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Posts Tagged ‘Accepting life as it is’

#24 — On Taking Risks: “But what if . . . ?”

June 19, 2015 1 comment

Wesley Branch Rickey’s career as a major league baseball player only lasted from 1905 through 1907. During those years, Rickey struggled to earn a position with both the St. Louis Browns and the New York Highlanders. Finally giving up the idea of being a player, Rickey went back to study administration in college and then in 1913 began a highly successful career as a baseball executive. From then until his death in 1965, Rickey served in varying capacities, including General Manager and head of player personnel development for the St. Louis Browns, the St. Louis Cardinals, the Brooklyn Dodgers, and the Pittsburgh Pirates. It is in this series of roles that Branch Rickey earned his place in baseball history.

In 1945, while serving as General Manager for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Rickey signed a young man named Jack Roosevelt Robinson to a minor league contract to play for the Dodger’s affiliate in the International League. For major league baseball, this was “the shot heard round the world.” Jackie Robison would subsequently become the first African-American to play for a major league team, joining the Dodgers two years later as their second-baseman. Indeed, he would not only play, he would become major league baseball’s first Rookie of the Year in 1947, be elected to the National League All-Star team for six straight seasons, from 1949 through 1954, and be named the National League’s Most Valuable Player in 1949.

Yet these accomplishments would not have been possible had not Branch Rickey been willing to accept a considerable risk. He knew that Jackie Robinson would be facing terrible obstacles — racism, discrimination, bigotry, and other abusive treatment. Rickey carefully coached the youngster and insisted that no matter what kind of provocation he might be subjected to, he was not to react, he was not to lose his temper, but rather just tend to the business of playing baseball. And Robinson did just that. Despite the abuse he received, the young man stayed focused and played consistently well, gradually becoming extremely popular with the American public and paving the way for future African-Americans in the major leagues.

Together Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson changed baseball and through that American culture. Those changes are still rippling today, and in some areas still meeting with resistance. Yet none of it would have happened as it did had the two not been willing to accept the risks that came with the changes they helped create. And as Rickey once noted at the time, “Problems are the price you pay for progress.”

To be sure, progress means change, and the desire for change brings a good many people to my office for therapy. Having varying degrees of dissatisfaction with their lives, they want something about themselves or their circumstances to change so their problems can be solved, and they can live happily ever after. Moreover, they expect me to explain or show them how this can happen easily and painlessly.

As a therapist, I have come to understand that life really is about problems. It’s not that we just handle our problems and then go on with our lives; rather, our lives are all about dealing with whatever our next problem happens to be. Yet many of the people who come to see me have the idea that life shouldn’t be about problems or struggles, that it’s really easy if you just know how! They seem less than satisfied when I explain that while knowing how to change is easy, doing it isn’t, because discomfort is the price of change. After all, the only way to make your “comfort zone” bigger is to get out of it!

What keeps these people rooted where they are, seemingly unable to take any action on their own behalf, is fear — fear of disapproval, fear of humiliation, fear of being seen as “different,” or fear that they will reveal themselves as incapable or unworthy of anything better. Paralyzed by this fear, they remain unwilling to risk any of these outcomes and, as a result, have little hope for any improvement in their circumstances.

Therapy begins by helping these people grasp the idea that risk is an integral part of life, that indeed there is no life without risk. While we rarely think about it consciously, we routinely assume that we live in an orderly world and that we are competent to take care of ourselves in that world. Yet upon reflection we must concede that things can happen without warning to remind us that we really have much less control and are really at much greater risk than we realize. Moreover, in this world where we have so little control, change is happening constantly. Our options, then, are not to avoid change and the risks involved but rather to decide if the changes impacting our lives will all happen to us or if at least some of them will happen from us.

As people start to come to terms with this reality, some of them actually begin to consider the kinds of changes they might make. Soon they start to weigh the potential benefits of these changes against the possible risks, and many things they had previously not even dared contemplate suddenly begin to appear possible. As this process continues, many of these people are also able to recognize that, while unpleasant, most of the possible consequences they have come to dread would only be temporary and can indeed be endured.

From here we discuss the mechanism of change and how it drives the ongoing process that represents all our lives. This mechanism is remarkably simple: You must catch yourself preparing to repeat an old behavior so you can replace it with a new one; then you have to accept the discomfort that comes with the new behavior until that behavior becomes familiar. (Anyone who has ever dieted knows how this works!) Finally, we note how discomfort is a necessary part of the change process, how change is a fundamental aspect of growth, and how growth is what life is. So, in a sense if you are not uncomfortable a good part of the time, you are not truly living. And indeed, the most common form of our discomfort is our fear of what might happen if we try to change.

Make no mistake: Accepting risk as an integral part of life tends to produce a sense of freedom, enabling us to take more control over ourselves and our lives. Moreover, where there is no fear, there is no courage. After all, it does not take courage to do something that does not frighten you. Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson are both credited with having great courage. Don’t think they were not also afraid.

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#22 — On Being Tested: “But I shouldn’t have to do this!”

February 9, 2014 Leave a comment

In 1963 a 20-year-old pitcher named Thomas Edward John, Jr. was signed by the Cleveland Indians. The young left-hander showed some early promise, but not enough to keep from being traded, and in 1965 he went to the Chicago White Sox. There he spent seven respectable seasons, using his sinkerball to induce batters to hit grounders and start double-plays. Yet in 1972, John was traded again, this time to the Los Angeles Dodgers, where he finally came into his own. As a regular part of the starting rotation, he proved to be a consistent winner, and midway through the 1974 season his record was 13 wins and only 3 losses, and he had accumulated 124 career victories.

Then, without warning, there was a misstep and a strain, causing permanent damage to the ulnar collateral ligament in John’s pitching arm. No one had ever come back from this type of injury, and as far as anyone knew, his playing career was over. But then an orthopedic surgeon named Dr. Frank Jobe proposed a new form of reconstructive surgery in which the damaged ligament in John’s elbow would be replaced with a tendon transplanted from somewhere else in his body. Even then, Jobe put the chances of the surgery being successful at only about 1 in 100. Nevertheless, John agreed, and the surgery was performed in September 1974. While it seemed unlikely that he would ever pitch again, John spent all of 1975 in recovery, working at his own form of rehab. Throughout that year, he had daily workouts to strengthen his arm, and he developed a style of pitching that would not strain his arm or the repaired elbow.

By the start of the season in 1976, John was ready to pitch again, and if anything, he was even better than before. His 10 and 10 record that year was considered “a miracle,” yet it was only the beginning. He won twenty or more games in three seasons after that, one with the Dodgers and two more later with the New York Yankees. By the end of his career, he had posted 288 wins, 164 of them coming after his surgery. At the time of his retirement, John had established himself as the seventh most successful left-handed pitcher in major league history. Yet beyond all the victories, he has been consistently credited for his courage, his fortitude, and his daily persistence in overcoming a seemingly impossible hardship. He did not complain. He did not seek redress for the unfairness of what life had handed him. Instead, he simply focused on what he had to do next and then doggedly went about doing it.

It is often said that the true test of our character is not in how we deal with success but in how we deal with adversity, and it is through the unexpected that life tests our character. Not surprisingly, it is often life’s unexpected hardships that bring people into my office for therapy. These people may have experienced an accident or illness, a betrayal, a loss of some kind, or any number of other possible intrusions into the lives they had been planning or had started to live. In many cases it is necessary for therapy to begin by addressing the trauma they have experienced and to help these people through the immediate process of healing. Sooner or later, however, the focus of therapy moves to the adjustments they must make. Life can no longer be viewed or lived as it had been before. The issue then becomes less about the changes that have impacted these people and more about the changes they must make in themselves in order to move on with their lives. For many, this is where the real challenge begins.

Presented with this challenge, people often resist because, after all, discomfort is the price of change. Some people simply refuse to accept that change is necessary, often demanding some justification for what life has dealt them. They may ask, “Why did this happen?” or “Why do I have to change?” Of course, such questions can never be answered to their satisfaction, since life offers no explanations; it just is what it is. At the same time, others may have the opposite view; they want change to be immediate, without all the time and effort that might be necessary — as if all that was required was the pressing of an Enter key or a swipe on a touch screen. Yet, whether it is impatience and the demand that things be “fixed” or the dogged insistence that change should not happen at all, both viewpoints result in utter futility. Life simply doesn’t care.

What’s more, people often think of changes that impact their lives as some sort of aberration interrupting whatever situation they consider to be “normal.” And yet adapting to change is an ongoing process that literally lasts a lifetime, and while it may be imperceptible in the moment, change is happening constantly. This means that dealing with change, uncomfortable though it may be, is an inevitable part of daily life, demanding both acceptance and patience. Moreover, no one is likely to achieve or sustain any substantive change without making a commitment to the process of change itself. This starts by first accepting that life permits us only limited control, and often the things we really want to change are beyond the scope of that control. We must also accept that a lot of patience may be required because the needed changes cannot be forced. Like growth in a garden, life’s changes proceed in their own time.

My own experience with open-heart surgery offered me compelling opportunities to appreciate what it really takes to be accepting and patient (See #3.). In preparing for and entering surgery, I had to accept that, while I was in a very serious situation, I was ultimately helpless and I had to let go completely and trust the surgical team. Following the surgery, I was tired and weak and in pain; yet I was informed right away that it was important to be up and moving in order to keep the newly repaired heart active. Even as I wondered if I had the strength to do it, I began my own rehab, with my loving wife guiding, supporting, and encouraging me literally step by step. Patiently we both followed a program of exercise and walking, gradually increasing day by day. It took a great deal of patience as I slowly built up speed until I could easily walk an extended period at a brisk pace that my cardiologist deemed “therapeutic.” Even being back at work, I continue to follow that regimen of brisk walking.

Famed Los Angeles Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda once noted, “The difference between the impossible and the possible lies in a person’s determination.” In working through life’s hardships with acceptance and patience, we each have the opportunity to demonstrate for ourselves the truth in Lasorda’s comment. The irony to all this is that in many cases no one else will understand or appreciate fully what we accomplish. Still, you never know. No one expected much from that young left-handed pitcher. Yet thanks to his willingness to accept what life put in front of him and the patience to keep working day by day, that procedure which is medically termed ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction will forever be known as “Tommy John Surgery.”

#21 — On Playing Each Game: “But that’s not supposed to happen!”

November 24, 2013 Leave a comment

Statistics play an important role in baseball. Many fans and even some sportscasters enjoy tracking and quoting such measures as batting averages, runs batted in, earned run averages, won-lost percentages, and so on. This is all interesting information, and for many it makes the game more enjoyable. But for the players, coaches, managers, and front office staff, these simple statistics are not nearly enough. Much greater detail is needed to support what goes on in the dugouts and on the field as each manager and coaching staff tries to outthink or outguess the other. Every major league team has at least one full-time statistician to track the patterns and performance of their own players and those of other teams. The work of these specialists is so thorough that by mid-season they know what a particular opposing pitcher is likely to throw to their clean-up hitter in a late inning with a tie score, a two-strike count, and runners in scoring position. This kind of information helps managers and coaches make tactical decisions during a game, and baseball strategists have a maxim: always go with the percentage!

There is a long-held belief among players and coaches that over the course of a season, the breaks tend to even out. To be sure, they also know that nothing is guaranteed, that despite all their analysis, bad hops still happen, bad calls still get made, good players still have slumps, mediocre players still have hot streaks, and the weather is still uncertain. In other words, during any given game a lot can happen that cannot be predicted by statistics. Everyone who is part of baseball understands and accepts that uncertainty is part of the game, just as it is part of life. When it comes to life outside the ballpark, however, understanding and acceptance are not so common.

In my therapy practice I occasionally see people who simply refuse to acknowledge that the only certainty in their daily lives is the lack of certainty. Raised and ruled by the idea of “supposed to,” these people stubbornly resist the idea of adopting the attitude of a ballplayer. They just cannot conceive of dealing with life by giving it their best and taking their chances. Instead, they view life as a strictly black and white, right or wrong proposition, with rules for everyone to follow and assured outcomes for those who do and for those who do not. The mindset is reminiscent of the stereotypical perception of 1950s western movies in which the good guys wore white hats, the bad guys wore black hats, and in the end the good guys always came out ahead. Naturally, these people see themselves as the good guys, and they usually come to my office because in spite of doing everything they are supposed to do, they are not coming out ahead.

One of these was Chet, a late middle-aged man who had been diagnosed as clinically depressed, prescribed an antidepressant, and referred to me for therapy. While I understood the basis for this diagnosis, as I got to know him I found Chet frequently more angry and resentful than depressed. He had come from “a good family” and attended “good schools,” and he had done everything he was encouraged to do by his parents, his teachers, his friends’ parents, and every other influential adult in his life. He scrupulously followed a regimen of “clean living,” kept in shape and performed well in sports, while also maintaining honor grades in his studies. After college and graduate school, Chet married his high school girlfriend and went to work for a major accounting firm, where he performed steadily, if unspectacularly, in his job over the next 15 years. During that time, the couple had the expected two children, a boy and a girl, and Chet came to see himself as on his way to the success he had been raised to expect. He was unaware that gradually, imperceptibly things were shifting toward the unexpected.

In a surprise move, the firm where he worked was taken over by a larger one, and Chet found himself reporting to someone younger and less qualified than he. Soon there were internal power struggles, and Chet was drawn into a morass of organizational politics for which he was ill prepared. Unable to cope with the almost constantly shifting alliances and expectations, Chet was finally let go. Thoroughly bewildered, he spent over two years vainly trying to obtain another position. He received several offers, but none that matched what he felt he deserved to have. After all, he had followed the rules, done the work, and made the sacrifices, so where was his reward? It finally came in the form of a bank foreclosure and notice from his wife that she was leaving, taking the children, and filing for divorce. After several months of often bitter recriminations, Chet had finally succumbed to the depression that led him to my office. It took many months after that for him to acknowledge that perhaps life didn’t really owe him anything except the chance to go out and do his best every day and deal with what comes.

Too often we forget that life is like a baseball season, requiring all the same kinds of changes and adjustments and shifts in our thinking. And while we can follow the percentages and formulate strategies, we must also be prepared to set these aside and regroup when things don’t go our way. After all, during the course of a season, each game must be played in its turn, and it is not played on paper or with a computer; it is played on the field.

In the 1960 World Series between the New York Yankees and the Pittsburgh Pirates, the percentages clearly favored the Yankees. After all, they had won the Series seven times in the previous eleven years, including five of those years in a row. Still, the Pirates proved surprisingly competitive, and after six games the Series was tied. The seventh and final game was played at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. The Pirates started quickly, scoring four runs in the first two innings, but then the Yankees answered, and going into the bottom of the eighth, the Pirates trailed 7 to 4. With a runner on first and Pirate fans hoping for a rally, outfielder Bill Virdon hit a routine ground ball to the Yankees’ sure-handed shortstop Tony Kubek for what looked like a certain double-play. But at the last moment the ball took a fiercely bad hop and hit Kubek in the throat, knocking him out of the game and preserving the rally. The Pirates scored five runs in the eighth, which the Yankees answered with two runs in the top of the ninth. Then in the bottom of the ninth, with the score tied 9 to 9 and a count of one ball and no strikes, Pirates’ second baseman Bill Mazeroski hit his historic home run over the left field wall to win the game and the Series for Pittsburgh.

The odds makers and statisticians could not have predicted that a seemingly routine ground ball and a bad hop would determine the outcome of a game, a series, and a season. Yet that’s the way it goes in baseball and in life; despite our plans and preparations, we are promised nothing except life itself and what we are able to make of it. If we can accept that reality, then we can free ourselves from the burden of expectations and continue to pursue what makes life meaningful for us. And we can also remember that no matter how things go today, even if plans fail and things seem unfair, tomorrow is a whole new ballgame.

#17 – On the Search for Tools: “But why won’t that work?”

March 3, 2013 1 comment

Baseball players are very particular about their tools. A batter getting ready to hit will often take time to select just the right bat before going up to the plate. Each infielder and outfielder will use a particular glove and make sure it is properly maintained. And in the modern game, each hitter will have a preferred set of batting gloves. These and other items such as spikes, caps, batting helmets, ankle or shin guards, and so on are all among the tools that players use during the game. While these tools tend to be more sophisticated that those of a generation ago, today’s players are just as attentive to their tools and rely just as heavily on them as the players of yesterday. And yet, as important as their tools are, the players all know that tools are no substitute for knowledge or skill, and that the game must still be played on its own terms. Unfortunately, when it comes to life outside the ballpark, this maxim is not so widely accepted.

In today’s world, tools are enthusiastically promoted and sought after as a kind of be-all-and-end-all for living. All the popular media regularly run advertisements for a wide variety of tools, with something for everyone. Whether it involves losing weight, building muscle, remodeling your home, repairing your plumbing, preparing your tax return, or simply making coffee, there is a tool or a set of tools just waiting to make your life easier. And thanks to the pharmaceutical industry we are now beset by advertisements promising relief from anxiety or depression or any other variation of mood or state of mind that might cause us not to be blissfully happy if we just take their latest pill.

The ubiquitous nature of this commercial fanfare has led to the widely held notion that we are all entitled to live a life without effort or inconvenience or discomfort. Moreover, if we should happen to encounter any of these conditions, there must be some tool or some simple technique that will “fix” what isn’t working quickly, effortlessly, and painlessly. Many people have adopted this view in living their lives and, as a result, many approach life with false expectations. Naturally, when their expectations are not met, these people can become distressed, even desperate. Over the years more than a few have come into my office for therapy.

A common view of those seeking help is that their anxiety or their depression is not a result of how they have been living their lives but rather the result of their bodies or their minds refusing to cooperate. Many tell of having been to a doctor and having “tried medication.” Typically, they report that the medicine helped for a while but then it mysteriously “stopped working.” Upon consulting the doctor again, they were then advised to seek therapy, although they are not sure why. They continue to insist that there must be some tool or technique for quickly repairing whatever is wrong so they can just get on with the business of living the lives they have always expected to live. When I explain that nothing is “broken” and that their bodies are actually working the way they were designed to work, these people often become impatient and respond with disbelief. Some even accuse me of holding something back, as if I have some secret that I am unwilling to share. When I reveal that the secret is there is no secret and that life must be lived as it is and not as we would like it to be, many remain unconvinced. Some even become upset and storm out of my office.

For those who decide to continue with therapy, the immediate challenge is in learning to have realistic expectations. After all, there is a reason therapists talk of getting out of your comfort zone: that’s the only way to make it bigger! If you are struggling with life, feeling anxious or depressed, and seeking change, it’s important to understand that you must do the work of changing for yourself; no tool will do it for you. When the pitcher delivers the ball toward the plate and the hitter starts to lean in, the bat doesn’t swing itself. This is often a difficult notion to accept because so many of us are raised with the expectation of living “happily ever after.” Yet acceptance is a vital first step in bringing about meaningful change, and this acceptance begins with learning to tolerate some discomfort, recognizing that discomfort is indeed the price of change.

With greater acceptance, it then becomes possible for these people to clarify the nature of their problem. What often becomes apparent is that they have been looking outside themselves for causes of the discomfort they feel on the inside. Quite naturally, they have also been looking on the outside for some tool to fix the problem, only to find that there isn’t one. This is largely because our two realities — physical and non-physical or, if you prefer, outside and inside — are so different. The outside reality is discrete and quantitative and changes very slowly, while the inside reality is continuous and qualitative and is constantly changing. But since we tend to focus more on the outside reality than the inside, we can easily be fooled into thinking that the tools and methods we use outside will also work on the inside. Yet, if we try to do this, we can find ourselves asking absurd questions and drawing equally absurd conclusions. For example, you could get on a scale and try to determine how many pounds of self-esteem you gained during a particular week. Conversely, you might be prompted to ask your stock broker what the mood of your investment portfolio is on a given day. Small wonder then that the search for tools so often turns out to be futile.

The irony to all this is that in desperately seeking an outside tool to ease our inside distress, we are overlooking our true power — the ability to step outside our own experience, observe it, and assign meaning to it. Being mindful of our experience and deciding for ourselves if it is truly important gives us a tool of enormous power. This way, when we come up to the plate in life’s ballpark, we can choose whether or not to swing. We can choose whether and how to respond to our experience — be it outside or inside. In baseball as in life, the pitcher tries to fool the batter into swinging at something that is not over the plate. But if the batter is observant and not just reactive, he can decide not to swing at a pitch that isn’t a strike. Eventually, the pitcher has to throw strikes or give up a walk, and the alert batter will be able to swing — perhaps not at the pitch he would like to have but at the one he decides is good enough.

And so it goes. Life continues to throw things at us that we may not be expecting. If we yield to the temptation to get angry or resentful, we simply wind up working against ourselves, and the pitcher wins. But if we can stay focused, we can recognize that, while we don’t get to choose what pitch life might throw, we do get to decide whether or not to swing. Then we will have a real chance. Then our tools can actually work for us!

#14 — On Finding the Right Strategy: “So, why didn’t this work?”

July 20, 2012 1 comment

More than anything else, baseball is a game of strategy.  Off the field, managers and coaches regularly plan how to use their team’s strengths and exploit their opponents’ weaknesses.  On the field, these same people work out moves and counter-moves almost constantly.  If one team brings in a left-handed pitcher, the other team might try to load their lineup with right-handed batters.  If one of the catchers has a weak throwing arm, opposing base runners might make more attempts to steal.  If a pitcher seems to be getting tired, opposing batters might not swing until later in the count, hoping to tire that pitcher even more.  And if one team has a hitter on a hot streak, then in a situation with runners on base the opposing pitcher might walk that hitter intentionally rather than let him hit.  These intricacies and more are integral aspects of baseball, and dealing with them successfully is the result of some fundamental strategy. 

In baseball, having a strategy provides a way of trying to achieve a goal when the outcome is uncertain.  And just as strategy is important in baseball, it is important in life.  The right strategy can help us deal with uncertainty, use our limited resources, and achieve our life goals.  So how do we go about arranging to have an effective strategy?  It turns out that you don’t have to look very far for advice.  Almost every bookstore and library has shelves full of self-help books offering programs for successful life strategies.  Moreover, most of our institutions, formal and informal, actively promote their own versions of strategies with their own promises of success.  If you just go to the right school, choose the right career, live in the right area, drive the right car, wear the right clothes, marry the right person, associate with the right people, and adhere to the right political and economic views, then you will enjoy those institutions’ ideas of success. 

Yet despite all these approaches promoted by all these experts, many of us still struggle.  I regularly witness a variety of these struggles in my therapy practice.  One self-defeating strategy I often see involves trying to take care of or please everyone with whom you come into contact.  People who do this usually have some noble sounding rationale:  “I believe it’s better to help others” or “I don’t want to be selfish.”  (I sometimes think that selfishness has been given a bad name.  After all, isn’t it selfish to eat or to breathe and thereby consume resources that others could use?  Of course, it is.  But what’s the alternative?)  Ultimately, these “pleasers” pay a high price with little to show as a result.  While they are busy trying to please others, they find that few are trying to please them.  Sadly, many of these people eventually become embittered and wind up holding a grudge against life, making satisfaction ultimately impossible.

Another common self-defeating strategy is to insist that life be responsible for you instead of the other way around.  I often see this in people who come to my office complaining of all the ills that have befallen them or all the opportunities or benefits that have been denied them.  And, of course, in no case are they ever responsible for any of the things that have gone wrong or failed to go right.  You will often hear these people speak of how life “should be,” while lamenting how it is.  Steadfastly helpless, they will respond to every suggestion offered them with “Yes, but,” followed by all the reasons why that suggestion won’t work.  In some cases there might even be a bit of smugness and a sense of martyrdom accompanying this rebuff.  The eventual result of this approach to life is that people who might have been supportive are simply driven away, and the helpless ones are left feeling abandoned by life and without a clue as to why. 

There is also a popular approach in which people insist that life has to “make sense,” that there must be some concrete reason or cause for everything.  You often see this in people who insist on having a diagnosis for their condition, some label they can be given, with a corresponding “treatment” that will “fix” the problem.  Clearly, this is an appealing concept:  If you just identify the specific cause for your troubles, then you can apply the treatment the way you might follow a recipe and make life come out the way you want.  Unfortunately, life often fails to cooperate, presenting us instead with problems that have multiple causes, lots of ambiguity, and no certain treatment or outcome.  Yet, those for whom life must make sense will often argue heatedly when you point out to them that life’s major challenges aren’t always reducible to a diagnosis and don’t always respond to formulaic treatments.  Like it or not, we sometimes just have to accept all the uncertainty and live our lives in spite of it.

A common theme in these and other problematic strategies is that life is to be approached as it should be rather than as it is.  People trying to live this way often fail to recognize that what they are doing isn’t working.  Instead, they blame others for being selfish or dishonest or simply ignorant.  This is an attitude I remember from my youth, when being in a “rap group” meant sitting in a coffee shop with a bunch of college students planning the next sit-in to be staged in the campus administration building.  Everything was so clear back then:  War was wasteful and inhuman; we were all brothers and sisters; and “the Establishment” was just something in the way of human progress.  We were all so sure of how things were and of how they should be and of how staging protests was necessary.   Anyone who disagreed simply “didn’t get it.”  Slowly, painfully over time, I came to recognize that the disagreement didn’t mean that people didn’t get it but that they didn’t want it or that they just didn’t care.

On my way to becoming a therapist, I became much less focused on how things should be and started to deal with them as they are.  I also came to realize that this was one of the major lessons you learn from those cheap seats way above the ball field.  After all, the pitcher doesn’t throw what the batter wants just because that’s what the batter wants to hit.  The batter doesn’t swing at every pitch just because the pitcher wants to get him out quickly.  Once years ago, I heard a college coach say to his team, “Don’t expect them to do what you want; expect them to do what they want.  Your job is to play your game anyway.”  Even today, I am struck by his eloquence:  Expect life to be all and only what it is, without deference to you, and live your life anyway.

There is a long-standing baseball adage that the best hitters try to hit the ball where it’s pitched.  They expect the pitcher to try and throw the ball where it will be hard to hit.  These hitters accept that and are ready for it.  I think that if we likewise can accept that life will throw anything at us anywhere at anytime in order to make things difficult, then we can deal with things as they are and become some of life’s best hitters.

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