"Where There are Friends, There is Wealth"
- Plautas (3rd century)
“Fear is not real. It does not exist except in our thoughts about the future”
(Will Smith in After Earth)
The mind is a powerful thing. It has the power to think new thoughts, imagine new dreams, and motivate toward new heights. It runs the body’s basic functions, and protects from harm. Yet it can also cripple us with fear and keep us from reaching our full potential.
As I write this I have fear. I fear that I am wasting my time with a pointless exercise of blogging my thoughts. I fear worse things, like screwing up my marriage and getting divorced a second time. The voice in my head that I have called “I” tells me lots of things. It forecasts worst case scenarios in a well meaning attempt to protect myself. But what I know to be true is that every single time I have looked at that fear, and then found a way to move past it, and do the courageous thing, I have been glad I did. Because I have experienced new ways of living that are deeper and richer, and I have grown as a man.
So what can we do about this mind of ours? Here are some things that I do to use the best of what it can offer without being crippled by it’s constant caution tape.
When people ask you about your story, what do you tell them? How does it go? Give some thought to this, because it matters greatly how you see and tell your story. It says so much about who you are, and either draws people to you, or pushes them away.
When I went through divorce, I told the story until I was sick of hearing myself talk about it. That was part of getting over it. But what concerned me was that the more I shared this story, I realized it was the story I live from, and how I tell this story was more important than the content of the story. Let me explain what I mean.
Why is this such a daunting question? It should be simple to answer, right? This is our life’s work, to figure out who we are, deeper and deeper, even as we evolve, until we stand firmly and declare unapologetically, “I am…”
In the movie Gladiator, Russell Crowe hides his identity with his warrior helmet that covers his face in battles. After a decisive victory, the Emperor comes down to congratulate him and commands him to remove his mask and show the world who he is. For fear of death, he did not want to remove his mask, but then bravely turns around, shows his face and says, “I am Maximus…commander of the armies of the north, servant to the true emperor Marcus Araleus, father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife, and I will get my revenge!” He knew exactly who he was and his purpose. Here’s the clip if you want to watch it. This is our true work, to stand firm and declare who we are in the face of fear, judgement, ridicule, and not care what others think about us, because we know who we are, and know our purpose.
“Behind every complaint is a wish for one of the five A’s”
-David Richo, How To Be An Adult In Relationships, p.33
We all crave something in relationships. This is why you are reading this blog. This is why you have sought out relationships of every kind for your entire life. We are innately social creatures, constantly seeking something from others, and giving that something back to others in the process we call relating. We’ve seen it in the movies, romance novels, success stories, and the like. We seek it subconsciously every day, but how do you describe it? What is it, exactly? The closest I’ve come to understanding what “it” is came when I learned the 5 A’s of relationships.
In my quest to learn about relationships, why my first marriage failed, and how to identify and create healthy relationships moving forward, I came across some invaluable lessons. The 5 A’s from David Richo’s book cited above was one such gem.
The 5 A’s of relating:
At first it may seem counterintuitive but building relational wealth is not the same as building financial wealth. The financial world has its rules and maxims. I propose to you this one for the relational world: Continually invest in yourself and paradoxically, you will also build greater relational wealth with others.
As a musician, I can tell you that there are few things more fun and exciting than jamming with some excellent musicians. Every good musician knows that there are really no shortcuts to being a good player. You have to practice on your own, perfecting the fundamentals of scales, chords, and rhythm. Only those who have done the hard work and preparation are enjoyable to play with. Rather than thinking about the basics or just trying to keep up when they play in a group, these excellent musicians can also be listening intently to what others are contributing and playing what is appropriate. They can fit into the groove. They can add their voice to the music without taking over.
Novice musicians, by contrast, have not yet spent the time investing in their own craft, and therefore not very enjoyable to play with in a group. Their timing is off, their pitch accuracy isn’t great. But the excellent musicians have first done the work of investing in themselves so that they can play well with others, making a much more enjoyable experience for all. So it is in the world of relationships. You must invest in your own self development in order to play well with others.
This is a post for those going through the tough ending of a significant relationship. I feel compassion for you because I have been there. I know what that road looks and feels like and I want to offer some truth and tools for the journey as well as some words of hope and encouragement. I promise the next post will be uplifting for the masses, rather than this heavy hearted material for a few of you. But for those going through the rough stuff, I want to share some heart felt advice:
First of all let me remind you that you are loved. You don’t feel like it right now because you are in the pain of being left, which feels like a truck load of rejection. But you need to hear that you are loved by your friends and family that are all around you. [For our purposes here, it doesn’t matter whether you were the one left or the one who had to make the decision to leave].
You also need to know that there is absolutely hope for healing and happiness again after you get through the tough stuff. There is not only a light at the end of the tunnel, but a whole new world of good things to look forward to. The thing is, you must not just survive the tough times (I know some days, that’s all you can do), but dig in and do some active work toward a better life.
You know those former friends? When you see them, it feels awkward. You used to be close, but now you don’t hardly speak. You both know what happened- trust is gone. Really, trust is all that we have in relationships. When that breaks down, things are headed for trouble.
The million dollar question: How do you build a solid foundation of trust in all your relationships, so that you can reap the full reward of your relational wealth?
Honesty and Integrity
These are some old fashioned words, but they are like gold in your relationships.
I live in a state where the law says that all employment is considered to be “at will.” I didn’t understand this at first, but what it means is that the employee can leave any time, and the employer can let you go at any time, because you are employed mutually at will.
In the world of relationships, this can be a harsh reality that smacks you in the face unexpectedly when someone leaves the relationship. Perhaps you have had a difficult breakup and discovered this reality. The harsh fact is, all relationships are “at will”. This is the necessary flip side of the coin that we all recognize, because love must be given freely; it cannot be forced.
One of my valuable lessons came from looking at relationships at the molecular level; the tiny parts that make up the relationship, namely, requests to connect. These requests are most obvious in the dating scenario, where two people are trying to see if they are a good fit and worth expending the energy to connect more, or if they simply move along to the next candidate. But we are all constantly making these requests, not only in dating or romantic relationships, but with our family members, coworkers, neighbors, down to the waiter or waitress at the restaurant. Famed author and psychologist, John Gottman calls these requests, “bids to connect.”
No one plans for their life to fall apart, but it happens every day. Life happens and we really have very little control over it, despite our attempts to be in control at all times. You come home one day and your spouse says it’s over and is leaving. Your doctor says you have cancer. Someone close to you suddenly passes away. These are crisis moments when you know deep inside that your life will never be the same. It feels like the floor drops out and you begin to free fall, not knowing when and how you will land. Sometimes you think you’ve hit the bottom, only to find you are still falling and have farther to go. What do you do? Who do you call?
Everyone fears this kind of life crisis. When our friends go through it, we try to be there for them, but go home and hug our family a little tighter. When I went through it, I could see it in peoples’ eyes. They felt for me, but deep in their heart was the fear that it could happen to them just as easily.
You make a call to your best friend and maybe one of your parents. But where else do you go? What do you do?
In a sense, building relational wealth is not very complicated. To have a full life, you give yours away to others. A great teacher once said something very similar “If you cling to your life, you will lose it, and if you let your life go, you will save it” (Luke 17:33).
I regularly practice and urge people to continually invest in relationships. Life is unpredictable. I have visited people in the hospital in their time of need, and they have very little support to speak of. It’s sad. The only thing more sad is going to a funeral of someone who has not invested in relationships. In contrast, I have walked into a hospital room to see someone who is relationally wealthy. The difference is huge and obvious. Their experience in their hour of need is completely different. They have a relational safety net.
When I went through a desperate time a few years ago, I thought my life was over.
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Joel is a husband, father, musician, and lover of life; especially life that is shared with the wealth of amazing friends and family he is blessed to have near.