Listen to Your Funeral

Posted: September 1, 2013 in McTrip posts
Tags: , , , ,

Two feet of a dead bodyI’ve slowly succumbed to all the trappings of living in Los Angeles. In my four years here I’ve dabbled in Buddhism, devoted three long weekends studying modern-day EST, I carry a medical marijuana card, and I belong to two gyms. Once I get a convertible, a surfboard, and a facelift, I’ll officially be an Angelino.

And now I have a life coach.

My recent decision to leave a 17-year career was not followed up with an equally well-thought out plan as to what to do next. So I hired Life Coach Laura to help me chart a new course. On the eve of meeting her, I was quite honestly a scared, confused and damaged middle-aged man. I had completely lost self-confidence, identity and rationalization. Every day brought the exact same challenges, which I confronted with the exact same solutions, thinking somehow they’d miraculously work today even though they failed yesterday.

Hiring Laura felt like the last stop before the poorhouse or the cuckoo’s nest, or possibly both. I was in no financial position to bring her on to my sinking ship. But I saw what she had done with a friend of mine, who was truly on the brink of a complete meltdown due to nearly identical circumstances. Laura saved him. And now I needed her to work her magic on me. I was down to my last thousand dollars or so of available credit, and I made the decision to spend it on a life preserver.

Laura asked me to write my life story for her to read prior to our initial meeting. The wannabe writer in me eagerly jumped in with both feet. How was it possible that I got 50 years into life without a plan? How was it possible that I’m a functioning adult when I’ve made so many life-changing decisions by the seat of my pants? As I started telling my story I could see some pivotal mistakes staring back at me, right there in my own words.

It was like an exercise in reevaluating a lifetime of decisions. I was able to look at the chronology of my life and say, there, that’s where I fucked up. If I had only done “blank,” right there! But I didn’t. Part of Laura’s job was to intervene in this critical crossroads and make sure I made smart decisions moving forward.

Writing my life story was so cathartic, but not quite as life altering as an exercise Laura once participated in during a writer’s workshop. She explained it this way:

Members of the group were asked to spend an hour writing their life story as though they had just one hour to live. They were to describe their victories, their relationships, their accomplishments and their experiences. You know, their happy life story.

After an hour they took a break and when they returned one of the group’s members was lying under a white sheet as though she were dead. The life story written by the “departed” would then be read aloud to the group. Laura was the chosen corpse. And, as she tells it, while under that sheet listening to her story, she felt so unfulfilled. She thought, “Was that it? That’s my legacy?”

It was there, while “dead” under that white sheet that Laura decided it was time to live. The only white sheet I knew at this point was a surrender flag. But I was tired of waiving it. So it was time for me to live, too.

I’ll get into more detail in upcoming posts. For now I’ll just say this: Whether you hire a life coach or a shrink or simply seek out the advice of a trusted friend, I’m convinced there’s no way to get yourself off the ledge without help.

I inherited many good traits from my father and a few bad ones, like never admitting to needing help. To him, asking for help was a sign of weakness. So he powered through life and charted his own course, letting the chips fall where they did. He lived with the victories and defeats of his own making.

That worked for me for a while, too. And then life got much more difficult thanks to the Great Recession and my inability to adjust to it. When one problem seemed to lead to another and every decision seemed to compound the issue. I began to lose confidence in my ability to make any decision. I questioned everything I said or did. And eventually I simply stopped making decisions at all for fear of making matters worse. It was like being frozen in a bog that wouldn’t loosen its grip.

That’s when a fresh pair of eyes helped change everything, restoring some rationalization and equilibrium. Laura has been that other set of eyes. And the clouds have started to part.

(To be continued…)

JMcT

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