Life Plan: Part One. Private Victory Precedes Public Victory


It is a most peculiar thing to have a dream buried deep inside a person. Why is it such a struggle for some to bring their dreams to life? We stall because of the security of a job or we listen to the wrong people or we lose faith in our abilities or any one of a variety of reasons.

I think the answer to the opening question is one of two reasons; fear or security

Allowing circumstances from our past, toxic relationships and inner talk to control our behavior does not allow room for personal growth. Others’ opinions and personal performance do not define you. However, until you are able to shed this thinking you will remain stuck. This is why personal victory is so important. The past is about control and the future is about growth. I believe the same is true in organizations – control strategies cannot exist with growth strategies.

I believe it is a lack of faith in oneself that causes a man to go to his death with his dreams unrealized

My propensity to risk began when I was 10 years old. And, like many of you, it’s the ten-year old in me that either pushes me to take risks or to seek comfort in the ordinary. Lucky for me, there were three men who had a profound impact on my life:

1. Robert Francis (Bobby) Kennedy,

2. My fifth grade teacher Mr. Trantum, and

3. My uncle Charles.

Bobby April 23, 1969

The young Kennedy had recently decided to make a run for the Presidency of the United States of America. And as luck would have it, he would be traveling through my hometown of Wabash, Indiana on his “Whistle Stop” tour on the Wabash Cannonball. I saw Bobby in newspapers with people gathered all around him but it were the boys and young men who wanted to get nearest to him or perhaps these are the ones he wanted to help the most – the future of America. Regardless, I determined that I was going to be one of those boys. As the Cannonball rolled through Wabash to its deliberate stop, I jumped aboard the train like I had done many times before and after to get across town. This time I jumped up on the caboose and Bobby rubbed my head and smiled. This tiny act of approval from such a great man marked me like none other.

Mr. David Trantum

When I was in fifth grade, another boy told me I was stupid because of my speech, which causes me to reflect on my family of origin. Both my parents grew up in Harlan, Kentucky, and their manner of speech was clearly Appalachian. Imagine how the family in The Beverly Hillbillies spoke. This is a close representation. As a result, I took on the same speech patterns. Thankfully, my teacher, Mr. Trantum helped me realize my need to better use the English language.

Uncle Charles

My uncle Charles still calls me “Bootstrap” because I pulled myself up from my bootstraps and made something of my life. I’m very thankful to Charles because he modeled how a father was to behave.

This is important because my father died when I was 13, and I had to work to help support our family. I had paper routes, mowed yards, shoveled snow, detasseled corn, and worked as a busboy, which finally led me to a career in the restaurant business.

Perhaps an over simplification but in my coaching practice I’ve identified 4 steps to Personal Victory:

1. Deal with past hurts

2. Address insecurities and self talk

3. Confront unhealthy relationships

4. Develop self-awareness

Deal With Your Past

When we focus on the past we are unable to have clarity on our future. Forgiveness best exemplifies this point. When we hold a grudge we are the person trapped in the past, not the instigator. Chip Dodd in, The Voice of The Heart, identifies eight feelings, and you might be surprised but only one is a positive feeling. Abundant joy can only be known by experiencing all aspects of life. As described by Chip, the feelings we experience are; hurt, loneliness, sadness, anger, fear, shame, guilt and gladness.

Each feeling has its own specific purpose in helping us live life fully.

1. Hurt leads to healing

2. Loneliness moves us to intimacy

3. Sadness expresses value and honor

4. Anger hungers for life

5. Fear awakens us to danger and begins wisdom

6. Shame maintains humility and mercy

7. Guilt brings forgiveness

8. Gladness proves hope of the heart to be true

These negative feelings lead us to something better, however, we must be able to define and describe the emotion. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. In the absence of this self-awareness we get stuck. Assuming we can define the emotion we can work on these hurts. Easier said than done, right?

If you’ve read my first workbook you are familiar with a term I coined, “Fifth Grade Moment.” This is the event or series of events that occurred when we all start thinking critically, just before puberty when someone hurt us either intentionally or unintentionally. My evidence isn’t emperical but most of my clients can define their moment.

Three Case Studies

For example, I had a single male client who didn’t know if he wants to tie the knot. To complicate matters he didn’t know much about the future he wanted to create. In my time with him, we discovered one of his greatest fears. I asked him to describe a time about his Fifth Grade Moment. In elementary school, this man struggled to get good grades. He told me, “things just didn’t click for me.” His parents told him his grades must improve or he would have to drop some of his sports activities. These are good parents, right? By the time he hit seventh grade he was a straight A student. While his parents achieved their over-arching goal of helping him with his grades, there was an unintended consequence for this young man: fear of loss of freedom, which drove him to remain independent. Is it possible he is not married because he would lose his freedom? Or, does this fear undermine his efforts to create his desired future? Months later he still isn’t married but he does have clarity on his career plans.

Very recently I was visiting a man who corrected his 9 year old son. I said to him, “You know your son will be in therapy addressing this moment twenty years from now.” After a lengthy discussion, he took steps to talk to his son.

Another man had an experience in fifth grade and his fear is, “I’m not smart enough.” This has led him to multiple degrees and significant jobs. The status quo kills him. These fears can move us to greater things or they can cripple us. Recently he neglected his daughter much the same way he was neglected in fifth grade by his parents. I helped him see this mistake. Talk about guilt. He behaved the way he was treated in fifth grade and now he may be perpetuating the cycle. I called him on it, and he decided to change his behavior. Make no mistake this man is a good father. Luckily, he has time to make any corrections to be a better dad.

All of these are examples of how we must address past hurts if we are to live our dream life. Many times we don’t realize how our past grips us, let alone how our actions effect others.

The point is we all have Fifth Grade Moments. These moments cause us to behave in ways we may never fully understand. Identifying and understanding how we behave is how we begin to address the past.

*All examples are true and used with client permission

Address Insecurities

All of us have them. Learn the lesson but don’t dwell on it. Fifth Grade Moments can certainly lead to insecurity, however, in my experience many insecurities are rooted in dramatic painful or emotional events. They may also a result of one’s family of origin.

Those who deny the lessons of the past are pawns of the future

Case Study

A client (we’ll call her Peggy) began to search her memory for her Fifth Grade Moment after reading my first workbook. Peggy identified a time when she was 11 years old when riding her bike with friends. Peggy knew she was supposed to be home because the street lights were on. Her mother drove up, drug her into the car, took her home, used a belt to spank her and sent her to bed without dinner. She could only say to her mother, “I’m sorry mommy, I love you mommy, I’m sorry mommy, I love you mommy, I love you mommy…” But her mother didn’t listen. The result, Peggy has an overwhelming need to be heard, and especially from people she loves.

Every one of us wants to be heard

Peggy craves it. Early in life we search for our place in society, our profession and family. At mid-life we realize what we really want is significance; not what others think nor the race to perform, but real significance.

Peggy finds significance in quality time spent with loved ones. Undistracted time. Time to talk. Time to listen. Time to take long walks. Time. She yearns for it. This is her love language. The best thing she can say to her loved ones is, give me some undistracted time and listen to me, right? Or would it be better for her to realize her needs and take action to overcome this insecurity? What would that look like? Perhaps, the simple knowledge of this truth will move her to recognize the trigger.

So Peggy and I developed a plan. Peggy will say to herself, “Wait a minute, I’m feeling that way again. Why? Oh, that’s my trigger” when feeling insignificant. Peggy has also agreed to communicate her needs to her loved ones in a direct straight forward manner. Love requires us to accept responsibility for our feelings and communicate our needs. Peggy needs both for the reason we all need both – love.

I have worked with women who were sexually abused as children or adolescents, those with addictions, a variety of painful childhood episodes, and many other painful experiences. Why are some able to move from these moments and others are not? Resiliency perhaps. Honestly, I cannot say emphatically there is one reason for every case. However, I believe much of this pain is found in one’s ability or inability to forgive the people that hurt us the most. All of that said, I do have a suggestion.

Identify what is real and what is made up. Identify the truth

What is SUBJECTIVE versus OBJECTIVE reality?

In writing there is a difference between objective versus subjective writing. Objective writing is based on facts, is verifiable and is neutral. This means your approach is unbiased because it is based in truth. Subjective writing is based on opinion and cannot be proven. I’ve applied this to my coaching practice. Often, I ask clients, “Is that true or made up in your mind?”

Conquer Your Self Talk

In psychology the term “inner critic” refers to that tiny voice within that tells you that you aren’t good enough, or smart enough or not (fill-in-the-blank) enough. How you speak to yourself ultimately reveals itself in how you act toward yourself and others.

By learning how to conquer negative self-talk, you can begin to experience freedom in your personal life that will translate into freedom to be yourself in your public life 

Furthermore, what may seem obvious but is rarely recognized is that you approach the world the way you see it. If you see the world as alive and wonderful, you’ll approach the world with joy and curiosity. If you see the world as dangerous, you’ll approach it with hesitation and fear. Simply changing how you choose to view the world can do wonders for your self-talk.

Find a Way to Forgive

The best example of dealing with past pain is finding a way to forgive those who have wounded us.

If you’re unable to forgive someone for a previous wrong, you become the one trapped in bitterness. If you think a coworker has said something negative about you, you can only move forward when you release this idea or confront your coworker.

Unforgiveness keeps you trapped in the past, as does any number of other stimuli, like harboring a grudge, worrying about what others think of you, or allowing conflict to remain unresolved. These can become cyclical problems when your negative thoughts occupy your mind in an unhealthy way and generate poor self-talk. Then your inner critic kicks in, which results in disharmony with others. Left unresolved and you stay stuck in a cycle of suffering.

For those who value harmony above conflict these actions will be more difficult

You are only fooling yourself if you believe harmony can be found without conflict. Freud said,

“Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.” Freud

However difficult it may be, recovery comes when we can successfully leave the things from the past in the past. Seek forgiveness or offer forgiveness when appropriate.

Probably the most important person for each of us to forgive is one’s self

We all have insecurities. Many times they are only true in our imagination. “S/he doesn’t like me because s/he never says hello. They’re talking about me. I can’t do that. I’ve always been that way. That’s just how I was made,” and this list could go on and on. Really? It is a natural tendency to find our worth in other people’s opinions and/or our performance. This should not define you! The path to your identity is found in truth. You are not a mistake. You were not made to be mistreated or misunderstood. You are the only creature with your fingerprints, exact eye color and exact experiences. There is only one you. You were made for a purpose!

Confront Unhealthy Relationships – Leave Nothing Unsaid

There may be nothing that grows us faster than confronting unhealthy relationships. There is also nothing that can keep us trapped in the past like living with the inner turmoil associated with words unsaid especially in a toxic work or home environment.

Toxic relationships are just that. We all know people who argue for argument sake—pushy when a simple request is all that is needed. They are not approachable, raise every problem to the level of crisis and exaggerate shortcomings. Everything becomes a crisis. You introduce change; they begin with the reason why something will never work. Redefine the boundaries or end the relationship! Clear the clutter. But…what if you’re married to one? What if your boss is one?

How do you escape? The answer is to leave nothing unsaid. Life is too short for nonsense.

You will be controlled by others’ opinions as long as you continue to tolerate unhealthy relationships

Find a way to have a conversation, and speak to the issue. Sometimes it means ending a relationship, but more often than not it means tackling a difficult relational circumstance head-on with honesty, vulnerability, and love, and leaving the results up to God.

Confrontation: Good or Bad?

Most people hate confrontation. Why? People see confrontation as bad. “I don’t want to hurt their feelings. They will think I don’t like them. I just can’t explain how they really make me feel.” Said any of this to yourself? You want to know why confrontation is good? Because if you love someone you should help them. If you have a child who does something wrong, would you let them continue to misbehave? I would hope not. What if you simply rephrased this action? Instead of, “I need to confront.” Change your language to, “I need to help my friend.”

A complete lack of confrontation may sound like a peaceful existence, but those who suffer from a fear of confrontation know that it can be one filled with unhappy moments and a lack of self-assertion. If you suffer from a fear of confrontation, the idea of asserting yourself can be upsetting and frightening, and it can also prevent you from living the life that you want. Overcome your fear of confrontation by learning the correct way to confront someone in a civil and proper manner for the best possible results…More

This has been a significant life lesson for me. It occurred decades ago. I’m very thankful for this shift. Finally self awareness is needed to leave your past behind.

Discover Your Ideal-Self

It is easy to get sidetracked with the belief that we should become someone based on an observation of another. This is called the Pygmalion Effect; when you act in a manner in accordance with motives and expectations of which you have no conscious awareness. For example, when a parent tells a child they are smart, and they should become an attorney. The child believes they should become an attorney and once achieving this status ends up at mid-life wondering what happened. They realize they’ve been chasing success but what they later realize is they need significance.

This is the stuff that answers the question, “What do I want?”

Before any of us can move to understand the answer to this question we must do the hard work of understanding our past and how it is messing with our current state.

Have I discovered my ideal-self? What do I want for my life? Simple questions right? Wrong. I cannot begin to tell you how many people have expressed their disillusionment to the answer to these questions. Most people live incongruent with their “ideal self.” Many listen to a voice who told them you would make a good, “fail-in-the-blank;” attorney, engineer, architect, doctor… There are just as many who heard a voice who said you aren’t very smart, you’re never going to get to college, you’re nothing but a cry baby. This is the voice of dissent; the inner voice or judge or inner critic are names given to this voice.

The problem is made worse when when we fall victim to the Pygmalion Effect and decide they’re right. This action becomes our “ought to.” Parker Palmer in, Let Your Life Speak, says it best:

The figure calling to me all those years was, I believe, what Thomas Merton calls “true self.” This is not the ego self that wants to inflate us (or deflate us, another form of self distortion), not the intellectual self that wants to hover above the mess of life and clear but ungrounded ideas, not the ethical self that wants to live by some abstract moral code. It is the self planted in us by the God who made us and God’s own image – the self that wants nothing more, or less, than for us to be who we were created to be. Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak, 68, 69

The real question should be, “Who am I?”

1. What 5-10 things from my family do I most admire? Make me angry?

2. What 5-10 things do I most admire from the people I love the most?

3. What are the top 5-10 good things that occurred in my past? Bad things?

4. What 5-10 things do you learn from your free personality assessment?

5. What 5-10 things make you angry? Frustrate you?


When evaluating one’s past, there is a great deal more that can be applied to improved performance. There are a variety of tools and questions I use in my coaching practice.

Sooner or later we need to accept our past. We have been hurt by others and we have done our share of hurting. It is our human condition

Accepting our insecurities, conquering our self-talk, confronting unhealthy relationships and developing self awareness are all critical. As we mature we learn to understand our life story, identify the people in our lives that really matter and have compassion for self.

In life planning we take the previous work and apply a variety of additional tools. I help people understand their life story, their life line so to speak. Their true identity is revealed.

To get to reality and acceptance of one’s past, vulnerablity and authenticity are required. One must be teachable, and willing to forgive and be forgiven

As important as this, reliving the facts and feelings, identifying what really matters, who really counts and who was with you in the hard times are equally important. We would look at the people we most admire and the things that are destestable. Sharing your story with others is critical as well. Alcoholics Anonymous is famous for this.

I would encourage you to have a regular time of reflection, meditation or prayer. Understanding how others see you can be accomplished through regular accountability and feedback with a trusted friend or confidant.

A very popular means of achieving a lfe plan is at my home in Florida. Who doesn’t want to be in warm weather in late fall and winter? We would take 3 days to work through a life plan and you and your spouse would have the use of the home for the balance of one week. While completing the 3 days there would be experiences that would help you develop a 3-5 year vision and plan.

Of course, the bonus is an additional 4 days of fun and sun!

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