"One of my favorite memories was fishing with my father as a young child. My father taught me everything I knew. He taught me how to play baseball, came to all my games, and imparted wisdom I've kept my whole life during those fishing trips..."
I wondered why he didn't introduce himself. I hadn't heard of Michael Hyatt's work before the talk. He seemed to know what he wanted to say. His story pulled me in as I focused on his delivery.
He told us stories he shared with his father. I pictured bright, sunny summer days while they played catch. Pristine blue waters in the lake they fished in. Michael's story conveyed the carefree excitement of spending afternoons with his father.
His dad always showed up when he needed him. He learned some of his most profound life lessons from time spent with his father.
As Michael shared his story, I felt myself swept up. I recognized the structure of the story. It started with fun times. Shared experiences with his father. The fishing trips served as the anchor, the trips he cherished most. As he told that part, I anticipated some sort of struggle to color the experience. It had to happen.
Soon, the joint fishing trips became Michael's solo trip as his father showed up less and less. Would his father die? Would he get sick? Cancer?
The stresses of work caught up to his father. Rather than face the difficulties of work, finances, and a full family, Michael's dad found another outlet. Michael saw less and less of his dad. His father started missing more and more of Michael's games.
I recognized the struggle as a familiar one. Alcohol.
I became entranced as he shared the struggle. The pain and sadness turned into anger as Michael grew older. "Two can play at this game," he thought. He started drinking at the age of 14 to get back at his father. The revenge was short-lived and didn't help change his father's direction. When he exposed his response and started drinking, I felt goosebumps. I thought about the cycle of pain that starts with one, his father, and is so often carried on without resolution, to Michael.
Then one day his father got so drunk he passed out on the sidewalk in front of his house. Michael and his friends were coming back home from hanging out. They found his father knocked out on the sidewalk. His friends started laughing at Michael and his brother. He felt embarrassed, then humiliated. The humiliation gave way to anger towards this drunken man passed out on the sidewalk.
Michael and his brother dragged his father into the house and laid him on the couch. As his brother walked upstairs, Michael sat there in the dark by his father's side. He was angry. At that moment, Michael decided he never wanted to turn out like his dad.
That night served as the turning point in Michael's life. He focused all his efforts on fighting the image of his father. His anger drove him to higher and higher levels of success. Michael's push ate away at him as he continued his climb. Over the years, in founding his own businesses, raising 5 girls, and ignoring his own needs, the stress started to get at him. The anger drove him, but not toward leading a life he could be proud of.
The struggle that started with his father's alcohol addiction passed on to his own life. He pushed every day with directionless drive.
Two Defaults and A Solution
The story of his father and his own struggles illustrated two problematic lifestyles. Michael's father showed us the danger of the drifting lifestyle. We experience this lifestyle when we drift through life unaware of what we're choosing or why we make those choices. He shared an analogy of drifting while snorkeling with his wife. Before we know it, we're pulled out far from shore by a rip tide. We wonder how we ever ended up so far from where we wanted to be. The drifting life pulls us into all sorts of directions. The life his father led consisted of drifting without any real purpose.
An alternative is the driven life. This is when we overcorrect. Exhaustion is the new status symbol. We make excuse after excuse of why we cannot do what we care most deeply about. We're just too 'busy'. This was what Michael practiced to make up for the failings of his father.
But there's a problem. Both examples are unconscious reactions. Both get you far from where you want to be. Both are examples of the default life. A life that ends up far from where we want to be. A life without any accountability to ourselves or what we want.
As we struggled with which default lifestyle was better, Michael offered us a solution.
He described the third option, the designed life.
The designed life allow us to direct our lives based on our deepest values.
To practice a more designed life, we need to ask and answer 3 questions.
1) How do I want to be remembered?
During his father-in-law's funeral, everyone enjoyed stories of who Michael's father-in-law. They talked about the different ways he helped each one of them. They laughed about the jokes he told and the experiences they shared.
It occurred to Michael that we have this rare opportunity to engineer that conversation. We decide, with our actions right now, what type of conversation the people closest to us have. We also get to decide who will take part in that conversation. By designing our life we can engineer that discussion and direct how we're remembered.
This is our chance to be the architects of the memories other people have of us.
2) What's important to me?
We can do anything we want, but not everything. We need to find out what's important to us. Jot down the categories in your life and rank them. That way when the things you value are in conflict, you can decide what's more important.
In his own life, Michael's first priority is God, then himself. He shared that you need to put the oxygen mask on yourself before helping anyone else. It's why he values and takes care of himself.
We also hear about people putting the business first or life first, but the reality is you need both to succeed. You need to be successful in business and do well in life. Our happiness in our own lives reflects types of businesses we build.
By ranking what's important to you, you're preventing the urgent from overtaking the important. It allows you to focus on what matters every day.
3) What single brave decision do I need to make today?
In his own business, Michael's company was hit by the financial crisis. The board started deliberating, and coalesced on a decision to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Michael felt this was a bad decision.
He had a chat with his business coach later that evening. He shared his worry, but also his thought process that they needed to push through the recession. He felt they could make it together.
"What are you afraid of?" his coach asked him.
"I'm afraid of being fired," he replied.
She thought about it for a minute. Then she came back with some of the best advice he's ever heard. "Well, if you're going to get fired, you had better cause it."
Michael went back the next day to the board meeting. They discussed what to do as he collected his nerves. Finally, he spoke up. "We should not file for Chapter 11. We can beat this thing and come out the other side stronger."
One of Michael's VP's spoke up in response. "Great, I was thinking the same thing. So what do we need to do?"
It turned out most of the board agreed but no one had spoken up. They decided not to file for Chapter 11 and ended up bringing the business back around.
Doing The Best You Can With What You've Been Given
Driving with his mother, they started talking about his father. He asked his mother why it took her so long to leave his father, even though he was an alcoholic. She started tearing up. She told him that she wanted to. But what else could she do? She was a single mother with children depending on her. She needed to stay with his father for their well being. In a moment of vulnerability, she asked Michael if she messed up, if she made a bad decision. Tearing up himself, Michael said "no mom, you made the right decision."
She did the best she could with what she was given. As a few audience members began tearing up, Michael asked if we're doing the best we could with what we've been given.
It was clear Michael's story was wrapping up. I wondered what happened with his father. Did he forget to mention him? Unlikely, given how much work Michael put into his talk. Did he want to just ignore him? Did they come to a resolution?
Michael answered all my questions by coming back to a fishing trip.
He was fishing with his father and asked him something he never asked before.
"Dad, what was it like in the war?"
To Michael's surprise, his dad sighed, then started telling him the story of his service. He shared going overseas to serve. Shortly into his service, Michael's father was in the blast radius of a shell and fell into a coma. A few weeks later he woke up, sneezed, and fell back into a coma. The military sent his father home to handle his injury and introduce him back into civilian life. Soon afterwards he found himself married with his first child on the way. He needed to find a job to support his new family. It struck Michael that his father was thrust into a new life with immense responsibility so soon after serving. No time to process what happened. No time to worry about his friends still overseas. No time to plan for the future. He just needed to support this new family thrust upon him. At that moment, Michael realized that his father did a pretty good job for what he was given.
Michael shared how his father is now off alcohol and has been sober for a while. He showed a picture of his father, smiling in a wheelchair on a porch. You could hear the compassion ripple through the audience. Some held back tears.
As Michael prepared to step off, he asked us once more. "What are you doing with what you've been given? Life is a gift for us to design. Design your very best."
Michael walked off to resounding applause as we all got up to celebrate his journey. I thought about that compassion. He was right. His father did the best he could with what he had. Tears flowed down my own cheeks. What an act of love to listen to someone he had developed such an anger towards. I thought of all those people in the world trying their best to do right by the people they care about. I thought about all those people caught in a fixed mindset, unsure of why they can't amount to anything. I thought of all those parents who worked so hard to give their children the best they can offer.
I thought of my own experiences. People calling me a terrorist. People I never knew. Struggling with how to handle them. I remembered the time I showed rebellious compassion. How it helped me bridge a gap between myself and another. I cried as I thought of the pain he must've faced throughout his own life. Every person who lashes out at someone else does so out of their own pain. Each one of them needs what's sometimes most difficult to give: love, acceptance, and compassion. The same compassion Michael gifted to his parents.
They did everything in their power to give him the support he needed. Rather than hold the grudge and remember everything he never received, Michael loved them. He showed them care and gratefulness for everything they did.
His path is the one that would help us shift towards a more compassionate world. One where our communities exist to build one another up. Where we give a hand where it's needed rather than striking one another down.
Tears continued streaming down my face. I couldn't and didn't want to hold them back. This is the compassion we need. This is what will help us come together as a human family, to hold each other up. To help each other grow even when we don't want to. It's this compassion that will save us as a species.
I cried and cried, forever transformed by Michael's compassion.
Take a few minutes to get started now.
Open up a Word, Notepad, or Google Doc and answer these 3 questions. No need for perfect answers. Just write the first thing that comes to mind.
1) How do I want to be remembered?
2) What's important to me?
3) What single brave decision do I need to make today?