Paddling Upstream To Catch the Big One
The Struggle of Determination
It started off beautiful. The sun was shining and the temperature was unseasonably warm for December. It was Tuesday, which meant Scott and I would try to get together for coffee, like we have been doing for probably 15 years. We talk about our favorite TV shows, sporting teams, music, and recent travels. It kind of feels like we’re those old guys that sit around the coffee shop and talk about not much. It’s comforting and stable, in the midst of these very disposable days. As we talked, the clouds starting gathering about, and increasing their darkness.
I ventured a thought-provoking question in Scott’s direction, one of my most favorite things to do over coffee. “So what do you hope happens in the coming year? What are you wishing for?” Before he even answered, I was both hoping he’d ask me, and then just as quickly, realized I actually didn’t want him to ask me. So I listened. It all seemed pretty reasonable. Meaning, quite doable.
Then he asked me. “So, what about you?”
I sat silent for a second. I started to feel a little sick in my stomach. All these things I’m wishing and hoping and praying for flashed through my mind like it was 1993, 1994, and every year since. I said a couple things out loud, a couple of things that seemed reasonable. But I was stunned by the frustration I started to feel. I’ve been wishing for the same things for so long. Other people have been waiting and hoping for me, as well.
I can only imagine they’re getting worn out, like me, wishing for my success, frustrated by the lack of something breakthrough-ish happening in my professional life.
It started to rain on my drive home. And I felt the clouds in my spirit turning very dark. “Am I so crazy that I can’t give up on my dreams? Am I that guy? Or am I setting the world record for persistence? Am I committed and loyal, and fiercely driven by my calling? Or am I just hitting my head against the same worn out wall, hoping that it will stop hurting?” The questions make me want to eat ice cream.
Anyone who knows me would probably say they admire my talents, but probably moreso, my determination. They smile and helplessly cheer me on, hoping I’m steering my boat in the right direction. “Boy, that guy sure can paddle!” they say under their breath. And the whole time I’m just wishing they’d give me a clue where to steer the dang thing, cause most of the time I feel like I’m trying to travel upstream to catch a fish that doesn’t really exist.
There was a break in my inner storm for a brief time tonight. I got to hear one of my favorite bands play. It was my first time hearing them live, and I couldn’t believe how great they sounded in a crappy room, with the rain pounding down on the roof outside. I haven’t loved hearing music this much in a long time. I guess the music part of my heart was a bit dry.
I got to talk to their awesome singer, Marc, afterwards. They made one of my most favorite albums of the year. Really quite a stunning, prolific, musical project. Still, the kind of big-time commercial success they deserve seems to elude them. I wanted to find out how they dealt with that. Where they see God fitting into the mix between significance and success. He scratched his head, and admitted to me that he struggles with that very question continually.
A cool breeze swept through the room. Ahhh…I’m not alone! It’s not about recording a CD, it’s not about touring, or getting a song on the radio. Those achievements haven’t taken away his frustration. So I have to stop thinking those things would take away my own frustration.
I took a breath. “Maybe the answer is found in realizing that someone, take me for example, thinks what you do is awesome, and extremely significant,” I offered. “And that our crazy thinking takes over when we think it needs to be a whole bunch more people, rather than the people whose lives we are given the opportunity to be impacting.”
He nodded in agreement. I couldn’t stop talking. “You know what you’re doing is significant.” Yes, he agreed. “And I know what I do is significant. Maybe that’s all we’re supposed to be able to see.”
Me and Marc shared a great moment, that for me, was more significant than I could’ve hoped to have experienced. Yes, cool to hear them play live, and to talk afterward. But even better to get a break from hitting my head on the wall.
By the end of the day, it was pouring. And I was very cold and wet. But somehow I felt less crazy than I did at the beginning of my day.