*Update: I wrote those words about life in 2016 after a February trip to Tahoe for a men’s retreat. Who knew that only a few years later in February 2020, I would finally have a story to tell – that is, if my traumatically injured brain could find the right words. And if I was still me.*
I just got back from a trip to Tahoe where I spent a week with a group of guys snowboarding, eating, and talking shop about all our various business and creative projects. We were there to be inspired, challenged, and join a brotherhood of like-minded, creative entrepreneurs. Sounds like a fun adventure, right? Unless you’re an introvert.
Even then, these kind of scenarios could work out alright if, by the end of the trip, you’ve gotten comfortable enough to break your mysterious silence and share your personal story – the tale of whatever rocky road you’ve traveled to beat the odds and reach this place that allowed you to be snowboarding in Tahoe in February. Unless you don’t have a story.
See this group of guys in this photo? Every single one of them (except for the fourth guy from the right) have overcome something incredible. And this is only half the group! We’d have evening meal conversations and mid-day workshops where I heard story after story of varying degrees of hardship and heartache. I started to wonder if I had missed a qualifier for this trip, or maybe if I just looked more interesting than I really am. I was already tapping the depth of my social reserves to hang out with 20 people for an entire week. I wasn’t about to disappoint anyone with, “Hi, I’m Ryan and, despite my sleeve of tattoos that might suggest otherwise, I have not experienced any terrible tragedies and I’m fairly happy with my life.” Wah-waah. #lame.
To make things worse, most of these guys were starting to have breakthrough moments. There wasn’t as much crying and hugging as there would be if all our wives were here hanging out, but everybody seemed to be having A Moment. Except for me.
I couldn’t figure it out. Sure, I play my share of video games and love college football, but I also read leadership books, listen to Ted Talks, and look for ways to serve in my church and community. Yet despite the fact that I’m the one in my family who went to the animal shelter and specifically asked for the ugliest dog because I really am that much of a softie, I was not having any Moments on this trip.
So I came home, a little bummed out, and pondered the purpose of the whole thing while I snuffled through the head cold that inevitably followed. After a few days of shuffling around the house sneezing and wondering if I really belonged with those guys, it began to dawn on me.
It wasn’t about me. This whole week with 20 guys had not been about me.
I had spent the whole week hanging back, digging through my memories to see if there was an awful event I could dust off and share with the group to validate my membership. I was so focused on not feeling like I belonged that I failed to realize I brought as much to the table as everyone else. For every person out there with a checkered past, there is someone else who has walked a fairly smooth road. But we’ve all experienced our own levels of happy, sad, hard, great, complicated, and easy. We’ve all loved and lost, we’ve all done dumb things, we’ve all made mistakes. All those things give us everything in common.
So the other morning while out on my bike, I finally had my Moment: Be yourself. Be the guy for the other people who are just like you.
I loved this quote from Albert Einstein:
“You have to learn the rules of the game. And then you have to play better than anyone else.”
What are the rules of this game? Be yourself, because you can do it better than anyone else, and be a friend.
Thanks, Jeff Woods, for Apex Mandate and a life-changing experience. Contact me if you want to know more (or just have me take your picture).