I have come to the non-revolutionary conclusion that life is hard. Furthermore, life has difficulty, disappointments and, oftentimes, despair. Undeniably, life also has fantastic high points and moments of unequivocal joy and satisfaction. Still, it seems that the disappointment and discouragements of life often send us careening off course and to make rash decisions.
I had one such occasion with my wife the other day. In spite of what you may see from the outside, my life is not without disappointments, discouragements and, sometimes, despair. As my wife and I discussed a particular disappointment she sat quietly for a moment and then said “Perhaps we are not supposed to be here.” I, quizzically, asked “where” she meant, to which she replied “perhaps we are not supposed to be here in Las Vegas.” I can’t say that is a surprising statement, I have thought it before and heard it from many acquaintances and friends. Still, I was concerned for my wife’s reaction to this disappointment and how the doubt was turning to discouragement which would eventually lead to despair.
Like any half-decent husband, I am slowly learning (after over 15 years) that it is a fruitless and vain exercise to ever believe that you can lecture your wife. A husband may talk, may have good ideas, but a lecture is never well received. Not that my vanity doesn’t still get the better of me and I try, vainly, to solve and examine problems for her; I am just learning that this is not the best way. So, in hopes that one day when the pains of disappointment have subsided and the loneliness of fear has ebbed, that she might read this; I thought I would post some thoughts on how I intend to cope with disappointment, my discouragement and ultimately on how I keep my fears, and the snarling teeth of despair at bay.
I am sure that I am not alone. We all deal with disappointments and doubt. I am sure that those few readers who stop here to read are dealing with recent or current disappointments. Hopefully, some of these thoughts will also help you along your way.
Life is full of global calamity and reasons for despair. Politics, war, energy, kidnappings, shootings and a myriad of current societal ills would be enough to ruin any happy day. These global issues remind me of a statement made by WC Fields, who said “smile first thing in the morning and just get it over with!” I have felt this way, but, today, I am not talking about discouragement and despair caused by these issues. I wish to address the fears that might make you wonder about your place in life and the value of your contribution, if any, and make you wonder where you are going and if you are ever going to get there.
F. Scott Fitzgerald said “Trouble has no necessary connection with discouragement. Discouragement has a germ of its own; as different from trouble as arthritis is different from a stiff joint.” We each have troubles, but the “germ” of discouragement is not in the trouble — it is in us. This germ, while small, can become a habit; a way of living and thinking, and there the greatest damage is done. It will take an increasingly severe toll on our character and our souls. It will erode our basic character and finest traits of faith, hope and charity. We begin to look inward and downward and these greatest virtues are damaged or at the very least impaired. We become unhappy and, soon, we make others unhappy; and before long, we are no longer ourselves and our progression is halted.
So, what to do and how to avoid this downward cycle? Dante wrote “the arrow seen before cometh less rudely.” John F Kennedy said “the time to prepare the roof is when the sun is shining.” My Eagle Scout training taught me the simple maxim “Be Prepared.” There is a common verse in my religion that reads “If you are prepared, ye shall not fear” this is more than fine words and must be put into practice to be understood. Preparation and prevention is the greatest weapon against discouragement and self-defeat.
Oftentimes, our discouragements are related to financial issues (my current ones, thankfully, are not) but almost all of us are worried about financial issues at some point. Studies have shown that financial issues outnumber all other marital issues combined by a nearly 3 to 1 ratio. So, if you discouragement’s are financial, take heart, you are not alone! I have been there often and certainly will find myself there again. Still, some of these discouragements can be rectified through simple preparation and planning with a budget. “The arrow seen before cometh less rudely.” I do not wish to imply that budgeting is easy or without sacrifice; in fact, almost always a budget will reveal that we must decide between things we want and things that we need. Plan, prepare, budget, work, save, sacrifice and spend on things that matter. Although you may find yourself in almost desperate financial straits, there is a way! These times may be burdensome and the sacrifices may be hard; but these times need not lead to doubt, discouragement and despair. In the words of Henry David Thoreau:
“Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life are not only dispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind. [Walden (1854), 1, “Economy”]
Love your life, poor as it is. . . . The setting sun is reflected from the windows of the almshouse as brightly as from the rich man’s abode. [Walden (1854), 18, “Conclusion”]
The trouble need not lead to discouragement, we can find happiness and peace in any circumstance. “Love your life, poor as it is.” “If God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?” (Matthew 6:30).
Work can also be difficult and lead to discouragement. Details, deadlines, and impossible work loads seem to be the order of the day in the architecture business. This lifestyle is often punctuated with moments of supreme dread about where the next project will come from and how will we ever get back to the “good life” of details, deadlines and impossible work loads. Any employ will have its difficulties and challenges. These discouragements can also lead to despair and self-defeat, but it need not be so! A little preparation goes a long way!
As an architect, I find that if I work conscientiously at the early part of a project then I can work much more cheerfully at the end. I have spent many overnights at my desk in my office working to finish deadlines that I had known about months in advance. This not produce excellent work, although it does produce strained relationships at home and poor decision making. Often times those brief hours of extremely hard work lead me to be discouraged and disappointed in myself as I watch the sun rise over the mountains in Las Vegas. I think of missed goodnight kisses with my kids, or perhaps a moment where I could have been a listening ear for my wife at the end of a long day. I feel utter disappointment that my failure as an architect has lead to a failure as a husband and father. I discouraged me. I disappointed myself. “remember, dear Brutus, the fault is not in our stars, it is in ourselves” (Shakespeare) This is the worst kind of despair: the kind of self-despising that eats at our image and crushes our hopes. It isn’t the client, it isn’t the company and it isn’t the project; it never is, I should have done it better. I could have worked better early. I could have prepared for the deadline that I knew was looming.
“The point is the same with school as with money or marriage or profession or any hope and dream. Prepare. Plan. Work. Sacrifice. Rework. Spend cheerfully on matters of worth. Carry the calm, and wear the assurance of having done the best you could with what you had. If you work hard and prepare earnestly, it will be very difficult for you to give in or give up or wear down. If you labor with faith in God and in yourself and in your future, you will have built upon a rock. Then, when the winds blow and the rains come—as surely they will—you shall not fall.” –Jeffrey R Holland
Of course, as with our most recent disappointment, some things are not under your control. Some disappointments come regardless of your effort and preparation, for God wishes us to be strong as well as good. I have muttered this to myself throughout the day today as I try to cope and understand that there is a larger plan than the plan I see or comprehend right now. So, I repeat “Love your life, poor as it is.” Drive even these experiences into the corner, painful though they may be, and learn from them. In this, too, you have friends through the ages in whom you can take comfort and with whom you can form timeless bonds.
Thomas Edison devoted ten years and all of his money to developing the nickel-alkaline storage battery at a time when he was almost penniless. Through that period of time, his record and film production was supporting the storage battery effort. Then one night the terrifying cry of fire echoed through the film plant. Spontaneous combustion had ignited some chemicals. Within moments all of the packing compounds, celluloid for records, film, and other flammable goods had gone up with a roar. Fire companies from eight towns arrived, but the fire and heat were so intense and the water pressure so low that the fire hoses had no effect. Edison was sixty-seven years old—no age to begin anew. His son Charles was frantic, wondering if he were safe, if his spirits were broken, and how he would handle a crisis such as this at his age. Charles saw his father running toward him. He spoke first.
He said, “Where’s your mother? Go get her. Tell her to get her friends. They’ll never see another fire like this as long as they live!”
At 5:30 the next morning, with the fire barely under control, he called his employees together and announced, “We’re rebuilding.” One man was told to lease all the machine shops in the area, another to obtain a wrecking crane from the Erie Railroad Company. Then, almost as an afterthought, he added, “Oh, by the way. Anybody know where we can get some money?” (Paraphrased from Charles Edison, “My Most Unforgettable Character,” Reader’s Digest, December 1961, pp. 175–77.)
Virtually everything you now recognize as a Thomas Edison contribution to your life came after that disaster. Remember, “Trouble has no necessary connection with discouragement— discouragement has a germ of its own.”
No matter our concerns: I’m not popular, I am inadequate, I am too poor, too rich, too fat, too thin, too poorly spoken, I talk too much, there is, in fact, nothing that we can not overcome though perseverance and preparation. I do not wish to be Pollyannish about the daunting nature of discouragement, doubt and despair. The effects are real, the fear can be very debilitating; but I know in my heart that we are not hear to succumb to these emotions.
Looking back on my life I cannot separate my discouragements from my triumphs when I try to decide which events in my life made me who I am today. I have had many days on both sides of that fence; but I would not trade the man I have become for any past day to be a little brighter. Can we separate our lives to say that we are who we are in spite of the problems? I believe that the truth is more likely found in the statement that it is because OF our discouragements.
To feel untalented, incapable and inferior is a common sentiment that were we able to poll those around us, in honesty, we would find that most feel the same. Remember that the world has been lead and changed by those who felt untalented, incapable and inferior at some point in their lives.
Today I have been greatly touched by a hymn that even many non-Mormon friends will know because of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir:
Gird up your loins; fresh courage take;
Our God will never us forsake;
And soon we’ll have this tale to tell—
All is well! All is well!
[“Come, Come, Ye Saints, LDS Hymns, 1985, no. 30]
The trouble in my life and the opportunity for discouragement still exists, but I choose to keep my fears and despair at bay by seeing the long-term and keeping my hopes in things larger than the temporary discouragement.
I hope to return to this long string of consciousness that I have shared here at times when discouragement may be getting the better of me and it is difficult to avoid despair. I may be the only person ever to read this from beginning to end. I hope that one day my wife stumbles upon it and finds encouragement beyond any concern that weighs upon her mind. I also hope that my children, should they be far from me (geographically or emotionally) will find solace and healing words to bind the wounds caused by disappointments and discouragements that will be part of their lives.
Today I choose to “Love my life, as poor as it is” with the knowledge that I will never be forsaken. I choose hope.
This is a great three minute video message that I return to from time to time for hope. Much of my points today come from Jeffrey R Holland, I would be remiss if I did not share this video.