The following is a letter I wrote to a friend of mine who was splitting up with his wife. I had lunch with him and we talked for several hours. He told me his problems and asked for my help. Afterwards I wrote him this letter. It is about commitment and overcoming your own mind's decision to give up on your goal.
Since having lunch with you, I've been thinking more about it, of course. I want you to know I am impressed with your commitment and your willingness to change. I believe in you, Tim. I think you are a better man than you think you are.
Here's what I was thinking about. I just watched a movie last night called Door to Door. It is the true story of Bill Porter, a man with cerebral palsy who got a job as a door to door salesman, selling soap and other goods, and became a top salesman. He has a difficult time walking, writing, carrying things, and speaking, and yet he won Salesman of the Year at his company. When he showed up at their doors, some people were automatically put off by his appearance and inability to speak clearly, but he was persistent. He accepted people's responses, and after awhile his kindness and goodness and courage and persistence overcame everyone's initial resistance.
I love movies like that. Rudy is my favorite — a true story of persistence and courage and overcoming tremendous odds. Or the movie October Sky. These are true stories. These guys really did go through all that heartache and tribulation and really did ultimately achieve their goal.
Having just watched Door to Door, and being inspired by someone overcoming tremendous odds with everything stacked against him, and people making fun of him and automatically wanting nothing to do with him because he was a "freak," and then hearing you today saying you’re going to give up (and stop reading books on relationships because they give you “false hope”), I don't know...it made me think.
I know it's painful for you to keep trying with Karen. I know you want to give up. I know you think she has given up, and you might even be right. But she has been through a lot. Even you say so. You have caused her pain. And that's what I was thinking: That now she is causing you pain, so you want to give up. But haven't you caused her pain? Doesn't it somehow seem a basic justice that she should cause you pain too?
What if you thought of the pain as amends you are making for all the stupid stuff you've done to hurt others in your lifetime? Wouldn't that change your willingness to feel the pain? I know you are capable of tolerating pain. Nobody succeeds as a bodybuilder as well as you have unless they can experience and accept pain and keep going.
But you think of the pain during weight lifting as good for you, right? Just part of the process. And you consider the pain you feel when Karen cries or criticizes as bad for you. But maybe it is just as good for you. Maybe it's good for your personal growth if you took it the right way. Maybe it's good for your relationship. Maybe it's good for your future.
And not only that, your willingness to take the pain and listen anyway might soften her heart. It could change her mind. It could prove to her you really are different.
This about this. If you are willing to cause pain but not experience it yourself, that’s one kind of person. But if you are no longer willing to cause pain but are willing to experience the pain of guilt and remorse — if you are willing to make up for your past deeds — that is a different kind of person. That’s a man of character strength.
This kind of character strength changes peoples' hearts. Have you ever seen the movie Gandhi? They showed a scene where Gandhi had organized a protest march on a salt manufacturing company (owned by the government). Government troops were guarding the salt company. Four by four, the Indians marched up and all of them get hit over the head with police batons. Brutal. The Indians didn't even raise their hands to defend themselves. Down they went. This event really happened.
The next group of four marched forward, and they were hit on the head and carried off. Rows of four marched up all day and all night. When this story broke, it sent shockwaves throughout the world, and through the pain of the Indians, British people had a change of heart. They didn't want their government or their troops to inflict pain and suffering on the Indians any longer. Without firing a shot, without inflicting violence against the British, with this kind of commitment and character strength, the Indians were able to make one of the most powerful countries in the world eventually stop the military occupation of India.
Given all this, what about you? Can you stick with it even though it seems hopeless? Can you stick with it even though it causes you pain? Can you learn to see the pain as a kind of justice, and righting of wrongs? Can you set a completely awesome example for your two little daughters? And for their sake? I think you can.
Today at lunch you kept using the phrase "false hope." I have read a huge number of true stories about people in impossible situations who were determined to succeed and who were able to achieve the seemingly impossible. So the phrase "false hope" doesn’t have any meaning to me. That is what someone calls it who is giving up.
When Rudy couldn't get into Notre Dame the first time or the second time or the third time or the fourth time he tried, someone with less determination could easily have said he had "false hope." In fact, I think that is the exact phrase his high school teacher used when he told Rudy he should forget about going to Notre Dame because he couldn’t possibly do it.
But he did do it. And now we would never say his hope and his determination were false. In fact, I don't even like the word hope. It's too wimpy. I like commitment and determination. Don't hope for it. Make it happen instead. Not with force, but with character strength. With your actions, with what you are willing to suffer through, with your commitment. You have it in you. I've looked in your eyes and I see it. You can do this, but not with a half-assed, one-foot-out-the-door kind of approach.
I'm not putting you down. You have really impressed me with what you've done. But stop thinking about "false hope" and stop thinking this pain is bad for you.
And start memorizing that list of thought-mistakes I gave you, and work hard to find those mistakes in your thinking. Catch yourself pessimistically making those cognitive mistakes over and over. Just catch yourself. After awhile, you'll stop making those mistakes, and your thinking will clear up, and it will help your determination and positive mood return.
I'm still rooting for you. And I'm rooting for your girls. And I hope someday to come over to your house and play with your daughters again and see you and Karen happily married. It can happen. If you decide it can happen, if you have enough courage and persistence and determination, it really can happen. It is only false hope if you stop short and give up. Even if she moves out, the game is not over. Not until you say it is. She obviously loved you once. And you loved her. And still love her. There was a reason the love was there. And it can be again, and when it is, you will have changed in a way you’ll be proud of. And so will she. And so will your daughters.
The follow up to this story is that Tim didn't give up. He straightened up and solved his problems, and he and his wife got back together. It is two years later, and he is a better man, they have a better relationship, and they're both very glad he committed himself to change. And his daughters' lives will benefit ever after.
Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal Growth, Direct Your Mind, and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English). Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.