Wise Words for Weary Warriors
“Any path is only a path, and there is no affront, to oneself or to others, in dropping it if that is what your heart tells you…Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself, and yourself alone, one question…Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn’t it is of no use.”
— Carlos Castaneda, The Teachings of Don Juan
I was sitting in a reception area, waiting for my financial planners — two men — to call me into their office to discuss my finances. But it was a woman (I think she was their assistant), who finally came out of the office. She sat down beside me.
“Well?” I asked.
The woman shook her head. “I think you’d be wise to call it quits.”
She was referring to my company.
“It’s simply costing you too much to run,” she said.
I sighed. “I know.”
“I came across a yellow sticky in your notes with your handwriting on it,” she continued. “And it said, ‘I think it’s time to throw in the towel.’”
I nodded, trying not to cry. “I guess I was hoping you guys would tell me otherwise.”
She took my hand. “It’s for the best, dear.”
“You’re right,” I said. And the tears came.
Then my alarm clock went off and I sat up in bed. And in that first moment of recall, an unmistakeable sense of relief washed over me. How easy it would be to just give up. Not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur. The nice lady in my dream was probably right.
I got out of bed and went into the kitchen to start coffee. Then I sat on the couch and wrote the dream down in my journal. And I got to thinking…maybe the lady wasn’t right. Perhaps she was playing Devil’s Advocate and knew that telling me what I thought I wanted to hear would make me realize how much I really didn’t.
Although throwing in the towel on my business would be the easiest path to take, it wouldn’t be the right one because my company has a heart…my heart. And that alone makes it worth fighting for.
So I got up from the couch, showered and got on with my day — which, interestingly, entailed attending a seminar by international speaker and trainer, Brian Willis. Brian’s presentation was entitled Harnessing the Winning Mind and Warrior Spirit.
And wouldn’t you know it but what Brian had to say was precisely what I needed to hear.
The seminar was geared towards police officers and military personnel but the wisdom shared was applicable to anyone. For I am realizing we are all warriors in one form or another…I mean, if we’re at least trying to achieve some sort of good in a world that desperately needs us to.
“The warrior fights because he believes that he is fighting for something good, something positive, something that will improve the quality of the world around him. The warrior never forgets that he is an example and so will always act accordingly. He is a leader, and when there is no one else to lead, the warrior must lead himself forward to a different, higher standard.”
— Richard J. Machowicz, Unleashing the Warrior Within
The more I listened to Brian’s presentation — some of which I’d heard before in his seminars over the years but obviously needed a reminder — the more I realized that for my business, failure wasn’t an option.
“Victory at all costs, victory in spite of terror, victory however long and hard the road may be; for without victory there is no survival.”
— Sir Winston Churchill
In fact, despite what the nice lady in my dream said, failure wasn’t even on the table because the success of my business is not just about me. For I can do the work I love most — writing — with or without my own company.
Rather, my business is about collaborating with others to create works that inspire, encourage and challenge people to effect positive change in themselves and the world around them. As such, my company can be a catalyst for achieving far greater things than we could achieve on our own as individuals. And my company gives people opportunities, just as I have been given so many.
If I gave up on my business, I would not physically die, no. But I made the decision a long time ago to do far more than merely survive this life.
I left Brian’s presentation with eighteen pages of notes to refer to, as I continue to revise my business strategy and hone my daily habits.
Here are the three key tips I took away:
1) Ask yourself this question: What’s Important Now?
Otherwise known as W.I.N., this question is powerful.
Every day, we make dozens of choices. By asking myself this question multiple times throughout the day, I find it easier to keep on track with achieving what is really most important.
Whether my answer is to get out into nature and walk my dog, sit at my laptop and work for an hour on a challenging essay, or send out an e-mail to a potential advertiser, asking this question throughout the day helps prioritize tasks. The trick, of course, is to answer honestly!
2) Face the Facts; Keep the Faith
“Retain unwavering faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, and that at the same time have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality.”
— The Stockdale Paradox
Having faith that, despite the odds and obstacles, all will be well is not an easy thing to do…especially since “well” is a highly subjective term that depends a great deal on one’s attitude. And yet, without faith, it’s an awfully hard slog. So faith I shall have.
3) What is one thing you can start doing differently today?
For me, it is learning to implement into my day a healthier sense of rhythm – versus forcing myself to stick to a set routine.
I tend to become a bit obsessed with ticking tasks off my to-do list, preferably in the order in which they appear, rather than on focusing on doing the tasks themselves well…and enjoying the process.
So I turned to one of my favourite authors for this bit of advice:
“It is far more creative to work with the idea of mindfulness rather than the idea of will. Too often people try to change their lives by using the will as a kind of hammer to beat their life into proper shape.”
– John O’Donohue, Anam Cara; A Book of Celtic Wisdom
If our path has a heart, then it is good. But it is up to us to ensure each step we take on that path is worthy of the warriors we are. As Albert Einstein said, “To be a warrior is to learn to be genuine in every moment of your life.”
Maryanne Pope is the author of A Widow’s Awakening. She is the CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions and and the Board Chair of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund. Brian Willis is the CEO of Winning Mind Training.
Are You Paying Attention?
Our circumstances change and so do we. The trick, I’m finding, is to pay attention to when a door closes…for perhaps it is only when we truly accept that, can a new one open.
In November 2009, I gave a presentation called Wake Up to Your Dreams to a group of writers about my experience of writing my first book, A Widow’s Awakening. After I had finished speaking, a man asked me to explain in more detail about the ‘awakening’ process…“Because so many people,” he said, “seem to be sound asleep.”
I paused a moment before answering, thinking how best to articulate my perspective on the concept of awakening.
“The day after my husband died,” I said, “I remember noticing how slowly my parents seemed to be speaking to me. In fact, right from the moment I was told of my husband’s fall, it felt like I was functioning on a different level than everyone else…almost as if the shock of his imminent death had launched me into a heightened state of awareness.”
The man who’d posed the question nodded, so I continued. “I remember being really irritated with people in those first few days. It was as if my soul inherently understood the significance of my husband’s death – but everyone else around me just seemed stunned. I felt like screaming, ‘Pay attention to this!’ And it became clear to me very quickly that I had to write a book about the experience.”
“So do you think people need a tragedy, or something really significant, to wake them up,” he asked, “particularly in regards to the importance of pursuing their dreams?”
“No,” I said. “I think there are plenty of people living their dreams simply because they chose to do so and then took the necessary steps to achieve their goals – rather than being forced to do so after experiencing some tremendous loss, tragedy or life-altering event.”
The man shook his head. “I don’t agree. I think most people need a pretty loud wake-up call. It seems to me the vast majority of people are so asleep that they aren’t paying attention to what’s going on around them…or in them.”
In hindsight, I can hear the angels laughing.
For the very next day I got another powerful wake-up call that hurt like the dickens…but it wasn’t in the form of a tragedy. At least, not a real one.
It was a play.
I’m really starting to suspect the universe communicates to us through the mediums that will have the best chance of catching our attention. As a playwright and lover of the theatre, it makes sense that it would be a play that instigated a major life decision.
Maybe it’s a little like listening to the radio…we tend to listen to certain stations, so although we may flip between two or three different ones, the universe likely won’t send us an important news bulletin on a station we never listen to.
At any rate, the play was about a twelve year old girl hiding out in the boiler room of her junior high school. It was a one-act, one-woman play where the actress played four different characters: the twelve year old girl whose parents were recently divorced, the school janitor, the girl’s grandpa and the new wife of the girl’s dad.
The actress playing the four characters put on different masks and outfits and changed her voice and behaviour to convey which character she was, at any given moment. And isn’t THAT a metaphor for how we often live our lives?!
Anyway, about two thirds of the way through the play, the girl was so distraught that she was screaming at us – the audience – about her dreadful experience over the weekend of having to go to her dad’s wedding. She had a ruler in her hand and was waving it at us, as she got angrier and angrier explaining the humiliation of having to wear this horrible dress with a huge bow on her bum.
I howled with laughter at this image. But something didn’t feel quite right. I mean, although I was laughing out loud, it felt as if a whole bunch of emotion was…stuck behind my eyes, in the best way I can explain it.
Then the girl went on to say, through tears, how livid she was at her dad for leaving their family and how lonely her mother would be now and how she wouldn’t get to see her dad very much anymore and how he obviously didn’t care about her feelings…
I wasn’t laughing anymore. I was bawling – and scarcely stopped for two days.
A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.
– Franz Kafka
In my case, the axe was a play.
When the performance ended, you could’ve heard a pin drop in that theatre. I wasn’t the only one impacted. I turned to my mom in the seat beside me. She took one look at the tears streaming down my face.
“What have I done?!” she cried. “Look how hurt you still are over the divorce! What could I have done better? That damn father of yours!”
“Mom,” I said, “let’s go get something to eat.”
My parents divorced when I was six. My dad remarried a couple of years later. The catch was how he told me the news: he picked me up one day and casually announced, over his shoulder to me in the back seat of the car, that he’d got married over the weekend.
Thanks for the invite.
“You cried for days,” my mom told me over dinner after the play. “You were so upset that my boss sent me home from work to care for you.”
I didn’t remember that.
I do know my dad didn’t intend to hurt me. He just made the best decision he could at the time. But looking back on the incident now, I think the best word to describe his behaviour is: indifference.
And I guess I’d buried the pain resulting from that indifference – until an annoyingly effective play brought it to the surface.
After dinner, I went home and cried some more. Although my dad lived with me at the time, he happened to be away that week – which was probably a good thing.
The next morning, I woke up feeling significantly better about that matter, having cried it out of my system. But then I proceeded to start crying again.
“Oh for Heaven’s sakes,” I snapped at the fireplace, “now what’s the problem?”
And in my imagination, I heard a tiny voice whisper, “You can move on now.”
“WHAT?” I yelled.
“IT’S TIME TO MOVE ON!” the voice in my head yelled back, tired of the gentle approach. “YOU ARE DONE HERE. YOU HAVE DEALT WITH ALL YOU NEEDED TO AND NOW YOU CAN LEAVE.”
I looked around my familiar living room with new eyes. Why am I still living in the same neighbourhood I grew up in? In the same house my husband and I bought? I am a 41 year old widow living with my father in a big city in the prairies. Is this what I signed up for?
For the short term, yes…but now that chapter was coming to a close.
My dad had moved in three years ago and had been a tremendous help to me with my home, yard and dogs during a period when I had a lot of other demands on my time.
So, as I continued to cry my way through that Sunday morning, I realized that even though it had taken my dad thirty-five years to come back to me, in his own way he had…when I needed him most.
I guess dislodging all this childhood stuff must have made room for a long-buried dream to bubble to the surface because my next thought wasn’t about the past. It was about my future. And, for the first time since Saturday afternoon, I smiled.
A couple of hours later, I called my mom. “I’m moving to the coast,” I said. “At long last, I’m gonna be a writer by the sea.”
I told her the details I’d worked out so far, including selling my home in the spring.
“Why don’t you just rent it out,” she suggested. “In case you change your mind.”
“Because I’m a widow and my husband’s not coming back,” I heard myself say. “I live in a house for a family and I’m obviously not having one. So why would I want to keep the door open to a life that was slammed shut nearly a decade ago?”
Silence. Then, my mom said softly, “You’re right.”
“I know I am.”
“What about your dad?” she asked. “Where will he go?”
“He’ll be fine,” I assured her. “We’ll find him a new place to live.”
Three months later, my dad moved into his own digs, happy as a clam to be on his own again. Three months after that, I sold my home and moved to a cute little bungalow by the sea.
All because of a play…sure glad I was paying attention.
Maryanne Pope is a playwright, screenwriter and the author of A Widow’s Awakening. Maryanne’s next book, Barrier Removed; A Tough Love Guide to Achieving Your Dreams will be released in Sept 2012. She is the CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions Inc and the Board Chair of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund.
The Chick in the Road
In the fall of 2010, I gave a presentation entitled, Behind the Scenes; A Grief Deconstructed, at a police-based victim services conference in British Columbia. In this particular presentation, I go into detail about the psychological, emotional and spiritual components of my experience grieving the death of my husband, John, a police officer.
After my presentation in BC, an RCMP officer came up and shared his story with me. His teenage daughter had been struck and killed by a car as she was crossing the street at a pedestrian cross-walk. He was devastated. But he went on to explain how a police Chaplain had helped him in the days and weeks following his daughter’s death.
“I felt like a helpless little chick in the middle of Oak Street,” the officer told me. “I was terrified and didn’t know what to do. Then the Chaplain came along and through his kindness, it was almost as if he…gently picked me up and took me to safety at the side of the road.”
And it struck me: this is what people who work with victims do…they support strangers during the most horrific moments of their lives. And even though they can’t even begin to make anything okay again, they can be there for people during their greatest time of need. And this presence can be a tremendous gift.
During my time of greatest need, I didn’t meet any victim services volunteers. Instead, I had an amazing support network of family, friends, police officers and chaplains surrounding me. Heck, I wasn’t just moved off the road; I was picked up and put in a safe little nest with dozens of protective mother hens guarding it!
I was very blessed.
For the purpose of this blog, however, two of my “chick safe-keepers” in particular stand out.
The first was my brother, George. After spending seventeen hours with John in the ICU, the time came for me to say goodbye when an operating room became available for his organ removal surgery. The medical staff wheeled John’s hospital bed from the ICU into the operating room – and I’d followed him through the halls and right into the OR.
After saying my final goodbye, I left the OR and went back into the hallway, where dozens of people were waiting. I started to thank everyone for staying when George shook his head, took my arm and quietly said, “That’s enough for today, Maryanne.”
He was right.
But when we are in times of crisis, we often don’t KNOW when enough is enough. We’ve lost all perspective because suddenly there is no normal. And it is up to the people around us – be that family, friends, colleagues, professionals or strangers – to have the courage and compassion to remove us from a situation we no longer need to be in.
In the weeks that followed, my brother Doug became the chief safe-keeper of the chick. He was the mother hen of all the other mother hens. Doug fed me, watered me, put me to bed, dragged me out of bed, listened to me, answered my questions, fielded the dozens of phone calls, kept me on track meeting all the lousy new obligations my days held…funeral arrangements, choosing a headstone, meeting with lawyers and so on.
Fast forward a decade to my Behind the Scenes presentation at the victim services conference in BC. I knew then that the time would come when I would no longer be giving these presentations. By continually dredging up a painful past for the sole benefit of others, I was inadvertently keeping myself in baby-chick-mode: safe but stuck.
For although it may seem safer to stay in a situation we have outgrown – and is no longer healthy – versus finding the courage to change, the reality is that we are actually at risk of a fate worse than death, in my opinion: perceiving ourselves as a victim.
But the RCMP officer’s ‘chick in the road’ analogy gave me an idea. The next time I gave my Behind the Scenes presentation, I would incorporate his story to demonstrate the incredibly important role that people working in victim services play. I would also have my presentation professionally filmed and put on a DVD for educational use by victim services units.
My intended audience could still hear my presentation – it just wouldn’t be live.
Then I took it a step further and decided to create a Behind the Scenes “info kit” that will have the DVD, a copy of my book, A Widow’s Awakening, and one other item to complete the chick theme.
Back when John and I were in our early twenties and he was writing the different exams required to become a police officer, I gave him a “warm fuzzy” – a fluffy little yellow chick with cardboard feet and googly eyes. And with the chick was this little note I’d written for him:
This warm fuzzy will give you luck in your exam. Whenever you get nervous or worried, just remember he is in your pocket to remind you of our love.
Unbeknownst to me, John had kept that little fuzzy with him all those years. He had it in his duty bag the night he died. It was in the police car. So after his death, the police returned John’s duty bag to me and when I found the strength to go through it, there in the side pocket was the little chick and folded-up note I’d given him a decade earlier.
So the other item that will go in the Behind the Scenes info kit is a yellow chick/warm fuzzy and note of encouragement to victim services workers that the greatest gift they can give people is not their advice; it’s their presence – love at it finest.
As for the rest of us, thankfully muddling through life mostly in times of non-crisis, I think back to what George said to me that night in the hospital hallway. When the time for change has come in our own lives or those around us, perhaps the greatest gift we can offer is advice…as in: “That’s enough.”
I’m giving my Behind the Scenes presentation at another police-based victim services conference this spring. It will likely be my last. But you can bet your warm fuzzy it is being professionally filmed for the info kits
Maryanne Pope is the author of A Widow’s Awakening and the CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions Inc. She is the Board Chair of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund and lives onVancouver Island, British Columbia.