Sean was just 46 when it all came to an end. There were still tracks on the ice from the kids skating and having fun that day. They didn’t have the slightest clue of the tragedy that would happen just a couple of feet away in the bushes where Sean had laid his head to rest. Later that night, Sean died a lonely and cold death on a beautiful winter evening. Cause of death: misery, lack of connection, and nothing to live for. In fact, he died a physical death that night. His soul died many, many years ago. Sean was never able to reach his full potential.
The struggle in life literally killed Sean. He had no more friends, his two kids didn’t want to see him anymore, his family abandoned him, and he didn’t have a single dime to his name. All he had was his duffel bag and a faded picture of his kids in his back pocket. It was safe to say Sean fucked up.
But, he was a good person at heart with a lot of potentials, and that’s what makes this story so sour. In some days, when everything was right, he was the best dad, friend, and overall human being to be around. He was expressing his full potential. He made you laugh, cared for you, inspired, and made things happen. And he was that guy for who the sky was the limit. The guy that got praise from all the teachers and other parents. Everyone could recognize the spark that lived inside him.
He was that guy on the days when everything fell into place, but on most days, he was just a glimpse of his potential.
The downfall of Sean’s full potential
Right off the bat, Sean was set up for success. He married the hot girl from school, and had two wonderful kids, landed a high paying job at a prestige company, and his social life was pitch-perfect. He was living his full potential. But it didn’t last. The kids, the wife, the job, the social responsibilities all added up, and Sean simply wasn’t capable of keeping all the balls in the air. He lost his proactive touch and became reactive to every little thing in life. And he became anxious, stressed out, and as a result, his dark side came out. He snapped at the smallest thing, and eventually, he became bitter and lost.
Deep inside, Sean knew he was a good person. He just needed some time off from everything to figure things out. But, in rare cases, when that happened, he would reflect on things, and it just made him feel guilty and resentful. He knew he was fucking up. If everything was just working out, he could be the awesome guy that he is deep inside. Surely, everyone around him could see that. If they would only work at it to make it happen. And so he set out to make every single thing in his life alright, so he could be who was meant to be. But, things rarely are all alright.
Sean was chasing a fata morgana, and things went sideways fast. He became bitter and lost, a victim of life, or, better yet, a victim of his mentality. If only things had worked out for Sean, he could be everything. But, they didn’t, and there he was, at the young age of 46, all alone with his duffel bag in brutal nature, blowing out his last gasp of air.
The Sean in all of us
Sean is a prime example of someone who got lost on the journey between what is and what could be. You know, that place where actual change happens. Where the hero embarks on his journey to reach his full potential (and beyond). Where he goes out into the adventurous wild to slay dragons, conquer kingdoms, and proof to the gods, he is a force to be reckoned with.
Nowadays, we don’t go out anymore to slay dragons and proof to the gods we mean business (well, most of us don’t), but, we do make plans to become better parents, healthier people, more skilled at our jobs, kinder people and a zillion other fancy things. However, very few ever reach the forest and go through it. Even fewer go on the actual journey and come back a changed man.
Because just like Sean, our plans never pan out the way we thought they would. Because before we even reach the forest, we encounter thieves, critters, and creatures and have to face the demons inside ourselves. Our inner Sean pops up and puts us back in line. Life happens, and the plan we initially made doesn’t hold up, so we retreat. We’ll try again next year. We tried, and that’s all that matters. We set out on the path of what we are to what we can be, and therefore we already are, right? Mweh, not quite.
You are not what you think you are
Knowing the path and walking the path are not the same thing. They are entirely different. Intention is completely worthless. Sure, things start with intention, a spark, an idea, but without execution intention has no value.
The ego tells us it’s ok to retreat; we tried. It tells us to come back to our small self because it wants to protect us. The small self likes certainty, and if anything is uncertain, it’s going from what is to what can be. Our minds convince us that we did the best we can and that we deserve some credit for it. We think highly of ourselves just for trying, and so should everyone else. Unfortunately, that’s not the way it works.
For example, the idea of becoming a better parent is entirely irrelevant to your kids. You can tell your kids you will be at their next big game because this meeting is critical, and you tried hard to be there, but when meetings get more critical and you skip more games, your kid doesn’t care about you trying to reach.
You tell yourself you’re a great dad because you have every intention to be at the game, but these corporate people just don’t cut you any slack. But, your kid sees the empty seat when scoring that winning goal and thinks you’re a lying piece of shit dad that’s never there for him. And, if his dad doesn’t even show up to see his big game, what will his views on the rest of the world be? That’s right, fuck your intentions.
Things aren’t alright
If all were alright, you would hit the gym consistently, but things aren’t alright, so you’re just fat and out of shape. If everything was cool, you are the most fun and loveable person in the world, but things are rarely all cool. You have stress, a headache, and so you are awful company that no one wants to be around.
The idea of one day becoming your full potential, on the condition that all is alright, is bullshit. Sure, one day, you could be all you can, but not because everything is right.
There’s nothing wrong with this, but don’t get hung up on the idea. Don’t lie to yourself and pretend to be something you’re not. Don’t say you are what you can be if everything was just alright. The reality is things are rarely all alright, so we aren’t the people who we could be when all is alright, we are a fraction of that. Just like Sean, we are chasing a fata morgana. The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. If what we potentially can be depends on everything being alright, we never fill the gap between what we are and what we can be.
Leave the past with Al Bundy
On the other side of the coin of what we can be is what we were. But, again, it doesn’t matter what you were. Both sides of the coin are irrelevant in the now. The only thing that matters is the spin of that coin. The spin is walking the path.
Maybe you were an Olympic medalist or a cover model, totally healthy and stable. Perhaps it was even the other way around. You were a junky, a thief; It doesn’t matter anymore. There comes a point where you have to say goodbye to who you were. It’s no longer relevant. It’s an old identity that isn’t coherent with you anymore, and it’s full potential reached that belongs in the past.
Al Bundy scored four touchdowns in a single game while playing for the Polk High School Panthers in the 1966 city championship game versus Andrew Johnson High School, including the game-winning touchdown in the final seconds against his old nemesis, “Spare Tire” Dixon. But, the reality is, he’s a shoe salesman now, who couldn’t score a touchdown if his life depends on it.
You have changed, and there comes a time where you have to let go of the idea of what you were.
The idea of being Peter Pan, of being forever young, is appealing, but there’s a dark side to it. Never growing up means never maturing, which means getting stuck on the journey of your life. Every stage of life has its ups and downs, but when your ship sails save into the harbor of the next stage, get off the ship and carry on. Leave the dock and the ship behind, and don’t look back.
Shed your skin
It’s like a snake who sheds its skin. Yes, the skin is still lying there, but he can never crawl back in it. It doesn’t matter; snakes don’t want to. They shed their skin, leave it where it falls and move on. And they don’t look back; they don’t think about how they identified with that skin. That skin is their old self, and even if they wanted to, they couldn’t crawl back in it. They’ve grown out of it. It gives room to be absolutely free in what you want to be now; rather than all these pieces of skin, you drag along, chasing the potential you could be or the idea of what you were.
People are not snakes. We try to crawl back in our skins all the time. But it won’t fit. Not mentally, not spiritually, not physically. It’s like the overweight forty-year-old that tries to squeeze back into her prom dress from high school. It’s not a pretty sight.
How long can you drag along the skin of your previous accomplishments? A decade? A year? Does it depend on the achievement? Why focus on what you were, when you can take the first step of the journey to fill the gap between what you are to what you can be? Maybe you will never get there, but at least you’re getting closer.
What if you wake up every day with a brand new skin? What if you re-invent yourself every single day, and what if the past doesn’t equal the future, and you can change whenever you want? Stop holding on to what was. Every single thing in the Universe is perishable.
Don’t blame the wind for blowing
If everything was alright, we could be everything, but it rarely is. Even when everything is alright, it won’t be for long. Tragedy is always just around the corner. So, what do you do? You adjust the sails. You do what is necessary to make the gap between who you are now and your full potential smaller.
Captains don’t leave the harbor with the notion that everything is alright, cause it never is. Sure, the sea might be smooth like silk, but they know a storm is bound to come. When the sea is flat, they enjoy it, and when the storm hits, they are ready. And that’s where Sean fucked up. He was a smooth sailor, blaming the wind for blowing.
Find out what you need to be the best captain. Put yourself first. You can’t pour from an empty cup. Be responsible and take ownership of your potential and whatever happens to you. The ocean of life can be ruthless and will wreck your ship. It might not be your fault, but it’s your responsibility. You can pretend like everything is alright and focus on the micro, while the world around you is burning, but eventually, the fire will catch up to you, and you will sink.
The tragedies don’t become less; you become stronger. And so when the devil whispers that you can’t handle the storm. You look him dead in the eye and whisper back that you are the storm. Ships are safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for, and that’s a good thing.
(Yes, I just ended this story with two corny quotes, but hey, whatever works, right.)
Photo credit: Ian Espinosa