Lines, Lights, and Lanes

In an event, it is your willingness to affect whatever change is necessary – to do whatever it takes to win – regardless of the tool in your hand. Your key to success is you.

The majority of our life is structured. Jobs, relationships, commerce. Structure. Religion, family, health. It is a structure that we can see and that we can feel. It’s tangible. Yet there are times in our lives that that structure shakes and moves or, worse yet, begins to crumble and come crashing down. Unemployment, sickness, loss. There is a plan for when the structure starts to fall away, for when the lines, and the lights, and the lanes are no longer relevant. The simplest and most efficient way is to accept this premise: the structure you see is created and, when that structure starts to fall away, you can create another one. Recognize and accept that the rules may not apply.

 I talk a lot about events, and here is what that term means: an event is anything that has a significant impact on your physical, emotional, or spiritual structure. Sickness or health, rich or poor, losing a job or getting one, marriage or divorce, raising kids or caring for parents, all are examples of an event. An event can be positive or negative, helpful or hurtful, good or bad. An event can happen to you or with you. Not getting a good parking space isn’t an event, but finding yourself in a carjacking is. All events share a single characteristic that will help you not only survive, but flourish: an event doesn’t care who you are. A house fire doesn’t care who is trapped inside any more than a tornado cares who is standing in its path. A wave doesn’t care who is trapped in the undertow and cancer doesn’t care if you’re a child or an adult, a successful businesswoman or a loving father. The event is just the event – it is an organism unto itself. It is like fire. As such, the event needs some things in order to survive.

I remember when my Dad told me that he had cancer. I was standing in a hotel room in London, talking with him on the phone, getting ready to go to dinner with Benny Ras, a friend from Australia, and Chip, my partner from the air marshals. “It’s stage 4,” he said, every bit of the severity transmitted through his voice almost halfway around the world, “and I’m going to fight it”. It was Christmastime 2006, the beginning of his fight.

My Dad had survived numerous hardships throughout his life. From losing his father before he was a teenager, to multiple combat tours in Vietnam, to more than one line-of-duty death of fellow fire fighters, he had faced more than his share of visits from the Reaper. Throughout my life he always made it a point to to reinforce to me the lessons that he had learned as a survivor.

Living in a fireman’s home I grew up regaled with fantastic stories of fires and flames, of seeing their wrath and feeling the flick of it’s tongue on your neck. My Dad took me into my first house fire when I was 10, by the time I became an adult I’d been in two more. The greatest lessons have the highest cost and he taught me things within that abyss: chaos has a framework that you can see. Fire attacks a building the same way an event attacks our structure. For fire to burn it needs three things: fuel, oxygen, and heat. If you remove any one of these three elements fire cannot happen. Events are like fire, whether cancer, debt, a school paper, or running a marathon. They are just events: you are the fuel. If you remove yourself from any of those events they cannot happen. If you insert yourself in an event – if you bring yourself to the table, fully – you can begin to affect change.

Just because you’re losing doesn’t mean you’ve lost. When you find your structure crumbling look for for things that are familiar, they will be your anchors. When you can’t find anything familiar – when the smoke gets too thick to see the lights, or the lines, and the lanes – make new ones. Reconstruct your reality, make new rules. Change the framework.

He died the following September, just as summer gave way to fall. His treatments had been aggressive – the best in the world – yet hadn’t worked. I will forever cherish sitting with him, quietly, sometimes talking, about a life fully lived. About recognizing those times, when the heat is overbearing and the dancing tongue whispers your fate, that it’s ok to make your own rules. That winning is in fighting your fight.

You are in control.