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How My Father’s Schizophrenia Formed My View of Success

Learn how stories shape your life and what you can do to make profound shifts in your life now.

Photo Credit: Jessica Zemple

Everybody has a story. Mine happens to include a father who has schizophrenia. My father’s experience of schizophrenia includes ideas of grandeur like considering himself God. His voicemail even says “You have reached the mailbox of God”. Just let me know if you need me to leave any messages on your behalf.*

In all seriousness, how far off that is, given I believe we are interconnected, is an entirely different conversation. Sometimes I wonder if my father’s veil into other worlds is just more open than mine. Plus, I am not sure how different he really is from some of the people I have met who act like they are God.

My father’s schizophrenia also manifested in explosive episodes of physical and emotional violence. Why I don’t know. What I do know, at least from my eyes as a five year old, is that we stayed in it longer than desired because there were limited resources. This is when I created the idea that money equaled freedom.

Eventually my courageous mother was able to break free from the cycles of abuse. She married an amazing man who I call JD, which to me means father and best friend. The two of them ultimately built me a stable home and foundation, also influencing where I am today and my definition of success.

Our stories shape our lives. One story that came with my experience of schizophrenia was that I needed money to be free – free from the terror I experienced as a young child – even though that I was in a safe environment. Because of this I spent many years of my life defining my success by the money I was making. This drove me to make decisions based on money (and fear), as opposed to my passions (and love), which led me to sitting in a corporate office feeling completely empty.

The beauty in life is you can choose the stories you want to keep playing.  My experience with schizophrenia also developed a deep desire to help others. It was likely driven from the perception, accurate or not, that no one was helping us. This story manifests in that the more people I can empower to break free from negative circumstances, the more successful I feel. (More recently I have learned from my father about helping others by giving the clothes off your back, in his case-literally. He houses homeless people in Minnesota and lets them take whatever they need. This even included his car. His response was “they needed it more than I did”. He then had to spend the entire blistery cold Minnesota winter walking about a mile to the bus stop.)

In my case, I love the story of helping others.  It is woven into every aspect of my life and I hope will continue to be forever.

The story that was no longer serving me was the idea that money meant freedom. Through the art of shucking – identifying and updating belief systems – I was able to shift my view of success, and my life, in the most beautiful and profound ways.

Through shucking, I have re-written the story of money in my life.  I do like living the very beautiful life I have created that requires money. However, I’ve learned that ultimately money is an exchange of energy and has no intrinsic meaning beyond that. Once I learned that money did not equate to true freedom, I was able to free myself by realizing that my money story had chained me to my corporate job.

By updating this old belief I have been able to redefine what success means for me. Success for me now is based on how many smiles I am spreading, and the positive difference I make in other’s lives. I make choices that area aligned with my purpose and everything else is falling into place better than I could have ever imagined.

What is your definition of success? What is driving you to think and act that way? Are there any stories you would like to update or change? Your thoughts create your reality. When you change your thoughts you can change your life. The art of shucking, opening your shell and discovering your pearls, can help you do just that.

The Art of Shucking

1. Pry – Look at what beliefs you are operating under. Sometimes it is helpful to get support from friends or a life coach. Stories can be so ingrained that we may not even be aware they are stories and outside perspective helps.

Some common success stories in our world are:

– My title means I am successful.

– My network shows how successful I am.

– Success is working harder than everyone else.

– More letters behind my name defines my success.

2. Plant – Ask yourself what that belief means to you and your life, and whether you want to continue operating with the belief system. None of the belief systems you identified are good or bad. They got you to exactly where you are today, which may be absolutely divine. However, you can choose another belief system if you so desire. In my case, I choose to believe money is a valuable tool, but has no meaning beyond that. This gives me the freedom I desired for so long.

Possible updates for the stories mentioned above:

– My title does not define me. Purpose is what drives my life.

– I am surrounded by quality people who share the same values as me.

– I balance all priorities in life.

– I am absolutely perfect just the way I am.

3. Culture – Practice!  Incorporate the new belief in your life. Take small steps that align with your new belief. You can start by asking yourself what would life look like if I change that belief system. Does it feel aligned with your heart? Does it feel scary? Why? Affirmations can help you practice this new way of thinking. Keep practicing and eventually it will become a way of being.

4. Harvest – Gratitude is the key to life. The stories you have been using got you exactly to this point. They served a purpose, and for that you can be grateful. Be grateful that you are also empowered to change those stories at any time.

I honor the journey that every one of you is on. We all have challenges. I want to empower you to look at what stories are playing in your life, and how you might want to change them. Some may be simpler to change than others so be gentle and kind with yourself as you process. Get support from a trusted life coach or licensed professional. Just know you can shuck almost anything!

*Please know that this is not intended to make light of schizophrenia or anyone’s experience with it. Everyone’s experience is unique to them and I respect every individual’s journey. This is my experience and how I choose to see it. Years of self-exploration, support of loved ones, therapy, and spiritual programs have helped get me to what I consider a very healthy place with my experience and my father. I honor his journey and can’t even imagine what a day in his shoes would be like. 

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