I know too many people who too easily give up. Stuff get’s difficult, and they’re outta here. It’s by far the minority of people I know, but it’s still too large a number. Giving up is easy to do. It’s too easy. It’s become too easy. We live in a world, in a society that’s made it too easy to give up. For good reason. There are too many horrible people who take advantage of other people. We should have been nicer people to each other. We weren’t. The result is that too many people find it too easy to give up.
Today I read a great article/post by Justice Malala (The Big Read: Zuma’s right to be very afraid – the tide is turning). It’s definitely worthy of your time.
The tide is turning. Zuma’s bet that South Africans would sit and watch while their country is stolen is falling apart. New movements are being born. The future is going to look very different. But time is of the essence
I digress. It reminded me of a presentation I put together for a client 2 years ago. They were going through an incredible amount of change, and I was invited to put something together. Instead of speaking about the usual change stuff, I decided to do something different. Or at least attempt to.
Speaking About Change
Normally speakers on Change talk about what makes change work, and what makes it not work? The stages of change, etc, etc. It’s all very technical. What if there was a different approach? What if one approached change from an emotional perspective? If I could find someone who described what change felt like, and communicate that to the audience, then perhaps it would help them?
When they started feeling those feelings of change, maybe they’d hold on because they recognised that change was happening. They’d understand where in the process they were. The hard stuff wasn’t the moment to give up. The hard stuff was the moment to put your head down and see the process through! The Justice Malala article/post is an attempt at the same. Change in South Africa is coming. It’s not nice to be in the middle of it. There may be a lot inside of you that wants to escape, to run away, to leave, to pack for Perth. This is not the time. Change is coming and it needs you fully on board.
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years
There’s a great piece from a book by Donald Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing my Life, that I was reminded of as I read Justice Malala’s article/post today. It’s the piece I built my presentation around, because it describes what change feels like. It describes how slow it is. It describes how difficult it is. It describes how you want to escape your story and find an easier one.
IT’S LIKE THIS when you live a story: The first part happens fast. You throw yourself into the narrative, and you’re finally out in the water; the shore is pushing off behind you and the trees are getting smaller. The distant shore doesn’t seem so far, and you can feel the resolution coming, the feeling of getting out of your boat and walking the distant beach. You think the thing is going to happen fast, that you’ll paddle for a bit and arrive on the other side by lunch. But the truth is, it isn’t going to be over soon.
The reward you get from a story is always less than you thought it would be, and the work is harder than you imagined. The point of a story is never about the ending, remember. It’s about your character getting molded in the hard work of the middle. At some point the shore behind you stops getting smaller, and you paddle and wonder why the same strokes that used to move you now only rock the boat. You got the wife, but you don’t know if you like her anymore and you’ve only been married five years. You want to wake up and walk into the living room in your underwear and watch football and let your daughters play with the dog because the far shore doesn’t get closer no matter how hard you paddle. The shore you left is just as distant, and there is no going back; there is only the decision to paddle in place or stop, slide out of the hatch, and sink into the sea. Maybe there’s another story at the bottom of the sea. Maybe you don’t have to be in this story anymore.
It’s been like this with all my crossings. I have a couple of boats and every couple of years I take them to Orcas Island and make the crossing from Orcas to Sucia, and it’s always the same about leaving the shore so fast and getting to the middle and paddling in place for hours. I knew it would be like that when we crossed the country on bikes too. I sent in my paperwork and did my miles in the mountains here in Oregon and showed up in Los Angeles, knowing we would start fast, that the Pacific would fade behind us and we’d be in Phoenix by sunset, and then we’d spend the life of Moses crossing Texas and the Delta—and it happened just as I thought it would. We grew into the roads, and the roads are where we lived. We slept in rock quarries and on the doorsteps of churches. I slept on the floor of a convenience store just off the caprock in Texas. I put my head by the beer to get some cold air, and it didn’t matter that I had a condo back home or a bed, because you become the character in the story you are living, and whatever you were is gone. None of us thought the bike trip would end. We never felt that we were getting closer to the Atlantic Ocean. Even in Virginia, we felt as far as Louisiana.
The night we left Bob’s dock, I didn’t want to paddle through the night or across the wide inlet. We didn’t leave his dock till after midnight, and we had to paddle for hours through the pitch black, and in the middle the inlet was so large and the dark was so dark we couldn’t make out either shore. We had to guide ourselves by stars, each boat gliding close to another, just the sound of our oars coming in and out of the water to keep us close. I think this is when most people give up on their stories. They come out of college wanting to change the world, wanting to get married, wanting to have kids and change the way people buy office supplies. But they get into the middle and discover it was harder than they thought. They can’t see the distant shore anymore, and they wonder if their paddling is moving them forward. None of the trees behind them are getting smaller and none of the trees ahead are getting bigger. They take it out on their spouses, and they go looking for an easier story.
Robert McKee put down his coffee cup and leaned onto the podium. He put his hand on his forehead and wiped back his gray hair. He said, “You have to go there. You have to take your character to the place where he just can’t take it anymore.” He looked at us with a tenderness we hadn’t seen in him before. “You’ve been there, haven’t you? You’ve been out on the ledge. The marriage is over now; the dream is over now; nothing good can come from this.” He got louder. “Writing a story isn’t about making your peaceful fantasies come true. The whole point of the story is the character arc. You didn’t think joy could change a person, did you? Joy is what you feel when the conflict is over. But it’s conflict that changes a person.” His voice was like thunder now. “You put your characters through hell. You put them through hell. That’s the only way we change.
But, what if you hold on? What if you hang in there just a little longer? What if you take your character to the place she/he just can’t take it anymore? That’s the only way we change. When you put your character through hell. When you put them through hell!
Don’t give up just yet South Africa. The trees on the distant shore are about to get bigger. All the paddling we’ve been doing hasn’t been for nothing. Keep on paddling. Hang in there!