When I was a much younger man, I played soccer. I started when I was six and my Dad coached the team. At that age, I am not sure we should call it “soccer” as much as “22 person amoeba crawling in the grass with no discernible purpose” but that takes too long to say. One of the first lessons I learned was to “play to the whistle”. In soccer terms it means keep playing until the ref stops you, regardless of what happens. If you think you have been fouled, keep playing. If you think the ball is out, keep playing. Over the 15 years I actively played, I remember winning several goals, and several games, because I kept playing. Now in life there are many times I think the play is over, and I have to keep playing.
Why we feel defeated
In real life we feel discouraged from time to time. I get discouraged when I make mistakes I think are unrecoverable, usually pertaining to hurting someone’s feelings. I get discouraged when I feel like my goals are unachievable. Now, I don’t need the goals to be easy, just possible. I get the most discouraged, even to the point of feeling defeated, when I realize, “I have no value here”. Maybe I think I have skills or insight, but those are not recognized. Maybe the landscape has changed so much I am out of date and irrelevant. Maybe I have failed to nurture the relationships required to have any credibility or influence here. When those happen, I am tempted to give up.
How to keep moving
Although there are times we are all discouraged and even defeated, we hope that is not a lifestyle. If it is, then you may require a larger change. Consider changing your situation (new job, new location, new community, etc.) or asking for help. When your discouragement declines into depression, counseling is a wonderful outlet to sort out the malaise. In regular times, though, here are some ideas on how to keep moving.
- Stay in the game. We just finished the World Cup recently and I was amazed how many of the goals I watched were not made on the first shot, or even the second. Sometimes just a few more seconds of play can make the difference. For us, that means show up to work. Go to that meeting. Come home for dinner. Even if you don’t care or don’t want to go, there may be just a few more seconds of play before you get that shot at a goal.
- Do something useful. Structured Procrastination is your friend. We all have that list of stuff we thought was a good idea at the time, but have been too busy to get to. Go do something on that list, regardless of how important it is. Maybe that means you clean out a file drawer, or sew that button on your old shirt. In my experience, doing something – anything – useful gets me back in gear to do the important stuff.
- Share your hurt. Go cry on a friend’s shoulder. Get a beer together and talk about everything wrong with the world and your life. Grab a coffee and complain about your boss, or your marriage. Put time on the calendar, with someone else, and release all that pent up fear and frustration with no expectation of a solution. This is not a lifestyle choice, just an event with a friend who can tolerate you for an hour while you spout all the stuff you can’t say in your professional environment.
- Read your love letters. Go through your file of love letters from past friends, colleagues, and clients. These are all the quick notes you have received in your career saying, “you are awesome”. Reading through some of these is encouraging and a reminder that you really have value in this world. What? You don’t have such a file? Go build it.
These are four easy activities to keep your head above water and get you moving again. Once you are moving, then let God direct your steps. In my own life, I have found great direction when I am in motion and very little guidance when I am stuck and stationary.
Your Next Move
If you are feeling discouraged or defeated today, refer to this list and pick one. Whichever one you chose, comment on whether it helped or not. If today you are feeling pretty good, then build the infrastructure to do those things – build an action item list of things you might want to do someday, nurture a relationship you can call on, and start your file of love letters. Trust me, build the file. Start today.