Tony Robbins and Jack Black in Shallow Hal

Banana Hands and My Stories

Tony Robbins and Jack Black in Shallow Hal
Remember the elevator scene from Shallow Hal?

Last night I watched several episodes of a TV show called “Breakthrough with Tony Robbins”.  It’s a simple premise: this world famous author / life coach finds people who are on the brink of major personal crisis. He mentors them for 30 days, and their lives totally change.  In one episode, he worked with a couple from NJ who were on the brink of foreclosure, the husband had been laid off, money was tight, they were fighting, and the wife was about to leave him and take the kids with her.   Tony intervened.  He did a bunch of counseling with them, gave them several challenges to work on together.  For their key challenge, he sent them to live on the streets on Skid Row in Los Angeles for a week.  This upper middle class couple HAD to rely on each other to survive – both emotionally, and physically, because they truly had nothing else.

One of the constant themes throughout the many episodes is this: Stop living your story, take responsibility, and start living your life in the present.   What does this mean? I’ll cut the bullshit pronoun “we” and make this personal.  If you can relate, cool:

I have been through some hard things in the past, in particular, my marriage and divorce. I felt wronged in those situations by several people and entities.  I feel like a failure because of “what happened to me”.  The way I live today is governed by that story.  A shocking number of choices and mental reflexes I have, are based on these stories I have about me and my past.

I won’t bore you with all of the nitty gritty, but I will share the broad strokes of my “victim story”:

Growing up: My dad is severely handicapped and we grew up really poor. I grew up feeling like a second class citizen. My family was really awkward.  My parents didn’t push me to excel.  They didn’t even encourage me to excel at anything.  They didn’t expect anything from me except for doing all of the church stuff. They just struggled to survive.  I had a deep hatred for the circumstances the person responsible for my family’s situation.  I felt weak and powerless.  I felt like a born failure.  The only reason this hurt, is because on some very deep level, I knew that I deserved better. I knew that I had come here to do something very awesome in life, but that didn’t seem likely to happen.

Marriage and family: Our marriage was rough from day one. We each made our mistakes that contributed to the strife.  While we were married, I was studying psychology. I hit a point in my studies where I started questioning a lot of the beliefs I had held all my life.  When I shared some of my questions with Mireesa, she said, “You either stop asking those questions, or we are getting a divorce”.  Her ultimatum was heartbreaking to me. I was on the verge of a great career in psychology.  I dropped out of school in an attempt to sort out my mind / heart and save my family. Our marriage still failed.  I feel like a failure for not finishing school.  I feel like a failure as a romantic partner for being a participant in a failed marriage.  I feel like a failed parent.  There are a few individuals, and “the church”, which were influences in Mireesa kicking me out and taking my kids from me.  There is a small, black corner of my heart where I still have a smoldering hatred toward those people and “the church” for – in my mind – contributing to the failures that I’m on the losing end of.

Here’s the thing. I realize that I still define myself in terms of “my story”.  I am using my past to define who I am TODAY.  I’m really not sure how to reconcile this.  Isn’t past behavior the best predictor of future behavior?  Isn’t your resume, or your biography, the thing you use to introduce yourself to the world?   “Hi, I’m Paul. I’ve failed. A LOT.  Nice to meet you.”

Maybe my resentments are misplaced.

Instead of  hating the person that left my dad essentially dead on the side of the road, maybe I should resent my father for failing to use what tools he DID have to connect with me more as a kid.  He could have written me letters or something.

Instead of hating “the church”, maybe I should just hate Mireesa for letting the church influence her so much.  Nobody at the church explicitly told her to leave me; she just let moronic convictions lead her.

As I was watching these Tony Robbins episodes, I realized how blessed I really am.   I have NO excuses.  I have loads of ability and talent, and it would be a god damn shame if it were to go unused. I feel a sense of limitation in my life.  A glass ceiling, in a sense.  I can see what’s above it, but I just can’t seem to break through it. Are these old stories of failure creating that glass ceiling?  Do I really need to just kill and cremate the old Paul, and somehow just really forget that the past even happened?   I kind of like the idea of this, I’m just not sure if I should, or if I could.

In one episode, he dealt with a family who nearly lost a daughter in a go-kart accident.  The daughter collided with a parked car. Her heart stopped, but they revived her and she’s alive and well today. They reacted by becoming hyper vigilant about avoiding danger at all costs, which led to them becoming totally dysfunctional.  In the episode. he ends up getting her to see that accident, the go kart, and the other car, as gifts that brought them, eventually, to a higher ground.

You know, I give a lot of lip service to the idea that I’m grateful for everything I’ve been through, because I love my life now, I have such a great time, I have so many opportunities, yada yada yada blah blah blah….

… but have I *REALLY* internalized that?    Or do I just like the idea of reinterpreting my past as a springboard for an awesome future?

I think I have some mental re-structuring to do.  I think my next task is going to be to make a table with two columns:

…and to really go through my “failures”, line by line, and see how they paved the way to the gifts I currently experience in my life. Honestly, I recognize that my life is pretty cool.  I just get so washed up in these old icky feelings that I mess everything up when I have something good going on.  What the fuck is it going to take for me to stop feeling like a failure?  I might be one of those guys that, no matter how much I accomplish, I will always feel like it’s not quite good enough, that I’m capable of more. And as long as I know that I’m capable of more, I cannot be content.  It’s only when I know I’ve presented my VERY best effort that I can truly relax and enjoy what comes.  Maybe.

I’m rambling.  I have to quit writing at some point.


I’m going to do this table thing.

Anyway. Tony Robbins is an alchemist. Here are links to the first few episodes:

Episode 1:  newly married guy becomes quadriplegic on his wedding day. His new wife has to become his constant care taker, ruining the marriage

Episode 2:  upper middle class NJ couple on brink of divorce and foreclosure after husband gets laid off and loses life savings in a failed business start up. Couple spends a week on Skid Row in LA

Episode 3:   former NBA player has a stroke, loses pro b-ball career. House in foreclosure, ends up taking a job as a garbage man.

Episode 4:  Wife’s overbearing mother + a near death experience with one of thier kids nearly destroys a marriage because wife doesn’t trust husband anymore with the kids.

Episode 5:  Wife is pursing music career, neglects her family, husband has an affair, They find a way to redefine their family.


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