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The Valley of Death | Confronting Mortality

I was recently published in a holistic magazine catering to a largely female audience. One of the goals of the publication is the promotion of wellness through intentional positivity. For this reason the editor requested that, if my article should happen to hit a resonant pain-point with the audience, I make sure to offer guidance out of that place rather than simply "leaving them in the valley", so to speak. The message stuck with me. It came up today, in a Zoom call with my newest coach, who has been training behind the scenes for a few years now. He deferentially shared a draft of his flagship blogpost with me before going live on our website. A well-educated guy with an admirably polished writing style, he nevertheless felt a bit conspicuous speaking as an authority on the subject of life coaching, and wanted to be sure that his offering checked out by my standards. I assured him it was great (and I genuinely think it is) but pointed out constructively that he had done exactly what the aforementioned editor warned me of; he had left the reader in the valley. After explaining the challenges that many men experience while trying to convert plans into action without the support of a mentor, he abruptly signed off, as though he'd been writing in an airport lobby and realized his plane was boarding. He laughed when I pointed it out, and agreed it made sense to synthesize his observations into inspirational breadcrumbs to help guide the reader toward a solution rather than simply ending with, "......aaaaand you're fucked."

It was a rewarding moment. Teaching is a ladder, and we always want to be teaching down and learning up. We grow as we teach, and in that moment -- where I may have appeared to the casual observer to have been the wizened coach schooling the bright-eyed grasshopper -- I believe that I was the one who got the optimal benefit from the exchange. This isn't rhetoric, I'm being literal here. I'll explain. Today was my birthday. December 20th, 2022. I turned 52. If you know anything about my backstory, then you know it has been a long, absolutely grueling 52 years. To use Game of Thrones parlance, I've paid "the Iron Price" for any wisdom that I have acquired in this lifetime. Not one lesson that I've learned along my journey has come easy. Today I looked at myself in the mirror, reflecting on this life that I've lived thus far, and while I'm still a very physically capable and intellectually astute guy for my age, I'm definitely not fooling anyone; I don't look a minute younger than 52 years old. I'm aging. I see it. How could I not? As an artist, I've been drawing self-portraits since I was a child. My crow's feet have become entire legs. My throat is doing a kind of buzzard-skin thing. There's way more salt in my beard than pepper. I'm as bald as I ever was, my hair fighting a losing battle against both testosterone and male pattern baldness as it has since college. I'm not saying I don't love the man in the mirror -- because I do -- but I'm keeping it real here and saying I see it. And more than that, I'm saying I accept it. That's what this post is about. Acceptance. It's 2:30am PT. My kid and his mom are sleeping. So is the dog, and the two cats. So is the whole neighborhood, for that matter. We're on a quiet little hill above a canyon, in a sleepy suburban household in San Diego, CA. So quiet, in fact, that I can hear my pulse beating in my ears. So quiet that I can hear my thoughts echoing in my head. The voices are saying, "go write...... you can sleep when you're dead." So here I am, at my computer, writing a blogpost. I have a full client load tomorrow. I have to walk the dog at 6:30am. I should really be sleeping. Like really. But I'm up writing, because I want to document these moments. I want to be completely honest about this process. This is what "manning-up" looks like, if we're really going to commit to using that term (which we are, since it's my brand and all). It isn't denial. It isn't pretending that "this is fine." It's acceptance. And that's where grace has an opportunity to intervene. Yes, I'm in the valley. I have always been in the valley. I get it. In fact, the Bible has a famous verse about exactly this. Psalm 23:4 reads....

"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me...."

Now let's stop right here. I want to be clear when I say that I am not a person who peddles in religiosity. Absolutely not. My clients come from a variety of religious traditions, including none at all, and however they interpret spirituality is on them. Personally, I have my own relationship with whatever you may call the higher power, and frankly it's a lot less romantic than the typical Biblical depiction. It's way less "Heavenly Father and his Holy Son", and much more along the lines of Tom Hanks and Wilson in Cast Away. When I hear the line "thou art with me", I don't see "thou" as some merciful savior who has come to rescue to me. Rather, I experience "thou" as a deeper, more honest version of myself, emerging most noticeably under intense circumstances; much like serotinous pine cones, which only open under the extreme temperatures of a wildfire. During my abusive childhood, "Thou" was with me. When I was placed into foster care, "Thou" was there. When I was homeless and destitute -- literally sleeping in a bush -- "Thou" was with me. When I went to jail, "Thou" was there. Alcohol addiction? "Thou" was with me. Hurricane Katrina? "Thou" was with me. Every death. Every loss. Every moment of sadness and despair. Every heartbreak. "Thou" was there. And right now, at 3:30am, as I continue my march toward whatever my ultimate fate shall be on this planet that is called "Earth", in the narrative of human existence.... "Thou" art with me. I'm in the valley. And that's okay. I accept this mission. And it is from this place of acceptance that I staunchly offer comfort to my brother, with love and grace, until he learns to communicate with "Thou" on his own terms. And it is this -- more than any other offering, instructional or otherwise -- that defines the true nature of this thing we call "Life Coaching". If we're being rip-the-Band-Aid-off honest here, it's not so much about winning at life as it is about mastering our fear of death.


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