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Michael Jordan Wrestles Angels
It's a new year and the stakes in your life couldn't be higher. You just know it's time to finally kick some ass and make things happen for yourself.
You could be in your twenties and for most of your life so far, you couldn't get yourself a girlfriend. You know that if you can't do that, you'll have an even harder time getting on track to the life you want in the future, which might include getting married. You can't even think about career issues right now with a challenge like this.
You could be in your thirties, and you've had a girlfriend or five, possibly been married (it didn't work out in short order), and you wake up finding that the process of dealing with women has distracted you from an even more daunting, and at the moment, more important challenge - figuring out what it is that you want to be doing for the rest of your life in a career. You're not sure where to start.
You could be in your forties, and you've been married, maybe for the second time, and you do have a career, maybe for the second time, but you're confused. Things are not what you expected, and you wonder whether you've "settled for less," not sure how much time you have left to really get what you want, and not sure what you would choose - settling or trying for something new in life even if there was a possibility of it working out. You just know that your dating and relationship lives, or your "career," or BOTH, are not exactly what make you feel all that thrilled with how life has turned out.
You could be in your fifties or above, and either struggled and won against the challenges of prior decades, or been defeated by them. In the former, you wonder if those victories are all there is - maybe there is more to rise to in life. In the latter, you wish it were actually possible to go back and do it all again with brand new decisions.
It IS possible. All of the above can be transcended, but to see how, we have to start with Michael Jordan.
I had to jump off the circuit training bootcamp's treadmill at the gym because my nearly brand new Nike was digging into my left heel and it got excruciating.
I took it off and noticed that the thing had already worn through cheap, thin fabric to the cheap, red plastic mold of the heel - literally cutting into my flesh. I was not going to just throw away $150, and so I resolved before marching down to Niketown that they were in fact, going to exchange these shoes for some brand new ones. Then explain what had happened to the quality of their illustrious brand I really did not want to part with.
I had just got done working with a gentleman on his personal growth, problems with a woman in his life, while at the same time, hearing abouthow weird it is that he has so many problems in some areas, while in another - real estate, he has had such good fortune of late (and hard work too) - that some deals he had just finished afforded him a brand new Lamborghini as a "little present to himself."
Problems? What problems, you say?
Well plenty. And they're private to him. But it makes you wonder whether there is ever enough money to "make you a success," or to truly feel like a man more days than not.
For now, I was settling for a battle over $150 shoes rather than a $150,000 car, or likely even more expensive than that. No matter, every man feels his "stakes" differently.
You want to win.
I talked to three different sales people and made my case, brick by brick, and was not going to take no for an answer. It was the thick of the worst winter storm in a decade, and perhaps it had beaten them down too. To my surprise, they did not put up much of a fight, perfectly willing to exchange the shoes once they had seen how badly they were worn in such a short time.
I got on the elevator wondering what exactly had caused such a success (albeit minor, the majors successes in life are build from the bricks of the small ones.)
Was it my resolve that made me successful?
Was it their own lack of "fight?" After all, it must be expensive to take a refund or exchange, and tough to stomach on top of being the lowest selling day in the store's history (due to the blizzard.)
Or was it "luck?" Being in the right place, at the right time, with the right storm.
I suppose it would then be Michael Jordan - after all this time in Chicago and only seeing him once - who taught me through his own quote on the wall that the answer is "all three." It's your resolve, the lack of resolve of others, and a dose of good luck too.
I looked at the lit up area above the elevator door for the whole ride down:
"There are those who WANT it, and those who WISH for it. But the victory belongs to those who MAKE it happen."
For the first man, who "wants" a change in his life - a better relationship, a better dating life, a better career and a better life - he half-tries and gets nothing. He doesn't "want it" enough.
For the second, it's all about living in the world of luck, which sometimes does "smile on us." But often it does not, and what looks like luck, really is just the leftovers of life that nobody else wanted. And so he wishes his way into the scraps that others are willing to throw him.
The third kind of man makes me wonder. He is the success story because he did the hard work, and had the right spirit, enough to really, really want it - BAD. But he didn't wait for luck to come along either. He MADE his luck.
Still, this third kind of man I have seen rapidly head to burn-out, or obsession - the hard driving one who doesn't learn his lessons when he is headed down the wrong path. Instead, he beats his head harder on the obstacle.
I don't think Michael Jordan meant it THAT way.
There had to be something more to the success principle, and it came to me in a phone call.
Jacob Wrestles the Angel
My mom was on the other end, and she is quite the religious lady. She wanted to wish me a Happy New Year, and hear the latest.
Over the years, she has weathered storms of life, like the blizzard I was currently enduring, and had heard many a tale from me about how exceptionally challenging it was to get through medical school, to start a magazine, to get a first book published, to get a television show, and so on and so on. Every decade had its failures and victories, and every time it seemed that losing was a certainty, she still had a blind faith in God first, and then in me second as her son.
My own father had disappeared before any of the major life challenges, so she was the only parent left. She heard me say that what I was up to was reading a quote by Michael Jordan in the Chicago Niketown, then in her meandering way, she said, "Oh that reminds me of how you always were - like Michael wrestling the Angel, and just like with all your struggles, the Angel was overcome."
"Mom, I'm not all into that stuff," I said, "But as far as I recall, Michael is an Archangel, and it was Jacob you are talking about. Jacob wrestled the Angel, and the Angel was overcome."
"Oh you see how smart you are?" she said.
"Thank you," I said. "I mean for the story of course."
I just happened to know the name. I didn't know that much about the actual story.
In reality, I only knew the answer because I had heard it in the lyrics of a U2 song. But that got me wondering what the real story was.
As it goes:
The same night he arose and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and everything else that he had. And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob's hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.”
It turns out that this Angel that the Biblical figure, Jacob, wrestled, was never named as a specific Angel, and could have been a man, or even God himself.
This guy had some fight in him apparently, to fight an Angel, or God himself. And I had never known that the word "Israel" literally means "He who wrestles with God."
Which brings us to the point of it all, and what Michael Jordan has in common with the first Israelite.
They both have FIGHT.
Your Own Angels to Wrestle
I can't tell you how many times I've thought of giving up on various pursuits, or how many men I've seen actually, permanently give up (my father being one of them.)
It never seems to me to be a very good resolution when they do lose their fight. They aren't happy, and they stay that way, which is part of why I suppose I never give up on anything I do, even when it's got a long way to go to be a job well-done. There's no point in giving up on ANYTHING, because when you do, it's not a better place to be than still struggling and striving.
When you do at least that, you're still far more alive than you are when you utterly surrender.
It's a guy thing. When we suffer defeat in the moment, that's one thing, but when we actually do fully give up on something, it's as if the light has gone out in us. I saw it in my own father. As if a big chunk of us has just been ripped away and there's nothing left but a shell.
All of which must be to say that the very nature of faith itself - in God, or in yourself, or in your friends or family, or country - all comes from not the CERTAINTY that you will find happiness and success, but in the STRIVING itself. What we in America like to call the "pursuit" of happiness, not the "reward" or "achievement" of happiness.
Many of you have heard me talk about the nature of personal boundaries - that your boundary marks what you control from what you don't, and that to relieve your own suffering, you just have to give up and surrender to that lack of control we have in life. That we can't force things.
But I don't think Michael Jordan was talking about being foolhardy or obsessive, or ignorant of your lessons to be learned. I don't think that Jacob was trying to commit de facto suicide by throwing himself at a higher being either.
I think they both were striving to win, and did win because of the striving itself.
What is the Angel?
Some have theorized that the Angel Jacob grabbed hold of and wouldn't let go until he was blessed was the Angel Uriel. Others have posited that it was God Himself. Others say that it was just a man, and some scholars of religion even claim that it was a "Christophany" - a representation of the future Christ, time-traveling into the past.
If we got symbolic about this instead of literalist, you might associate with the experience of many men as they strive for success - that the "Angels we wrestle" can be:
- God, representative of all the possible things that can happen to us - the good luck and the bad - and so a man must wrestle with the very concept called "luck" if he is to ever win at life
- Another man, a rival, a real competitor whom you have not been a match for in the past, and may not be now, but CAN outdo, outrank, outsucceed in the FUTURE, if only you will grab that Angel of a man's life challenge and wrestle with it until it surrenders blessings and victory to you. (Often the answer to this challenge is to be the most expressive, and honest, real, authentic self you can be - after all no rival could EVER literally be YOU.) In fact, by doing this very thing you may end up as friends or collaborators for whom there is no competition, and alignment instead.
- A "Future Self" or representation of the self you fear becoming, or whose responsibility you fear (or alternatively the worry about your future self being a failure, unhappy, lonely, or in some way miserably unsuccessful.) As you can see, this is a "mental wrestling" more than a physical struggle. The depressed man must wrestle his depression and the low self-esteem man must wrestle his low self-esteem if he is to ever succeed. It is a definition of "self-sabotage" and "fear of success."
- An "Angel" - or someone on whom you are dependent, get assistance from normally, but with whom you now feel competitive. You may feel jealousy, because they are outwardly stronger than you, and seemingly would never be able to outdo, then ironically discover that you can defeat this superior being by your persistence in learning, striving and growing. It resembles the teacher-student relationship or that from a mentor. And all these such relationships can tend to have an "Oedipal" connection - one where there are mixed feelings of thanks and disdain, dependency, appreciation and then jealousy. We need to not forget that those very mentors who have helped us will someday be superceded by us, that we may resent them or even temporarily hate them for havnig been so necessary for our growth and success. And where men will always want to be responsible and praised for their own efforts to grow.
Kierkegaard said, "In boldness there is genius, power, and magic."
The old saying from Hollywood was "Patience, persistence, and passion win you fame."
Your second grade teacher may have told you, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again," or "It's better to shoot for the stars and land in the mud, than to shoot for the mud, and make it."
They're all talking about the same thing - one which does come from a place of good boundaries and acceptance - that we don't control the world around us, but participate IN it. We don't MAKE things happen on the first attempt, but instead learn with each attempt how to get it more perfect.
There's more to life than winning every battle, but there's more to our boundaries than just accepting things the way they are.
There are goals to strive for beyond the boundaries of what we have achieved so far, and while we don't demand them, control them or own them yet, we can, at best, strive for them, the very act of which brings online one of those "masculine instincts" we are always talking about.
It's the "Hephaestus Instinct" - the blacksmith to the gods, who represents that masculine feeling of passion and excitement of being alive through the act of STRIVING. The feeling of a "job well done" - the "blue collar work ethic" which even though it may lead to failure on any given day, is nevertheless a way of being that gives us the best shot at what we want when we don't have luck "shine on us," but makes us feel like real men, fully engaged, vital and alive as men.
May this new year treat you right, and may you treat it back with a confidence, a sense of value and mission for your life that you won't take no for an answer in the process of striving to win all your heart desires.
Be sure to get your free "Mission Planning Session" with Laura as part of your new goals and your new year. In fact, if you send us a video of what you believe your mission to be to us at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org you will get a chance to win a Mission Planning Session with us both.