“How are you doing these days Michael?” This question posed by a barista at my favorite coffee shop where I bang out my daily writing sessions was a heavy one.
“I’m just grinding Emily. Staying gritty and grinding through.”
It clearly wasn’t the response she was expecting, as she had grown more accustom to my high energy, upbeat, taking the world by storm greetings. While I’ve never drank a cup of coffee in my life, my world as a single dad created new dynamics that required adapting my work routine, and after inking a contract with my publisher to produce a motivational book in six months I had to find where I could find my flow each day. Sola Café became my joint.
Since my first book was published last May I’ve been a jetsetter of sorts (at least by Montana standards) with keynotes, presentations, book signings and events keeping me on the go. Whenever any of the baristas (who’ve become like office mates) haven’t seen me for a few days they always ask where I’ve been, clearly admiring and perhaps envious of my lifestyle. But today I didn’t have anything exciting to report. While I did just return from a Costco book signing in Billings over the weekend, that seemed a distant memory.
When confronted with the question, “How are you doing these days Michael?” I immediately found myself swimming in emotion. I had just spent sixty minutes sitting in the hospital parking lot with tears of overwhelm streaming from my eyes. Though I’ve been one gritty dude the last year and a half as I’ve endured one barrage after another on my health, today’s appointment simply pushed me over the edge. So when I saw my mom waiting for me in the parking lot and she climbed into the truck to talk, the floodgates opened for both of us.
Tears hold so much power. It’s why I’m not afraid to shed them from time to time in front of my daughter (wanting to set the tone where she doesn’t bottle up her emotions), with my wife, a good friend or in a locker-room full of high school hoopsters. It’s always been hard for me to write or talk about my physical health and struggles with my legs, fighting feelings of unjustified guilt and shame. I suppose it’s the culture that we live in where athletic achievements and physical feats are celebrated beyond almost anything else.
When you’ve identified so much of your worth and sense of self with what you can do physically, when your passions are exploring mountains, riding bikes, bombing powder and surfing waves; when you love to train, race and go hard; when you’ve made your living with your legs and then things change in the blink of an eye it’s hard to accept. For me, it’s watching one of my best friends chasing my daughter and his son on a playdate over the weekend while I’m on the sidelines trying to manage the pain that represents the biggest burden. I want to take my daughter on her first backpacking trip, to climb her first peak, cut her first tele turn and surf her first overhead wave.
Right now these things simply aren’t in the cards. So I shower my little one with love, goodness and stability, while providing what I hope is an example of how to courageously and gracefully overcome hardship. And in the back of my mind I always remind myself that more is likely to come down the pipeline and that so many others have it far worse than I.
It is what it is. Though so simple, this phrase has become a mantra. I write so much about resiliency, grit, passion and vulnerability in my next book. And I do this because I believe these four characteristics represent our ability to foster and nurture true joy, versus that of circumstantial joy. It’s not that hard to be happy when you’re healthy, when everything’s going right, when things come easy.
But what do we do after twelve doctor appointments, blood draws and scans in seventeen days? What do we do when tests and appointments at the hospital represent the norm and part of our routine? What do we do when you’re told that the DVT that spread to your lungs, nearly taking your life, has caused irreparable damage to your legs at thirty five and that it is going to haunt you the rest of your life? What do you do when the third ultrasound in two weeks shows some flukish anomaly that requires another pilgrimage to Salt Lake City and additional appointments and tests at the University of Utah? What do we do when your hips hurt so bad that getting back up the stairs after forgetting your daughter’s socks requires three deep breaths and a mantra?
You smile. Well, first you cry, and then you smile. Why smile? Because we can’t become gritty, resilient and strong without going through hard shit. The harder the struggle, the more resilient we become. And I’m more convinced now more than ever that being gritty and resilient are the two most badass traits any of us—man or woman—can hope to attain. Resilience is THE game-changer. Resiliency is what gives us the strength to have a positive attitude (something far different than Pollyanna) when clouds shroud the horizon. Resilience is the key ingredient to turning our focus to abundance: that which we have, not that which we are lacking. But we can only secure it by weathering storms and going through really hard things.
So, instead of withering away, I’m using the fire of adversity to forge a stronger, grittier and more resilient self. And I’m becoming one badass dude in the process.
My mission is simple. Strive each day to use all of the shit I’ve been dealt to help inspire others to see struggle, heartache and hardships as an opportunity to seize rather than something to simply endure. In the end, our hardships represent a most precious gift: added resiliency.
~Michael W. Leach