Bridging the Sudden Divide

As you all know, I believe that being honest with yourself is of utmost importance. As the last post mentioned, I want to be a Mixed Martial Arts fighter. Obviously, I’m older than most athletes who take on this task and, no, I’m not just interested in the training alone. I want to get in an octagon and fight in competitive matches. I’ve been a person that’s done the extreme in the eyes of other people: Quitting Engineering, Joining the Military, Starting a career as a Writer/Speaker, and, now, fighting. Previous to fighting, each one of the previous choices has turned out to produce profoundly positive results for my life, yet, people still look at me crazy when I want to do something that’s different.

This got me to thinking: What does it look like to give support to a loved one who wants to do something that feels extreme?

First off, I’m not recommending that anyone do what I do. I’m trying to unearth principles that can apply to your unique life and situation. As I said, I’m for you being honest with yourself. If there’s something you really want to do in this life and it’s still possible to make an attempt, I don’t see why we can’t at least explore the possibility, if not fully answer the question, “What if?” However, experience has taught me that being true to yourself has consequences. Particularly, it can put pressure on close relationships. We’re herd animals and we like the safety of numbers. When one of us breaks stride with the herd, it can be disorienting to all parties involved. I’ve had relationships fall apart because of my choice to honor my authentic self and as I look back I feel like there are ways I could have outlined the conversation that may have preserved those relationships.

Flip the Script

One thing to think about is the idea of ‘breaking character’. Remember, everyone has a story about how the world works. Other people play characters in that story. As the author and creator of my own story, I have to recognize that I impose expectations on the characters in my story (the relationships I’m in). The is also true in reverse. Think about the times when someone close to you has done something that was completely out of character. Whether good or bad, it has the impact of stunning you to some degree:

  • It peaks your curiosity – “I never knew you were into that and I’ve known you forever!”
  • It scares you – “I’ve never heard you talk like this!”
  • It throws you off guard – “I would have never expected you to do that!”

When we ourselves recognize that there is a new thing that we want to do and it’s scary for us, how much more for the people around us? Should we be surprised when people react poorly to the news that we want to do something different? I think it’s fair to be disappointed, but surprised? No. We have to empathize with the notion of the unknown. We all can be tempted into over-sized fears of those things that we don’t understand or are unknown, particularly when those unknowns come in the form of behaviors that seem foreign to the people we hold closest.

Give people credit for their concern. I’m not dumb. Telling my friends and family that I want to fight at almost 40 years old probably sounds a little crazy… fair enough. Doesn’t mean I’m not going to do it but having some empathy for their concern is reasonable.

A Realistic, Resilient, Optimist

When I first told my mother that I was thinking of signing up for the military she had a meltdown. In hindsight, it was an understandable reaction. I dropped that bomb out of nowhere with no warning. Up until that point, I hadn’t really thought about it from her perspective. That was in 2007. 3 years later, in 2010, I was heading off to Afghanistan for a year. Two years prior, in 2008, we had lost my older sister to suicide. I was deeply concerned about my mothers mental and emotional state as I was heading off to war. I thought, “What happens if I die in combat? I’m my mother’s only remaining child…” The empathy I hadn’t expressed in 2007 was definitely there in 2010.

When I went home on leave just before deploying, my mother was solid as a rock. She told me to go over there and kick some butt! She was optimistic and she knew I needed to focused on the task at hand, which was preparing for combat. She was also well aware of the reality that I could die overseas. We had talked about my will and beneficiaries. This wasn’t whimsy or living in fairy tale land. She understood the danger and helped me be as sharp as I possibly could be for the task. This, after losing her other child to suicide. My mother is one of the most realistic, resilient, human beings I know, and a persistent optimist.

Maybe our first reaction to our loved one’s desires for change shouldn’t be to hit the panic button. If we’re the one desiring change, we might spend some time thinking about the mental and emotional toll that our actions have on those we love (The previous point). It might change how the news is delivered, which might change the intensity of the reaction. Also, some realistic optimism helps. We can look at the risks while also acknowledging the possibility of success. Which leads to my next point…

Where No Man Has Gone Before

If you happen to be the person that receives the shocking news, just remember, you would want the benefit of the doubt. How about asking, “Why?” And perhaps we should listen to understand, as opposed to listening to insert our response that rejects what they want to do. Like I said last week, Mixed Martial Arts has a therapeutic affect on me that I think is totally worth the inherent risks. That word ‘risks’ is the important part here. I think it’s wise to try to understand motives first, and then bring concerns second. I find that this is rare in all of us because we hit the panic button first, “You wanna do what?!!! Don’t you know you could lose all your money doing that?!!!” Or whatever. Trust me, I’ve heard all the reasons why you shouldn’t do — whatever it is that’s unique or different. This usually comes from someone who hasn’t explored with me and hasn’t really tried to understand my reasoning. It’s not a conversation at that point. My idea has been judged as foolish and now they’re just shooting holes in it, out of fear. But what if we were to examine each risk and think about how we can mitigate that risk?

This is one of my prime arguments with fighting. When I went into the military, I understood the dangers, fully. Therefore, I approached my lifestyle and training with a level of urgency that I felt would give me the best shot at success on the battlefield. I have trained other fighters, I have experienced combat, and physically, I’m nowhere near a normal 38 year old. In fact, the discipline and consistency are aspects of Martial Arts that I gravitate towards heavily. And, some of the oldest athletes to compete in professional sports have done so as pro fighters (Bernard Hopkins is a great example). Yes, there’s a risk I might get hurt but, if given the opportunity, I can walk people through my plan for mitigation of those risks. This process does something on both sides: It forces the dreamer to think about the downside of what they’re doing and it asks the concerned party to think outside the box in terms of what’s possible. Even if there’s no agreement, I think both sides are better for having explored the risks.

Saving Us

A commitment that I’m trying to make this year is to stop spending so much time thinking about whether people like me or not. This includes those closest to me. I don’t like conflict and debate. I find it exhausting so my habit has been to ignore when I’m in disagreement with someone or hide when I don’t want to deal with an argument. Eventually, things come to a head and I tend to burst. I’ve lost relationships with people I really love because I just don’t want to deal with any conflict in our relationship, until we absolutely must deal with it. By then, I’ve allowed resentment to build up and I’m not thinking about things from their view point. There aren’t any big decisions I would change in my life. How I communicated those decisions would definitely change if I could go back. It’s better to have a hard conversation today than an explosive one latter on.

It’s fair to have grievances with one another when desires change, but it’s not fair to let those grievances build up and explode on the unassuming. Sometimes people don’t realize how cynical they’ve become, or the fact that every time you have a spark they come pissin’ on your fire, lol. Knowing how much I’ve gone through this with people, I guess I just wanted to share some tools to facilitate a healthy debate about doing that which is true to yourself. Maybe some empathy, optimism, and rational conversations about real risks, can save some relationships.


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