For the last two days, I’ve been laying in bed motionless pondering the question why do we suffer? I’ve needed this four day weekend to catch my breath, before I’m ready to climb the mountain to find my purpose of life again.
I remember when I first got out of prison a few years ago. I walked out of the Wisconsin gates on August 21, 2002, after ten years incarcerated, because of some wrong decisions I made in my early 20’s. Six days after being released, I was enrolled in my senior year of college taking 16 credits, and there was so much learning, and catching up to do. I didn’t want to tell anyone I was in prison – I was constantly learning on the fly – while always acting as normal, calm, and in control as I could. Then I got a job working for a friend, and every day was just this huge, exhausting, learning experience, and I didn’t have any time. I felt the pressure to get it right the first time through, so I could go onto the next stage faster. I remember taking entire Saturdays sometimes and just sleeping to get rested. Every day there are more challenges to overcome.
I’ve been free 3 years now, and life isn’t as hard as it was in that first year. I’ve built a very successful job in sales, I have a wonderful wife I am working better with everyday, and we bought our first home 8 months ago. It’s a humble home, but it’s a dream home for us because we can appreciate everything about it as we earned it. Here’s a picture from my home office where I work everyday. There’s walking, hiking, and even mountain bike trails right out of my backyard into the woods.
These days my life doesn’t seem as challenging as it once did, but I am still constantly pushing myself to be the best I can be, which still takes a heavy toll. I need to be healthy. I need to be strong. I need to be prepared because I feel like my dreams are possible, which means I need to be healthy on the inside, before I can ever hope to continue my trail of achievements on the outside.
I’ve been reflecting on my 3,000 pages of journals I wrote when I was in prison from 2002 to 2012. On one day in 2002, a very good friend wrote me a letter. She was 25 at the time, extremely successful in her career, yet she still questioned her life path as she pondered, “I think I would have been better off if there had been something really life-changing that happened to me. (besides the familiar path of high school, college, getting a good job.)”
I recorded my response in my journal, because I wanted to remember what it was like to go through the very difficult first-stages of a massive, life-changing experience. I wrote back…
“You’re statement is an extremely thought-provoking conundrum to me that I’d like to explore with you. I understand your curiosity on what you’re life may have been like if something devastating may have happened to you at a relatively young age. I’m an expert on this because I am currently living this scenario, and I’ll try to share with you what it feels like…
After the initial, life-changing blow hits, you’re left stunned, dizzy, and sick, and you don’t know what to do next. Slowly, you begin seeing the world again from a new caged perspective – you’re caged inside thislife-changing experience. In my case, it felt like I was standing in a new landscape of complete failure, and any hope of making your life a success seemed so far away and even impossible. Hope even feels silly to think about at times. Life becomes high-risk, high-pressure, and scary all the time, and the chance to make it out of this caged experience seems so small. You stand there in stunned silence, and the chaos extends in your life forever. You dream for the hope at the end of your journey – while everyday you try to ignore all of the tragic failure around you.
When these difficult, life-changing experiences occur, it’s like your life freezes, yet you are kept awake thinking in this frozen state. Your life, money, and job suddenly mean nothing, and you’re left to think new thoughts beyond this state of nothingness. The odds seem so high against you ever getting your life back. The road ahead feels impossible. Everything is lonely and terrifying – and you just fixate on that little gleam of hope that somehow breaks through the world of darkness. You’re constantly ignoring all the fear around you, and spending so much time pretending you’re not scared, that hopefully, you eventually convince yourself that you’re not afraid of anything anymore. You start realizing you have nothing left to loose, so why not at least try for a life you see in your dreams.
Look at me right now. I’m in prison. I have nothing. The only thing I have is a tiny vision that is showing me, that just maybe, things can get better. When you lose everything, you realize there’s nothing left to lose, so why even continue to live a life that is full of meritocracy.
In most, “life changing situations,” you’re going to have to suffer like hell, before you’ll get a chance to succeed. That’s the whole essence of a life changing experience. Can you survive it long enough, to finally emerge victorious, and better from it, and have a once -in-a-lifetime chance at being extraordinary? Because of my bad decisions, and some very bad luck, I no longer get to choose the path my life will take. Overcoming these challenges is my only choice left. Is it worth it? Adversity definitely builds character, so it all depends on how much you value building your character stronger.
The bottom line is, if you can survive the suffering, you may have a chance to become a person beyond your wildest dreams.
At least that’s been my experience, living through a very difficult, “life changing experience.” I’ve never addressed these feelings before this, but now you know how it feels. Every day I work for an end that I feel will never come, but I just keep believing that I will make it.” (2005)
I would not have had intense clarity about myself, my surroundings, and my calling without all the suffering I survived. Suffering strips away the falseness of our lives, and allows us to only see the most important things in front of us: The things we dream of, and are willing to die for. Suffering can tell us who we are, and it can provide us with the clearest moment for us to see what our true calling can be.
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