I just came across a post about best-selling author Robert Goolrick. This man’s childhood was like something out of a horror movie, but that’s just the back story. It’s what Goolrick’s accomplished since then that got me thinking about some big lies we tell ourselves – and how they can greatly undermine our chances for creating the life we want.
In Heading Out to Wonderful Skip Pritchard writes:
Pick your poison and (Robert Goolrick) tasted it: neglect, sexual abuse, alcoholic parents, not to mention the filth, the rats, the despair.
Robert overcame all these obstacles and went on to become an advertising executive and then a best-selling author. His book A Reliable Wife was a #1 New York Times bestseller and was widely praised by critics. When I asked him how he overcame such great odds, he credited a strong imagination and strong interior life.
Of particular note to me is his positive outlook. He now says, “Everything happened in a way that turned out for the best.”
That same attitude came through when I asked him why he started his writing career so late in life. At 54, he was fired from his job. Here’s what he says about that experience:
“Being fired was a great thing. It’s a terrific thing to change your life in your fifties to reinvent yourself, to take everything you’ve learned and use it to become something else, something better, something that makes you happier, something more giving to the world.”
He even says, “I’m an extremely lucky person.”
Amnesty International estimates that around the world at least one woman in every three has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime. Childhelp.org estimates that every year 3.3 million reports of child abuse are made, involving 6 million children, in the United States alone. I could go on… but stick with me, there’s a point to this.
Let’s be honest. Most every person on this planet has or will be, at some time, the victim of something horrible. Abuse, betrayal, disease, violence, crime. Other people make incredibly big mistakes and hurt themselves or others. Ironically, often the most traumatic thing for people is not the event itself, but feeling alone and different, wondering, “why me?”
Lie #1: Nobody really understands what I’m going through (subtext: nobody has it as bad as me/nobody is as awful as me).
Believing this lie is dangerous because it isolates us, makes us less likely to reach out to be helped by (and help) others. It closes doors in our minds, limits what we think we deserve, what we think we can do. At worst, it becomes an excuse not to even try.
What makes Goolrick unusual is not the trauma he endured (extreme though it may have been). What makes him fascinating, and an inspiration, is what he did about it.
Let’s look more closely at that. First he said that the way he overcame his trauma was through a strong imagination and strong interior life. I love that! Aren’t we, as creative children (and adults) often brainwashed into thinking that it is our imagination and interior life that is getting in the way of success? (Yes, it can be harder to earn a living in the arts, but the first question is how do you define success? Is it only about the money, or is it a whole lifestyle that serves you body, mind and spirit?)
Lie #2: If people know I’m different, it will be harder to succeed (subtext: I’d better hide my idiosyncracies and quirks, my pain and challenges, my big, impractical dreams).
“Stop daydreaming! Get a real job! You can’t make a living doing that!” The message is, if it’s fun or fascinating to you, it can’t be that important or useful. If you feel odd or different, keep your head down; try to blend in.
Have you internalized any of these messages? I know I did, and it held me back in so many ways. I’m not saying you should naively quit your day job without a solid plan. I’m just saying, before you dismiss your dreams give them the respect and consideration they deserve.
At age 54, Goorick was fired from his job. He could have spent the rest of his life bitter and angry about that, thinking, “See, life sucks. I got screwed AGAIN.” But instead he went on to start a whole new career, and a very competitive and technically demanding one, at that. His attitude? Getting fired “was a great thing.”
Maybe it seems easy for him to say, now that he’s a bestselling author. But I’m willing to bet, even if he was scared witless at the time, he had a good dose of gratitude and faith working for him already. Otherwise, he never would have had the guts to put the time and effort into getting that first book written and published. Which brings me to…
Lie #3: It’s too late for me.
It’s easy to look around and see people like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, or those novelists who write best-sellers in their 20s (ack!) and think that young people rule the world. The main advantage is that when you’re young, you’re less likely to know or care about “the rules,” and you’re less likely to believe in your own limitations. Sometimes ignorance really is bliss, and sometimes it pays off.
When you get older, you can’t pretend you don’t know your limitations, because you’ve met that pavement with your face a few too many times. But, you also know your strengths. Out of the depth and breadth of experience comes a greater ability to discern.
I think Goolrick’s words bear repeating in this context:
“take everything you’ve learned and use it to become something else, something better, something that makes you happier, something more giving to the world.”
“I’m an extremely lucky person.”
I don’t know about luck. By definition, it’s out of our control (except perhaps on a metaphysical level). In my experience change starts with a shift in attitude, perception and belief. Action and result follow.
Of course it’s not a simple mathematical equation. The variables are infinite and nobody gets a guarantee. But a lot of times if we can just stop running on the hamster wheel in our mind long enough to take a step back, we can see a whole world of possibilities beyond the narrow scope of that familiar cage. And therein lies great power.
Have you ever experienced something that seemed at first to be bad luck or a horrible mistake, and then later realized it was a great gift? How did it turn around? Was it a decision you made about how to look at it, or a long process of realization?