Image courtesy of littledan77
Let me introduce you to Bob. Bob is a thirty something guy with a loving wife, two kids and a 9 to 5 job that keeps him busy and slightly stressed most of the time. He lives in a fairly nice, modern home, in a nice, comfortable neighborhood. With two cars in the garage (along with a hefty car payment), a mortgage that snuck its way into his life, and a load of bad buying habits eating up the little bit of savings they have, Bob is not exactly at peace with his situation. To put it more bluntly, Bob sometimes daydreams about running away to a deserted island where he can hide from all the amassed pressure and responsibility he’s brought upon himself and his family. Let’s just say that Bob’s a little stressed.
But it wasn’t always this way…
Let’s go back in time to when Bob was just out of high school and ready to conquer the world. This was a time in Bob’s life that the debt had not yet had a chance to pile up and the only one he had to take care of was himself. He had little stress and a lot of passion behind his dreams of having an amazing career and an even more amazing family to share it with. Bob was in a place I like to call ‘Pre-Paralysis’. A place where he had yet to become paralyzed by the pressures of day-to-day life. A time when the weight on his shoulders had barley even made itself noticeable. Bob was free and his enthusiasm, unstoppable. Or so he thought.
When Bob met Jane
Bob was blessed with an amazing girlfriend, Jane. They met at their post high school job at the local grocer and fell in love faster than they could learn how to work the register. There was no doubt in their minds that they were meant for each other, each one completing the missing half of the other. Though they knew marriage was not an easy road, they had no doubt it was the necessary next step. Both Bob and Jane loved children so talk of kids was an exciting regular conversation. Bob just knew his life was going to be even more amazing than he had imagined. The thought of taking on the challenges of life, side-by-side with the woman he loved, was enough to give him goosebumps.
As the wedding came closer, Bob and Jane frantically looked for an apartment that they could afford. They settled on a place that was small, but sufficient. As they stood there in the empty one roomer, their imaginations began to run wild with thoughts of what it will be like to live on their own as a couple, with no one to stop them from pursuing their passionate dreams. Bob squeezed Jane’s hand to confirm their connection as they silently envisioned their future.
Making bad decisions, one day at a time.
One of the fist things Bob did after the wedding was buy a new car. They had needed to take that next step sooner or later, but Jane had questioned the need to buy new. Blinded by the excitement of a shiny new toy, Bob convinced himself that this was a need and therefore not possibly a mistake. A month later, when Bob was writing a check for that first car payment, he felt this unfamiliar pressure on his shoulders. Not knowing what it was, he disregarded it and quickly forgot about its existence.
Now it was Jane’s turn. Love of knick knacks, Jane was not a big item buyer. As excited as Bob had been when he purchased that new car, Jane could equal that enthusiasm when she’d sign up for her next magazine subscription. But being a person who greatly enjoyed those small purchases, Jane made many of them. She’d sign up for this, and send away for that. Rarely did Jane make it home from her weekend trip to the mall without bags in both hands.
IT’S A GIRL!!!
Taking that natural next step, Bob and Jane had a beautiful little baby girl. So excited and happier than ever, they both spread the news as if it were the cure for cancer. Bob never thought he could feel a joy greater than what he felt when he met Jane, but holding his little blessing in his arms for the very first time sent a sensation through his body like he had never felt before. This was his daughter, his child. Bob looked over at Jane and they shared a short silence, communicating a new kind of connection. They were no longer just a husband and wife, but a mother and father to this beautiful little blessing.
The Daily Grind
Let’s fast forward a few years. Bob’s been working as a sales rep for the local yellow pages. Great at what he does, Bob made a good living off his commission. The problem was that he had to put in 60 to 80 hours a week to do so and the work was anything but congruent with his original pre-paralysis dreams for success. When he’d come home in the evenings, Jane would be exhausted from taking care of their, now, 2 kids as well as making sure dinner was waiting for Bob at the end of his long day. Their enthusiastic relationship had been diluted by this daily grind and their passion as parents was lacking, to say the least.
The weekends were barely any better. Bob sat in his office all Saturday morning, writing check after check to cover all their monthly bills. Not quite sure how they had amassed such a stack of financial responsibility, Bob just turned on his auto pilot and got the job done. Oh, and remember when I mentioned that first sensation of shoulder weight? Well, Bob now had a whole pile of bricks to deal with. It felt like he was wearing a backpack full of concrete, ALL THE TIME! And let’s just say that Jane was right their with him, bearing the brunt of this misguided mass. Whether dealing with her own stresses or feeling Bob’s financial frustration, she could barely tend to her own needs, let alone those of her children.
Somethings got to give!
One day, while working in the yard, Bob felt a crippling pain in stomach. At first he tried to ignore it, but soon it was evident that this was serious. So he went inside and asked Jane to take him to the hospital. Jane was worried about her husband as they drove to the ER. Not sure what was wrong, they both sat in the waiting room as Bob silently screamed in agony.
They finally were able to see a doctor who proceeded to run some tests. Fairly quickly it had become evident that the problem was a large ulcer in Bob’s stomach. The doctor prescribed some medicine, but had to ask, “Have you been under any stress lately?” Bob laughed, as if he thought the doctor was joking. “Stress? Of course, isn’t everyone?” The doctor then continued the slightly uncomfortable conversation by agreeing that we all deal with stress in life, but that the level of stress Bob was living with was literally eating away at his insides. Basically, Bob was bearing too high a dose of dysfunctional lifestyle. If he continued in this way, this agonizing ulcer will seem like a slight stomach ache compared to the heart attack that awaits.
On the ride home from the hospital Bob and Jane talked about making some changes. Both completely agreed that they made a wrong turn somewhere early on and that for their own health and happiness they needed to find their way back to sanity.
“What happened?” Bob asked in the tone of a statement. “I mean, how did we get here in the first place?”
“All I know is that we went from white to black with so many shades of gray that we never realized the tone of our life had changed.” Jane responded as she turned the wheel to re-enter their driveway.
Before the car had come to a complete stop in their garage, Bob made a clear declaration, “We’re getting off this ride!”
That night, Bob and Jane slept better than they had in years. Both at peace with their agreement for drastic change, they felt the shoulder weight lighten, even if only for a moment.
Undoing The Damage
The next morning was a beautiful sunny Sunday. Off from work and well rested, it felt like the day had been hand made for the very purpose of planning their new lives. Jane made some hot tea and they sat at the dining room table, ready to collaborate on their massive undertaking. Only armed with a pad of paper and a pen in hand, Bob was ready to get to the bottom of their unexpectedly stressful existence.
This is what they came up with:
- Bills. Go through every penny that you pay in bills and separate the wheat from the chaff. Determine what bills are going toward necessary items/services and which ones are not. Then cut out EVERY bill that you don’t absolutely have to have. Are you subscribing to convenience on a monthly basis? Well, decide if that convenience is worth the extra shoulder weight you bare when paying the tab. ALSO, the bills that are tagged as necessary, be sure they are absolutely necessary and then see if you can’t reduce their cost in any way possible.
- Non-bill payments. Now it’s time to look back over the last couple of months. Where have you spent your money? Do you buy expensive coffee, a magazine now and again or are you going out to eat because you just don’t feel like cooking dinner? While trying to undo the insanity of debt and overspending, it’s crucial to completely cut the fat and stop the leak all together. There’s nothing more frustrating then bailing out a sinking ship without first plugging the hole.
- Debt. One of the biggest culprits in our stressed out lifestyles is the big D word. Starting out as a common inability to wait, debt is the love child of impatience and discontentment. The best thing you can do with your debt is pay it off as soon as you can. Get that weight off your shoulders TODAY and you’ll have more energy to take on the world tomorrow.
- Sleep. Without a consistent regimen of sound sleep we are crippled by low energy and lack of enthusiasm. Sleep not only restores our physical strength, but our confidence and clarity of thought. So if you’re not getting the sleep you require, get to the bottom of the issue. Be sure your diet and activity level are consistent with good health. Analyze your thought process before bed and make sure it’s not filled with stress and stimulation. And check out your routine to determine the level of consistency in your sleep patterns. Out of all the physical things you can do for yourself, your health and your happiness, a good nights rest should be at the top of your list.
- Free time. How we spend our free time can greatly affect how we feel the rest of the time. We may not have complete control over what we do when we’re at work, but our free time is a time where we are free to do what we want. If you feel you’re wasting ANY of that time, you will gain shoulder weight just out of feelings of regret. Our time is precious and we can’t afford to waste even an OUNCE of it. Fill it with fulfilling activity and you will be much more likely to make the most of every other second that comes your way.
Emotional and Psychological
- Relationships. Any relationship we have plays a role in our sanity. Certainly some more than others, but even the way we treat a person behind the counter at the grocery store has an effect on how we feel about ourselves and our life. I recently gave a customer support person a hard time because of a misunderstanding of something petty and I was left feeling less than peaceful. This guy was just trying to help and because he didn’t have the information I impatiantly wanted, I kind of snapped at him. A few days later I noticed that every time I worked with the issue I was trying to resolve, I felt a bit of anxiety. I quickly realized that this bad feeling stemmed from this earlier situation and so I sent this guy an email apologizing for being a jerk. It may sound like a little thing, but without reconciling even the slightest wrong doing toward another, we are prone to a negativity that will do nothing but eat away at our peace of mind. And if this one little incidence was that important, how much more important is it that we take care of those who support us on a daily basis.
- Addictions. Whether we know it or not, we ALL have additions. Some are more obvious than others and they all have differing levels of damage, but the common thread is that we are trying to fill a void in our lives, whether big or small. Sometimes it’s just out of a lack of stimulation, while other times it stems from the need to dull a pain inside us. Some of us have troubling childhood thoughts that bring on bouts of abusive behavior, while others of us may just have a thing for shopping and take it a little too far (as Jane exhibited earlier). But to deal with these addictions we have to deal with the source of their existence. You can’t tell someone with anorexia to JUST EAT! Their lack of ingestion comes not from a fear of food or their need to control weight, but from some pain in their lives that probably goes way back to a forgotten time. We need to unravel the mess of memories and expanse of experiences so we can figure out why we do X, Y, or Z. Once we work through these issues, we can be free to wisely pursue a different path. But until then, we’ll be fighting a losing battle.
- The Joneses. An idea that has been beaten to death, I will not kick it while its down, but I will just say that when it comes to other people’s ‘things’, just remember that they are no happier because of them. No object has ever proven to create happiness in an individual and no object ever will.
- Past mistakes. Often times we don’t realize that it is our past failings that are keeping us from succeeding in the future. Whether we’ve lost our confidence or feel discouraged because things didn’t go the way we’d hoped, we need to address those things that are always nagging us with negative notions of our ability to reach our goals. Leave these unchecked and we are doomed to repeat our past.
- Insecurities. With red hair and freckles and the fact that I look about a decade younger than I actually am, I got a lot of flack as a kid. Constantly being singled out by the current bully of the month, I found myself being beaten down with constant negativity. Once or twice and you can blow it off as the exception to the rule, but after many times of abuse, you can’t help but believe it as gospel. We all carry the weight of insecurity and none of us are spared the inconvenience of a poor decision or two because of it, but we must make sure our lives are not being torn down as a result. Take some time and look back on your childhood. Figure out where the negativity came from and how you learned to cope. We can learn a lot about our bad habits by analyzing our past and we can also find the key to fixing the problem.
Where are Bob and Jane today?
Still paying down the debt of their past, Bob and Jane are fighting for a more positive future. Bob is still working long hours, but now with the motivation of digging themselves out of their financial mess. Jane has not only stopped spending money on things they don’t need, but is dong everything she can to save on those things they do. And when Bob gets home from work he not only enjoys time with his family, but has started setting aside time to train for a new position. He’s seeking out a role that will allow him to work less time, while still making the money they need to make ends meet and save for the future. Both Bob and Jane are now learning from experience that one positive action leads to more of the same. Each step forward strengthens their stride and reinforces their foundation.
It’s not our location, but our heading that matters most.
People often talk about where they are in life, but I find that it’s where we’re going that is most important. Time is a relentless taskmaster who never listens to reason and just because we’ve made it to a positive plateau doesn’t mean that tomorrow won’t be filled with a barrage of backsliding. Even more importantly, for those who find themselves in a pit of despair, everything feeling like a failure, I encourage you to focus on your direction, not your current place on the map.
That’s what’s so great about life! We can make our own choices and choose to live the life of greatest fulfillment, for us and those we come in contact with. We ALL make mistakes and have to deal with the consequences, but that doesn’t mean we can’t, AT ANY TIME, decide to take hold of the reigns and steer ourselves toward a more positive future. Stop focusing on the mistakes you’ve made and start planning for the future you’ve always imagined. Stop listening to the voice that says that you can’t and start chanting the battle cry for a better future. Stop reacting to life and start challenging yourself to push for greater forward progress. You can’t undo the past, but the present and the future, they are shapeless objects, waiting for your hands to mold them into the life of your choosing.