Sunday, October 6, 2013

Pep Talk: "It's Our Spirit"

Keep it simple, stupid. It’s a phrase I learned many years ago as a graduate student at the University of Missouri’s renowned School of Journalism.

It’s a phrase that came crashing back into my cranium while seeking solace from the afternoon heat. I was hunkered down in the comfy and dark confines in a neighborhood hangout, The Cherry Cricket in Denver’s Cherry Creek North area. It was the first weekday afternoon since retiring from the Denver media world after 25 years. Time to celebrate the beginning of a new voyage. A cold beer on a surprisingly hot final day of September seemed appropriate. 

While seated at the bar, I was reading The Seasons Of A Man’s Life. It had been recommended to ponder while venturing toward a new frontier. The book, written by a team of sociologists, psychologists and psychiatrists led by Daniel J. Levinson, dives into the theory that humans certainly have a life span, a life journey, but also have a life cycle. According to the book, at 55, your scribe’s in the “Middle Adulthood” cycle. The book suggests that the middle adulthood designation means, in Levinson’s words, “The main tasks are to make crucial choices, give these choices meaning and commitment, and build a life structure around them.”

Amen to that, buddy.

So off we go into Victory Production’s wild blue yonder with courage and wonderment as our guide in winning the battle against fear and self-doubt. In all the years of speaking, writing and consulting about effectively dealing with change, challenge and adversity, one principle thought has never wavered: Life throws us curveballs when we least expect it. It’s a roller coaster and it’s absolutely critical to keep trying to turn life’s lemons - heck with lemonade - into sweet and savory margaritas. It can be virgin margaritas if necessary. You get the point. Are we going to be students or victims of life? Choose wisely, okay?

How do we do that? How do we somehow, someway, muster the courage and will to persevere through the tough times? Back to the “Keep it simple, stupid” referenced earlier, I believe it starts with our spirit. That intangible force that resides within each of us, if allowed to be activated in healthy and productive fashion.

Life of late has brought many wonderful examples of such spirit. For example: Three adolescent girls working their butts off while receiving loving care at Excelsior Youth Center in Aurora, Colorado to overcome horrific sexual, physical, verbal and emotional abuse. One of the young ladies is getting ready to graduate from the Center’s high school and has big dreams for the future. The other two, 14-years-old, are finally beginning to trust adults. As one of the girls admitted, “To let down our walls.”

The amazing woman who invited this simple dude from Missouri and others to tour the facility also demonstrates an incredible attitude. A woman with a heart bigger than the state she hails from managed to move beyond an abusive childhood featuring a mother who would drag her down the hallway by the ponytail. Compounding the problem? The angry parent would also bang this dynamo’s head against the wall a few times to make sure the insanity made a lasting impression.

Somehow, someway, the Texas native and her siblings persevered. It was not easy. Today Jamie Angelich mentors precious young women to press on despite the unimaginable potholes present. An admirable spirit.

And then there’s a young woman named Sarah. We had lunch together recently and the 33-year-old just knocked my socks off. The sports enthusiast was born with spina bifida but didn’t know it. Yep. The prognosis came late, when Sarah was about 2 1/2 years old. The challenges began to manifest about four years later. Since then, wow, what a ride it’s been: More than 60 surgeries and far too much time spent recovering from them. “It’s real tough to have a normal life when you’re constantly recuperating. I missed a lot of stuff growing up.”

As a high school junior, complications from the genetic disease forced doctors to amputate Sarah’s left leg just below the knee. Life had certainly changed but was progressing nicely until prom night of that year. Then an infection attacked the surgical area. Sarah went into toxic shock. Died. Was revived and spent many days in ICU, deathly ill. Flesh-eating bacteria forced surgeons to remove four more inches of the limb.

 As our time together concluded - organized by an awesome mom by the way - a vibrant woman who epitomizes the word “persevere” dropped this gem on your correspondent. “I don’t want to be known for spina bifida or 60 surgeries. I want to be known for my spirit.”

Amen, sister!

“Want another?” The bartender’s question ended my mind’s wandering. I was back in the moment, sitting inside a favorite watering hole with the book before me. I declined the offer and pondered the book’s passage about middle adulthood:  “The main tasks are to make crucial choices, give these choices meaning and commitment, and build a life structure around them.”

Amended, the phrase could easily read, about life: “The main task is to make the crucial choice to keep a positive spirit despite the unexpected turmoil, give that spirit meaning and commitment, and build a life structure around it.”

Keep it simple. It’s our spirit. That’s the easy part. Keeping the spirit alive and well despite what ails, that’s the real challenge. Good luck!

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