The workshop I facilitate at UWT is all about teaching people how to actively develop mental toughness. The VIBE (Veteran’s Incubator for Better Entrepreneurship) is a place for dreamers to receive the support to turn their ideas into reality. My job as the resiliency trainer, is to give people practical tools to endure the process of bringing their dreams, passions, and ideas to life. One of the things I try to help the attendees understand is the fact that when they grow personally and go all in on their endeavor, it’s often people who they are close to, that will respond poorly to their ambitions.
This is one of the most painful parts of my own journey of personal development. I’ve been intentional about my own development since I was 10 years old. It’s a choice I made, not a gift given to me. I chose to engage the work it would take to get my body in shape. After many years of no progress and, perhaps, going backwards at times, I finally saw a massive improvement. I took that momentum and applied it to my social skills, financial habits, finding fulfillment in life, etc. It’s been in the last 12 years where I’ve learned that many adults never make the decision to be active about personal growth. The challenges of life seem to beat the drive and hope out of people. People become cynical about life. There is also complacency. Sometimes life has just become too comfortable to risk stretching our own limits. Sometimes that ‘comfort’ is actually chaos but we’re too scared to move. One of the most hurtful things that I have experienced in my life is to have someone close to me, who may be guilty of cynicism, complacency, or hypocrisy, be frustrated by my progress in life.
I am guilty of cynicism. I am guilty of complacency. I am guilty of hypocrisy. However, I refuse to settle into those patterns. I choose to fight my way towards a better version of myself. I tell my story in hopes that it inspires someone else to make some intense decisions about who they want to become. From time to time, I’ll hear someone say that I have inspired them to change something about their life. Something that they have wanted to change for years. Those moments are an incredible gift of encouragement to me because there are also times when my intensity is almost offensive to others. This is when the ‘victim’ comes out of people. The Excuse Maker says:
- “Travis, if I had your genetics I would be in shape too!” – Usually this statement comes from an overweight adult, who grew up a skinny kid eating whatever they wanted. I grew up an obese kid. I don’t have a childhood memory of being thin. I was always overweight as far as I can remember. Which one of us has the genetic advantage?
- “Travis, your mental toughness is a gift from God! Many people never get that gift.” – I grew up being told I was fat, slow, weak, ugly, and stupid. In high school, I had a PE teacher berate me in front of my classmates because I couldn’t do a pullup or run as fast as many of the girls in the class. That’s the tip of the iceberg of what I endured growing up. For years I spent time by myself in order to be able to think my own thoughts and tell myself a new story. I had to build myself up in an environment that seemed determined to tear me down. It took years before those new stories started to manifest in my life. I cried myself to sleep on many nights, for years and I didn’t tell anyone. Not even my mother. I had to walk the burning sands to gain mental toughness. Life itself is a gift, pain is inevitable, and, the person we become, is a choice.
- “Travis, do you know how many people wish they had an Engineering degree? And you quit that job?!” – Do you know how many people are willing to put forth the effort it takes to get an engineering degree? College is often very nostalgic for people. Friends, parties, spring break etc. I don’t have nostalgia. Remember what I said in the last point: I’m stupid. How does a stupid person graduate with honors with an Electrical Engineering Degree? GRINDING! That’s how. I worked myself to burnout. If I want to walk away from it, I have earned the right to do so.
Okay, enough ranting. I think you get the point. Over the years these types of comments and others have come from friends, family, romantic interests, faith communities, etc. People close to me. The tone has often been one of disdain or frustration with a decision I’m making. There are also the times when the frustration is more direct and obvious. I was 24 years old when I began my first real intimate relationship. I had a girlfriend and I was so excited. I had spent so much time alone and I had a close friend who knew how badly I desired to have a girlfriend and he also knew how much I had been given the runaround in college. He knew how much pain that had caused me. I expected him to be happy for me. After all, I had always been supportive of his relationships. I mean, surely he’s going to happy for me, right?
He wasn’t. You see, this young lady had introduced me to Christianity. My behavior was changing. There were certain activities that I wouldn’t participate in anymore. Without getting into all the details, there were certain things he was doing that I had gone along with for all of our time in college. However, after immersing myself in The Church, I couldn’t let certain things go unchallenged anymore. In particular, the way I had viewed women. I don’t like admitting it, but I would say that, in my mind, I heavily objectified women. The specifics of that behavior is a whole other blog post but let’s just say, it wasn’t good. I began to change. He was a Christian as well. He had grown up in that belief system. I thought he might receive my changes with open arms. I thought my changing might challenge him to change the way he handled his relationships with women. He was popular with women and he took advantage of that. He didn’t want to be challenged by someone so young in faith. At one point, he questioned the authenticity of my faith and essentially told me that this woman, my girlfriend, was leading me to Hell. I seem destined to run into these types of impasses with faith communities. It’s ridiculous when I think about it now, but, I was learning to treat women with a much greater level of respect and this was challenging to him. He didn’t like it, so he tried to undermine the process. This man had been like a brother to me. He was the first real close friend I ever had in my life. It was incredibly painful to watch our relationship dissolve because I chose to mature. I love you, but if staying with you means I have to get in a box, I’ll leave you.
Being a successful entrepreneur or finding fulfillment in life means you have to think and see big! You have to be able to conceptualize what is not yet in existence and then coalesce your behavior around that vision. If pursued in a humble and ethical manner, chasing a dream will grow every aspect of who you are. You’ll gain self-worth, self-awareness, and self-discipline like never before. You’ll grow. However, just because you dream big, doesn’t mean your family, friends, coworkers, or even your significant other will want to dream big with you. Just because you see obstacles as opportunities doesn’t mean they’ll want to do that with you. Sometimes you’ll have to remain silent about the things you hope for. Especially in the case of spouses and family members. Sometimes you’ll have to walk away from people. I’ve been through this process multiple times in life and it’s very painful! However, playing small so someone else can feel good… Putting a cap on my potential so that other people feel more comfortable in their complacency… To me, that’s got to be the closest thing to actually being the walking dead!
I think it’s okay to hope and expect that people will celebrate our progress. However, we must be careful about gripping too tightly to that expectation. Envy is a real thing. We all do it at different times in life. The question is, will we stay there? With that, will we become fearful of our own growth because it might unsettle our social groups? I hope not. I hope that we will become everything we are supposed to become and have the potential to become. I hope that we will experience pain in relationships so that we appreciate those life giving relationships more.
You might be experiencing a dissolving relationship right now. I know it’s painful. It’s easy to vilify the other side in these moments. It makes it easier to accept the separation. Can I ask you (and myself, honestly) to lead with forgiveness? Let’s not waste our time with bitterness. Let’s hide forgiveness deep in our hearts. Let’s let go of what was, so that we can experience the full magnitude of who we are to become.
I know it’s hard, but you’ll be okay. I love You! May God, in Her infinite wisdom and boundless love, bless you!