“Being brave does not mean that you’re not scared” – Neil Gaiman
For most of my life I have lived a very predictable and careful life. I was always that guy that you could count on to do the right thing. At parties I was the designated driver and usually the level-headed guy in my crowd. I listened to my parents (for the most part) and tried to learn most things without a lot trial and error. Not that this was good or bad, but just what it was for me. As I grew into adulthood, I lived a similar lifestyle. One who didn’t take much risk or go outside the lines. I knew what I was supposed to do and I did that. But what happens when one day you wake up and realize that the life you were leaving was in part for others versus yourself? What happens when you finally recognize that many of the choices you made were more about pleasing other people or that you simply didn’t want to go against the grain? What happens when the truth that you once claimed as yours was really more about secretly lying to yourself? What happens when that life of falsehood catches up with your present and slaps you in the face with your current reality?
If I could answer those questions with a one word answer, that word would be disappointment. Disappointment within myself for living in fear of what others might think about me. Disappointment with missing out on things because I was afraid of possibly making a fool of myself. Disappointment because I didn’t stand up for myself enough or I allowed others to seemingly walk over me as I watched good things come to them. Where was my voice and why did I allow myself to become small?
In my mind it was what I was supposed to do, that’s why.
It wasn’t until the end of a fifteen marriage that I began to address this critical part of my life. I recall a dinner with my now ex-wife (of fifteen years). She said something to me that I will never forget. That was, “You deserve to be happy.” Although most people may take this statement for granted, for me it was far from my norm. In life, my role was to make others happy first and maybe myself afterwards. For me, my happiness or contentment was based on how those around me were doing. If they were cool, all was well in the world, despite my feelings or concerns. This proved to be a poor formula and a recipe for disaster in the most important areas of my life. As I sat there at dinner listening to her, it was almost profound to hear. I felt empowered for the first time and knew that she was right, but for so long I struggled with the contrary. How do you live for you when all you know and have been taught has been about living for someone else and their cause(s) even when those causes failed to agree with your spirit and good conscience?
A wise friend once told me that life is like a song and a dance. For years we will hear the music and later we will dance to it. The dance symbolizes all that we have consumed, learned and inherited finally being played out, or better yet in this case danced out. I was “dancing out” a life where I believed it was more important to sacrifice myself, my time and desires than to ever consider what was important to me. This is not to say that some sacrifice for others is essential and totally the right thing to do, but the balance of that is where I fell short. I was completely lopsided, living life for everyone but myself. And the sad part is I believed it was what I was supposed to be doing. I was the counselor, big brother, advisor, confidant, pastor and pretty much everyone’s “go-to” person. I don’t blame anyone for placing these roles on me. I blame myself, for I allowed it, condoned it and perpetuated the repetition by attempting to become the hero. What I was not good at was saying “no”. Early in my first marriage, my break-days became days to teach classes at my church or counsel people in distress versus simply going to the gym or resting at home. I seemed to never turn off.
Later in life, I learned a new term from my second wife, which was “to do it afraid”. Although our marriage also ended in failure (primarily due to me), I learned a lot from her in our relationship. As an only child there were many things she had to do alone. There were no siblings to bounce ideas off of and ultimately she had to own her decisions by herself. This way of life forced her to make many decisions that I would have been uncomfortable making, like moving across the country to start a new career or traveling abroad alone regularly. I realize that for many this is a way of life and nothing is odd about it at all, but for those of us that wouldn’t dare to make attempts remotely close to this, it’s a big deal. So, many of the big decisions that she made, she often did them afraid, but with hope and certainty that they would work out in her best interest. Of course this was not always the case nor will it ever be for any of us, but it taught me a lesson. The lessons for me were:
1. You don’t need all the answers to take a step of faith – I often waited to know everything before I did anything, therefore I became a victim of paralysis by analysis. People with similar personalities traits as mine will wait to feel comfortable before taking a risk. My advice, get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Many of my greatest joys have come from taking a risk that didn’t always feel good initially. Often the step that we want to see isn’t there yet. It often appears after we start moving towards the goal, and not a moment before.
2. Failure is not the end of your story – T.D. Jakes had a message years back that stated, “Failure is Not Final”. It took me years to digest this and truly understand it for my own life. I have failed in many things or just plain blew it in certain areas of my life e.g. marriages, relationships, career choices, etc. But what I learned is that as you keep living and learning, good things will come your way. Perhaps not in the way that you first imagined, but nonetheless good will come. As I began to realize that my choice to go through a divorce as a former pastor did not curse the remainder of my life, no matter what my many critics had to say, that was not my end. That failure does not define my entire life. It was not my end, but to the contrary my beginning in many ways. Sure there are remnants that may remain forever that I face, but they still do not define who I am today as a man, father, husband, community leader, author, business owner or employee.
3. Live your truth, really live it! – I use to say I was living my truth when I first begin to acknowledge what this term meant. Intellectually I could articulate the thought very well, but it didn’t reach my heart until a few years later. Quit lying to yourself about who you are and what it is you are called to do, even if it violates the status quo. The world needs the real you, there are enough clones of what we think we are supposed to be. Bring your own beauty and aroma to the table. That will be enough to open the doors that were meant to remain locked. Only the authentic may enter, for they are the ones that truly change the world and challenge us to grow, even when we don’t like or agree with what they have to say.
4. God and His universe is waiting for you – There were so many lessons that I had to learn to get here. And understand that “here” is not perfection, but more importantly authenticity and transparency. My embracing these attributes has set up the stage for this blog. My choice to be authentic and transparent has allowed me to open up my life in such a way that would have scared the old Hank to a halt. I would have never shared even a small portion of what I share weekly to those that choose to read it and share it. My life has become an open canvas to the world, but how else will we learn? How else can we become the vessel that God can use to make a difference in the world? We must first become ourselves and what needs to tweaked will happen in due time. First just work on showing up, because someone is waiting on you.
5. Become your own cheerleader – We can’t wait for someone else to affirm us or give us the license to change our world. I had to recognize that I had what it took to accomplish the task. It was my birthright, my destiny, but it could not become my reality until I first believed it and acted on it. No one was coming to me in my darkest moments with words that penetrated my depression. I had to learn how to face myself (my worst enemy) and trust the worse was behind me. I had to stop feeling sorry for myself and get up. I had to put into practice all those words I diligently offered to others over the years. I had to learn how to lift my own self up and press through.
I could probably go on with much more on what I learned during this time in my life, but I feel I listed the most important ones. Doing it afraid is not about throwing caution to the wind or having a lack of understanding or appreciation for the risk involved. Doing it afraid is about not being bound by your fears of others and yourself. It is recognizing that perhaps for the first time in your life you have what it takes to be great, relevant and an essential piece in the fabricate of the world. There is a season in our lives when we cheer others on towards their greater purposes and then there are times when we become the ones being cheered on, and even if there are no voices shouting out our names in encouragement, we must still take the stage, even if we’re doing it afraid.