The best thing I did this year

Two years ago my life was falling apart.

Bankruptcy, divorce, losing my mom to a 4 ½ year battle with ovarian cancer.

I was, almost literally, unmoored. I remember thinking, this is what it feels like to be a ship lost at sea without a way back.

“I want to go home” constantly looped in my head, but I didn’t know what it meant or how to get there. I drank too much, worked too many hours, and tried to stay afloat. My heart was broken. Some days it still is.

This is often what I think about when I see people doing destructive things to themselves or others. Sometimes it’s a small heartbreak and sometimes it’s big.

We don’t do ourselves any favors when we try to deny that heartbreak. I resist the idea that we can gloss over our problems or concerns, or that anyone is doing life better than anyone else. There isn’t a formula, algorithm or app in the world that can tell you how to be human.

I think the starting point is looking deeply at your life. Truly seeing and acknowledging who you are, in all of the good and bad, and then building better structure in your life, a framework for being a better version of yourself.

People have different ways of describing this. Some say “life-long learner” or “the only moment that matters is this one.” If you’re embedded in the startup world you’ll hear things like “stay lean,” “constantly iterate” and “prioritize.” If you are a musician or artist it’s something like “share truth that you see in the world, over and over.”

My version: be honest and be better, every single day.

The truth is, that’s not easy.

You aren’t going to like what you find. You’ll stumble, a lot. Hurt and pain and sadness are part of the experience. The most intense grief, whether it is obvious to other people or not, is the death of the Way Things Were Supposed To Be.

But if you work hard at it and keep your heart open, you’ll have an opportunity to build a life of consequence. You’ll be able to access ideas and thoughts and connections that matter. This is what it means to take the high road, to struggle anonymously in connecting to and helping others. If you do all that, then you may just find yourself living the life you never knew to dream of but unconsciously felt was there. The best thing I did this year was actually quite small. I became better each day.

Life falls apart. Build again. Repeat.

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17 thoughts on “The best thing I did this year”

  1. Excellent post. So much of it rings true for me, as my life was simultaneously imploding and exploding around the same time. And yes, some days the wounds still feel fresh and raw. I’ve tried to be ok with that. Yes, it’s a process, one of tiny increments, forward and back. Love this line. So very close to how I feel lately- “living the life you never knew to dream of but unconsciously felt was there. ” Thanks Joe.

    1. Oh yeah, over time I’ve learned to see it as a good sign. Constant development keeps the stakes for any given decision lower…plus, y’know, that whole one day at a time thing.

  2. Joe….I love your two sayings I’d like to quote…”be honest and be better, every single day” awesome! Also, “Life falls apart. Build again. Repeat.” These are both so true! Thank you for writing from your heart. We can’t do any more than getting up everyday and trying our best! Good for you and I wish you luck with life everyday! Evie

    1. Hey, thanks Evie – nice to hear it resonated with you. I think being honest and better is especially hard as artists / writers, because we tend to be so critical of our work and its’ impact and it’s hard to hit the on/off switch. “Write more write often” is good, but “write more and make your crappiest writing a little better each time” is less emphasized and just as true.

      1. One of the catch-22s of adult life is that we have very few avenues to be sincere and thoughtful without being told that it’s “taking life too seriously” or “overthinking it,” neither of which I believe is a valid observation let alone a concern. Dang, I wish more people would just think more about ANYTHING, let alone other people or what anything means.

      2. Sounds an interesting side project….if you are interested I’d dig having you do a guest post here, too. No pressure, just something to roll around in your mind.

    1. True. People think you just wake up and live a life of consequence, but in fact it takes hundreds or even thousands of moments and days to get there. That’s where the real work happens.

  3. Joe, you said it all. And more. “But if you work hard at it and keep your heart open, you’ll have an opportunity to build a life of consequence.” Keeping my heart open is difficult, but it’s worth every stumble, heartbreak and deluded sidesteps I make on my way to finding moments to cherish for now and ever. Un abrazo.

    1. Thanks Sue Chien, glad to be of help in some way. An open heart is truly the determiner of most success….professional, personal, spiritual, and everything in the margins, and you’re right that it’s worth the work.

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