Every year around this time I look forward to watching some if not all of the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life”. I never realized the reason that I enjoyed this movie so much. Of course, it’s a holiday movie with a great turnaround story and also a wonderful message, but there are a lot of movies with similar messages. Yet, there’s something that I connected with in this movie that I just couldn’t stop thinking about at all.
Then, as I prepared to write this piece, I got it! It’s the critical elements of this movie: a man working hard to fulfill his dream, making the tough choice between staying for family reasons or following dreams, dealing with organizational / workplace bullies, being negatively impacted by unethical individuals, affected by the negative consequences, contemplating deciding to die-by-suicide, desiring to live again after self-reflection, remembering that others are available to help, and realizing that everyone’s life matters.
In 2006, I left an excellent corporate job after almost five years to pursue other opportunities. The timing was perfect to make a change because the company offered buyouts to reduce staff after the merger’s completion. As a result, I wanted to explore my career options; although, my considerations remained local due to caring for an elderly parent for whom I didn’t want to make any significant location changes.
Over the next few years I worked with organizations and individuals who were determined to ‘win at any cost’. I witnessed everything from nepotism, contractor abuse, malfeasance (manipulating audit reports / committing fraud to onboard severely underutilized contracted government resources), hostile work environments / workplace bullying), and more. My options were to become complicit by ‘going-along-to-get-along’ or to refuse to be a party to unethical actions. The stress of continually having to decide between protecting my income stream or removing myself from environments with unsavory individuals was mentally and physically exhausting.
The easiest thing to do was to behave as others did, but it wouldn’t have allowed me to be who I wanted to be or to do the things I was driven to do. The challenge is that being under the power of individuals who have direct or indirect power over you can be taxing and sometimes can cause individuals to buckle under the pressure to comply (willingly or unwillingly). Consequently, individuals who make these character and sometimes life changing choices are directed away from the person that they might otherwise be. For me, this wasn’t an option because I still had control over my choices and wasn’t going to be unduly influenced to do something I didn’t consciously choose.
Tough choices can lead to difficult moments, but at the same time can also help to develop character and transform ordinary lives into extraordinary experiences. This doesn’t mean that someone will be financially well-off because some of the greatest moments of happiness don’t have anything to do with money. It has more to do with: who you are, the things you do, who you help, the positive changes you make, and the things you leave behind after your life is over for others to benefit.
The thing that I’ve learned is that… “It’s better to be broke and in love with yourself, than rich and not know yourself.”
During my period of severe depression caused by dealing with the negative consequences of refusing to be unethical or bullied (including attempts to manipulate me to do unethical things), I began to dissect every portion of my life to ask (over and over again)… What’s wrong with me?!?! This reflective question is asked by someone who is or is about to be defeated, dejected, depressed, and potentially delusional. This is also an example of the kind of projections brought about by individuals who recklessly do bad things (some purposely) to others. These types of impactful feelings and considerations aren’t always related to someone’s personal strength or mental fortitude; instead, it has everything to do with the effects of confronting life altering choices directly. Moreover, it leads to questions about whether someone will allow abusive, manipulative, or purposeful negative actions to go unchallenged or silently suffer alone. Either way, these types of things can have a devastating effect on someone’s perspective, psyche, and purpose.
I know these affects all too well as after I opened my eyes in March 2014; I was a beaten, battered, and a broken man. I didn’t plan it; I wasn’t ready for it; however, I was done with life and wanted the pain to be over. As I made my planned final call to my brother to ensure that my mom would be cared for after I was gone. I started to reconnect (during my psychosis) with my own reality that I mattered and my life still had value --- even if I wasn’t fully connected with the thought at that time.
During moments of deep self-reflection, the negative parts of our lives can be amplified to extreme levels. There can be a blockage that prevents someone from remembering that today isn’t yesterday; today is a new day and by taking a step things can have a greater potential to change toward the positive. The future isn’t defined; therefore, there are plenty of opportunities to reshape and redefine the next phase of our lives to redirect toward a different journey.
I made this choice on the same day I almost died-by-suicide. Something my brother, sister, and a good friend said that day brought me closer to reality. The message that echoed in my mind (over and over again) was my brother’s message that directed me to think beyond the current moment. The nice thing about life is that it’s about cumulative moments. If you don’t like the current one, then do something about it because the next moment is just a heartbeat away.
I didn’t like the path I was heading, so even during my deepest depression and the most difficult years I took steps to change my life. I wrote, learned about myself, discovered the sources of my happiness, and started to build a new career, which has allowed me to help thousands of individuals that I otherwise wouldn’t have encountered without actively dealing with the sources of my pain. Heartache and frustration are parts of the human experience and none of us will navigate life without experiencing them. The tricks are to: deal with the things that create pain as quickly as possible, don’t be afraid to be vulnerable to share your struggles, and explore various options or opportunities to discover ways to feel, do, and be better.
During my darkest days on my way toward recovery, I learned to appreciate and celebrate the small successes, but also I decided to not beat-up myself over things that are outside of my control. Bad moments can either make you bitter or better; it’s a choice. If you’re made to feel bitter, then it will take a lot longer to feel better. Bitterness is something that’s usually controllable; therefore, if you’re going to use your energy then you should use it for the positive to work on being better.
As I work to rebuild and redefine my life on purpose, it’s not in the place I want it to be yet; however, I’m committed to working every day to build the life I want on purpose. The most important lessons during my journey is that life won’t ever be perfect and that you don’t have to be at your best to make a difference for yourself and others. Don’t wait for a perfect time to create your turnaround; actively work on it every day --- especially and mindfully during your worst days. Over the last few years, I lost so much financially and almost lost myself and my life. Notwithstanding, I’ve used my pain to write and communicate extensively about dealing with sometimes taboo topics and issues to help myself and others to do and be better.
It took many years for me to learn that happiness originates on the inside and has nothing to do with material possessions. The most valuable gift of life is time; therefore, I choose wisely the way it’s used, allocated to others, and maximized. By being true to myself – during good and bad times – I don’t ever have to wonder who I am or if I'm doing the right things for me. The trouble many times is unnecessarily changing ourselves to please others, which if we’re not careful will lead us to a place we don’t necessarily want to be.
Perspective is one of the greatest gifts of living a fulfilled life. If you don’t like your current one, look for ways to change it. It’s the only way to ensure that you increase the possibilities of saying during good and bad times... “It’s still a wonderful life”!
award-winning educator, mental health advocate, social entrepreneur, inspirational speaker, author/writer, program executive, and radio host