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Happily Ever After Is a Work in Progress

What if you knew exactly what you wanted and you could see the path between where you are and where you truly want to be? Sounds great, right? Now imagine that path going straight up a mountain and picture yourself at its base.

It’s not bad on the flatlands. You can stay there forever. It’s an okay place full of okay people living okay lives. There are a few shiny things scattered around and they look desirable from a distance. There are minor hills to climb and shallow streams to cross. There are lots of comfortable places to sit and watch a handful of folks climb mountains. Looks hard doesn’t it?

I’m inspired by people who climb and I have the honor of accompanying some on their journeys. Most of the folks I know are working their ass off to get out of the deepest and darkest of valleys. Some of them hit bottom there. Some of them were beaten down that low. Some were born there. It’s a horrible place to stay. People stay sick and die there. I have the honor of knowing the most determined and resilient. They make the choice to get back up and embrace three beautiful words that encapsulate their resolve to attain a better life – Whatever It Takes.

Winston Churchill said it best, “When you’re going through Hell, keep going!”

Looking back over my life, I’m grateful I couldn’t see the whole journey to get to where I am. No way would I have ever started if I’d known. The climb takes what it takes. It doesn’t care that you’re sore, tired, and hurting. The climb is Very Hard Work. Hard work will not kill you. It will however drain you of blood, sweat, and tears.

What I realized later in life is that the climb also gives. It shapes you and gives you a lot of what you need to keep climbing. There are plateaus and each one affords us respite and the opportunity to celebrate. Then it’s there’s the choice to climb again.

The success in my life began when I accepted that I didn’t have to/want to climb alone. That changed everything. I met folks who knew far more than me and they were willing to share. All I had to do was not push them away. That was hard to learn as a young man. When you have no idea what you’re doing; the last thing you want is anyone watching. This is how shame limits us. We feel unworthy of where we are, much less allowing anyone to help us go further.

“Stories only happen to people who can tell them.” – Allan Gurganus

The very best kind of wisdom involves learning from other people’s experiences. I have had excellent guides and teachers. I learned three lessons that made all the difference. First, I overcame my fear of other people. This ensured that never again would I face my fears alone. Second, I learned to let go. Let go. Let go. Let go of the idea that I need to be in control. Let go of preconceived notions and false beliefs. Let go of rigidity and dogma. Let go of rhetoric and prejudice. Just keep letting go. Finally, I learned how to receive people, places, and things. Coincidences and bizarre occurrences started multiplying in my daily life. I now I have great stories to share simply because I didn’t resist.

Today my story may look a lot like “happily ever after.” Perhaps it’s because I see happiness as a choice. I continue to strive. My story is far from done. There are very few things in my life that are forever (my love for wife, my children, my kin, and my stories). I’m grateful that I still can’t see more than a little of what the future holds for me. I know it includes more climbing. Emerson was right, “Life’s a journey not a destination.” I love the journey. I look forward to each new plateau and the view it offers.

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