There’s A Reason It’s Called SELF-Confidence

Confidence

“Where does the power come from to see the race to its end? From within.”  Eric Liddell, Chariots of Fire (1981)

Ask any sports psychologist worth their salt and they will tell you that a competitive athlete can have all the physical skills in the world and yet, without self-confidence, they will never realize (or never fully realize) their potential.  In fact, often in sports, a player of decidedly lesser physical skill, but an overabundance of self-confidence, will outperform and prevail against a more talented rival.  Importantly, this psychological phenomenon is not unique to sports.  It applies to all of our lives (and all aspects of them) whether we are teachers, public speakers, authors, artists, students, doctors, lawyers, salesmen, business owners, mothers, fathers etc.  Simply put: Our ability to succeed at the tasks we choose to undertake and, ultimately, our ability to find happiness are inextricably intertwined with our belief that we have the talent and the commitment required to make those achievements a reality.

Why then, given its criticality, do most of us tend to be so reliant on external forces to supply us with this key ingredient in the “recipe” for personal fulfillment?  Why are we always looking outside ourselves to validate our worth as human beings?  Why do we allow others’ assessment of us (or, even more troublingly, our perceptions about what others think) to carry so much weight?  Why, rather than focus on the times we meet our expectations, are we so quick to give disproportionate weight to the times (however isolated though they may be) when we fall short of them? Why do we search for evidence in our pasts to reinforce, rather than refute, what others are saying about us and our prospects for success in the future?  Do we really think those in whose opinions we place so much stock in defining us and our potential truly know, let alone are focused on, what is best for us?  I think not.

To the contrary, I believe there’s a reason this precious, but admittedly fragile commodity is called self-confidence, namely that its well-spring comes from within – a spring that is within each one of us.  That being the case, we simply must be more diligent in safeguarding and nurturing it at all times.  We must shield it from outside agents and voices that, at every turn and for various reasons (most of which are tied to selfishness), seek to diminish its abundance in us.  As importantly, we must refrain from our own equally destructive, hyper-critical self-talk – talk which left unabated ultimately will permanently disrupt the flow of our internal well-spring’s life-affirming waters.  Instead, we must actively look for opportunities to replenish and renew it by affirming ourselves, acknowledging our good works and better appreciating our gifts and our potential to be difference-makers in a world that desperately needs us.

If you’re like most, yours truly included, making the transition from a “what others may be thinking/saying about me” to a “what I believe/know to be true about me” mindset in building our self-confidence will not happen overnight.  It will take time (though, it need not take 40+ years – just sayin’!?!).  It also likely will take conscious effort, beginning with our taking an objective, but fair “inventory” not only of ourselves, our talents, our attributes and what is fundamentally good about us, but of those who add to and support us – and those who do not. Inevitably, it also will necessitate chipping away at and, ultimately, prying loose the crusty self and other-imposed barnacles that we have allowed to collect around the well-spring spout over the years, reducing what was once its geyser-like output to a mere trickle.  But trust me on this one – it can be done!

And when you’re finished, when you’ve fully made the transition, I would highly recommend that you take a few steps back, lest you get caught in the “splash zone.” Come to think of it, don’t step back.  A little “water” never hurt anyone!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eAM2-hg7xJs

When Clinging To Life’s Final Threads Is Required, Stubbornness Is Quite A Useful Character Trait

hanging_by_a_thread

When our daughter was 4 years old, we enrolled her in a “Dance at Your School” program. The Program essentially involved having a group of dance instructors come to the school after recess and offer 45 minutes of beginning, intermediate and advanced dance instruction for students of all ages and talent levels 3 days a week. Ashley loved to dance and seemingly couldn’t get enough of the classes. As the holiday season approached, she and the 15 members in her group began preparing for an annual Holiday Recital that was to be held in the school auditorium before what would turn out to be a crowd of more than 100 parents and other loved ones, a number of whom were our friends.

I remember leaving for work early the morning of the Recital only to find my wife, Cyndy, and Ashley already hard at work fixing Ashley’s hair in a beautiful bun. By the time I arrived at the school auditorium around noon, Cyndy “saved” front row seats, as she was want to do for such events and Ashley was happily situated behind the curtain with her fellow dancers – or so we thought!  Moments later, however, we heard a bit of a commotion that sounded an awful lot like Ashley pitching a fit. I immediately dispatched Cyndy to investigate.  She returned to report that Ashley had become very upset when the teacher insisted that she and her dance-mates wear a Russian fur cap for the first “pairs” dance – because it covered her bun!

The bottom line:  Ashley FLATLY refused to dance unless she was allowed to perform without the hat.  Eventually, an acceptable “compromise” was reached and Ashley and her fellow dancers strode quietly toward the back of the auditorium to a small staging area – hats securely in place.  Within seconds of arriving at the holding area, however, Ashley started in again. This time it was my turn. I hurried to the back, pulled Ashley aside and using all of my “considerable” advocacy skills (and, if I’m to be honest, a heavy dose of “guilt”) convinced her to quiet down and take the stage with her classmates. Armed with a “promise” that she would, I scurried back to my seat and settled in to enjoy the show.

Sure enough, Ashley went up on stage as promised and paired off with her partner. I smiled broadly as her eyes met mine.  I should have known there was a problem when she returned my smile and look of affirmation with one of utter disdain and defiance.  I’d seen that look before . . .  As the music started to play, Ashley stood statue-like in the center of the stage with her arms folded in front of her! Much to the chagrin of her dance partner, who was completely taken by surprise and simply continued to dance in circles around her like a horse on a lead line, Ashley remained frozen in that position until the music stopped. Cyndy was mortified. Truthfully, it was all I could do to keep from bursting out laughing.

As Ashley exited the stage, I called her over, sat her on my lap and, trying hard to keep a straight face, sternly asked her what had become of the “promise” she had made to me in the holding area moments before taking the stage, reminding her that I had taken time off from work in the middle of the day and driven all the way down to the school just to see her dance? She paused for a moment, looked away and then turned back and stuck out her tongue! And with that she hopped off my lap, ripped off her admittedly rather unattractive Russian fur cap and headed off to rejoin her classmates back stage, as if nothing had happened. Suffice it to say, it was all more than a little embarrassing to mom and dad.

Little did I realize at the time, of course, that it also was a foreshadowing of a degree of stubbornness, bordering on open defiance, and, in an odd sort of way, a level of courageousness (I suspect not many 4-year-olds would “have the guts” to stand motionless on a stage in the middle of a holiday dance recital “in protest” before a crowd of a few hundred adults, let alone do so over an accessory!) that, twenty years later, very likely contributed to saving her life – as time and time again, she steadfastly clung to what were increasingly thinning threads of hope.  I can’t pretend I’ve always viewed Ashley’s stubbornness as an “admirable” character trait, but it certainly, thankfully has had its moments!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HAIt_ev_ROo

:28.2

Ray Allen

You don’t have to be a fan of LeBron James, the Miami Heat or even professional basketball to be inspired by and appreciate the “life-significance” of what happened in the final 28.2 seconds of Game 6 of the NBA Finals between the Heat and the San Antonio Spurs.  Let me try and set the stage, recognizing that words could never effectively capture the moment.  The Spurs were leading the best of 7 series 3 games to 2 and, having played nearly flawless basketball for 47 minutes and 32 seconds of Game 6, found themselves with a 5 point lead with only 28.2 seconds left in the game. 28.2 seconds – the approximate time it takes an Olympic breaststroker to swim 1 length of the pool!  How high was the mountain?  High enough that thousands of Heat fans began pouring out of the American Airlines Arena certain that their team had lost the Championship.  High enough that the powers that be in the National Basketball Association wheeled out the Larry O’Brien Trophy awarded each year to the NBA champions.  High enough that security forces began gathering around the perimeter of the court and readying the yellow tape needed to facilitate the awards ceremony.  For all intents and purposes this one was already in the books – it was, in sports parlance, the basketball equivalent to Jean Van De Velde standing on the 18th tee on the final day of the 1999 British Open Championship at Carnoustie with a 3-shot lead over his nearest competitor (http://tinyurl.com/lz56ncb).

“I noticed it,” James would say after the game. “All of us saw the championship board already out [on the court], the yellow tape. That motivated us to play the game to the final buzzer.” Dwyane Wade echoed his talented teammate’s remarks: “When they brought out that yellow rope and you know you’re not the one that’s going to celebrate . . . you just have to keep fighting and believing.” And fight and believe the Heat players did – all of them.  With time ticking away, James hurried back down the court and sank a long 3-point shot to pull the Heat within 2 points (94-92) with only 20.1 seconds left.  Miami then immediately fouled the Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard, sending him to the free throw line for 2 shots. Uncharacteristically, Leonard, an 82% free throw shooter, missed the first, but made the second, giving the Spurs a 3-point lead with 15.4 seconds to play.  The Heat scurried back down the court, where, with 11.2 seconds left, James hoisted an errant 3 point shot – and then the magic happened. Somehow Heat forward Chris Bosh out-hustled 3 Spurs’ defenders to secure the rebound just as guard Ray Allen was instinctively back-peddling to the 3-point line on the baseline.  Seemingly in the same motion, Allen received an outlet pass from Bosh, elevated and with only 5.2 seconds showing on the clock, nailed a 3-pointer that tied the game and sent it into overtime!  The Heat went on to prevail in the extra session (103 -100) and won Game 7 to repeat as NBA Champions.

Sooner or later, all of us or someone we love or both will have our own “Game 6 moment” – a time (or times) when our resolve, our metal, our very desire to survive will be tested to their absolute limits.  We will come face-to-face with obstacles that, by all objective measures, will appear wholly insurmountable. When those moments arise, we too will realize, as did the Heat players, that there is no getting around the challenge; that, unlike others in our lives (friends, business associates, family members, etc.), who, for whatever reason (e.g., fear, selfishness, weakness, etc.) may choose to “abandon” us, we are “stuck” in the arena.  There is no turning back for us.  I only hope that when those moments come each of us will ultimately be able to set aside our fears and respond with the same belief-in-self, commitment and “never-say-die” perseverance that was on display for the entire world to see at the AA Arena last Tuesday night. I wish I could “guarantee” that if you will only do that all of the pieces required for you to come out on top (however improbable) will fall neatly into place, as they did during those epic final 28.2 seconds in Game 6.  Obviously, I can’t.  But I can promise you this: They will never fall into place without you doing it. That being the case, why not take your best shot?  Ray Allen did!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S3p1CxUnL1A

Since When Did “Give” Become A 4-Letter Word?

Chuck Photo 2

I’ve always admired the givers in this world – the people who get it, who, either intuitively or as a result of their or a loved one’s life circumstances understand, that they are on this planet to serve the we and not the me. The people who are sensitive to manifestations of the frailty of the human spirit. Those who seemingly have a sixth sense when it comes to recognizing others in their midst who are suffering or in need. Individuals who, despite having the same built-in “excuses” as everyone else (e.g., the demands and “busyness” of everyday life, a more-than-one-human-being-could-possibly-do-in-a-lifetime amount of work on their desk, the responsibilities of family (nuclear and extended), etc.), still manage to find (or, more likely, make) time to “be there” for and/or comfort a friend, co-worker or acquaintance in need or offer a helping hand – often on a moment’s notice. The folks who can spot a lonely, desperate, broken or misguidedly shame-filled heart from “a mile away” and who, rather than turn away and pretend it’s none of their business or, worse yet, that it’s someone else’s problem or responsibility, take the initiative to reach out and offer support, empathy and understanding. The first responders, if you will, to matters of the heart – difference-makers, who not only have a willingness, but the courage to be vulnerable and compassionate, instead of  judgmental, in the face of others’ sometimes silent, sometimes not-so-silent pleas for help.

I’ve been very fortunate in my life to have known a number of givers.  One in particular, Chuck Davis, was a friend and “back door” neighbor, who died too young.  In the days leading up to his death, I sent him the following letter in the hope that he would know what a profound impact the body of his life’s work as a giver had on me:

January 13, 2005

Dear Chuck,

This note is long overdue and I apologize for that. I’m not sure why it is that we men have such difficulty sharing our feelings for another. I’m sure it has something to do with the messages we receive as young boys, messages that are only reinforced as we get older and enter the work world. The idea that we’re different from girls—that we’re supposed to be tough, to always be in control of our emotions, that we aren’t supposed to cry, that crying is a sign of weakness, that tears somehow make us less of a man. I never really bought into all of those beliefs, which probably is why I spent most of my young-adult and adult life hanging out with friends who were women, and in the process, have spilled more tears along the way than I care to think about. Still, I’m certain that those messages had an impact on me, because to this day, I struggle to be open and vulnerable with other men. I need to do better about that. Perhaps this note will be a starting point.

There are a lot of things that I want you to know, things that I know I should have told you along the way, but for one reason or another, never felt that the time was right to share them, or if the time was right, never was able to summon the courage to break through the male barriers that inevitably go up whenever two guys find themselves alone together. Seems like it’s always a lot easier to talk about work, sports, politics, finances, the kids, etc., than it is to share our fears, our concerns, our feelings towards others or towards each other, our aspirations, our faith, our hopes, our disappointments. I suppose part of it is that we know how much each other is already dealing with, between being the head of a family, the principal breadwinner, a father, a husband, a handyman, and we are reluctant to add our own problems to each other’s plate. I’m as guilty of that as the next guy, just as I am of believing, like most men do, that when problems arise, we should just tough it out. Of course, you and I know it doesn’t work that way.

First things first, I want you to know how much I have cherished you and our friendship over the years. From the early days, when you were thoughtful enough to install a gate in your backyard so that our children and our families would have one less obstacle to overcome in spending time together, I knew that you were a special person—and I was right. You were and are, in the words of a therapist friend of mine from Dallas, a “New Father,” a man who was and is far more concerned with finding out how you could find more time to spend with your family than you were with finding excuses to spend more time at the office; a man who has always been other-centered; a man of faith and of service; a man who would readily drop whatever he was doing to help a friend, a neighbor, or a business associate in need or simply to listen; and, above all else, a man of principle, of integrity, of character, of commitment. I have always admired you for all of those gifts and am eternally grateful for all that they have contributed to my life, and by your example, the lives of our children.

I also want you to know that I have always admired your commitment and your love for Robert and Katie. Dads don’t always get a lot of credit for those things and certainly when our children are young, they can’t possibly appreciate how much energy and sacrifice that kind of a commitment requires, but as a dad myself, I do and someday they will too. You’ve always been there for your family—at every school or church function in which they participated, at every softball and baseball game (more often than not in the dugout!), pool-side at every swim meet, greenside at golf tournaments and high school matches, even in things as simple as family meals, outings, and vacations. In being there, you have given your children a gift more magnificent than even they realize—the gift of you, the gift of your presence, and all that those gifts signify. However, I also have seen firsthand and have been deeply touched by the emotional energy and love you have invested in their lives behind the scenes—a type of being there that they will never see, but one that I saw and admire greatly. You are and have been an exceptional role model for your children and for other dads, including me, whose paths you have crossed along the way.

I also admire and more often than you will ever know have been very moved by your relationship with Libby. I know from our conversations over the years how committed you are to  her and how much you love her. I also know from watching the two of you interact over the years how much she loves you. I can tell you that your commitment to each other, even in the face of what certainly must have been some difficult times over the years, has always been a positive influence on my relationship with Cyndy. In an era where the institution of marriage seems to have lost its luster, it’s refreshing and encouraging to know that there are those like you and Libby who still understand and respect the sacrifice and hard work that the marital commitment requires. Your and Libby’s level of devotion to each other has set a wonderful example for Robert and Katie, as well as for Greg and Ashley. I am grateful for that. I also am grateful for the times that you trusted me enough as a friend to share your thoughts and feelings about Libby and your marriage, as well as the times when you cared enough to listen and offer your heartfelt concern and advice about my relationship with Cyndy.

Chuck, I know that you and Libby have been confronted with the greatest challenge of your lives. As I have told Libby many times, I wish that there was something I could do to ease your burden. Unfortunately, all I have to offer are my thoughts, my prayers and my friendship, which have been there from the beginning and which I will continue to offer. In the meantime, I want you to know that you are truly a remarkable person and that I consider myself blessed many times over to have the privilege of calling you my friend.

With love and concern,

Don

As the world (our worlds) become increasingly more complex, stressful and impersonal, the demand for “givers” is greater than it’s ever been. Regrettably, too many people fail to appreciate just how great the need is or how rewarding selfless giving and other-centered living can be! Need proof, a little extra inspiration? Check out the faces of the “giver” and “givee” in the photo that accompanies this post (Chuck and his son, Robert) – and then look around you, find a tear (trust me, you won’t have to look far) and commit to drying it.  We’re all in this life thing together folks!

Remembering “Freddy” (8/19/26 – 8/17/97)

walking-in-the-light-300x199

Suffice it to say, being the wordsmith in a family has its advantages and disadvantages.  On the plus side, it vests you with the privilege of being the “go-to-guy” when it’s important to find just the right words to convey congratulations, recognition, inspiration, or well wishes at festive family functions (e.g., weddings, graduations, birthdays, celebratory dinners, retirement parties, awards  banquets, etc.).  But it also carries with it a sense of responsibility/obligation to find equally “right” words of condolence, comfort, hope or understanding on more somber occasions (e.g., the death of a family member or loved one, the break-up of a marriage or a friendship, etc.).

Such was the case the day after my father died 16 years ago, when the discussion inevitably turned to deciding who would deliver his eulogy.  My grief would just have to wait a few days. There was a task to be completed.  Somehow, given all of the circumstances, that seemed oddly, though no less disturbingly, appropriate.  Two days later, at my dad’s Memorial Mass, I delivered (or, perhaps, it would be more accurate to say that I tried to deliver) the following remarks to a gathering that was disappointingly small given the number of people whose lives my dad undoubtedly had touched during his personal and professional life:

REMARKS FOR DAD’S MEMORIAL MASS (8/23/97)

This past Tuesday evening, I was sifting through some papers in my dad’s office, hoping to gain a better understanding of this very private and complicated man who was my father.  After several hours, I came across an old coffee-stained letter in one of 3 manila envelopes bearing the word “MEMORABILIA” in my dad’s unmistakable handwriting.  The letter caused me to reflect on my relationship with my dad and, this morning, I’d like to share some of those reflections with you.

As children, there are a lot of things we take for granted:

nice homes

good schools

the unconditional love of our parents

unlimited free transportation

a good example

box seats at Fenway Park on a summer Saturday afternoon

family vacations

airline “pass” privileges

the power of a loving and merciful God

the luxury of a “stay at home mom”

40 yard line seats at the Orange Bowl

words of encouragement

We don’t do it with any malicious intent.  We just lack understanding.  We lack wisdom.  I think that’s particularly true when it comes to understanding fathers.

All of us understand, from a very young age, the “biology” of fathering a child, but, as children, we have almost no understanding of what it takes to be a “dad.”

We don’t understand the pressures, disappointments and frustrations that frequently dominate our dad’s work day – pressures that are magnified when, like my dad, you are the sole financial provider for your family.

We don’t understand the strength of character that is required to put those pressures, disappointments and frustrations aside when you walk through the door at the end of the work day, so that you can don the robe of dad and loving husband.

We go to church on Sundays, observe religious holidays and traditions, and see our dad on his knees at the beginning and end of every day, but we don’t understand the awesome responsibility that accompanies being the spiritual head of a household.

We benefit from, but don’t understand, the personal and professional sacrifices that go along with having our dad standing in the third base coach’s box at Suniland Park, being on the 18th green at Crooked Creek, or sitting in the stands at a high school swim meet at 4 o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon.

We don’t understand (and perhaps misinterpret) the personal pain that sometimes inevitably accompanies the degree of self-sacrifice, commitment, discipline and selflessness that it takes to be a dad.

We don’t understand these things, in part, because dads work very hard to insulate their children from the “real world,” in the hope that they can extend the innocence of childhood as long as possible.

Inevitably, however, childhood ends and we pass through a period where we begin to understand, but in our struggle to define our own identity, choose to ignore, much of what our parents say, feel and do for us.  It’s particularly true with sons and fathers.

The dad of our childhood is still in the “third base coach’s box,” if you will, warning us that “a curve ball” is on the way.  But, too frequently, we disregard the warning, we “know better,” we dig in and, often, we swing and miss.

In the process, we fall out of touch.  We don’t write or call as often as we should.  We experience fear, joy, successes and failures, without sharing them with our parents.  In the midst of our life journeys, we lose sight of how important our parents have been to us and how important we are to them.

Again, it’s not something we do intentionally or with malice.  We’re just “too busy.”  We’re learning. . .

And then one day we have children of our own and everything changes.  It changes for us, as we experience firsthand what it means to be a dad, and, invariably, it changes our relationship with and appreciation for our own dad.

I know it did with my brother and I.

In closing, I want to share with you that letter I mentioned at the outset of my remarks.  It’s dated August 21, 1988, nearly 9 years ago to the day. . .

8-21-88

Dear Dad –

This is an attempt at a thank you note.  As you know, these past nine years of married life have brought a great deal of challenges and changes in my life.  They say that when people reach their thirties they begin to reassess their lives and begin the ‘settling down’ process.  It’s the time when the greatest majority of career changes and divorces take place.  But, for my part, I couldn’t be more optimistic.  You see, I have a gift which, it has become apparent to me, is the envy of many — possibly the best role model for a man and a father any son could ever ask for.  Anyone who knows me, also knows just how much my father means to me — everyone, that is, except the one who matters most -my father.  Hardly a day goes by that I’m not reminded of you in some way.  Usually it’s because I become aware of my mannerisms or body language or attitude.

When it’s my turn to lecture, I think of you and how you encouraged me those many years ago at St. Louis to give it a try.  How my knees trembled as I stood in front of all those people!  But you planted the seed of public speaking that would grow (in genetically fertile soil) to be a source of pride for me and the very foundation of any self confidence I may project. Word usage, eye contact and all of your communication skills – the essence of business and personal relationship successes – were well cultivated by the environments you encouraged me to participate in.  You gave me a thirst for knowledge and discovery that has allowed me to continue to grow at a time when those around me seem satisfied with their ‘lot’ in life and are stagnating – dying – at a young age.  It’s so much more exciting to be a part of the ‘building’ process.

I think about you a lot, Dad.  Always with pride.  I wonder how you’re really doing, what’s really going on with you ‘behind the scenes.’  What’s important to you these days?  How are you feeling?  I miss you.

Well, as I said, we’ve had our share of life’s challenges.  Although I’m sure they’re far from over, you’ve equipped me well with the necessary tools to face the future with confidence.  Foremost among those tools is an abiding faith in God.  We never talked about God much, I guess I acquired your faith by osmosis.  But it was always evident and important to you.  It has become indispensable to me and us, and we’re striving to make God more a part of our children’s lives.

I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to say thank you – directly to you.  I thank God for you and your example often.  Thank you for everything you’ve given me so unselfishly over the past 31 years.  I know at times I probably didn’t make it too easy.  I’ll try to write more often, but for now, it’s important that you know just how much I love and appreciate you for who you are.  That every time I receive a compliment, request for advice, or am asked to join or chair a committee of people, many years my seniors I think of you and how much of a head start on life I have because of who you are.  My greatest compliment is still – and will always be – when someone tells me how much I’m like my father!  I sure hope there’s some truth to that!  Thank you Dad, I love you.

Russ

And I think when you’re a dad (in fact, I know if you’re my dad!) a letter like that makes it all worthwhile.  Thanks Russ, I couldn’t have said it better myself.  And thank you dad for everything.

 

“How Big Is Your Brave?”

Leighton Jordan

brave (brāv) adj. 1. Possessing or displaying courage; valiant.

Several weeks ago, my now 27 year-old son called from his home in Manhattan, Kansas early one Saturday morning “just to say hi.” As is his custom, Greg began the conversation by simply asking “what I was up to.” “Nothing really,” I replied, somewhat matter-of-factly, “I was just finishing up a tweet to Miss Georgia.” I’m not sure which (or what combination) of those 12 words sucked the air out of Greg’s lungs, but it was clear they did from the stunned silence on the other end of the phone! Maybe it was: the idea of his technologically-challenged, 54 year-old dad having a Twitter account, the fact that I actually knew what to do with it or the thought of me actually using it to “tweet” with Miss Georgia. Truth is: If you had told me a year ago that, by the summer of 2013, I would be on Twitter, have two Facebook pages and be 220+ posts into a blog, I likely would have reacted the same way – as if you had a third eye in the middle of your forehead. You see, I always harbored a fair amount of skepticism when it came to all things “social media” and, believe me, it has its shortcomings. But, I’ve come to appreciate the fact that it also has its advantages, not the least of which is that, on occasion, it offers a “front row seat” to extraordinary acts of personal bravery.

Such was the case that Saturday, when, shortly after my morning walk, I logged on to my Twitter account and saw a tweet that Kirsten Haglund (http://tinyurl.com/oovhuhh) had sent a few days earlier thanking the reigning Miss Georgia, Leighton Jordan, a stranger to me at the time, “for speaking the truth with grace and dignity” about her struggles with anorexia and bulimia. I quickly accessed the link Kirsten provided to WSBTV2, the Atlanta T.V. station that “broke” the story and was moved not only by Leighton’s poise and candor in sharing her “secret,” but by her willingness to be so transparent on such a deeply personal issue. I also was struck by two statements that the reporter uttered – almost in the same breath: “the National Eating Disorder Association estimates that 1 million people a year die from eating disorders, more than breast cancer” and “Jordan is very aware of the negative stigma that can be attached to eating disorders and she expects backlash for sharing her secret.” Imagine laying your soul bare for all the world to see for purely altruistic reasons (i.e., to shed light on a burgeoning, life-threatening epidemic that is now reaching into our elementary schools) only to then live in fear of how others might react to your honesty.

Fortunately (for all of us), Leighton didn’t allow that fear to overcome her desire to “live out loud” (http://tinyurl.com/bebnzwa) and, having since spent some time learning more about her (http://www.missga2012.blogspot.com) – something I would encourage you to do if you can find a spare moment – I’ve begun to understand why.  Among other things, Leighton is a young woman grounded in faith. Perhaps because of that faith and her life experiences (which include: her being forced to “let go” of her dream of one day becoming a professional ballerina after a series of major surgeries on both ankles; watching an older sibling struggle with his own health issues (e.g., deafness, cerebral palsy and epilepsy); and seeing the fallout caused by others’ insensitivity and ignorance towards him), Leighton came to understand, at a very young age, what too many of us tend to lose sight of too often, namely that, contrary to popular belief, this Life thing is not all about the “me” – it’s about the “us” and, more specifically, our willingness to give of ourselves to others.  How do I know Leighton “gets it”?  Her selfless and courageous decision to “come out” about her eating disorder is a fairly compelling indicator, as is her dedication to the Sibling Support Project (http://siblingsupport.org).

Leighton recently took the time to reflect on her year as Miss Georgia, a reign that will be coming to an end in a matter of days.  In recounting the “Most Memorable Thing Someone Said To Her,” Leighton recalled a little girl who came up to her after she’d opened up about battling eating disorders. “I’ve watched you all day [Ms. Jordan],” the little girl began, “and thought I could never be Miss Georgia because I’m not perfect. But now, knowing you aren’t perfect, I know I don’t have to be perfect to inspire others like you have inspired me.” Leighton would go on to say, “that moment changed my life.”  Of course, that moment would not have been possible, either for that little girl (and likely thousands of others like her) or for Leighton without Leighton’s profound act of bravery.  I don’t think people fully appreciate how much courage it takes to be vulnerable even in a one-on-one relationship, let alone as a “public figure” for all the world to see.  I have Twitter to thank for meeting this remarkable young woman – and so it seemed only fitting that I use that same medium to thank her, which I did that Saturday morning: “You rock @Leightonjordan! Your courage and ‘voice’ will change lives. Great admiration and eternal gratitude.”  I only hope others will be inspired to do the same!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QUQsqBqxoR4

What To Do With The “Bad Eggs”

EasterEggHunt-main_Full

Shortly after I posted “The Landscape of Our Lives,” I received the following note from a friend:

Don,

Thanks for today’s post. I read it with great interest, because, as you know, I’m someone who looks back on their past a lot. I really like the idea of treating the exercise like an Easter Egg Hunt. The problem is I have more than just a few bad eggs in my basket and I’m not sure what to do with them. I wonder if you have any thoughts. If so, I’d appreciate it if you’d share them. I doubt I’m alone.

(Name Withheld)

Truth is: I knew an e-mail like this was coming the instant I hit the “publish” button on that post. It’s incredibly naïve to suggest that anyone can simply pretend the “bad eggs” don’t exist – and I certainly didn’t mean to do so, though I can understand how a reader could have come away with that impression. The fact is “bad eggs” are as much a part of the “houses that built all of us” as the “good” ones. Sooner or later, they have to be dealt with. However, from my perspective, there are several things to keep in mind when it comes to doing it:

First, it is imperative that we not give “bad eggs” a place of prominence in our lives.  Simply put, we cannot allow them to obscure our (or others’) view of the “good eggs,” let alone crowd them out of our metaphorical baskets entirely. To carry the analogy forward, while they may be every bit as much a part of our “houses” as our many gifts and attributes, our “bad eggs” belong in the storage rooms – not the living rooms of our lives! That space should be reserved for pieces that are warm, inviting and comfortable.  And make no mistake about it: Ultimately, we are the final arbiters of such interior decorating decisions.

Second, we must be diligent and steadfast in reigning in our natural human inclination to vest our “bad eggs” with more power than they deserve and, at all costs, avoid the urge to let what, in the totality of our lives, is (or was) only a “brief moment” in time or a misstep (however great or small) define us. We need to appreciate the fact that our “bad eggs” only have the power we give them. I suggest we use that power more wisely, lest our “bad eggs” become a permanent millstone around our collective necks, rather than the potter’s clay I believe they were meant to be in helping us to shape our future.

Indeed, if the last several years of my life have taught me anything, it is this: There is a turning point in all of our lives – a moment, often in the face of adversity, when we decide that we no longer will allow ourselves to be held back by the pain, brokenness and dysfunction of our past.  We decide instead to use that past as a catalyst for positive change. We begin to give ourselves the credit we deserve for being courageous and resilient through it all, the good and the bad, and, along the way, we allow ourselves to entertain the possibility that, as those who know us best have insisted all along, we are loved and, most importantly, we are worthy of love.

James Arthur, the eventual winner of X-Factor UK (2012), is a living, breathing example of someone who reached that turning point, embraced his past, channeled it, allowed himself to be vulnerable and changed not only his life, but the lives of those he loved – forever.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tFoFtIqvkGE