Sunday, September 29, 2013

What to Do When You Have a Flop

We lived in a one-bedroom apartment in the basement of this house.
Yesterday we visited Tooele, Utah, a small town about an hour west of Salt Lake. We lived there for several months in 1980. I had a summer job there, an embarrassingly stupid job. I mean it. I don't use the word stupid very often, but that job, that summer, deserves this special adjective.

I cannot even talk about it. My face just glows red when I think about it. If you are curious about it, please ask my wife. She'll tell you about it—when I'm not around. Please spare me this.

I'm grateful for that summer, though. It taught me a needed lesson. Or it was the beginning of a long lesson, a life lesson. How can I be ungrateful for an experience that quietly changed my life?

When I was thinking about taking that job in the spring of that year, I prayed about it. I thought long and hard, and prayed about it some more. It felt good. It felt like a good choice. We talked about it as a couple. We decided together to give it a go.

But it was a disaster. Un. Miti. Gated. Disaster.

And I felt like a flop. The kind of flop that stings, like making-a-belly-flop-in-the-pool-and-when-you-come-up-for-air-everyone-is-laughing-at-you kind of a flop. I had, up until then, made plenty of mistakes in my life, but this was like my first big flop. Olympic. From the 10-meter platform.

It is actually kind of funny now. Many miles and years are between me and my first big flop. I have perspective. I have peace. But I still find it hard to talk about how I was toppled in Tooele.

The job didn't go well, that's for sure. But worse than that, I kind of had a falling out with my Heavenly Father. I was mad. It put some distance between us. So I was a little lost for a time. Not quit-praying, quit-going-to-church lost, but at a loss—at a loss in answering this question: What if you feel inspired to do something and it doesn't work out? 

Up until that time—I was 22 years old—my life had gone along rather swimmingly. I had made my share of boo boos, but I had no big, embarrassing flops. I struggled with that. I have had several seismic failures since then, and none of those match the financial desert I faced from 2009–2010. But these fail-flops have taught me something extremely important.

Natural consequences follow choices and the lack of choices. Nothing can be more instructive. No lessons can be more effective. I have lived through all my trials, so far. Lived to retell this story, to help someone learn from my mistakes. (Mortality equals education through trials.)

Do you want to know what I learned? Here it is.

When things don't work out, even when you are inspired to take a course of action, only you can fix it. Don't blame God, your mother, your spouse, or even yourself. Observe. Change. Fix it. Get over it.

A Tooele landmark I remember.
Yes, you can blame others. Or you can blame your circumstances. But if you do, you are just giving away your power to someone or something else. You waste precious time when you play the blame game. Blame is just your lazy brain tricking you. Tricking you into spending less of your energy to survive—surviving, but surviving in misery.

Blaming yourself and getting down on yourself doesn't help either. Take responsibility, but don't castigate yourself. That will slow you down and send you into hiding, the first impulse after shame sets in (see Genesis 3:8).  The devil uses shame to tempt you to run away from God; turn around and head the opposite direction. Run towards Him, acknowledging your weakness and a desire to change. The shame will soon leave. 

The opposition players, seen and unseen, those guys in the midnight black jerseys, those who stand, ever vigilant, in your way, they are there to help you, to fit you for the battle of life. They may look like your enemies or even think they are your enemies, but God allowed them to be part of the plan.

My choices or lack of choices led to my Tooele topple. Not God, not my wife, not any of my friends, not even my enemies. Yes, a lack of wisdom and experience on my part figures in prominently, but the lesson I've gotten is that it is ultimately on my shoulders. Never stop praying. The Lord certainly helps, if you ask. Sometimes He waits for a season, until you get the lessons in faith, patience, perseverance, and endurance. He is also not going to trump your agency.

He is not going to help or save you without your permission, without your will. Nor will the devil damn you without your permission and will. It is really up to you. Never stop asking for help, but IT IS ON YOU TO FIX ALL WITHIN YOUR POWER TO FIX. (Yes, we can't fix everything on our own, but we must take full responsibility for our part of the solution. Otherwise, we are spinning our wheels at full throttle, axle deep in mud.)

Observe. Change. Fix it. Get over it.

You'll be happier if you do. Much happier.

P.S. One good thing we got from Tooele was our first dog, Brandy. We had her for 13 years. 

2 comments:

Dawn said...

Do you need to tap on that? :-)

Andrew O. said...

Very well said, Mike. Thanks for your insights.