For those of you who have been touched by the deepening economic crisis in the US, who have been laid off, fired, outsourced, downsized or forced to work for petty tyrant managers, this essay is outlines the three major changes that take place when you refuse to throw in the towel and robot on. I will illustrate with a personal experience.
A few years ago, I was hit with four simultaneous life crises. My dreams, aspirations and hopes were ground up in the garbage disposal of despair. I hung on, not by living day to day, but by living minute to minute. I survived. But I had not regained my vigor and excitement for life. I decided I needed a trial. I wanted to test my resolve and ability to withstand difficulty.
I picked a tall mountain to climb. I was out of shape, and could only hike 10 to 15 feet at a time. My poor physical condition should have stopped me. But it didn’t. Starting at around 10:00 a.m., I began my ascent.
Progress was slow and agonizing, but minor gains of elevation made the climb possible. By 4:00 p.m., I had made it to the top of the mountain. I was rewarded with incredible views I could not have imagined. But I had miscalculated. It would soon be dark. According to my GPS phone, I had ascended 2,400 feet. What an accomplishment. But I would have to descend that same distance to return to my truck. And I was exhausted.
I had no choice but to proceed. The descent was more treacherous because the road was covered with small, razor sharp rocks. A fall at any time would be deadly. I realized I had placed myself in a bad position. Down I went.
After descending 2/3 of the way, I discovered my GPS phone was gone. I had dropped it somewhere above. It was almost dark. Without it I could not find my way back to the truck. I was frantic and started hiking back up the mountain, although my legs were sore and I knew I could never find it in the dark. I abandoned my search after going back up 500 feet. I shouted at my incredible stupidity. A wild burro in the distance looked up at me, and then went back to grazing on the dry shrubs.
By now it was quite dark. I was so tired I could not stand up for more than a few seconds. The moon was coming up; I could see the light on the mountains across the valley. It even started to light my way, but where I was heading was total darkness. I was a physical and mental wreck. I was in a survival situation and I was losing my grip. I lay down to sleep. I had given up. I just wanted to sleep.
Then I noticed something which should not have been there. It was a glow, in front of where my truck should have been in the distance. It looked like someone was holding a flashlight and slowly sweeping it from side to side. I started to go in the direction of the light. By now I could no longer stand and had to inch my way down by sliding over the rocks on my canvas hat. The sweeping light continued to shine ahead of my truck as I descended.
I slid and inched my way down another 800 feet. The moon was now high enough that it reflected off my truck. As soon as I could clearly see my truck, the sweeping light disappeared. I forced myself to stand up and walk the last 100 feet. Upon arriving at my truck, I looked everywhere for the source of the sweeping light but could find nothing. I crawled into my truck and drove three hours home.
Over the next few months, I slowly recovered. I could not hike in the interim. My large toenails had disconnected from the nail bed and walking was slow and painful. I had plenty of time to put the fiasco behind me. Until now.
Since then, I began an exercise program. I changed my diet. I rebuilt some websites I had taken offline last year. I started writing a book. I started writing on LinkedIn. Why had I turned my life around, and why didn’t I notice it sooner?
I analyzed the changes. I couldn’t figure it out all at once. I discovered that not giving up had changed me, and the “trial by mountain” had brought it slowly to my consciousness. I broke it down into three parts. This is what happens when you never give up:
- Your sense of time changes. When you live minute by minute, you lose track of the long view. That helps you survive. It takes your focus off long term “failures”. You do what’s important to get from one minute to the next. And you just keep doing it.
- You don’t notice accumulating change. When you never give up, you change, but it is imperceptible. That minute by minute living is building you a new foundation. A solid one. You might consciously take it for granted, but beneath the surface it is happening, layer by layer.
- You discover you’ve changed, but only after a “trial”. The positive changes I made in my life were triggered from increasing self-confidence “bubbling up” into my everyday life. Even as I broke out of my self-imposed shell, I still didn’t put it all together until recently.
If you are in difficulty, you must live on the short time scale. Everything is minute by minute. It’s the only way to survive when you are stranded with no one to help. You can do it. The changes occur. They are gradual. You can rebuild your life. And do more than survive. You can grow into someone much greater than you were before. It’s all inside you.
PS: I did return and retrieve my GPS phone the next day. But that is another story.