Minute Of Silence With Greg In North Dakota
Posted by Jerry White on Aug 5, 2018
“MANOPAUSE & THE PERFORMANCE TRAP”
I’m only 55, but I’ve already experienced five mid-life crises. Each of them was triggered by a desire to achieve something, to perform. (I’m having another one in front of you now.)
My talk today is about “Manopause.” Actually, it’s about a man-on-pause, pondering in my 50s whether I am only as good as I perform. Manopause is different than a mid-life crisis. It’s more chronic. It feels more like an irritating detour or inconvenient passage into new state of Being, beyond doing and achieving. I’m learning to breathe.
From whence cometh my significance as a man? Is it to protect and provide; bring home bacon?
Growing up, achievement was the source of recognition and reward. I was raised to perform. Actually, to outperform. From an early age, as the fifth of six kids in an Irish Catholic home, it was clear we needed to do things, achieve things, win things. When I didn’t win, I felt kind of useless. I came to believe that a B+ or “second place” meant that maybe I just didn’t try hard enough.
Mom and Dad, my aunts and uncles and teachers, all seemed to worship Deeds well Done.
Doing. Doing. Striving. Achieving. Repeat.
For decades, doing was my dominatrix. Helping became my drug of choice. I started an organization to help war victims. We changed international laws and helped tens of thousands of survivors get legs, get jobs, and get on with their lives. Our efforts led to international recognition, but I never really felt satisfied. I only felt there was more to do. I became addicted to work, to service, to becoming best in class. My value was tied to serial achievements. Some people wanted to meet me, work with me. I was Somebody.
Here’s an early example of my performance pathology: When I was 20, I went to Israel and hiked into an unmarked minefield. I stepped on a landmine that blew off my lower right leg. There I was, laying in a pool of blood, and I remember thinking, like, minutes after the explosion: “If I survive, I need to do this well.”
That’s weird. I wasn’t thinking about all the pain, or what this meant for my future, I just wanted to be a “good amputee.”
And I did learn how to do it well. I learned from others who had suffered similar trauma. I met with thousands of conflict survivors from Bosnia to Ethiopia, from El Salvador to Vietnam. They taught me the “Recipe of Resilience.” I even wrote a book about them: Getting Up When Life Knocks You Down. The five steps to overcoming a life crisis were powerfully clear to me: (1) Face Facts. My leg isn’t growing back, I’m no starfish. (2) Choose Life, not death. (3) Reach Out. No one survives alone; isolation will kill you. (4) Get Moving. No one does rehab for you; and (5) Give Back. Generosity will get your serotonin up.
Resilience is something you can DO, get in shape for. It is necessary for Survivorship – that is, to live positively and dynamically in the face of disaster, disease, and disability. But I have come to realize that resilience, however critical and important, isn’t enough for happiness. Perhaps I was missing something - maybe a Sixth Step or sixth sense?
Naturally, I started to think more about dying and death. The older I get, the more funerals I attend. For me, aging is another form of trauma - losing control in slow motion. No amount of achievement can beat death – She always wins! Death outperforms us all.
So, what happened to teach me that my own worth doesn’t and shouldn’t rest in my life’s performance or achievement?
Well, failure, to be honest. Failure is something I’ve avoided like the plague my entire adult life. I have applied my willpower and brainpower to avoid feeling it, thinking it, becoming it.
Three years ago, to up the ante, I got the notion to start three things at once. First, I became a new Professor, teaching social entrepreneurship at the University of Virginia. Second, I started a global initiative to Stop Killing in the Name of God. A nice idea, right? But no one contributed. It fizzled. Third, I launched a tech startup – Global Impact Strategies – building an online platform to help organizations make wiser decisions faster. Our software can predict geopolitical events with high accuracy, but it doesn’t do so well predicting revenue and cash flow. Failure is always a risk.
Last year, as Excel spreadsheets started to take over my moods, I was no longer sleeping well. I couldn’t figure out why my great ideas and hard work were going unrewarded. People weren’t returning my phone calls with any good news.
Even worse, I felt this revving in my head – bzzshshshhszzzzzzhh – and I couldn’t turn it off. I couldn’t downshift. Was I turning manic? I went to a counselor to figure out why I was so hyper-sensitive and agitated. “Dude, do you know any other guys my age who are experiencing this?” He smiled, “Yes, of course. It’s called anxiety.”
Anxiety? Really? Why now, in my 50s?
Well, maybe, in part, because I was starting to like “a failure in slow motion,” less and less valuable, inching closer to death. What if I run out of time before I achieve my goals?
But then I thought, “Would that be so disastrous?” I’ve spent a lifetime Doing and forgot to practice Being. What if it is just enough to be me, here, now?
Years back, a dear old friend asked me why I was so driven? Why, after sharing the Nobel Prize, negotiating international treaties, and saving lives, couldn’t I just slow it down? “Jerry, you remind me of a donkey, chasing a carrot on a stick, always just out of reach.”
Huh? I didn’t like that image. Do I look like a donkey? My friend suggested I just calm down and be. “Try breathing or meditation.”
I’m only telling you all this because I wish someone had trained me at a far younger age to favor Being over Doing. It turns out doing things well doesn’t actually lead to lasting peace or happiness. It’s important, don’t get me wrong, but where does our value really come from?
In the US, we live in a performance-based culture, but our true value, of course, isn’t in what we do, it’s in WHO we are, right? Are we Honest? Compassionate? Trustworthy? Loyal to our friends? Do we give ourselves time to rest and recharge, get back to nature and just be?
Sorry to say, it has taken me decades to get here: How to be a man-who-can-pause, not over-revving or chasing carrots. These days I choose and value life, one moment and breath at a time. Can I just relax and be? I want all our kids, including my students and rising leaders, to understand more deeply that Goodness is better than Greatness.
When my eldest daughter Kate was two, she’d mix-up her words, trying to urge me to relax. She’d laugh and chirp as we played some game: “Belax, Daddy! Be lax!” (How revved up must I have been for a two-year-old to sense it? I just thought she was trying to be cute as a tactic to distract me from winning – Ha!) Only now do I see how Kate already intuited the “Secret of Manopause” – the Sixth Step to Resilience – Be Lax! Yes, lighten up!
Today is enough. I am enough. You are enough. Fargo is more than enough! We are all inherently valuable, regardless. There is no earning Love. It’s infinite and unconditional, never based on performance. Be. Here. Now. All. Is. Well. Let. It. Go.
As we endeavor to recalibrate by bringing Being and Doing into balance, I believe we can transform angst and anxiety into Lightness and Wholeness: Peace.
Sit back and belax. Loosen our ties. Delete our titles and pretense. And shred those damn CVs! Let’s get back to being who we are. It is enough.