What’s Important in Life.
I remember that time. That time when I was up against the wall, living a life of "have-to’s."
I have-to commute to the job in the city, I have-to respond to the late-night emails, I have to make tomorrow's Powerpoints, I have-to mow the lawn, trim the shrubs, fix the thing, I have-to attend the evening work functions, I have-to take my child to her sporting and school events, I have-to travel to our regional offices and muster the energy to speak to groups of similarly time-starved managers and directors. I remember feeling sorry for myself, and thinking that it couldn’t get any worse.
I had climbed 4 of the 5 steps of Maslow’s hierarchy - I had food and shelter, safety, love and belonging, and the esteem of my co-workers… But I was completely miserable inside. I felt like that final step of the pyramid was a trap - I had vertigo standing on that tiny precipice seeing no possible way to achieve that final step of self actualization - that any movement at all would destroy all that I had built. I was frozen. Little did I know that the final step for most, if not all people, is a leap, a fall, a tumble into the unknown - a giant leap away from the safety and security and esteem of others…
Eventually, at age 47 I quit it all. But that is another story.
Meanwhile, as much as I might have railed about my circumstances at that point in my life, my best friend and his story puts it all in perspective. A Stanford grad and award-winning poet, Kevin Bennett had moved to New Orleans in the early 2000’s to pursue the writer's life under the gas lamps of the old city.
Like most poets he experienced his ups and downs, but modern meds held things in check…until Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. Shortly thereafter, during the crisis and with no access to care and all his personal belongings washed away, Kevin disappeared. Not a word for more than 13 years. We - his friends - steeled ourselves for the worst, that he was gone forever. Then, 13 years later, a stranger, kind enough to strike up a conversation with a man living homeless near her home for more than a decade, changed everything. I flew out to New Orleans immediately.
Kevin, with the help and love of his friends, is back to living in a writer’s apartment in the French Quarter and churning out poems and prose. He is fully self-actualized. He fell all the way to the bottom of the pyramid, but has found his way back up - despite the major obstacles that mental illness can present. Kevin, at first, was too proud to take help from those who love him. Our first night together I ended up sleeping out on the street with him as he would not accept the gift of a hotel room.
I wonder how many of us are the same? Too proud to ask for or accept help? Help is there for all of us if we just reach out. Kevin’s story is the feature and cover story of this month’s Stanford Magazine, and he and I are working right now to assemble his first book of poetry as he continues to grow his prowess as a writer and a thinker.
As I always tell my clients, "when it seems you have no options, all that means is that only the hard choices are left." What hard choice do you need to make in the wake of Covid-19? Now, NOW is the time.
John K. "Kairos" Coyle is an MEA faculty member, award-winning author, Olympic medalist, 3X TEDx speaker, Design Thinking expert and international keynote speaker. John is also a thought leader in the field of "chronoception" - the neuroscience and psychology of how humans process time.