In Shawn Phillips’s experience, reaching out for—much less receiving—support feels like kryptonite for most men.
My son was crying uncontrollably when I picked him up.
Not the sort of tears that come from physical pain. These tears came from somewhere deep inside. I could feel it rising up.
He’s 12 now. All too suddenly. Old enough to remember the life we enjoyed and to experience the pain of the dramatic changes our fractured family endures.
We’ve had a rough year; maybe two or three. Who’s counting?
Seems it was just a few years ago I was relevant. Writing books, speaking, impacting millions of lives for the better through my Full Strength lifestyle and nutrition company.
As my world—as it was—collapsed around me, I shrunk back from the light. It’s hard to be bold and witty when you’re fighting for what seems like your life. My confidence was rattled and resources depleted.
Things got tight.
The home was filled with chaos and drama. Finally, a divorce, issues of money, releasing of the “stuff” of life, including selling my home of 17 years—the only home my kids have ever known.
An entire life—fragmented and compacted—shoved into boxes before my eyes. At the same time my company transitioned to a new partnership with great promise of growth, as I fought for my survival and the welfare of my children.
This included closing the offices where I’d spent most my days and the kids had adopted as a second home. A safe place where good people were there to support myself and the kids every day. It had everything you could need and the kids loved that it was a 1 minute walk to and from their school.
Yet, in a short few weeks all the familiar locations of life were gone. The kids only home, their pets, the office, the business. And we found ourselves with stacked boxes of fractured life packed into a small loft in the center of my home town.
As we sought to find a new normal, summer came and we found new ways to be and things to see. While waiting for my Full Strength to get the promised kick in the pants, I agreed to lend my services to help a well established and growing nutrition company owned by an old friend to keep food on the table and myself sane.
As any good tragedy must turn out, that old friend—whom I agreed to consult with for a fraction of my normal rate—thought the paying me part was optional. Yes, the massive confusion that follows me, where people think I am heir to a dime of the “EAS windfall” raises again.
Then, after six months of waiting, the promising new life for Full Strength Nutrition turned out to be much less than anyone could have imagined. Without getting into irrelevant details—we’ve finally got the company back, in a box. That’s the good news. The bad is we’ve got no product, no revenue and have had none for months.
Thus, you can imagine why when I saw my boy crying I felt his pain.
I’ve been there more times than I care to admit in the last five months. As I continue to refuse to sell out to perpetually profitable circle of fitness and diet fixes, hoaxes, miracles and myth—choosing the noble but challenging job of creating new momentum from thin air.
Yes, I keep swimming.
And Yes, I get tired. On a daily basis I think about quitting but how does one do that? As I said to a friend, it’s like I was in the middle of the lake when my boat sank. The choice is clear: sink or swim.
Sure, I am tired. Very tired. Sure, I have dark moments but swimming is the only sensible thing one can do. You can’t fixate on the distance to shore, the cold water, or how tired you are.
There is only the swim. So, swim on with great resolve and tired arms, I do.
I’m no stranger to challenging times, mind you. Yet, while I never received the sort of “walking money” others did, I have enjoyed a very good run for a couple decades.
Yet, as life would have it, glory fades, fortune wains and we’re left to either wallow in the past or reinvent ourselves, rising from the ashes. And to be honest, while I’m ready for the clouds to part and sun to shine, I wouldn’t trade the experience of this last year for the world.
While I have always been a humble guy with great appreciation life, I see now how blind I chose to be in many ways. My eyes have been opened and perspective is a great thing.
Where once I turned away from the struggles of strangers and let labels protect me from thought, it’s clear to me now, we are all in this together. And that we simply do not know another’s story if we have not walked a mile in his shoes.
This transition in life has opened my eyes, my heart and taught me much. One of the most powerful lessons I am still leaning into and learning is “to ask.”
Yes, to ask. Ask for what I need. Ask for help or support. To reach without shame or fear of judgment—or without letting either stop me.
In my experience, reaching out for—much less receiving—support is kryptonite for most men. They live isolated lives looking strong on the exterior with no one to tell their fears to.
Giving Past The Hurt
In my community of entrepreneurs I am legendary for giving away my time and visionary prowess. I never really thought much of it for I have some unique gifts of vision, clarity and creation that came rapidly and very naturally to me. And I love exercising them.
Thus, for years, people would bring me their brands, their stories, their companies and I would position, strategize, draw a future, craft messaging… etc. They’d usually sit in amazement as I poured out the free services that would cost millions on Madison avenue.
For me, part of it was that I loved it. Another part is I want to be a good guy. I like to be liked and appreciated. And if I had to ask for payment for my talent they might not like me.
I still love sharing my gifts. Of course, I always will. But not only am I learning to ask for the help I need, I have learned to ask for the fair trade for my gifts and services. You wouldn’t go to a surgeon and expect free surgery because you’re such a nice guy. Just because there’s no blood when I’m working doesn’t mean it’s any less skilled.
You know what I learned from ending “Shawn’s free consulting company?” People are actually happy to pay. In fact they both feel better and take more decisive action when vested in advance. Same is true for free-fitness advice: More life changing wisdom has been discarded in exchange for myth and folktales because your attention follows your investment.
Anatomy of a Midlife Crisis
I suppose you could call this phase of my life a “midlife crisis.”
Sure. Even though I had my eyes much more open than most men and did a lot more work on myself, it just goes to speak that no one is immune to this common “life realignment.”
As I have shared in Strength for Life, there’s a pretty set shape to the rise and arching over of life, physically.
The same is true consciously. From birth, through object permanence around age 2, through your teens and on to the end of your life, we all go through stages of conscious shifts—levels if you like.
If you study the stages, from your early 20’s up to the last few years of your life, we have but one necessary “leap” or period of awakening and growth and that comes in midlife. For most it arrives somewhere in the 40’s. Hence the birth of the midlife crisis.
It’s only a crisis if you resist it—the awakening that is. For this invitation to “level up,” to go from swimming in the busy pool of life to surfing the waves, can no more be resisted than a baby can resist object permanence.
It’ll come. The, “what this is all about?,” questions that haunt you in quiet moments. The dull aching sense that there has to be something more. The sense—or fleeting hope—that you’re going to wake up any moment.
And like most men, you put your head back in the sand when the questions come. You choose to look away from your silently failing marriage, ignore your lack of vitality, blame your body on lack of sleep and stress.
It seems like a logical strategy for you didn’t ask for this growing, nagging awareness any way. It just showed up. Very inconveniently. You were having a perfectly good time playing nice when it popped in and made you start seeing things.
The story you use to justify your preferred ignorance is that you’ll come back around when everything settles down, when life is rolling your way. Well, you know as well as I do, that day never comes. Even if you win the lottery, it’s different than you think it needs to be.
Here’s the deal…
I didn’t ask for the ass-kicking life has delivered me. No one does but life brings you what you need to get what it intends for you. And awakening to the next level is what is intended for all men, midlife.
You can ignore it. You can hide. You can cover it up. But like the IRS it’ll find you.
You can blow your life up, marry a 23 year old, get a new car and move to Spain and guess what? That’s not the next level. That’s your step back—a contraction to avoid. It’ll still find you when “the new” wears off and there you’ll be; naked, alone, in a foreign country, broken.
I know you don’t want to hear this. You’d prefer to keep buying the illusion of your movie script life. It’s funny—and not—how it’s almost always the husband who is the last to know after his wife leaves him. They almost always are the last. What do you think this says about “those men?”
Yeah, I know, not you; them.
Yet, when Nathaniel was crying I wanted to join in. I felt his pain for as a father, I feel wholly responsible. It’s not enough that I’ve been struggling but that I’ve let my kids down. Put them through more change and loss than any child deserves.
As a father, nothing could feel worse.
Yet, I know the only way I could really fail them is to let this challenge break me. To turn me into a bitter, angry small man. To rob me of hope and possibility. And you know, as well as I, that’s not happening.
You don’t have to like all your life circumstance to enjoy your life. The only thing constant about “winning” and “losing” is that both too shall pass.
Life Is Like A Box Of…
You see, your life is not lived in the past nor the future. It is only experienced in this present moment.
Yet, as a man reaches 40 he carries a growing burden of his life regrets, mistakes and occasional success. The weight of this baggage grows each day as you strive to succeed with a life script crafted by your 20 something self, as if you’re on a mission from God.
And when not managing the tapes of yesterday, you can find yourself deep into the future, worrying about tomorrow, next year, the next thing, the future. Lost in the middle of this time travel sandwich is all your power, strength, joy and presence.
Given the time you spend each day in the present—the only time that truly is—is shrinking each day…It’s no wonder time seems to be passing at an ever increasing pace.
And I mean quite literally your presence—as in the present moment. For the present moment is the only time that is. It’s where all your strength exists and all love and happiness. The past and future hold fear and regret. The present is your launching pad to your brilliant best life.
A Path for Breakthrough
Through the long days of darkness of my own journey, the struggle with stages of depression and loss of purpose—and my coaching work with men in the middle—that the quest to find a less painful, more empowering way through for men arose.
I’m not talking about a “way out” but a break-through. A set of steps which help men breeze to this stage state requirement, to up-level without the all too common down swing of disaster.
The result of my experience and relentless desire for this new path to “the next-level life,” is found in a guided course on awakening freedom, getting your mojo back and turning on your old self filled with hope, and purpose.
It is both my hope and my belief that men need not go through this painful, dark struggle to get to the light of an awake life; that this “antidote to the midlife crisis” can help millions of men navigate the stage of life where little is given but much is expected.
It is in community, in a container, in trust and in conversation that we come alive. And where we are able to see ourselves and our own challenges through the experience of one another.
You need not leap from a perfectly good airplane without a chute to awaken… You need not crash your life into a divorce court, blow your business up, get a job selling toasters or do the “American Beauty” move to claim your destiny of awakening.
Trust me, if you choose to take the hard way, I will not attempt to take that way from you. There is a lot to be said for the adventure… but trust me, if you can get the gains without the pains, I am here to tell you that is a wise move… a move up, and open.
Learn more about Shawn at Strength For Life
Originally appeared at Strength for Life
Artwork by Steve Johnson via Flickr/CC.