Punched in the Face
My dad worked in the public school system for forty-two years. He coached just about every sport with a ball and he taught middle school to high school students everything from geography to philosophy (except math—definitely not his strong suit). He thrived on teaching and coaching the next generations of lawyers, engineers, dentists, astronauts, and every other profession young people can aspire to. I mention a part of his story in the book that I feel it is very relatable because there are times when we know we don’t want the situation we are in, so we drop it but we don’t make a real/lasting change.
The story appears in Chapter 7: Take an Active Role under the subheading “Just Not This” Isn’t Enough. Here is an excerpt from that part of the book:
A fight had broken out in the bus pick up line at the high school where Jerry worked. The two young men involved were seniors, each over six feet (1.82 m) tall, and athletes of solid muscle. Jerry didn’t know what the fight was about but he knew it needed to end before any students got hurt. He stepped in between the two shouting teens and tried to deescalate the argument. Neither teen registered Jerry’s arrival as punches began to fly. Jerry wasn’t quite quick enough to block the right jab from one of the teens that was intended for the other angry student. Luckily, since Jerry was a bit shorter than the two teens, it wasn’t a well-aimed punch. He walked away with a black eye and two suspended teens.
“I’m sixty-two years old. I don’t need to be catching punches from teenage drama anymore,” he told me the day he decided to retire. I couldn’t blame him. While fights were rare, other drama was not, and it was beginning to take its toll. Jerry looked less and less forward to going to work every day and more and more forward to his weekend round of golf. Several of his close friends were beginning to retire and he thought their daily schedules were looking much more attractive than his.
Three days after the fight, still sporting the shiner, Jerry submitted his two-weeks notice. The opportunity for change had arrived and he harnessed it—or so he thought. He harnessed the opportunity to not do what he was doing, but that was where the planning stopped. He dove headfirst into a blissfully free schedule. Waking up late, golfing as many days as his back could stand, road trips to see his children, and binge watching every movie he was even remotely interested in quickly filled the white space on his calendar. However, three years into this free-schedule existence, Jerry was over it and ready to make another change.
“Because I had nothing to aim for, I was going nowhere but toward the ultimate end, and that began to scare me,” he confided in me during our interview. He had stopped actively seeking change and the sameness was becoming unbearable. He looked around his living room at all of the life reflected in its contents and started to plan for some changes.
Jerry got stuck in sameness because he didn’t actively participate in shaping his change. He knew he didn’t want what he had, so he dropped it. That’s not the same as change. It’s not quitting, either. It’s the mental mud in the middle: stagnation. As we talked about in chapter two, the brain thrives on growth. The neuroplasticity of change creates keeps us all evolving, seeking happiness in new ways, and owning the joy that comes from those changes. There’s no joy in mental stagnation, just atrophy, which is what Jerry described.
After some encouragement from his network, and several calls to different schools, Jerry found a job coaching middle school boys’ basketball again. He was back in his element. “It was the easiest change I’d made in years,” he told me. “I felt again like I was who I was meant to be.”
In this article series, I share excerpts, insights and stories from my book, All About Change: How to Successfully Make Personal Life Changes. I hope you enjoyed this post — if you enjoyed it and want to connect you can reach me here via email firstname.lastname@example.org or connect with me on social: Facebook, LinkedIn or Instagram. Also, you can also find my book on Amazon — here is the link to buy it: Amazon Kindle