Three "disruptions" that changed my life

Maybe I'm writing this for me? My emotions are up and down these days and as I write this the current state of affairs has me a little more on edge than I was yesterday. Maybe I need the reminder of how powerful disruptions can be for our growth. Or maybe it's not about me at all. Maybe you need the reminder. Maybe someone in your life needs the reminder of how many other disruptions we've conquered in our lives and how we came out better for it. What if day on the ledge today talks you off your ledge tomorrow?

So I write down my thoughts.

There have been a lot of incidents in my life that completely changed my idea of normal. Each of them were accompanied by feelings of anger, fear, sadness, frustration and multiple combinations of negative emotions. Each of them felt like the end of the world and left me believing life would never be the same. I was correct on the latter belief.

At some point during each of these experiences, I discovered they were for good. Sometimes the good was for me, sometimes for others, but most of the time there was good for everyone involved. I'll share the three brief disruptions here and save all the details for other posts.

The Diagnosis Disruption

In 1995, I was diagnosed with cancer. I was sixteen. At the prime of my teen years I was faced with the harsh realities of chemotherapy, radiation, and a future disappointment of never being able to create children of my own. I was a highly social individual but because of my treatment I was expected to socially distance myself before Zoom was an option. This disruption left me so devastated I begged my parents to let me die. This was not supposed to happen to me. Cancer was for old people and smokers. Why me? After some great conversations with my dad and God, I discovered my first truth about disruptions.

Disruptions can shift our perspective for the good.

I made a commitment from my hospital bed that I would use the time I had, even if I did not survive, to impact the people around me. I would appreciate every moment, smile more than I cried, and help others to do the same. That year of treatment was filled with some of the greatest memories of my teen years. I laughed with my friends when they visited the hospital, played poker with and pranks on my nurses, continued to go to school, performed in a play in my drama department, was the MC of the championship girls basketball games, and stood with my football team for almost every game of the season. This eternal truth became my reality: None of us are promised tomorrow. I learned what mattered most was leaving a positive imprint in the lives of the people you meet as soon as you meet them. You may not get another chance.

The marriage Disruption

My wife and I have been married for eighteen years. She is my best friend, business partner, and there's no one else I'd rather spend every day of my life with. About seven years into our marriage we experienced disruption. Pain from the past that had not been dealt with led to hurtful actions which nearly ended our marriage. Once again I found myself asking "Why me?" What did I do to deserve this pain in my life? Why was this happening to me?

As the dust settled we remembered the commitment we made at the front of our church sanctuary on January 26, 2002. It also taught me my second truth about disruption:

Disruptions expose areas of weakness and allow us to rebuild

Through a lot of prayer, counseling, and work we saw the areas of our marriage that had been weak from the beginning. We stopped ignoring weakness and focused on strength training our marriage muscles. We learned to take responsibility rather than blame each other. We learned to forgive, communicate, and spot danger zones before they became dangerous. We rebuilt our marriage to a place of authenticity that didn't exist before disruption. We didn't fall back into love. We built a solid foundation in our marriage that allowed love to thrive even when we didn't feel it. We are not perfect. A decade later, there are moments I find the wounds from our past re-opening. We have a far from perfect marriage. But because of what that disruption exposed, we are better and stronger today than we were yesterday. And we'll better tomorrow than we are today.

The Reality Disruption

This one is a little harder to share than the rest. If you don't know me too well you may not know that in 2019 I was a part of a reality show on Disney's streaming service, Disney+. The show, produced by Kristen Bell, brought a group of my fellow high school classmates and myself back together for a week long reunion. I'll let you check out ENCORE for the full details but here's a little backstory. Originally, I didn't want to do the show. I was terrified of reality TV.

I had no idea how one week on TV could bring up so much from grief from my past. Remember the "Diagnosis Disruption?" I've lived most my life thinking I was over it. During the taping, I learned a lot about me and some of the other ways I've chosen to deal with difficulty. But the real disruption came when I watched the premier of the show for the first time. I was disappointed. In fact, I was a little upset by how I was "portrayed." I asked myself, "Who is that cocky, sarcastic, guy? Why is he putting up such a front?" That guy was me.

I was so bothered by what I saw that I spent several of my weekly counseling sessions venting about the TV producers and how they manipulated my character. When someone would recognize me or bring up the show, I would immediately tell them I wasn't how they portrayed me. Here I was again asking "Why would they do that to me? I don't deserve this. This isn't fair." Great counseling and coaching helped me to see the next truth about disruption.

Disruptions often expose our blind spots and help us to see

The editors didn't make me act a certain way. Producers didn't goad me into putting up an emotional wall or acting with such bravado. They used the content I gave them. I was uncomfortable. I was nervous and felt exposed. Cameras following your every move have that effect. My longtime blind spot was how I respond in uncomfortable and vulnerable situations. But the television show will be a constant reminder of this coping mechanism and survival skill.

Here's what else I learned. Coping is not all bad. Coping is how we survive. My loud personality has opened a number of doors, provided for good times with my groups of friends, and is a part of who I am. I like me. But I am no longer blind to how I "show up" to a situation where I feel vulnerable or even a little afraid. Awareness brings choice. I'm learning how to recognize what I'm feeling and choose my response. More and more I'm choosing authenticity and vulnerability over bravado and sarcasm. The reality show has helped me keep it real (see what I did there?).

What about you? Our lives are disrupted. This isn't the first time for any of us. Life never goes perfect to plan. The questions you must answer are:

  • What about my perspective can shift?

  • What are the areas of weakness this is exposing that I can begin to strengthen?

  • What are the blind spots in my life that this is revealing?

In his book, The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership, Jim Dethner encourages us to recognize life is not happening to us. Life is happening for us. If we will get curious, we will become aware. Awareness brings choice. What will you choose?