The day I began to develop empathy and compassion for those I would be able to lead and inspire.
I don’t think it needs to be said, but to cover my bases, I’m going to say it anyway: just because I’m writing this does not mean that I don’t have issues. I want to inform you that I am still a work in progress. The great news is this: even though I have been knocked down many times in life, I have never allowed circumstances to keep me stuck and take me out of the game of life.
I am going to share with you my earliest “knock-down.” I want you to use this story to inspire you. Analyze how you too can take “knock-downs” that could be considered roadblocks and make them into detours. I want you to be able to take something you might view as disempowering, turn it on its head, and make it empowering for you. It’s all a matter of perspective.
The time was August 1965. I was two-and-a-half years old. My mom, started screaming at the top of her lungs. Mom, dad, and I were on vacation at Big Bear Lake. What should have been a fun family vacation quickly turned into a tragic family event. This incident became something that marked my life for several years to come.
My mother, father, and I were on a boat, and I remember being so excited to get into the water. I can’t recall how long we were in the middle of the lake when my dad, who had been swimming, suddenly started to drown. He tried calling out for help, but because my mom couldn’t swim, she could do nothing more than cry and scream for help. Although my mom tried to save my dad by throwing him a towel, towels cannot save lives. I saw my dad go underwater and drown.
I don’t recall everything, but I do remember the deck shoes I was wearing because they had monkeys on them. I remember being escorted by an officer who wrapped a towel around my shoulders as we walked up a little hill to a place where we waited for the divers to recover my dad’s body.
It wouldn’t be until several years later that I would discover that his drowning was caused by a heart attack. He was thirty years old. This was only the beginning of my many experiences with death.
The year of 1968 was a very sad time for my family and our country. My aunt passed away and left behind four children, the youngest one was two weeks old. That same year, there were two major assassinations that would leave our country and my family in a somber state.
You may be curious as to what the underlying message is regarding this information and why it is relevant. Let me explain: I believe you have to take a look back in history if you want to move forward. You must examine some of the events that are causing you to be stuck.
I knew as a young adult that the death of my father was a continuing issue for me, but I could not pinpoint why. When I would go to the beach and look out to the horizon, I would be taken back to that day in 1965. I’d stuffed that tragic event away, and it would only surface as an issue when I was around water, or at least that’s what I thought.
Many years later, I have come to realize that although I have been able to achieve a certain level of success, I have always had a certain level of fear. My dad’s drowning, my aunt’s sudden death, and the assassinations were enough for my then five-year-old self to be abnormally afraid of death for the rest of my life.
These circumstances planted a seed that grew into a beast inside of me. The beast manifested itself in two ways: an excessive fear of death and the need to always feel in control.
The great power of this internal beast was that for years and years I didn’t even realize it was there, dictating my life choices.
Excessive Fear of Death: From Roadblock to Detour
It was only after my children became old enough to want to do things away from the house and away from me, with their friends, neighbors, and classmates, that I realized, firstly, that I had an excessive fear of death, and, secondly, that it was posing a serious roadblock for me and my family. For instance, when my children wanted to swim in the neighbor’s pool, even though this neighbor was a friend and provided a safe experience for my children, I would freak out. I couldn’t handle my children being there and swimming. When my children wanted to go anywhere outside the home without me, I came up with a huge list of what-ifs. What if you miss the bus and get kidnapped? What if you get hit by a car while crossing the street? What if you spend the night and something happens?
It might sound like normal motherly concerns, but it really and truly was an unnatural fear that blocked both my own and my children’s happiness. I went into this what-if doomsday mode of thinking every day for years. Because my children felt so confined, annoyed, and unhappy about my go-to what-if freak-out response, I was forced to evaluate it, which is how I realized that it directly stemmed from having watched my father drown. From this evaluation, I am now able to understand why I fear for people’s safety, so in turn I am able to better manage my anxiety. In this way, I turned a debilitating roadblock into a detour that, with carefully monitoring and managing, I can get around.
The Need to Always Feel In Control: From Roadblock to Detour
Witnessing my father drown also resulted in a desperate need for control on my part. It’s reasonable for a person to want control in their life. However, my need for control is beyond the norm. It is urgent and obsessive, so much so, that when it kicks in and can’t be satisfied, I become debilitated. And guess what, my friends? You can’t control life, so you better believe that I have become overwhelmed and totally vulnerable in my many attempts to control the uncontrollable. Oh, and by the way, it is extremely exhausting and very frustrating for people who see me trying to gain control when it simply isn’t possible. Let me give you an example.
I remember flying to San Jose to a Tony Robbins event with my friend Mary. There was some turbulence on the flight, and because I couldn’t control the situation in the plane, I panicked, going into total fear mode. Mary suggested that I change this need for control from a roadblock into a detour. Here’s what happened.
Mary looked at me and said it would be okay. Then she suggested I use one of her tips to avoid stressing or worrying while flying. She explained that as long as the flight attendants were moving about the cabin, then I should relax. Only when the pilot asked the flight attendants to clear the cabin and get to their seats, would I have permission to perhaps start feeling worried and recite a little prayer.
I have used this technique to this day. If the flight attendants are moving about, Lori is happy. I know it may sound silly, but the problem simply came down to my impossible need for control and the anxiety it brought me, and those around me when I didn’t feel I’d achieved control. I panicked and created a great roadblock between myself and reality, but by recognizing where this need came from, I understand now why it manifests in me so strongly. Through Mary’s help, I can now actively manage this need in a much more realistic and helpful way.
I would like for you to review and reflect on your debilitating habits, so you can understand and manage them more successfully. In doing so, you can unstick yourself in situations where you’ve typically felt stuck in the past.
· A time for reflection: spend a few minutes thinking about situations where you have been stuck and try to figure out where that feeling of “stuck-ness” comes from. This step is very powerful because a tremendous feeling of “stuck-ness” may govern your life, as it did mine. You don’t want to go around living in fear and what-ifs, do you? Okay, then start reflecting.
· Once you have done the reflection exercise and identified what “triggers” you, analyze how these “triggers” are keeping you from living life to your next level.
· Now that you know what your “triggers” are that are keeping you stuck, you may have to use what I call PUSH: Push Until Success Happens.
Example of a PUSH: In my past, I made it a point to go to the beach and have fun without worrying that someone was going to drown. After I got through the first beach trip, the subsequent trips to the beach got easier. Now I am going to be completely real with you: I don’t go out too deep into the water, but I do go deep enough to swim. You should also know that after my dad died, my mom ensured that I took swimming lessons because she didn’t want me to be stuck not knowing how to swim as she had been.
One final thought: Always push through: if you’re drowning in your circumstances, it is never too late to start swimming!
Originally published at medium.com