What Has To Be Earned?

Back from an awesome trip to the Dominican Republic. It is the first vacation that I remember coming back from feeling rested. Usually, it is a “hair on fire” endeavor to cram as much into a trip as possible: more surfing, more Space Mountain, more National Parks, more golf, more 14ers, more, more, more. But this was just me and Karmen (and for the rest of The Canon, John and Denise too). We layed by the pool. We got in the pool. We laid on the beach. We got in the ocean. We walked on the beach and shared a Cuban cigar. We talked with new friends. We watched the lovely Dominican people have fun with their dancing and their shows. We danced some ourselves. We slept. We golfed. It was just awesome. And I will post some pictures for you to enjoy. But today I want to ask some questions that came to me towards the end of our trip.

I have learned something about myself in a new way. For some reason, I, emotionally, am crippled. Somewhere early in my life, I learned to turn off most of my emotions. Why I did this, I have not ever been really certain. I believe one of the things I read from Dr. Phil McGraw one time: “People do what works.” So somehow, eliminating emotion worked for me. I think I am beginning to understand why.

It has to do with the reason why I have done much of what I do. I am trying to earn something. I am trying to earn approval. And the only way I have known that I am OK is when I am told by others that I am doing or have done a good job. And you know what gets in the way of doing that? Emotion. In our culture, no one will compliment me because I am a man who feels. But everyone will compliment me because I am a man who works hard.

I remember the first time I understood this. Seventh grade. Before then, I was a slighty better than mediocre student. But in seventh grade, Mrs. Thompson highly complimented me for my efforts. I learned that if I worked hard and got A’s, all sorts of people approved of me. I liked it. So I got one B from 7th-12th. And I decided to take on one of the hardest tasks out there, becoming a medical doctor.

That same year, I had a basketball coach who really spoke of the value of working hard at basketball. How it made you better. How it made you great. How it was honorable. I quickly found that all sorts of people also approved of me for working as hard as I could at basketball. So I worked and worked. I made the starting five on my ninth grade tryout at an all boys school where 200 boys showed up for the tryout. I remember running a specific extra sprint during the tryout and the coaches telling all the rest of the boys that they wanted that kind of effort out of everyone. So I lettered 3 years in high school and got a scholarship to play in college where I beat out the entire rest of the team, seniors and all, for the Mr. Hustle award during my freshman season.

I remember about this same time riding in the car on the way to church with my family. We were on Reservoir Road in Little Rock, AR. I was a bit of a worrier up to this point in my life about stuff like my appearance, my weight, blah, blah, blah. And I was realizing that worrying was going to get in the way of my new work ethic. So right then, I remember the moment very clearly, I decided that I was not going to worry about anything. I turned it off. And for the most part, I haven’t since that very moment worried about much for very long at all. My parents, if they read this, may be surprised to discover these things about me. I didn’t talk about them. I didn’t talk about much. I kept my feelings to myself. I kept my thoughts to myself. And honestly, sometimes I remember being praised by any number of individuals even for that. I had no problems, or appeared to have none at least.

Those three things had a tremendous impact on shaping who I have become. Who I am is a dude who knows how to work awfully hard, who knows how to put out tremendous effort, who knows how to out-effort the next guy, who knows how to endure (Luckily, by complete chance most likely, I have also learned how to rest and not work myself into the ground. I work hard when I work. But I understand the value of rest. In fact I would even say that I feel like I have to earn rest. If I haven’t worked, I don’t deserve rest. I don’t think I’m a “classic” work-a-holic. I’m an effort-a-holic.). Earning approval through effort was reinforced over and over and over and over and it still is. And emotion gets in the way of effort so I have shut it off. So I find myself as a man who knows how to work hard and even loves to do it at times but who is a bit hollow because there is not much emotion along with it.

Karmen asked me just the other night as we were talking about this what it would be like to do all the things that I do (triathlon, compete, climb, train, surf, golf, martial arts, etc) because I loved to do it rather than because I was trying to earn approval? I burst into tears. Wow. What would that be like? It might be amazing! It seems like it would be peaceful. I want that.

So now some of the questions: How has this thing I have outlined above shaped my view of God? How has this thing I have outlined above affected my relationship with Karmen? How has this thing that I have outlined above affected my relationship with Jack and Jace? How has this thing that I have outlined above affected my relationship with friends? How has this thing above affected the things that I truly love to do like triathlon?

Some of the possible answers: Emotion mostly comes out of me when it does as frustration or anger. I don’t have many friends and maybe just one really good one. I push Jack and Jace too hard. I push Karmen too hard. People often tell me I look mad or that my words and my facial expressions do not match.

I apologize for kind of getting less organized and philosophical and more wandering and personal with this post. But this is what is inside of me right now, and I needed to get it out. Probably a sign that I am moving in the right direction on this thing.

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17 responses to “What Has To Be Earned?

  1. societyvs

    It’s all really this delicate balancing act when you think about it. Being a hard worker is a something to be proud of – but the reasons behind it might need to be purified?

    The emotions thing is also very true – we shut down when we do not see the benefit – which makes me think of some of the crap we put women through who use their emotions much more than men. I can admit I also struggle with some of this emotional stuff – it just is hard to be more emotional when I have little exercise in this area.

    I think we need to find that balance – in some way – for emotions to be freed up and for our efforts to be about self and not just about others opinions. At some point we need to become comfortable with who we are and what we are and what we do. And for men, this is different than women.

    Part of the working thing makes us proud and makes us feel part of the scene – gives us the knowledge of what we put in – and that’s good. But we also need to know that we are not emotional in general (as men) – but when we are – it’s strong. We need to also exercise this part of us – to be healthy all around (and believe me this requires actual effort).

    We all put up walls – it’s a matter of how many of us can dismantle those walls to see the bigger landscape again?

  2. I’ve heard it said that you can’t change or heal what you do not acknowledge. Let the healing continue for all of us.

    The issue is not why you made these choices but that you are demonstrating the courage to step outside that comfort zone and ready to play a bigger life-game and experience a fulfilling life.Love ya’ brother.

  3. Jason. Great comments. I especially like the words on balance. Again and again I am discovering that the best place to live, the place where the most truth lies, is within the tension in the middle between the extremes where the mystery most often lies.

    Dr. Paul. Yes, I have also heard that said :) several times and my dear Karmen reminds me of it with a degree of regularity. I thought as I walked out of BT 4 now 2 years ago that I was done and fixed. I now am seeing that I really just unlocked the door.

  4. So, if you were not a doctor, what would you be?

  5. “so much pain, we, don’t know how to be but angry, we’ve become infected like we’ve got gangrene, oh please don’t let anybody try to change me…” -Flobots

    emotions are hard things, esp. when we have been ignoring them or we can’t interpret them in the first place. we have the ability to feel more than one thing at once. like “Hangry” where you’re hungry and angry, of the type of joy/sorrow at funerals. the type where you’re sad you’ll never see the person again but you’re so happy your paths crossed.

    it’s easy to shut off from the confusing tide of emotion and just deal on a rational level. but what a limited existence that is! that is akin to cutting off your left arm because you’re right handed.

    Jason is right that a balance needs to be struck and you’ve just unlocked the door… maybe i should go give me “emotion door” a check and see what’s up with it ;-)

    great to have you back! sounds like the trip did wonders. blessings for you and yours!

  6. Yael. I’m not meaning to imply that I wouldn’t have done what I did. John asked me last week while in the Dominican what I would change if I could. I would change my college majors. I would have gone to CU instead of KU. I maybe would have gone into forensics instead of primary care. But I think I would still have become a doctor. The thing I am suggesting and wanting to get closer to is doing it for me instead of doing it to earn approval.

  7. Doug,
    I think perhaps this is a case of differing worldviews. I just read your comment about doing your job for yourself rather than to earn approval with complete puzzlement, and that’s not saying you’re wrong, just that I can’t comprehend what you mean by this.

    See, I work my full-time job to support me and my kids. Other than money, I would be hard pressed to come up with anything in it for ‘me’ and certainly I don’t know anyone who approves or disapproves of my employment. It’s just a job. My responsibility is to take care of my kids and I’m happy to have this job so that I can do so. When my kids are gone from home, my job will enable me to perhaps travel, support worthy causes, help keep my synagogue going, etc. My job enables me to do things to make my world just a little better. I don’t think of it in terms of me, I don’t know what that would even mean, going to work for me.

    My part-time job enables me to do work I enjoy, which is helping Jews stay connected to Judaism. I don’t get approval for this from people, mostly I get complaints and am treated like everyone’s servant, do this, do that. I suppose for myself I enjoy the sense of accomplishment when I create a beautiful PR email for whatever the program at shul, but more than that I like the opportunity to help make Judaism meaningful to our congregation.

    I read your post and comments and realize our worlds, along with our views on our jobs and their purpose must be quite different, which is not a slam on either you or me, just a weird feeling. Like when I watched TV in England. They were speaking English but I had no clue what they were saying!

  8. Just to make sure I don’t come across as a totally self-deluded jerk, the ‘me’ part of my life is my time away from work when I study and write. And of course just as it is with most people, the ‘me’ part also enables me to affect things beyond me, even though the initial motivation is just that I find these things help make my life meaningful to me.

  9. Approval is a cruel taskmaster because we can never do enough. I’ve been down that road for many years. On the other hand, how do we keep a high level of motivation to do good work or do our best without falling into the approval cycle? People do appreciate us for things we do. They do admire us for achievements. These seem legitimate.

  10. societyvs

    “On the other hand, how do we keep a high level of motivation to do good work or do our best without falling into the approval cycle?” (Larry)

    Easy – we do it because we love it or others will be benefited by it – in essence – we don’t need approval as a motivator – love can fit right in there in its place.

    I actually think approval as the motivator will lead to true burn-out and possible stress disorders (even a nervous breakdown). We can’t please everyone all of the time – its just not possible – at some point we have to admit ‘I can’t make everyone happy!’.

    We need to be happy – and what makes us happy? We need approval – from those we love and care about – screw the rest…but really – we need to love ourselves also. If we keep trying to attain to standards that vary from place to place eventually we find the standards change – we need to set our own and live by them (for a more sturdy foundation to work from).

    I have no problem with approval mind you – just it being a prime motivator for doing good. What if approval is no longer there…then what? Deer in headlights – because we never what we wanted to gain out of life.

    There is a balance between approval and our personal standard – to forgo one is the hurt the other.

  11. societyvs

    “because we never what we wanted to gain out of life”…should read – because we never KNEW what we wanted to gain out of life.

  12. Yael. I don’t know if it is differing worldviews so much as it is female/male and the way we are inherently different. Plus, I think the way I have grown up, as I desribed, plays into it. To me, just going to do my job so that I can bring home some money, is near misery. I want there to be more in it than that. I think males place a lot of their value as people into what it is they do. That’s the way we are geared, to do things. And the point I’m making with the post is that I think that I have taken it a bit to far at times. It’s a bit dysfunctional at times for me. So I’m trying to just be cognizant of this and not fear allowing some emotion to fill me.

  13. This is awesome! Thank you for sharing this piece of yourself.

  14. FSR,

    We are a lot alike. You are not alone. I appreciate you sharing this and look forward to seeing where your journey goes from here….as another layer of onion falls to the floor.

  15. You’re welcome. Glad to do it.

  16. Roger. Thanks for the affirmation. On an intellectual level, I know I am not alone, but not until recently (the last 2 years) have I found others with the same struggles.

  17. Good Post Doug………..Im surprised I didnt respond sooner, I now know why. Very cathartic for me too. Thanks!

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