"Everything looks like failure in the middle." - Rosabeth Kanter
The start is a like a rush of fireworks into the sky, aiming high into the dark clear night, full of explosive determination and a will to wow. The promises and declarations of fidelity to high ideas and creative punch are stamped with excitement. We hurtle on our launch path and look towards that big payoff, that finish line where we wave to the crowd, our laurels sharp and digging into our skin.
Then the inevitable—the shine starts to rub off. It's unnoticeable at first, but the once blazing object begins to turn lukewarm, mottled with spots of ennui and disinterest. A holding pattern emerges. The finish line seems out of reach. It feels like the the throttle switch has been cut from the inside.
This is natural in many areas of life, of course. Newlyweds pass through the robust and snazzy honeymoon stage to settle into a more practical, less unicorn-and-rainbow-laden world. The new car eventually starts to smell like stale coffee and wet dog. That once exciting new project at work becomes a sloppy slog. Even those birthday cufflinks from Uncle Karl start to lose their chic appeal.
As an alcoholic, my life revolved around finding the New Shiny, the Next Fix. As they say in hockey, I was all Swedish and no Finnish. The buzz of finding a new project to tackle was as intoxicating as the celebratory booze I used to mark each lame-brained and overreaching idea. I could kick start any venture as long as it didn't involve tedious and annoying actions such as work, persistence and vision. In the last 20 years, the combined effort of my best thinking and planning wouldn't fill a teaspoon. I was too busy getting drunk and trying to be clever.
Whenever the moment of liftoff had passed, and the reality of tenacity-in-the-trenches loomed, I would cut bait. I blamed others. I pointed to the vague notions of bad timing and poor luck. It wasn't that I was lazy—the effort it took to plan, drink, hide, lie and cover up everything took Herculean might and will. I wasn't afraid of a bit of hard work. What I did fear most was the plateau. The let down. The place where I was stuck with me and my lack of confidence in myself. The Unknown.
So it was easier to tap into that dopamine rather than into my own dry well of character. The New Rush was easier to distract myself with than having to sit with my own limitations and my inability to just deal and grown, learn and stretch. Top me up with another fix, barkeep, and make it a triple.
These days I find myself in a sort of stasis. In all parts of my life, it's as if everything has leveled off. The novelty of my new role at work has worn off. The variety and excitement of summer has ceded into the routine of school and homework. My running has tapped out at a certain weekly mileage. Even my recent rapid weight loss has stopped and I have been hovering at the same scale numbers for weeks. My writing projects have not moved, although I am trying to make progress in that department.
Everything seems to be at a standstill, and this is where the quote about everything in the middle feeling like failure hits home. My default reaction is to change course immediately—stop watching my weight and to start eating poorly again. To overdo or even stop running. To tear down what writing I have started and shelve it. To start looking for a new job. Anything to start a new course, even to my own detriment. It's old behaviours bubbling up again, self-sabotage wearing a cape and swooping down to try and rescue me from me.
If my life were reduced to a five-minute motivational video, this is the part where the weightlifter fails to make the clean-and-jerk and drops the weights in disgust and shame. This is the part where the the gymnast hobbles to the corner, unsure of her next move. Then of course someone says a few uplifting words about digging deep and all of a sudden the bar gets pushed over the guy's head, a scream escaping his lips. The gymnast wraps her ankle and nails the routine and landing. She pumps her fist in the air.
I am not sure that things will happen in such theatrical ways for me, but one thing I am learning in recovery is that it's not always about the short-term rush—it's about long-term contentment. The graph of my life isn't all full of spikes and valleys, nor is it all one flat line. Seasons will pass, and with them the chances to rest and recharge and also to blossom and grow. My job right now is to sit with all this and stick with it. Persist. Look at the big picture. Not give into my old ways. Breakouts will happen. The goal is not the finish line, but in the trudging. The more I see this, the less I need to worry about where I stand and what the outcome will be.
The true shine comes from the glow of moving forward in faith rather than in fear.
Shine on, crazy friends.