full light of day. It’s far more common that people deceive themselves into thinking that they deserve more than they got (self pity) or that they are on their way to what they want (pretending). Life has a way of providing little reminders that this is not the life we imagined and these are not the promises we made ourselves as children.

We always have the choice to be bitter, cynical and jaded. We don’t ever have to get our hopes up and facing our fears is largely optional. Living a half assed existence with a half assed job/relationship/life style in a half assed manner affords one the illusions of safety and security through sheer predictability. All I’m saying is choose it. Do it on purpose. Do it because you damned well meant to. Bet ya can’t. Bet the people who love you would never want this for you. Many of us are so damned afraid of further disappointment that we choose not to try – as if the end result won’t be the biggest disappointment of all.

“Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.” – John Lennon

Have the guts to allow yourself a dream and do something to make it one tiny step closer to a reality every day. Don’t worry about “finding yourself.” Invest in yourself and choose who you want to be and how you want to be. Live your life on purpose and use your free will – that’s why you have it. It’s hard work and it’s scary and it’ll suck sometimes but it’s totally worth it regardless of how it all turns out because you’ll have the self respect of knowing that you had the guts to try. Get a copy of Dr. Seuss’ book “Oh the Places You’ll Go” and follow it’s simple wisdom.

I hope that you live to be 85 and that they can’t wipe the grin off your face.

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.