Insight For The Modern Man

Rich O'Keeffe
MDI Contributor 

I don’t like the constructs around “comeback” stories.

The most common place we see those are in some sort of sports allegory when a team that was trailing on the scoreboard rallies to win the game. The comebacks are even more epic when the final result looks all but certain (say up 28-3 in a Super Bowl certain). Another sports variant is when a player has some large dip in their performance, usually due to a serious injury, and they return to play again at their previous level.

The concern that I have with applying this to my life has a couple of places where it falls short.

One place that comeback falls short as a good allegory is that there is an objective score in most sports – even the ones that are subjectively judged. There is no scoreboard for life. What many use as a score are more the trappings of success than actual success, ie nice houses, fancy cars, far travel. (Editorial note – I am fine with anyone having all the trappings they want.) They are really more of a byproduct than anything else. They unfortunately get offered up as though they are what success is.

The dialogue around comebacks often includes the idea that someone has something bad happen, or they get a poor result, or luck turned bad against them, and then they persevere, and then gooder things happen. But even that falls short. Because the underlying assumption around a comeback is that there is some place that the person involved in is supposed to be. Or some thing that he or she is supposed to have. What if there are absolutely zero real supposed-to’s that are true?

OK, you lost your job, or house, or whatnot. What has you believe that that was destined as yours?

By far, the biggest problem I have with the construct of a comeback is that it highly de-values the benefit of having bad shit happen to you. Some of the most powerful changes in my life have occurred, not because I am any of those qualities that are ascribed to people who came back from something (committed, disciplined, smart, blah blah). No, the changes came because I had to make the change. Because for whatever reason, underneath it all, I found access to taking the actions that would result in a different outcome. Every fat guy knows what he needs to do to lose weight (take in less/put out more), but knowing that doesn’t provide access to doing any of it. Every addict of an unhealthy substance knows that they should stop, yet access to avoiding the substance eludes them.

What the bad things in life do is to force us into action.

A brief example from my life. When my ex-wife left me, a lot of me got shattered. Biggest among those being the delusion I had about what a great husband I was. One area that I am far better at now, years later, is managing my money. One thing that happened is that my ex-wife basically took off with her paycheck and left me with the bills. And for a couple of months, I was a financial train wreck. I get paid twice a month and I was often 6-8 days before payday and 300 bucks in the hole with no clue as to why.

Because of this life situation, I began writing down everything I spent, tracking it to the penny and balancing it against the budget and what the bank statements said. In hindsight, I see just how terribly undisciplined I had been about money. And that practice began me on a journey of managing monies, where six years later I am able to, at any moment in time, tell you exactly how much I have available, how much I can afford if I want something, and how much I’m saving in the right places. Hell, I have the tracking sheets going back to January 2015.

Now, you could call that a comeback. But the truth is that the shattering brought upon me by my divorce wrought changes in who I am being, and that has resulted in my current financial situation.

A deeper truth of the matter is that a lot of people took care of me when I was low and not really up to the task. A piece of comeback stories that irks me is that almost always all the people who were there along the way are never properly credited for their role.

When the divorce happened, I had a lot of folks who just reached out to me to let me know they cared. Folks in my work just stopped by my office to check up on me. A few friends refused to let me wallow alone at home on Friday and Saturday nights and kept dragging me out. Folks showed up with food and hung out with me. Some of my financially talented friends worked with me to figure out what I had to do. A couple of friends responded “CONGRATULATIONS” when I told them about her leaving (I think it was more in the spirit of trying to find the good places for me rather than anything else, but it helped). And, so it gets said, my kids showed up huge. For both my ex-wife as well as me, I think.

Did I come back from the divorce? Well, sorta.

But in my mind it is far more that the divorce, and the people around me, shaped me and provided a different outcome. And in thinking about most every “bad thing” – layoffs, divorce, bankruptcy, and on and on, in my mind it is not that I came back from the thing, but more that I allowed the thing to move me where I needed to move.

Perhaps, instead of relishing the comeback, it would be prudent to sit in gratitude … for those around you, for all the things that people did that made a difference, and most importantly, and for the bad thing that you were required to come back from.