“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.”
- Mike Tyson
I’m a boxer. I had a plan one day on how I was going to take on the biggest guy in the gym. I’d out maneuver him. “Speed beats strength,” as they say in boxing. I’d show him a few moves, tire him out, then come in for the kill. My plan lasted about 2 minutes before he hit me so hard my future children felt it. An hour later I was at the hospital hooked up to an EKG machine. What happened? I had a plan.
A more difficult punch came when my mother was diagnosed with cancer and died at age 64. What happened? My family had all planned on her living into her 80’s or 90’s. Life happened.
Everyone gets punched from time to time in the midst of their life plans. You come in to work to find a pink slip on your desk. A man comes home to his wife packing to leave him. A woman looks in the mirror at fifty and wonders where her life went. A friend dies in a car accident.
Some punches are more famous: Bernie Madoff gets thrown in jail after decades of running a “successful” ponzi scheme. Nelson Mandela gets put in jail for 27 years in the midst of leading his people against Apartheid. Stephen Hawking gets diagnosed with MS in college. Victor Frankel gets incarcerated in a concentration camp. FDR contracts polio and becomes paralyzed. Harriet Tubman is born into slavery. Abraham Lincoln suffers acute bouts of depression and the civil war. Muhammad Ali gets his boxing license taken away for opposing the Vietnam War. (he said it was his “greatest fight”) and later suffers Parkinson’s disease. Brad and Angie get divorced mid Hollywood fairy tail—again. After overcoming Jim Crow Laws and childhood poverty to become a prominent author and activist, Alice Walker gets dealt another blow when her daughter leaves their relationship.
Author Eckhart Tolle says that many people of faith lose their way when tragedy strikes. He says their internal belief is, “That wasn’t supposed to happen to me. I had a deal with the universe, or with God. Nothing bad was supposed to happen.”
But what if we are supposed to get punched in the face by life on occasion. While few of us will be called on to face the challenges of Mandela, Tubman, or Frankel, all of us will be knocked off our feet from time to time.
Mandela, Tubman, FDR, and Frankel became archetypal figures—people we can all follow, because of their ability to get punched that hard by life and find their way through. When asked how he coped with the years in prison Mandela said, “I wasn’t coping. I was preparing to lead.” When Frankel was in a concentration camp his great break through came when he realized the Nazi’s could only control his body, but not his mind. He had full rein over whether he saw himself as a victim or as a hero. He chose hero. When Harriet Tubman made it to freedom she turned around and went back for others. FDR hid his handicap to go to be one of the most storied presidents in history.
Many of us are not so fortunate. Phillip Seymour Hoffman becomes a successful actor but dies of a heroin overdose. Whitney Houston suffers a similar demise. Nixon resigns in disgrace. The Golden Gate Bridge is famous both for its beauty and its popularity as a place to commit suicide. Life can hit hard.
The tendency for many of us when faced with difficulty is to get triggered into a victim story—sometimes referred to as a “Why me?” story. The story tends to have its roots in comparison to others. In A.A. they say we, “Compare and despair.” Why did I marry an alcoholic and not Tom? Why did she get left a fortune and not me? How did my wife end up in jail? Why did this happen to me and not the other guy?
What happens when you get “punched in the face”? Do you build a “why me?” story, or are you able to find your way through? Are you able to admit your pain to others or do you hide in shame and secrecy? Are you able to ask for the help needed? The point being that if we give up or give in to the punches we take, then we suffer the real tragedy: an overdose, a life of quiet desperation, an untreated addiction, ongoing depression, isolation, extreme poverty, even suicide.
That fact that life is difficult is not news. I have grown a little suspicious of friends who always tell me they are doing “great”. One friend who consistently touted his happy life was found to be an untreated alcoholic, another cheating on his spouse, a third suffering a debilitating depression in a toxic marriage, a gym buddy was secretly bulimic. When we hide the bruises we are taking from life’s punches they can become untreated cancers in our psyche and in our lives.
Maybe we can normalize our challenges, even expect them. Maybe we can be taken less by surprise that we get punched. Can we learn to ask for help? Can we show others they are not alone in their struggles?
Western culture has a decidedly hyper independent mentality. We haven’t quite given up on the “rugged individualism” thing that has lead us into a deep psychological hole of isolation and mental illness. We are ranked third in the world for depression and 8th in the world for recreational and prescription drug abuse.
You can get whatever help you need. Be willing to look at the punches you are taking or have taken clearly. Know that you are bigger than them. You can get the help is available to meet the challenge. You are not gonna get knocked out.
Below Rocky Explains It All For You: