With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
Without any doubting or quiddit,
He started to sing as tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done and he did it.
I’ve always believed in the adage “actions speak louder than words.” I’ve never been one to seek guidance from commercial catch phrases, trending tweets, or song lyrics. But Guest’s poem did make me smile. Whether it was the playfulness of the verse or just the simplicity of the message, it spoke volumes to me.
Easy, right? Well, maybe for Edgar, but not so much for myself. Laden with insecurities, fear, and self-doubt, I’ve often felt paralyzed to confront obstacles, the largest being happiness and self-worth.
In the past, when my mom saw me down or struggling, she’d often ask, “Are you happy?” or “What would make you happy?” These were scary questions for me, because I had no answer. I would always just say, “I’m fine” and quickly change the subject.
To be honest, without looking up the definition I couldn’t tell you for sure what “happy” means. I guess it means something different to each of us. I wanted to be successful at a career and in a relationship. Both were at a dead end.
I didn’t even know which to tackle first. I was embarrassed to try to date because I wasn’t successful career wise, so I stopped. I didn’t want to end up dating someone and getting my happiness from them, only to be depressed again when the relationship ended, so I knew I had to focus on myself first. Still, that proved challenging.
I am the king of to-do lists. I singlehandedly support the Post-it industry. I used to approach each day the same: with a list of things to do. I would go to the library straight after work and pursue my list. Then, as I stared at it, fear, anxiety, and confusion would set in.
My list was filled with tasks to help me fulfill my goals of a career and life I could be happy and proud of. But as day turned to evening, I’d feel a sense of despair as I heard that faithful announcement “ten minutes till close,” since again, I’d gotten nothing accomplished. I would head home and try another feeble attempt at staying up all night to get more done, to no avail.
This would go on for several days, months, even years. After reading Guest’s poem, I knew my biggest problem was that my goals were not clear. I knew I had the determination and want.
My search for self-worth led me to win a fitness competition, act on stage, do charity work, run marathons, and even a try out for a professional baseball team. Those accomplishments made me happy for the moment, but when they ended, I was back to feeling depressed, sorry for myself, and mostly, just lost.
Nothing seemed to bring me the sustained happiness I searched for. That is why I felt safe when I was cast in a show. It gave me a three-month hiatus from being myself. I could entrench myself into something else and avoid the problem: me. Even my insecurity issues would subside a bit during this time. A task or project would redirect my focus from worry and negative thoughts.
When the task or project ended, my insecurity would come back with a vengeance. Void of something to preoccupy myself with, I would become obsessed with trying to find happiness, success, and self-worth. The problem was that I still could not define what happiness was or what it would feel like.
The more downtime I had, the more negative my thoughts became, and the more depressed I felt. It was a vicious cycle. My biggest fear was that I wouldn’t be able to hide my depression from the people around me. I was constantly putting on a joyful, joking persona. You know, tears of a clown and all that.
Then one particular evening everything changed for me, and not for the better.
Coming home from a rehearsal, I got into a bad car accident. Luckily no one was hurt physically, but I was damaged emotionally.
Before the accident I worried about everything except for time. Well, now add that to the list. Hurry up! Hurry up and find and define happiness. I was now in a race with time on top of everything else.
So often you hear these life threatening moments cause people to step back, smell the roses, and appreciate what they have. For me, the incident made me more reclusive and more worried that I would never find happiness.
I turned into a glass-three-quarters-empty guy and frequently felt embarrassed because I had to ask friends and family for rides to work and rehearsal. As someone who does not like to rely on other people for help, this was very difficult for me.
The one trait I do possess, for good or bad, is the ability to compartmentalize things, so I pretended the accident never happened. Big mistake. I never talked about it. Most things I can hide and just sweep away.
In the days that followed the accident the one solace for me was exercise. In good times and bad, a workout could always lift my spirits and make me feel I could achieve anything. It provided a sense of clarity.
After several unsatisfying jobs out of college, I took a step back and simplified my cloudy goals. I had a passion for fitness and impacting people. I started thinking about helping people in a health-related capacity. A friend of mine was an athletic trainer, so I volunteered at his office. I enjoyed working with people and hearing their stories.
More than the workout, they enjoyed having someone to share their stories with. In fact, I could not believe how much they would open up.
At one point, I thought, “I would never tell a stranger all of my deep secrets.” Then I realized that to them, I wasn’t a stranger. I was someone they entrusted with their self-improvement goals, which is not an easy thing to do. They would say, “I look forward to this hour.” It gave me a feeling of purpose.
So I got my certification, walked into a health club, and became a personal trainer. Acting on what I’d learned from my own personal experience, I made a promise to myself that I would always tell my clients to set goals for themselves, not for the approval of others. Start by accepting, liking, and not being too hard on yourself.
My life has always been filled with judgment. An audition, a competition, a tryout. Waiting for someone to tell me I was good enough, then dealing with hearing sometimes “You’re not.” That was tough to deal with. I’m still in a struggle every day teaching my clients how to be happy with themselves, while at the same time learning to be happy with myself.
Since I’m the king of lists, I made one more, which I refer to every day. These are the reminders that help me in my daily life. I hope they’ll help you too.
Problem: I felt overwhelmed because I had too many confusing goals.
Solution: Pick one simple goal each day, no matter how small, and focus on that.
Problem: I felt bad because I focused on what I hated about myself and how happy and successful other people were, while I struggled to find direction.
Solution: Focus on something I like about myself every day.
Problem: I was sedentary. Inactivity breeds depression.
Solution: Move! Being active relieves stress, boosts your mood, increases your energy, and provides clarity and positive energy.
Problem: I felt alone because I never asked for help.
Solution: Ask! People care.
Problem: I withdrew from family and friends because I wanted to hide my problems.
Solution: Open up, even if it feels hard. Talking is great medicine.
It’s still a battle every day for me. I still go through bouts of anxiety, self-doubt, and insecurity, but each day it does get better. It’s helped that I’ve learned to appreciate my family and friends and be more open with them.
Maybe that’s what happiness is—making a little progress every day, spending time with people you value and trust, and finding the courage to be honest with them. At least, that’s what it is for me. Everybody (and every body) is different.