Finishing WellThis week I was both riveted and stunned as I listened to the news about two successful athletes who have garnered lots of media attention and notoriety for their prodigious sporting accomplishments only to face the real possibility of their character being forever tarnished, and their reputations sullied. To add insult to injury their athletic achievements will  be stripped away or called into question because of  blatant cheating to win at all costs, bald faced lying, or the purported hoax around a fantasy online girlfriend.
                                                                        
It was painful to watch a clearly uncomfortable Lance Armstrong, the cyclist who won 7 Tour de France races, squirm in his chair as he admitted to Oprah that he had been guilty of doping, and that his cycling career had been "one big lie". Here is an individual who did so much good like starting a wonderful charity called Livestrong, a charity to help inspire and empower people affected by cancer, on the one hand, yet lived a life of duplicity on the other hand. How could he do that?

Then there is the case of Manti Te'o, the outstanding linebacker from Notre Dame, who was expected to be selected as one of the top 10 picks in this years draft. The heart wrenching story that he shared earlier on this year about the death of  his girl friend to leukemia just 6 hours after his grand mother passed away endeared this young man to many. Yet this week the whole story has been exposed as a hoax. What has surfaced is that the supposed girlfriend named Lennay Kekua did not exist and was an imaginary person online. The facts around the story are confusing and murky. It is not clear whether Manti was duped by some woman he met online, or whether he made the whole story up.

How could he be deceived?

We have all heard of other athletes, C.E.O's, religious leaders, and even friends or co-workers in whom we put our trust, and who were touted as rising stars, crash and burn due to moral failure, lapses in judgement, and giving in to their dark side. Others we know have not finished well because of burnout, premature deaths, or the collateral damage and carnage of broken relationships. This has often been the result of not heeding the red lights going off on their physical, emotional, and spiritual dashes.

There are some pernicious rationalizations that rear their ugly head when one allows fame, success, position, or hubris tell us we are invincible, and get to play by a different set of rules than everyone else. A couple examples of these deceptions are:  all the good we do makes up for, or justifies our breaking the rules, or everyone else is doing it so why shouldn't we. Another example is: I'm to busy to exercise or I don't have time to reflect, rest, and replenish. These forms of denial or not paying attention to where we are all flawed or broken is what's most dangerous.  The point is not to judge Lance or Manti, but to take stock of our own lives. As I have been reflecting on these two recent examples and other cases, it has caused me to do some soul searching around the question: "How do I finish well and not flame, burn out, drop out, or get taken out?"

 "It is not how fast we start that counts, but how well we finish."

Here are some rhythms that if we sustain them over a life time will help us finish well:

1. The Rhythm of Reflection: Taking time weekly to take stock of our lives by asking ourselves the tough questions.

We all need to get in touch with what are the internal positive and negative 'Drivers' or motivators behind why we do what we do. Some of our motivations such as the desire to contribute, to make a difference, or to serve are good while other motivators such as fear of what others think, always trying to please people, or fear of failure, and narcissism are negative. We will never be able to know exactly to what degree our motivations are pure or not.  Usually there is a mixture. It is simply through being self-aware, allowing close friends to speak into your lives, and learning from the failures in our lives that we become more healthy. Below are some questions to help surface these drivers.

  • Why do I do what I do?
  • Where did I take steps towards living my dream this week?
  • Am I being true to myself or am I trying to be what other people want me to be?
  • Do I need to be the center of everything?  Do I have an unhealthy need to feel important or needed. Do I have an unhealthy need to be validated for what I do?
  • Where did I allow the fear of failure or rejection to hold me back from acting this week?
  • Where do I need to say no to some things that are good, but not the best for me?
  • Where did I fear being out of control this week? Where do I need to accept some circumstances that are out of my control, and where do I need to accept some people I would like to change?
We also need to take time to reflect on the unhealthy default habits and defensive reactions we have when we are tired, bored, and stressed. Below are some questions to ponder weekly or monthly.
  • What activities or substances do I indulge in when I am tired or stressed such as overeating, too much alcohol,  T.V., porn, video games?
  • What activities do I turn to for excitement or an adrenaline rush when I'm bored?
  • How did I respond to people or situations that irritated me this week?
  • Was I edgy, impatient, irritable, and grumpy with people or situations that frustrated me this week?
  • Do I lack compassion when I see people in need?
2. The Rhythm of Regular Exercise: Plan in your schedule 3 times a week some form of aerobic and anaerobic exercise.
  • Be creative in this rhythm by finding a form of exercise that suits who you are and start slow.
  • Here are some ideas: walking with a friend or a spouse, swimming, joining a recreational sport team like soccer or hockey if you are social in nature. If you like to workout alone then get a membership at a gym or going hiking in the mountains.
  • Try to find a family activity that all enjoy to help your kids catch this value.
3. The Rhythm of Replenishing Relationships: There are 3 types of relationships in our lives. There are relationships where we are the ones doing all the giving. There are neutral relationships, and then there are replenishing relationships. We need a healthy balance of all 3 in our lives.
  • Did I spend time this week with some friends who I had fun with, who gave to me, and who I have given permission to speak into my life?
  • Do I find myself surrounded by relationships where I am always in the giving role and find it hard to receive. Why?
  • Did I give to and receive from my family this week?
4. The Rhythm of Rest and Recreation: We all need to take some time weekly and yearly to re-charge our emotional, spiritual, and mental tanks.
  • Weekly carve out some time where you are away from you smart phone, people, or other media to soak and shut off your brain from work stuff. I find getting into nature is restful for me. I also like to take some time weekly to read.
  • Once a year go on a 1-3 day retreat at a place where it is quiet and where you can practice some spiritual disciplines such as solitude, silence, and yes sleep!
  • Take up a hobby like guitar playing, sewing, dancing, fly fishing, or some other activity that would replenish you.
  • Once a year if you are in people work such as teaching, counseling, nursing, pastoral work, and such you need to get away on vacation. It takes one week to decompress, the second week to begin to recharge, and the 3rd week to fill up your tanks to go back and give.

    5. The Rhythm of Resiliency and Redemption: How we respond to failure, loss, and our own personal screw-ups will be a true test of whether we finish well or not. Our responses to adversity will make us either a bitter or a better person.
    • Am I sidelined or stuck by holding on to bitterness and offense from some hardships or injustices that happened in my life?
    • Am I owning my stuff that surfaced through my failures?Am I choosing to allow adversity to shape me into a better person and clarify my dream?
    • Am I choosing with humility to get up and try again?
    • Resist the tendency to prematurely judge your good attempts or risk taking ventures that go sideways as complete failures. Some of your greatest failures as you look back in the future will be the pathway to your greatest successes!

    By Tim Schultz