Dream thieves

Saturday, February 4 

The second day of February was overcast and threatened rain. There was a damp chill rising off the ground, and the wind blowing out of the west promised rain and a full-blown case of the blues.

I did a balance transfer last month, shifting debt from one credit card where a zero percent APR was expiring to a new 0% APR offer. But on my desk was a bill double what it should have been. And with it, a slip of paper entitled "Why Your Minimum Payment Calculation is Changing."

In truth , there is no answer as to "why," only an explanation of how. Effectively, 0 percent APR is now 2 percent and if I don’t like it, I can close my account. Which means paying it off first, which I cannot do.

I’ve been doing the balance-transfer shuffle for a couple of years, paying bare minimums while waiting for the winds of change to start blowing my way. "I can’t believe you’ve been doing this for five years," my friend P said the other day. "You’ve got a lot of faith."

Actually, I don’t. And if you’ve been reading this carefully, you may already have noticed where the problem lies. It’s that word "waiting."

Waiting for projects to come through isn’t good enough. Michael Jordan didn’t wait for his team to win, he willed it to win. When IBM whiffed on his PC software, Bill Gates took it elsewhere and made it happen on his own. When Richard Branson saw how lackluster the airlines were, he started his own.

At my men’s group meeting the other night, a guy said he met a man recently who was in an accident several years ago that left him paralyzed from the waist down.

Instead of feeling sorry for himself, he became a wheelchair marathoner who has medaled in three Paralympic Games and last year competed in the Chicago and New York marathons. He married and has a 3-year-old daughter. He renovates houses for a living, and in his spare time he’s an advocate for disabled athletes.

"That guy is more powerful than a lot of the able-bodied people I know," my friend said.

I put myself in that underachievers’ category, struggling with a long-standing paradox. By nature, I am hopeful, upbeat, even idealistic. But I grew up in a situation where the glass was always half-empty. I believed that nothing I could do was good enough, that the best I could hope for was just to get along.

I’ve worked hard at cleaning that up, but something was missing. I awoke a few nights ago at 3:45 a.m., sat up in bed with a notebook and a pen and ran a full diagnostic, a combined searching of the soul and an inventory of all my plans and ideas. The conclusion: there was nothing wrong with any of it. Properly reinforced and pursued, any one of them could turn things around.

The problem, I found, was operator error. As I became immersed in the routine of day to day affairs,  optimism ebbed away, displaced by a deadening reality.

"How," I thought, glancing out the window as I made coffee in the morning, "is today any better than yesterday? What’s different?" I drive down the street where new homes are going up that will cost $700,000, and I wonder "Where the hell is my income going to come from?" I notice bills on my desk and think "I’ll pay them later," as if not facing the reality will make it better somehow.

And yet those who succeed face those same 3-o’clock-in-the-morning doubts,  those moments when the world seems indifferent, if not hostile, and the dream thieves threaten to bring them crashing back to earth.

Michael Campbell, who a few years ago almost gave up on golf, revived himself and last year won the U.S. Open. But even during the last nine holes of the last round, his fear and doubt were so great that he had to keep repeating to himself  "’Keep your focus!’ twenty times on each hole."

That is the ultimate battleground: change your thoughts, change your life. Scores of times each day, every negative must be neutralized, every temptation to give up must be cancelled, every moment of weakness must be overpowered with gratitude and affirmations.

It’s called holding the vision, and I know it works because my struggle these past few years has perfectly reflected the thoughts I’ve allowed to run unchallenged through the hallways of my mind. And to those who clung to their individuality and the notion that their failure was different, more abiding, Campbell added these final words: "If I can do it, so can you."

To comment, click below on "Post a Comment." To contact me directly, send an email to jc@johnchristensenonline.com.


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