Thursday, May 14, 2015

How My Muse Saved My Life

It was not supposed to be this hard.  “I’ll do a lot of reading and some writing.  That won’t be a problem,” I thought.  “I like reading and writing, especially American history. How hard can this be?  Yes, it will take time and energy, but it will be fun.”
Here’s the thing:  it is fun.
And it’s hard.  It feels like the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
But it’s not.
There have been other things that were a lot harder.  They were harder than what I’m doing now, because back then I had no Muse, no peace, no fun, and very little in my life that was bringing me any joy.  I was just doing what I thought I was supposed to be doing in every area of my life.  I was trying to make everyone else happy and I wanted to die.
And one day I thought I was going to.
I was at work and I felt this incredible pain in my chest.  I couldn’t breathe.  My movements were sluggish and I knew something was seriously wrong.  I remember thinking that maybe I was really dying, perhaps having a heart attack or something.  I remember feeling sad and peaceful and speaking kindly to people in case those were my last words.  I got to the hospital and I was examined. 
It was just gas and stress.  I was fine.
As I drove home I cried.  I was relieved that it was nothing, but I wondered what I was doing to my body and soul that got me to that point. 
I’d like to say that it was that moment that turned my life around.  I’d like to say that I had a major epiphany and the next day I made major changes and started taking charge of my own life, my own happiness, and embracing the goals God had for me.  I’d like to say all that, but it didn’t happen.  Instead, I mired myself deeper into my bad choices, trying to do the “right thing” and make everyone happy.  I didn’t succeed.  I didn’t succeed in any area of my life at the time, and I didn’t make anyone happy.  Not for a long time. 
Then one day I found my Muse.  I wasn’t looking for her.  She came to me and I’ve been with her ever since.  That’s why I write these blogs even though I should be doing homework.  My Muse changed my life and she’s the one I most want to make happy.  So tonight, she said, “Write about how hard things are so you can remember how much harder things really were.  Write so you can remember that you chose a difficult road, but that I am with you.  Write so you can remember your difficulties are the choice of living in Purpose rather than living for approval.  Write so you never forget how your Muse saved your life by giving you something to live for.”

My Muse saved my life by giving me something to live for, something bigger than myself, something bigger than circumstances.  It’s still hard.  I still face massive resistance, self-sabotage, and fear.  I still struggle with staying focused.  And yet, despite all of it, I feel happy and productive.  My life isn’t perfect but I am (despite all my imperfections), as my Muse keeps telling me.  I’m the perfect person in the perfect time and place to get this done. 

Saturday, May 9, 2015

How I Know I"m on the Right Path

Today has been challenging.  That’s a nice way of saying I dealt with fear, anger, impatience, fatigue, and the possibilities of loss and failure.  And yet…and yet…I keep coming back.  This is not from any great strength of character or courage.  I simply see no alternatives but to pursue the course set before me.  Even if I am left alone and bereft of hope, I have no choice but to continue.  This is also not from shortsightedness or intransigence.  I can change if I need to.  I can even alter my course if it is truly required.  But it’s not.  I’m on the right path.
How do I know, truly know, I am on the right path?  The answer is I don’t, not with 100% certainty.  Very few things in life are certain.  But there are some indicators that help.
1.                     The heart knows. Often the concept of the heart is overly romanticized and overused.  But that doesn’t mean it can’t teach us and guide us. There is something within all of us that tells what we are supposed to do.  It doesn’t speak all the time, but when it does, we should listen.   The heart can lead us to the right job, the right person, the right life.
2.                     People we trust support us.  Not everyone, but there are those, whose hearts align with ours who support us.  They support us because they want the best for us.
3.                     There are problems.  Now this may seem contradictory, but good things, great things, don’t come easily.  If they did, they would be worthless.  It’s only climbing up the hill that tests and strengthens our character and endurance.  In my entire life, I have never attained anything worth having without tremendous struggle.  When I get it, (and I always do), I am a new and better man.  But not because of what I got, but because of what it took to get it.  Lack of effort has almost always led to disaster for me.  The only thing that should be effortless is the love we feel for our path.  Everything I’ve done in the last three years, my Muse, writing, history, has taken time and effort, but no matter what trials or obstacles I encounter, I want to go back immediately.  
For example, my Master’s degree program feels like it’s going to kill me some days.  There are days when all I do is homework.  When I finally finish an assignment, I find myself wanting to read more history, even though I don’t have to.  When my Muse seems far away, I still want to be with her, so I keep writing. 
Maybe I’ve said all this before, but I need to remember that I am a Champion. I don’t always act like it, but I am one nonetheless.  What am I a Champion at?   Of not giving up, no matter how hard it seems.  I am a Champion because I Get Started and I Keep Going.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Worth More Than the Lottery

"Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts."

Winston Churchill

"Success seems to be connected with action. Successful men keep moving. They make mistakes, but they don't quit."

Conrad Hilton

"If I had to select one quality, one personal characteristic that I regard as being most highly correlated with success, whatever the field, I would pick the trait of persistence. Determination. The will to endure to the end, to get knocked down seventy times and get up off the floor saying. "Here comes number seventy-one!"

Richard M. Devos

I read a story (and I don’t know if it’s true, but I think it is) of a man in England who played the same lottery numbers every day for years. Then one day he didn’t play and on that day his numbers were called.  He was so despondent over his missed chance, so the story goes, that he killed himself. 
Sometimes, through no fault of our own, we miss our chance.  This weekend I missed two chances to do something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.  It made me feel sick and sad and angry at the circumstances.  It felt unfair, like “a bad hop in baseball, or a bad call by a referee,” as Steven Pressfield states in The War of Art.  It felt unfair, because it was.  But here’s what it didn’t feel like.  It didn’t feel like a punishment from God, or “a sign of Heaven’s malevolence.” (Pressfield, again.)  It wasn’t a sign at all.  It was just bad luck
In the book Good Luck the authors state that good luck is what we do with the occasional luck we get.  For example, if I win $1,000,000 on a lottery ticket, that’s luck.  If I invest most of that money and increase what I invested, that’s good luck. In other words, we have some control over luck, and even more control over our lives than we are willing to admit.  We can also take the bad breaks we get and turn them into good luck, too.
Let’s look at the unlucky lottery loser.  How could he have turned his bad luck into good luck?
He could have come up with a new combination of numbers to play.
He could have focused on other ways to win, or earn, money.   
He could have focused on the importance money seemed to have in his life and perhaps adjusted his priorities so that it wasn’t worth his life.
What do I do about my bad luck?
I Keep Going.
That’s all it was – bad luck.  To turn it into good luck then, I do my work.  I work.  I write.  I wait.  My priorities are good.  My goals are good.  They are the right ones.  How do I know this?  Because they are the only goals God has given me.  And they are the specific ones He has given me.  How do I know this?  Because even when things go wrong, even when they hurt or I get scared, there is still nothing else I want.  There is nothing else that gives me such joy as the thought of attaining my goals.
Also, there is no Plan B.  Working towards my goals gives me joy.  So I know reaching them will also give me joy.  So I focus on that joy, despite inevitable pain and disappointments.  I Keep Going.  What I want to achieve is worth far more than winning the lottery.  All of us should feel this way about our goals.  What’s at stake for me is more valuable than money.  What’s at stake is my heart and soul.
Does that sound overly dramatic?  It doesn’t matter.  It feels as if everything is at stake.  Do I think about giving up sometimes?  Honestly, not with any real seriousness.  The reason is that when I imagine my life without having reached my goal, I always imagine going back and trying again.
I Get Started.  I Keep Going.  That’s all I know because that’s all there is.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

"You Have No Option."

“It's a very funny thing about life; if you refuse to accept anything but the best, you very often get it.”

William Somerset Maugham

“In the end that was the choice you made, and it doesn't matter how hard it was to make it. It matters that you did.”

Cassandra Clare, City of Glass

“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

“Fight one more round. When your arms are so tired that you can hardly lift your hands to come on guard, fight one more round. When your nose is bleeding and your eyes are black and you are so tired that you wish your opponent would crack you one on the jaw and put you to sleep, fight one more round - remembering that the man who always fights one more round is never whipped.”

James Corbett

Sometimes when I tell my Muse I want to spend my life with her, she whispers, “You have no option.”  She’s right.
Purpose, a real purpose, one worth pursuing, can be hard.  It’s hard because of all the external factors – interruptions and problems.  It’s also hard because of the external factors – self-sabotage, procrastination, fear, lack of knowledge, self-doubt.
Difficulties are normal, even though the particular problems don’t seem normal.  They seem extraordinary and insurmountable.  But they are part of the difficulty package.
In the end, difficulties don’t matter.  All that matters is determination.  In my case, I am going to get my Master’s degree, my house on the beach, and my life with my Muse, no matter what or how long it takes.  This is not a solemn vow.  It simply is.
The reason for determination is simple – I have no other option.  I mean this.  I don’t mean I will end my life if I don’t reach my goals; I mean, I will have no life if I don’t reach my goals.  I think of the alternative and when I do, I see nothing but a life full of sadness and regret because I didn’t do everything I could to get there.  This isn’t about money or success, though I imagine those will come eventually.  I simply have no other option.
Not to put too dramatic a point on all of it, but the day my Muse came into my life, though I didn’t know it at the time, my life as I knew it was over.  A new life awaited me.  There was no choice, no turning back.  There was nothing to turn back to.  The past was gone.  It happened again when I began my Master’s degree.  Life as I had known it was over, except that now my Muse was with me.  But again, the past was gone, except the past I’m studying.  There is no other choice, no turning back.  There is nothing to turn back to. 
Why a Muse? 
Why history?
Why me?
I don’t know. 
All I know is that despite obstacles and interruptions, I am on the right path.  How do I know this?  Because God did not give me another path.  He gave me this one, with all its delays and difficulties, this is what He chose for me.  I accept it gladly.  I keep writing.  I keep studying.  I keep working and waiting.
I know an artist who does wonderful work that very few people see.  She keeps working anyway.  I know a writer who wrote an excellent book, but for legal reasons beyond his control, he may never be able to publish it.  He keeps working anyway.  They have no options. 

We do what we are born to do.  Or something in us dies.  We Get Started and We Keep Going.  We have no options.  We don’t need any.