It's 2010. I'm sick, literally worried I might die. I'm falling into depression, obesity, friends dying, relationships dying. Everything dying.
I want out of corporate America. I have done well. I've made good money. And I want to slam my head against a wall.
So I begin searching for people embarking on the road less traveled; living lives of intention and discipline. In my research I come across two writers whose words hit my like a ton of bricks. Their names are Chris Guillebeau and Julien Smith.
Over time, both of them become my friends and mentors.
In the years that follow, my life's entirely trajectory changes dramatically. Not because of one decision, but thousands of choices, wails, aches, longings and dreams all weaving themselves together into a mosaic I eventually become proud of.
This did not happen overnight. It took many years. But it started amid a sea of chaos. So let me ask you a question.
Do you feel broken right now? Stuck? Overwhelmed? Are you hiding from yourself?
If the answer is yes, I get it. I do too. I run and pant and scream and cry. It’s all a terribly beautiful mess, and I often don’t know what to do with myself.
I was the world’s most self-isolated person for years, especially when I was experiencing trauma. I spent years in hiding—seeking refuge in mild addictions and horrific loneliness.
All of this was a catastrophe. Many people say they most regret what they didn’t do, and there’s a sense of truth in that. But what I think is much more haunting is the regret that you didn't touch more lives. That’s far more powerful because the focus is not on one’s self, but on others.
The best way to ensure you touch no one is to hide.
Many people have asked me how I've gotten to where I am despite the trials I've endured. When I hear people answer the "how did you do it" question, generally the answer revolves around some sort of one-time transformation, like "I decided once and for all that things had to change".
I give a very different answer. Every single one of the successes I've had can ultimately be traced back to two fundamental decisions:
1. The decision to cultivate the ability to defer instant gratification; and
2. The decision to stop hiding, over and over and over again.
Both of these decisions have required great discipline and courage that I often didn't think I had. It hasn't always worked. But I've learned to always choose to do something.
I am in pain of one form or another almost every day. Living with chronic health conditions means that I’m grieving and finding renewal continually, in a cycle of love and anguish. Sometimes it fills me with hope. Sometimes it drives me insane. But I've learned to not give a fuck about how it makes me feel. Because I know I must act. I must give of myself. Especially when I don't want to.
The thing is, I don’t give a fuck not because it’s sexy, but because it’s necessary.
My epilepsy takes care of that for me. I have no choice but to steal my affection away from those people and pursuits that are toxic, towards those that need me and which I need to hear. Nothing else is given credence. This is not borne of hate, but love.
Through this all I've realized I have no choice but to stand up and give of myself. You can hide your gifts from the world. Or you can put yourself on the line.
People are literally waiting for you to move them.
The Paralysis of Hiding
If you're hiding in some way and desperately want to stop, I want you to begin by understanding that so much will not go according to plan. Life is a series of vicious wounds and beautiful memories. You can't control these, so don't try. Instead, choose to act most when you have no sense of what's going on. This can change your life.
If you want to engender change that actually matters, focus much more on who you want to be than on what you want to accomplish. Every time I've started to obsess over what I want to achieve I've inevitably begun to live a life that isn't congruent with my values.
It's also paramount to pay attention to what you find yourself daydreaming about. There’s often an inverse correlation between the amount of daydreaming we're doing about something, and our actually doing it. We tend to daydream about what we're most avoiding. This is one of the powers of daydreams. They make us feel as if we're doing something, when we're really not doing shit.
When you begin to shift away from daydreaming to actioning, your time becomes much more precious. Enough time has already been wasted to claim a billion lifetimes. You must develop systems to measure how you're utilizing your time. You don't get to call your time back to you. So act accordingly.
If You Are Grieving
If you find yourself in a period of grief, you won't be able to reveal yourself right away, nor should you. But don't hide your losses. So many people assume that if they expose themselves—if they tell the truth about how painful life can be—they will be weakened.
The reality is that the opposite is true: by shining a light on your losses, they immediately begin to awaken your soul, because you find that you're allowing yourself to be fully human. This doesn't feel good or happy, but it shouldn't. It should feel how it feels: terrifying, painful, messy, crazy. By standing in your brokenness and facing it, you give voice to the pain that must be expressed.
After all, loss sucks. It's perfectly normal to experience rage, fear, longing, disbelief, and yes, gratitude, when navigating loss. It's not "negative." It's not "bad." It simply is.
Giving voice to your losses is only the first step—action is essential—but you can't take action if you don't reveal the wounds that have torn you apart.
It isn't easy. You must be gracious with yourself. But I promise you, it can be done.
The Choice To Expose Your Soul
I started my life as a lost cause. I wasn't even supposed to survive my first few hours. I certainly wasn't supposed to travel the world, train with the best, make money doing what I care about, or live a season of my life in a monastery.
I was supposed to be broken and disabled. My best hope was to become a harmless, nice guy, doing what was safe and mundane for the sake of security.
That's not acceptable. I'm not hiding anymore. I can't do this on my own, and you can't either.
Look all around you. So many people are scared. They’re unbelievably lonely. They have have absolutely no idea what to do with themselves. I was one of these people for years.
These people are not to be judged, they’re to be served. They need you.
If you’re lonely or sick or scared, that’s ok. I am too. But you must offer yourself anyway. If you don't, we all suffer.
Hiding is not harmless. It's hazardous to your health. It's not a minor triviality, it's an emergency. But no one ever bothers to treat it like one.
Every day you hide, potentially thousands of people suffer.
Is that acceptable to you?
The Courage of Vulnerable Action
As you emerge from hiding, rip your fucking heart out and gift it to someone who desperately needs it, then gently receive it back when you’ve changed a life.
Take every manifestation of yourself and give it life through every echo of fear, loneliness and horror you experience. Literally cry your life onto the world.
The ability to create at all is a great and sacred privilege. I have been guilty of dishonoring that sacred space many times over, and it has never served me.
So take a chance. Write your story. Leave your imprint upon the world. And love via the gifting of yourself.
If you're still too scared, don’t choose to hide for yourself. Do it for others. Let me put it this way: every time my life has been mired by tragedy, every time I've wanted to die, I have carried on because of the selfless love of others.
Those who rushed to the hospital and stood with me as my brain was erupting in a cataclysmic eruption of hell, or listened to me for 12 hours when I was cheated on by a woman I loved—every single one of them was choosing not to hide. They were choosing to risk their comfort because they loved me and believed in me.
They chose to make themselves visible at the precise moment I felt invisible.
Allow me to make this abundantly clear: Choosing not to hide saves lives.
If you think for even one minute that you have nothing to give or that offering only a few words won't do anything, I'm here to tell you that's complete bullshit. In fact, some of the most pivotal moments of solidarity I've ever felt have come from the seemingly simple and mundane.
Case in point: when I was faced with an overwhelming and terrifying decision recently, my friend Mike Hrostoski rushed to my aid and said:
“You can do nothing. Or you can stop hiding.”
When he said these words I felt a surge of love so strong I had no choice but to rise and offer. Mike didn't think he did anything. In that, he did everything. He chose not to hide, and compelled me to do the same.
Hiding is the greatest inhibitor of living. Hiding is the deliberate annihilator of living. We can't stand for it.
I recently heard a wise monk reflect upon the life of the 13th century princess Elizabeth of Hungary. Despite her nobility, Elizabeth devoted much of her life to standing in solidarity with the poor and oppressed. She died quite young at age 24, but gifted herself majestically. In speaking of what she had done, my brother said she had lived a brief, beautiful life.
A brief, beautiful life.
Having experienced so much loss at a young age, I've often reflected on my own mortality. I don't know how long I'll be here, so I must choose to live as if every day presents my last opportunity to serve. I'd rather live a brief, beautiful life than a long, hidden life.
At the end of the day, I want to die not quite empty, so that what remains can be gifted into the grace that exists in the chasm between fear and love.
I'll get to that not quite empty place by refusing to hide, over and over again, to infinity and back.
As for you, we can’t help you if you don’t reveal your brokenness.
We can’t be moved by you if you don’t reveal your brokenness.
And you can't help us if you don't reveal your brokenness.
So do something. Anything. Just don’t fucking hide.
The world is waiting for you.
I'm Tim, and The Adversity Within is a blog dedicated to examining the topic of resilience in the face of adversity, while inspiring readers to stand headstrong in their grief and fight for their own evolution. Living with cerebral palsy and epilepsy, I explore topics like post-traumatic growth, survival, and self-reliance. No one should face adversity alone. Subscribe to my mailing list below for free weekly writings delivered to your inbox, and follow me along on Facebook and Twitter.