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The Up-Side to Being Fired, Part Two

Some time ago I read of a study that altered my perception of this thing we call failure: most of the world’s greatest achievements have resulted from being fired, from abject failure.  It seems that we grow in life only during trauma, rarely in good times.  We are so indolent by nature that we revel in our ruts and blissfully sink deeper into them every day that passes.

We are enjoined to “not rock the boat” – and we eagerly comply in order to hold on to that monetary umbilical cord that enslaves us.  Perish the thought that we’d be forced out of our comfort zone into the tempestuous real world!  When problems – even serious ones – arise in our workaday world, we rationalize our way into accepting almost any condition rather than risk losing that precious paycheck.

And not all firings are overt.  How well I remember my second firing.  This one but a year after the first one.  After having cleaned out my office – a species of death in itself –, I dropped by the corporate CEO’s office to say goodby.  He didn’t try to excuse my being fired or to weigh in on the decision to let me go – he was too wise for that.  Instead, he leaned back in his chair and merely sighed, for he and I had become good friends.  You know how it is: occasionally in life we stumble on an individual who proves to be such a kindred spirit we feel we’ve known him or her always.  He was one of those.  And had I remained there we quite likely might have become soul-mates.  At any rate, after the sigh he said, “You know, Joe, I’ve been fired twice, too.”  When my eyes widened in disbelief, he qualified his statement: “but neither ever showed on my record.  Before each one took place, things got so bad at work I couldn’t help bringing some of it home with me.  As each situation deteriorated it began to affect my wife’s health; I’d wake up in the middle of the night because of her weeping.  But so determined was I to hold on to that paycheck that I bullheadedly refused to deal with the problem-person who was making both of our lives hell.  So twice I had to leave my position.  Neither showed on my record.  You know, I’m convinced every last one of us, over time, will experience at least one similar situation.  The world may not call it ‘firing,’ but inwardly it’s just as devastating as though we’d been actually fired.”

That observation provided me with an odd sort of comfort; furthermore I thereby learned that failure is but an extension of success; in life, rarely does anyone experience one unattached to the other.  And my friend reminded me that we are never alone in our sufferings.

Tomorrow we’ll conclude this topic.

 * * * * *

 “In the dark moments it’s always the apparent failure of what you live by that gets you down.”

– Elizabeth Goudge, from Pilgrim’s Inn

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The Up-Side to Being Fired

It was almost springtime in the Rockies – but it was anything but springtime in my heart – I had just been fired.

Wearily I rose from the fireplace pit in our Shangri-la of a chalet, our dream house, and walked over to the great window, blindly seeing but not seeing. Would we lose the only house we’d ever really loved? How would we pay our bills? Was it stupid for me to have left the relatively safe cocoon of academia, uprooted our family, and ventured out into the great world? That jungle of a world out there where only the strongest survive.

We did lose our dream-house.

But before that, we had a visitor: the late Milton Murray, grand old man of American fund-raising. He hadn’t come to commiserate, he’d come to dissipate the miasma of anguish that beclouded my vision. He’d come to awaken my fighting spirit, quench the flames of bitterness, stiffen the crumbling walls of my self-worth, and remind me that God loved me. But wisely, knowing full well that I’d relapse after he left, he introduced me to a man who’d also been battered by failure, a failure far more devastating than mine, but had – in no small part, because of it – risen above the wreckage of his dreams and written timeless counsel for people like me. Murray handed me two chapters out of one of that man’s books. Then, after praying with my wife and me, he left.

Murray had been right: I did relapse into poormeism, but each time I did, I’d once again re-read the words penned by that man I’d never met – indeed I’d never meet – for he’d died some years before. But his words had not died. I read them so many times they became part of me. I later tracked down his books and immersed myself in them as well. His name was Harry Moyle Tippett, and he lived from 1891 to 1974. No small thanks to him, I was able to climb out of my lethargy and face the world with resoluteness, determination, a fighting spirit – and a vision of what true success really meant.

Tomorrow, in Blog #5, we’ll tackle Part Two. But first, I leave you with one of Tippett’s powerful statements about trouble and how God brings us through it:

“God’s universal laws never fail, whether it be in the natural world or the spiritual world. He brings the dawn out of the most dismal night. He makes our balmy springs and fruitful summers to succeed the bitter blasts of winter. Out of blustery, tempestuous March He makes way for our singing Aprils and our flowering Mays. Out of ten thousand storms He develops the giant redwood tree, and in the cloud forms His noblest symphony of color, the rainbow. Likewise out of forty years of banishment and obscurity God carved a Moses, out of cruel betrayal into the hands of aliens He molded the statesman Joseph; out of physical, mental, and spiritual suffering He demonstrated the perfection of Job.”
– From Live Happier (Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1957)

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Today is the First Day of the Rest of Your Life

   There is something magical in that countdown in New York’s Time Square on New Year’s Eve — when close to a million people, farther away than the eye can see, in a crescendo of multitudinous voices, yell out, “Ten!” — “Nine!” — “Eight!” — “Seven!” — “Six!” — “Five!” — “Four!” — “Three!” — “Two!” — “ONE!” — “HAPPY NEW YEAR!”

    And in that instant, two thousand nine dies and two thousand ten is born.
    Suddenly, the past seems almost irrelevant and the future looms out of the mists: the yellow brick road to OZ.  Surely good times lie ahead.
    But sadly, all too few of us pay much attention to the one time-frame we can do anything about — TODAY.
    In many years of counseling and teaching I’ve encountered again and again men and women stubbornly refusing to relax the death-grip their clutched hands have on their yesterdays or their tomorrows — neither of which they can do a blessed thing about.  For our yesterdays are already written in stone — not God Himself can erase a word of it; and our tomorrows are but figments of our imagination — indeed, they may never come at all.
 
*****
 
    It is said that we learn more from our mentors than from all our formal schooling put together.  One such person, in my life, was the late Helen Mallicoat of Wickenburg, Arizona; a woman who, over time, became one of my most cherished friends.  Of her most famous poem, what is usually labeled “The I Am Poem,” she told me once, “I’ve never copyrighted it because I consider it to be a gift from God . . . .  It came to me in the middle of the night – as clearly and distinctly as though God had dictated it. . . .  It has developed a life of its own and circled the globe more times than I can count.  Hallmark alone has distributed it by the millions.  I never know where it’ll go next.”
    I have used it for years to motivate my students and counselees.  It is safe to say that few poems in history have changed — if not revolutionized — lives more than this simple little poem.  It will change yours too.  I guarantee it.  IF . . . you repeat it over and over all day until you have it memorized, post it on your wall, and repeat it over and over for 30 days.  Then it will be yours forever — and your life will never be the same.  Here it is:
 
I AM
 
I was regretting the past
and fearing the future.
suddenly my Lord was speaking:
 
“My name is I Am.”  He paused.
I waited.  He continued,
“When you live in the past,
with its mistakes and regrets,
It is hard.  I am not there.
My name is not I Was.
When you live in the future,
with its problems and fears,
it is hard.  I am not there.
My name is not I Will Be.
When you live in this moment,
it is not hard.  I am here.
My name is I Am.”
                        — Helen Mallicoat
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IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER

This is not the “same ol” Christmas we have become used to.  During the past three months of my book-signings I have noticed changes that are anything but subtle.  Men and women are out of work who have never been in that condition before.  While people are shopping almost as much as usual, they are buying less — considerably less!  They are paying with cash, check, or debit card more — and credit card less. 
 
Young people who once expected academic degrees to automatically open job opportunities to them are shocked to discover that they are still jobless even after hundreds of job applications have been filed.  Top and middle management people are shuddering at each pay-period, inwardly asking, Is this week my last?  Senior citizens are even more desperate.  Even professionals with masters, and even doctoral degrees, are being forced to accept jobs that pay little more than minimum wage.
 
In our mountain community not long ago, I overheard a construction contractor speaking to the bank clerk to my left, anguish in his voice:  “I’m teetering on the edge of bankruptcy; it used to be that when an inspector signed off on plumbing, electrical, septic, etc., the bank would cover the costs for getting that far — but no more: now they tell us we won’t get a dime until we complete the entire house!  We don’t have enough reserves to do that!  Everyone I know in the construction business is over-extended, behind in payments, and only pennies away from bankruptcy!  I’ve never seen it like this before.”
 
In the downtown Denver Barnes & Noble last week, out-of-work men and women could only gaze longingly at books they yearned for but could not buy.  Parents of children who begged for certain books could only say, in pain-wracked voice, “Not this year, dear.”  Homeless people would admit, “I’m living on the street — I come in here to get warm.”  Just yesterday I overheard a man saying, “Finally got a job — and after two weeks I was let go . . . without pay.”
 
Gone is the perception that the future is rosy, that things will be better tomorrow, next week, next month, or even next year.  People are losing faith in both Democrats and Republicans, and they are bitterly disgusted with Wall Street.  They don’t believe talking heads on TV really have the answers either — nobody has the answers: not even the ultimate financial wizard, Warren Buffett!  Not since the Great Depression of the 1930s has there been this sense of helplessness among so many.
 
And so there is new relevance to Christina Rossetti’s Christmas Carol, “In the bleak midwinter, Frosty wind made moan; Earth stood hard as iron; Water like a stone.”
 
Yes, in this bleak midwinter of 2009 — only God has the answers.
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The Magic of Turning Zeroes

    I’ve been long fascinated by fin de siècles — and even more by fin de milia –: many of us, if we live long enough, will get to see hundred-year turns (as when 1899 turned to 1900), but precious mortals in our planet’s history have been lucky enough to be alive when both occur at once (1999 turning to 2000).  I’m guessing many of you share this fascination with me.

    As an historian of ideas, I’ve long been aware that century-turns prove to be seismic — not because they are, but because they are perceived to be.  That’s why fin de siecles are well worthy of study.  Why is it that the last decade of each century is so destabilizing?  Why is it that all the old established beliefs and assumptions of that time period are put under the microscope and questioned, with more fierce intensity, as each year in that decade arrives and passes?  And why is it that the last year is the most unsettling of all? Indeed, it sometimes seems that society, on that memorable New Year’s Eve, heaves into the sky all its beliefs in one idiotic Hail Mary Pass, under the assumption that nothing is ever going to be the same on the other side of those 9s.

    But hundred-year turns pale into a mere shadow in comparison with millennial turns — both of which we experienced ten years ago.  On the basis of previous millennial and 500-year turns, I have long predicted that our generation will experience societal change and upheaval on a scale that will stagger the mind.  What those changes are likely to be, we can only speculate at this time.

    And speculate we will, beginning with Blog #2, and continuing until it is time to explore other venues.  I promise no definitive answers — only a discussion that ought to interest all those who exercise their brains on a daily basis.

    Welcome aboard!