Why Your Life Sucks
by Alan Cohen
I can still feel my hand trembling as I grasped the classroomís cold doorknob. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, offered a silent prayer, and entered, standing as tall as I could to keep from caving in. I set my briefcase down on the teacherís desk and turned to face the class I would have given anything to avoid. I scanned their faces. Some of them already knew; they sat quite still. Others did not know yet; they were chatting amiably, some laughing. Soon their lightheartedness would give way to shock and dismay.
I took another breath and gathered all the strength I could. "Good evening," I began. They all quieted. I hesitated a moment, then forced myself to speak. "I have some very sad news to tell you." I could sense their apprehension. "Dr. Doughty will not be with us tonight . . . or again . . . he passed away over the weekend." The rest of the faces blanched. I paused and felt my jaw clench. There was no more avoiding it. Spit it out. "He took his own life."
A wave of gasps shot through the class. Then came the tears.
It was done.
At the age of 22, I was the graduate teaching assistant for a college class for adults seeking to return to the work force. The course was intended to inspire them to build their self-esteem to achieve their personal and professional goals. Six weeks into the class, their professor locked himself in his garage, turned on his car engine, and asphyxiated himself. Not very inspiring. Try abysmally discouraging. Now I had to pick up the pieces, get the class back on track, and give these people some hope that their future would be brighter than their teacherís.
No one had any clue that Dr. Doughty was so unhappy. A nice-looking man in his late 30ís, with a boyish grin, the professor was brilliant and charismatic. His life seemed charmed with a prestigious well-paying position, many friends, and an attractive devoted girlfriend. Yet even while Dr. Doughty had an advanced degree in psychology and taught others how to make sense of their lives, he could not find purpose in his own. In spite of all appearances, Dr. Doughtyís life sucked. And it sucked to the point that he thought he had to leave it in order to find peace.
That night I quit believing in facades of happiness. It became clear to me -- like a two-by-four between the eyes -- that there are all kinds of things going on inside of people that we donít hear about until it is too late. That people who appear successful on the outside are often aching on the inside. That couples who smile and look great at parties often go home feeling empty and lost, and their marriages end in affairs loaded with pain and heartache. That people with great bodies or whopping bank accounts have no idea who their real friends are and go to sleep lonelier than those who are poorer and less attractive. Many peopleís lives suck and onlookers never know it. Many peopleís lives suck and they donít know it. Or they do, but they canít figure out how to escape the prison whose walls seem too thick to break through and too high to scale.
If your life sucks in any way; if the life you are living on the outside doesnít match who you are on the inside; or if you are hurting and feel powerless -- this book offers you a roadmap out of hell. You can either go on putting up with your pain and die a little bit more each day as you helplessly drift from your dreams and heartís desires- or you can take the way out. Perhaps your whole life doesnít suck. Maybe one aspect of it sucks. Maybe itís your job, or your relationship, or your money, or you just donít feel well. Or maybe things are good most of the time, and they suck some of the time. It doesnít matter. When it sucks, it sucks. Do you want to just settle for a less-than life, or would you like to get it handled?
"Sucks" used to be a dirty word, but now we hear it everywhere. You can say it on television, in school, and read it in movie reviews. The word is brilliantly descriptive! When something sucks, it saps your energy and undermines the quality of your life. It makes you feel smaller and wish you hadnít participated. It sabotages your joy and you walk away feeling crummy.
When it comes to your life sucking, you canít just walk away from it. You canít just put your life aside and go on to something else that feels better. When your life sucks, thatís serious. Itís a big wake-up call. Itís an invitation to do something different. Not more of the same. If coins keep falling out of a hole in your pocket, the answer is not to go out and get a second job. The answer is to plug the hole.
This book will help you find and patch any leaks in your system. It is honest and practical, with teeth. I grew up in New Jersey, you know (Exit 9). Jersey people can get in your face if they want to. But so can life. If your life is getting in your face, you might want to know why, so you can do something about it before it gets worse. As you face and plug each hole, you will transform every challenge into a gift. Together we can turn tragedy into triumph and make it all a win.
Just a few pages from now, Iíll walk you through the ten most common things you might be doing that can make your life suck. Then Iíll show you how to reverse them. You are not a victim -- you are a powerful creator. You can make the changes in your life that will get you the results you want. I guarantee that if you practice the principles you learn here, your life will change for the better. Plugging one leak at a time. Along the way, you might even fall in love with yourself.
One more thing: I have done all the things you read that make life suck. I am writing from my own experience. I am an expert on these points because I have messed up so many times that I figured out what not to do again. If I can save you some of the bleeding-chin learning curve, that would make us both happy. I am simply passing along to you some of the sewing techniques that keep stuff from falling out of my pockets.
The process doesnít have to be hard. Weíre going to enjoy the journey. Weíll laugh as we go. As you unravel the "nots" in your life and reduce the size of your "but," you will experience a new sense of freedom and exhilaration. The only thing harder than waking up is staying asleep in a nightmare. Letís do it. Itís time.
Reason #1 Why Your Life Sucks: You Give Your Power Away
Before baseball star Mickey Mantle died, he faced and came to terms with his lifelong alcoholism. As he was withering of liver disease, Mickey held a press conference at the Betty Ford treatment center. A reporter asked him, "How would you like people to remember Mickey Mantle?" Pale and gaunt, still sporting his Yankee cap, he replied, "I would like them to think that I finally made something of myself." I was shocked. One of the most loved and celebrated sports heroes of all time -- my hero -- did not respect himself until he took back the power he had given to his addiction.
A few months later, Mickey Mantle died. Soon afterward I saw a touching newspaper cartoon showing Mickey meeting God, depicted as a person. As the two ambled down a long road in heaven, God placed his arm around Mickeyís shoulder. Mickey turned to God and wistfully remarked, "I canít believe all the errors I made." God turned to Mickey and answered, "But you gave them a ninth inning theyíll never forget."
We have all given our power away to something -- many things -- and our lives have sucked for it. We have bestowed undue power to lovers, money, bosses, addictive substances, fame, dream homes, religious dogma, parents, children, doctors, lawyers, agents, therapists, psychics, teachers, policemen, politicians, sports heroes, movie stars, gorgeous men and women, business moguls, the news, and occult sciences. The list goes on; you can add more of your own.
You give your power away when you make someone or something outside of you more important than what is inside of you.
If you do not value who and what you are, you will seek to borrow worth from the outer world. You will look for validation from people whom you believe know or have more than you. But since everything you need is inside you and no one can know more about your path and purpose than you do, any power you ascribe to external authorities must eventually explode in your face and leave you feeling worse than when you started. The question is not, "Have you given your power away?" The question is, "How can you get it back?"
Unsucking your life is an inside job. You do not need to import power, for you were born with it; you just need to plug the holes in your bucket through which it is leaking. The quest is about peeling away the lies and illusions you have been told -- and went on to tell yourself -- that have kept you living smaller than you deserve. When you do, you will be amazed to realize how much you have settled for. Then you will have little patience for halfhearted living and reclaim your right to live from choice rather than default.
Any experience that leaves you feeling empty, less-than, or needy does so for only one reason: You entered into it feeling empty, less-than, or needy. The illusion is that relationships will take away the pain that keeps you feeling small; the reality is that relationships magnify the pain that keeps you feeling small. And yet there is a gift in the process: you remember that the source of your strength is inside you.
Perhaps the final lines of Woody Allenís classic movie Annie Hall sum up how we stay trapped in painful situations: A man says to a psychiatrist, "My wife thinks sheís a chicken and sheís driving me crazy!" The psychiatrist asks him, "So why donít you leave her?" The man answers, "I canít -- I need the eggs."
You donít need the eggs anymore. They are rotten, taste horrible, and donít nourish you. When you elevate others at your expense, nobody wins. When you source your life from inside out, everyone wins. As you strike gold in your own self, you will quit giving the people in your world a carbon copy of the terror that runs their lives, and give them a ninth inning -- or a first, or a fifth -- theyíll never forget.
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