Burn the Ships

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In 1518, Cortez sailed from Spain with 11 ships carrying 500 soldiers and 100 sailors. The goal was to conquer the Aztecs of Mexico. But when they landed on the Mexican coast in 1519, the indigenous people far outnumbered Cortez and his crew. Fear set in for many and some of the men developed a secret plot to retreat to Cuba. It was safer there and they could wait for reinforcements.

But when Cortez learned of this treachery, he refused to listen to the plan of retreat. Instead, he did the one thing that no one would have expected him to do. He ordered his men to burn the ships. “The only way we will leave this land,” he told his men, “is in death!”

Incredibly, the men rallied behind their commander and conquered the Aztecs’ empire, which had been around for over 600 years.

How did they do it?

Simple. They burned all of their avenues of retreat, leaving themselves only one direction in which to move — forward.

Think about that for a moment.

When you take the time to look at your “have to” list or when you sit down to begin tackling your impossible dreams, what avenues of retreat do you permit yourself? Social media? Alcohol? Hanging out with friends? Netflix? Menial chores? Self-beratement?

OR…Maybe you are more clever than that.

Maybe, as you attempt to move your desire into an actionable plan, you provide yourself with the following avenues of retreat:

  1. Disguise: Don’t tell the truth
  2. Avoid the truth: Tap dance
  3. Answer questions with questions
  4. Keep people off track
  5. Keep the B.S. going
  6. Let someone else do all the work
  7. Don’t take responsibility
  8. Blame someone or something else
  9. Keep the attention off of yourself
  10. Keep everyone else in an uproar!
  11. Scatter birdseed, i.e. lead them on a wild goose chase!
  12. Consider yourself special, get into cliques or sub-groups
  13. Focus on a member of the opposite sex instead of what you should be doing
  14. Don’t do anything extra. Do ONLY what you HAVE to do.
  15. Tell others what they want to hear and look sincere.
  16. Change the subject when your dreams/goals are brought up.
  17. Trust no one! Never let down your guard.
  18. Focus on rescuing someone else from their mistakes, failures, etc.
  19. Convince yourself that you don’t need anyone’s help.
  20. Quit…and take someone with you, if you can manage it. (Misery loves company)
  21. Focus on what’s happening in the world
  22. Isolate yourself. Avoid sharing with others
  23. Gripe and complain about everything
  24. Don’t help others, let them fend for themselves.
  25. Build resentments and hang onto them for a long time.
  26. Stay in your head. Don’t let yourself get in touch with your feelings.
  27. Get angry. It throws others off balance.

Or maybe you use one of the following words to weasel out of actually doing anything at all:

  • I don’t know
  • I don’t remember
  • I’ll try
  • You’re picking on me
  • I don’t see how
  • Anyway…
  • Huh?
  • Sorta
  • But
  • If I can
  • I can’t
  • As I can
  • It’s too hard
  • I guess so
  • More or less
  • Maybe
  • Sometimes.¹

Now, take a moment. Go back over the list and ask yourself which of these avenues of retreat sound like you? What practical steps would it take for you to burn these ships?

Don’t just list these ideas in your head.

Write it down.

Make it real.

What would happen if you destroyed ALL of the avenues of retreat in your life so that only ONE path was open to you: the path forward?

What dreams could you begin to accomplish? What goals would you have stripped of the word “impossible?” What excuses would no longer be available? What dreams would you have forced out of your head to become a reality in the world around you? What impact would you make not only in your life but also on those who came in contact with your realized ambitions? What would you be able to do if you honestly assessed your life and decided, right now, to lay the torch to the deck and burned the ships?

 

 (¹Taken from a handout entitled “How to Slide Through Treatment and Stay Sick.” Author Unknown)

The Star Trek Life

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In 1966 (a full eleven years before George Lucas reinvented the movie industry), Gene Roddenberry pitched an idea to t.v. execs that was so unusual in the day of Andy Griffith and Bonanza that he wound up describing it as the “Wagon Train of space.” In retrospect, that wasn’t a bad description as characters moved from one adventure to the next each week, but never really got anywhere. But that was okay. These people, even the strange one with the pointy ears, were relatable.

They embraced the pioneering spirit that made America great and used technology, ingenuity, and a utopian worldview in a futuristic era “to boldly go where no man has gone before.” But their lives weren’t perfect. They still struggled with the same character defects of all humans, and much like the viewers who tuned in each week, they seemed to always be teetering on the brink of war with their arch-rival, the Klingons. Ironically, after only 79 episodes, they were canceled one month before America’s pioneering spirit and advanced technology helped Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. However, when the show hit syndication in 1970 it quickly developed a rabid fan base and became a cult classic, laying the foundation for movies, animated series, and spin-offs that would so capture the imagination that in 1976 NASA eventually named its first space shuttle Enterprise.

This year Star Trek should be getting its AARP card any day as it hits the half-century mark. As a writer, I cannot overstate how impressive this is to me. To have a television series ingrain itself so firmly into the psyche of a culture and a genre that it persists to 50 years old is not just hitting a home run. It is tantamount to hitting the ball out of the ballpark and across the parking lot. Granted, it doesn’t hold a candle to the longevity of Shakespeare (who recently celebrated his 400th birthday), but come on. We’re talking about television here.

Still, Star Trek has left such an indelible mark on us science fiction fans that filtering our lives through the following phrases is futile to resist (see what I did there?) :

1.

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When I was a child my father always emphasized to me that one choice, even a minor one, can forever change the course of a man’s life. At the time, I thought he was being melodramatic so that I would incorporate wisdom into my daily decisions. But as I have aged and have become a father of two sons myself, I realized that this is not melodrama at all. The true measure of a man lies not only in the wisdom he exercises but also in the boldness that follows that wisdom. Unfortunately, most people opt for comfort, sameness, and the familiar because they are unwilling to let go of what they know so that they can exchange it for the possibility and freedom of the unknown. Unless it is immoral or illegal, do yourself a favor: count the cost that your decision will demand of you, clip the cord of fear that holds the “what” and the “if” together, and boldly go where you have never gone before.

2.

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We like to think of ourselves as the heroes of our own stories. The indefatigable survivors who through luck and ingenuity escape each successive trial and eventually overcome the evil that is facing us.

But that is not always the case.

Sometimes when we boldly go we must be willing to admit that we may never return. We may not be the Kirk, or the McCoy, or the Picard. We may be … a Redshirt. You know who I’m talking about. Like all members of the Enterprise, the Redshirts also boldly went where no man has gone before. But his was always a tragic end. He was that inevitably expendable member of the landing party whose death exposed the present danger and paved the way for success in the lives of his companions.

As we boldly go, we must ask: Am I willing to make the ultimate sacrifice so that the cause may be accomplished or that others may be protected?

We must realize that not all of us will see the end of the journey. But we are no less a valuable member of the team. Even Spock, one of the most beloved characters of the franchise, once sacrificed himself because “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few…or the one.”

You must ask yourself: Am I willing to do the same? Or am I just boldly going for the glory?

3.

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Leonard Nimoy made no secret of the fact that he tweaked a Hebrew blessing he had learned from his childhood to give us this popular Vulcan saying. But whether one is boldly going in this world or in another, it is important to always remember to bless those who share the journey with you.

Sometimes we can get so caught up in what we are doing we forget to nurture the relationships around us. To look out for who they are. To have their best interests at heart.  To make their priorities our own. And, if we are in a position in which we cannot do anything physical or material for them, then we ought to pray daily for them, interceding on their behalf.

May we use “Live long and prosper” not only as a blessing but also as a way of reminding those with whom we share our journey that long life and prosperity are often more about quality than quantity. This is not an injunction to extend life or wealth. It is an encouragement to seek wisdom, practice selflessness, and live a life worth emulating. May we provide such a powerful example of all these characteristics and more that others will understand how to pass this blessing on to those who come after us.

4.

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No plan is a good one unless we put it into action. That is why we must all follow the advice of Captain Jean-Luc Picard and continually give the command to “Engage!” We cannot be thinkers only. We must be doers as well.

It is too easy to procrastinate because of fear. But the command to “Engage!” or “Make it so!” (another Picard favorite) are not the words of the most clever, best prepared, or least fearful person. Rather, they are the words of someone unafraid to risk maintaining the status quo. They understand that if given time a better plan may develop, but right now is not the time for thinking. Now is the time for doing so that great things can be accomplished.

Make your life full of engagement. Do not hold back, wondering, craving, or hoping that something will change. That is a passive approach to living, an unwillingness to accept responsibility for your own self and a hope that someone will fix your problems for you. Engage life! You may not have the best solution, but that’s okay. An active approach to your problems is always better than waiting for the current to change. Put your plans into action. Set your course. Activate the warp drive, and accelerate towards a future of unimaginable adventures. Make it so!

Loving is Exalting

in_loving_memoryIn 1989, I began my sophomore year at Baylor University. My best friend, Kevin, had been hired to be a resident assistant (RA) in the dorms that year and had left our shared state of South Carolina a few weeks prior to attend RA camp and receive his training for the job. I soon followed, arriving at school a week before classes began, so that I could settle into my dorm room early and hang out with my friend.

During Kevin’s off hours, we attended movies, ate together, stayed up late talking, and began the gradual transition to playing racquetball (due to Kevin’s disdain at barely losing in tennis to me most days). The campus was relatively quiet that week, and when Sunday rolled around we stood at the back of the church’s sanctuary, hopelessly looking for a familiar face to sit with. Eventually, Kevin spotted two girls across the sanctuary that he had met at RA camp and suggested we sit with them. I agreed and we walked over. Kevin entered the row first, placing me at one end of the four of us. I later found out that this was a strategic move so that he could sit by the girl he wanted to. But it created a slight awkwardness, so that when I was introduced to the cute brunette at the opposite end, I had to lean forward to casually wave at the woman who would become my wife. Continue reading

5 Minute Therapy: Overcoming Procrastination

procrastination-clipart-procrastinationOk, everyone knows that change is rarely easy but it is often necessary. If you find yourself in one of those seasons of life where change is needed but “things keep getting in the way” or you’re “too busy,” then we need to discuss what is holding you back. We need to talk about procrastination. And since I know that your time is precious, we will only use five minutes or less to discuss this demon and how to overcome it. Continue reading

Dear Teenager…

with-great-power-comes-great-responsibility-spider-manYou’ve probably heard it all your life. Your parents say it. Your teachers say it. Heck, even your coaches may say it. You’ve heard it so many times, you’re probably sick of it, and even though you think you know what it means, I’m betting that you don’t.

So, as you transition from adolescence to adulthood, I’m going to give you what no one ever gave me, but everyone expected me to understand. Continue reading

The Burned Out Therapist

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Thanksgiving couldn’t have come at a better time. I still have to go to work on Monday and Tuesday, but after that I have five glorious days of publicly sanctioned absence from work. It’s time for a break. I can feel it.

It has been almost twenty years that I have been in my career as a therapist and over that time I have realized that at least twice a year I get to a point where I begin to feel burned out. The struggles of other people overwhelm me. The frustration of people wanting help but not working in between sessions to change their lives mounts. And self-doubt begins to creep in as I perform my biannual ritual of self-reflection and wonder if there is a better, more systematic way of communicating how to effect change in a person’s life or marriage.

This is one of those times.

There is truth, I know, in the old joke that it only takes one therapist to change a light bulb, but the light bulb has to want to change. But it doesn’t make it any easier when week after week people come in and have the same struggles in the same ways  with the same people, despite us agreeing one to two weeks ago about they need to, and are willing, to do differently. In moments like that, I feel as if the therapist-client relationship looks a lot like this:

But instead of walking away or mentally checking out, I take a deep breath and try to restate the healthy way of living — AGAIN — in a new way. A way that I hope will finally, this time, resonate with the person sitting across from me and motivate them to move towards change.

Sometimes that means I have to get firm; sometimes I give an analogy; sometimes I take an empathetic approach; or if the client is completely recalcitrant, I fire them. (Yes, you can do that as a counselor.) I give them referrals, if they desire it, but I make it clear that I cannot help them any longer and what they will need to do, if they decide to continue counseling with someone else. Fortunately, it doesn’t usually come to that.

That is why I am most thankful this year for…

a break.

I am tired of people coming to me, asking for my guidance, and then not making the conscientious, deliberate effort to change. I don’t think I have all the answers to the problems that walk through my door. That would be arrogant. But I do think that if you have dedicated yourself to taking the time off of work to come to a place where you discuss the darkest areas of your life with a stranger, because you believe that stranger has some professional level of expertise that can help you, then at least do what the professional suggests. And if you don’t know how to implement the suggestions, ask.

It’s okay.

Really.

We won’t think you’re stupid or look down on you because you don’t understand the process. As in your career, there are terms within therapy that come with an underlying set of assumptions, ideas, or behaviors. We therapists understand this subtext automatically (because we’re in the field) but clients often do not. For instance, when we say “communicate,” we do not mean “just sit down and talk to each other nicely.” There is more to it than that. Make sure you understand so you can go practice the skills effectively. And if it is too overwhelming, if it’s too much information to remember to do all at once, tell us. We will tailor it so you can handle it piece by piece.

I can’t speak for all therapists, but as for me, I believe in my clients. I want to treat them like adults. I do not want to play judge/jury between you and your spouse. I understand, even if you don’t,  that you do not need help resolving the weed in your life, but the roots of the weed instead. In other words, I am not here to resolve your situation, but to help you resolve the emotions fueling your behavior/situation.  I am here to help you think about things in a fresh way, but I also trust you to be an adult.

This means:

  1. Although you may prefer a step by step process, therapy will not always work this way. Often, I will present ideas and concepts and trust you as an adult to develop (either on your own or with me) ways to implement this counsel.
  2. Together we can work on resolving your problems. But I cannot drag you across the finish line. In fact, after twenty years of trying to help resistant people, I refuse to play that game any longer. If you want help, be an active participant in the process. Don’t just passively receive information and expect transformation. It doesn’t work that way. It can’t.
  3. You have to daily, diligently apply what you learn, so that new behaviors and new ways of thinking/perceiving can be written into your life. Be intentional about what you are doing.
  4. “Trying” is never enough, for it usually includes one or two efforts that give up after meeting with resistance. Instead, you must courageously and honestly ask yourself if the pain of changing is worse than the pain of staying the same.
  5. Be 100% honest and transparent. You cannot get better if you are hiding an addiction, shameful behavior, or other vital information that you want to deny or excuse. This only wastes time in therapy and keeps you acting like a child trying to avoid punishment. Be an adult. Own your stuff. Then crack it open and explore what lies beneath.

If you can do this on your end, I promise to do this on my end. Then maybe both of us can have something new to be thankful for at this time next year.

How to Argue Without Getting Stupid

If you are in any type of relationship and you have found yourself getting into stupid arguments over stupid things, then you have probably sought out advice in some form (books, friends, magazine articles, pastors, counselors, etc) to help you with this issue. The problem with most advice, though, is that it primarily focuses on what NOT to do. Those suggestions are helpful, I’m sure, but I have found that telling people what not to do is usually counterproductive. Continue reading