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The Surprising Answers to Life’s Difficult Questions

Written by on 07 Jan 2014

Do you ever question yourself or the decisions you make?

Is this where I’m supposed to be? Will this plan actually work? Am I doing the right thing with my life?

I’m not even talking about complicated things like choosing a type of peanut butter or a new cereal at the grocery store. That shit’s nearly impossible.

No, at its most aggressive, doubt can target and amplify even the simplest of questions like shaken or stirred or do you want fries with that.

I am by no means immune to these feelings. At my lowest point two years ago, I remember working myself into an anxious frenzy over which Mexican restaurant my friend Kirsten and I would choose for our first night on vacation in Playa del Carmen. It was a dark moment, to be sure. Trust me on this—there is no need to cry over going to Café Tropical instead of Café Sasta.

They are quite literally the exact same thing.

Once that episode passed, I realized an important thing about my approach to decision-making. Not only was I having those feelings all the time, but they were controlling everything I did. My friend Kirsten called it my ‘peanut butter problem,’ because seriously, there are just too many kinds of peanut butter to choose from.

Even now, those deep questions and anxious feelings creep up in relation to this blog and the stories I tell.

Am I doing this the right way? Will people even want to read this? Can I really spread a meaningful message?

These questions haunt us, because their answers are seemingly hard to find. We hope for miracles. In the same way that one might pray for discernment and search for messages in the sky, we ask questions of our lives and expect the answers to be presented in grandiose signs or callings. We think that an earnest inquiry to the universe will be met with the cosmic version of personalized fireworks and a ticker-tape parade.

And when we don’t see the stars aligning or the cards falling, we begin to lose faith in the world, or worst of all, in ourselves.

One of my favorite allegories for this lesson pits a faithful Christian man against an approaching flood.

Officials warn the man that he must evacuate, as the flood is expected to be very dangerous and potentially deadly.

The man declines. He says that his faith in God will save him. He prays for God to send him help and reward his piety with a sign or miracle.

The rain begins, and the man’s neighbor stops by in a car on her way out of town. She pleads for him to join and escape to safety.

The man declines. He reassures her that his faith will save him. He redoubles his prayer effort.

As the water rises, the man must move to the second floor of his home. Another neighbor rows by in a canoe and offers to take him away.

The man declines. He remains certain that his faith will prevail and God will send a sign. He prays yet again.

The water rises even higher, and the man retreats to his rooftop. A rescue helicopter spots him. An officer descends the rope ladder and offers to whisk the man away from the flood waters which will shortly overtake his house.

The man declines. He says he’s still looking for a sign. He prays one last time.

Shortly thereafter, the water breaks up the house and the man drowns.

Once he meets his Maker, the man questions God—why had he been forsaken and not received a sign?

God responds, “Seriously? I sent you a warning. I sent you a car. I sent you a canoe. I sent you a helicopter. What more were you looking for?”

What more was he looking for?

Fireworks and parades, of course.

I’m not saying that prayer is useless or that miracles don’t exist. In fact, I believe the opposite.

I’m simply saying that this major oversight—failing to see that the people in our lives are the answers to our questions—is so easy for us to do when we are looking for miracles.

And it happens all the time.

From a young age, we are taught that miracles have to come with bells and whistles. That unless a lightning strike accompanies our answer, we never actually received an answer. That the everyday person can’t possibly be a miracle, because hey, it’s just another ordinary person.

But the truth is that we are the answers that others seek. And others are our answers in return.

My miracle answer of whether or not to actually invest in this blog and try to share my stories with the world came in the form of one person in particular—Hannah Kearney.

Many of you might not remember Hannah Kearney, but in 2010 she was a household name. If you were an American watching the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games, hers was a story you could not miss. That year, Hannah put herself in the history books by winning the women’s moguls skiing event and claiming the United States’ very first gold medal of the Olympic Games.

That same year, I was clinging dearly to my last semester at Yale. Hannah’s brother, Denny, happened to be a classmate and friend of mine. I was not much of an Olympics fan, but on that fateful night in 2010, I found myself cheering along with several hundred Yalies as Hannah took the gold.

That night, two unlikely lives collided.

For two years, I had been writing a sports op-ed column for the Yale Daily News, and I decided that night to write my weekly piece about Hannah. As a burnt-out college athlete, I was inspired by her story. She had come from the lowest of lows, self-proclaimed “utter failure” after her less-than-ideal performance in Turin at the 2006 Games, to the highest of highs with the first US gold medal of the season. Her commitment to her craft and determination to overcome failure were worth celebrating and sharing.

In case you were wondering, yes, you can still view this literary atrocity of mine online. Please keep your judgments to a minimum. I was young.

The story created little fanfare other than a high-five from Denny, and I soon forgot about writing it.

Until just recently…

…when I got an email from Hannah herself.

In a moment of procrastination brought on by the nagging question of whether or not this blog would be a failure and whether it might be a better (and easier) to write nothing and simply claim that ‘I coulda been a contendah’ (you know what I’m talking about), I wound up in the inevitable destination of all procrastinators—Facebook.

There, I found a section of messages that had been quarantined from my inbox (still not sure why). My fear-induced avoidance of failure had climbed to such epic proportions, that I decided sorting spam on Facebook would be more enjoyable than attempting to write.

Definitely another low moment. I wasn’t crying over missed tacos again, but seriously, sorting spam? Who does that?

But for once in my life, procrastination paid off.

Buried in that pile of spam emails was a note from none other than gold-medalist Hannah Kearney. It had been written two years after my article was published and one year before I discovered it in my spam folder.

I guess it’s true what they say about timing

The note was very simple and short—she reminded me who she was, hoped she had reached the right Tracy, and mentioned the Olympic Games. But the end of the note… those words changed everything.

In a moment when I was struggling with the questions of whether or not writing could make a difference or if anyone would even bother to read what I wrote, Hannah’s words became my answer.

She wrote:

“I was at my father’s house last night and for the first time, I noticed an article framed on the wall of his office. I just wanted to let you know that your words about sports, the Olympic Games, and my story meant a lot to me.”

What?! My words?! On someone’s wall?! And meaningful?!

SERIOUSLY?!

Hannah’s words were the only answer I needed.

They were my warning, my car, my canoe, my helicopter. No fireworks. No parades. No stars aligning or cards falling. No bells or whistles. No lightning strikes.

Just words.

From another human being.

And they were the only answer I needed to life's most difficult questions.

That was the moment I decided this endeavor would be worthwhile. It was the moment I realized my words could be meaningful and my stories could touch people. It was the moment I stopped taking the easy route of doing nothing and started putting proverbial pen to paper.

It was my blog’s lollipop moment.

And without it, the blog would have drowned just like the man in the story.

**********

What question do you want answered, and what answer may you actually be missing?

I believe that every greatness we enjoy right now can be traced back to one person, conversation, or observation that provided a turning point in our lives. I’d love to hear if you believe this, too.

Did this story resonate with you? Or did it make you think of a story of your own? Share your story in the comments below.

Because sharing stories an instinctual, powerful way to touch the lives and hearts of others and change the world around us.


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Comments
  1. Marie   On   07 Jan 2014 at 7:06 pm

    Traci – Kuddos to you! Your writing is amazing and I look forward to future installments. You have a gift and a talent for sure and I know you are right in going forward with your blog. Much luck to you and I’ll be praying that you touch many people with your efforts! Marie

  2. Jacki   On   13 Jan 2014 at 3:48 pm

    Tracy, this was truly beautiful & touching!!! Yes, I do use signs every day. On every walk I take, I let the green arrow signs or an interesting street characteristic decide my direction. I always try to “listen” with my eyes, heart & ears. THANK YOU for sharing your story and source of motivation. I am looking forward to many more.

  3. patty dalessandro   On   19 Jan 2014 at 8:00 am

    To be sure, your decision to write this blog was a good one. You have a real talent, not just for writing, but for inspiring the reader to reflect on their own life and the encounters and decisions they have made. You have made an impact on my life just in the reading of your stories. I will continue to read and hopefully be able to relay some of my own stories to you in the process. Thank you.

  4. Ben Smith   On   30 Apr 2014 at 12:22 am

    Anyone who knew me at all through my twenties knows that I had my own struggles with questions about life-purpose, direction, plans, decisions, etc. Especially in regards to pursuing an art, like writing, these questions are huge. Pursuing an art is not as glamorous as those who appreciate our art imagine. Artists struggle. They go broke. They starve. They get all washed up on booze and cocaine. It’s a very different path than that of your engineer, nine-to-fiver, college buddies with wives, kids, mortgages, and 401K’s… and we always tend to compare our paths with those of our engineer, nine-to-fiver, college buddies. So naturally, we look for some valid evidence that we’re on the right path.

    Art affects people in a meaningful way and we as artists deeply feel our efforts validated when we see this happen. With you Tracy, the art is writing. With me, the art was music, and songwriting.

    Though I’m not musically as active at this time as I have been over the past decade of my life, I relate strongly with this story and why we as artists do what we do. You nailed it, Tracy. The message of thanks from the Olympian was an awesome and visceral example. When the crowds are gone, and cheering is over, there is a very real story about a proud daddy who watched his daughter struggle, has your art on his wall to commemorate it, and how that daughter appreciates that and appreciates you. That’s awesome.

    And needless to say, I got a little story of my own:

    It was fall of 2004 and I was living in Monterey, California working my first job out of college. Though I had been playing and writing music, and had just recorded my first album, I’d decided to put music on the back burner for a bit and take an adventurous opportunity working in Forestry (my chosen field of study) on the West Coast.

    Now I still picked on my guitar regularly and, as mentioned, had just recorded my first CD. In fact, two weeks after moving to Monterey, I got a shipment on my doorstep of 1000 copies of my newly pressed CD!

    So there I was, living in a new place with only a handful of friends and ALL these CD’s sitting just there… waiting to be sold.

    So… I did what any troubadour naturally should do. I went down to the Fisherman’s Wharf and went busking!

    It took a while to muster up the courage to open up my case, set some CD’s in it, and just start playing to random passers by. But, with some encouragement from a couple curious hippies who saw my case and asked if I new any Dylan, I got just the push I needed to pick up the guitar and play. From there, it was on!

    Now this was a beautiful fall evening by the ocean side, and within minutes I had a crowd standing around enjoying the music, making requests, throwing money into my case, and buying a few CD’s.

    Early on in the evening, a young couple sat down within earshot of the music and talked together by the ocean side as others came and went. Throughout the evening, the young couple was there.

    At one point, it looked to me like they were deep in conversation about their relationship and might even break up right there, that night.

    When I noticed this, I thought a good love song might be JUST what they needed, so I nonchalantly started playing one of my own called “Wild.” No sooner than I started playing the song, I noticed a change in the demeanor of the couple down the way, and before long, they were dancing together.

    It was dark by this point and the stars shined down as the waves rolled in. The glow of the lights from the pier didn’t hurt either. Along with a little acoustic guitar music from your’s truly , it was quite a potent mix of romantic ambiance.

    I really felt like I was having an impact in a special way with this couple and I just played my heart out for them as they danced and held each other close.

    And heck… I thought earlier they were going to break up!

    A few songs later, the girl came over and bought a CD and left with her boyfriend. When she took the CD and put a $20 in my case, she looked at me and whispered, “Thank you.” The look in her eyes impacted me so much. She was so deeply appreciative and I will never forget that deep, real, genuine exchange of music, emotions, and crossing of people’s life paths.

    Two years later, I was a full time musician in Fort Worth, TX, making my living on the road playing shows. I had played in a countless number of bars… mostly for drunk audiences. Comments of appreciation were there, but they are just different when it’s 2am in a bar, your throat is scratching, and you’re doing the gig mainly because you just NEED that $150 they are paying you.

    Those were times when I would really question if this was all worth it.
    Why am I doing this? What fruits are born from making music?

    It was at these dark times that I would remember that night at the Wharf in Monterey and the deep look of appreciation in that girls eyes, and that would drive me on through the next gig.

    Another facet of musician-hood that was on the rise in 2006 was online promotion and social networking! And the premier platform for this at the time was… (drumroll) … MySpace. Remember Myspace?

    Well, as a very outdoorsy guy, this aspect of being a musician was pure drudgery to me. The time spent indoors in front of a computer was just not what I’d signed up for when I envisioned life as a musician.

    But nonetheless, one day, I found a very amazing message in my inbox.

    It said, “Hi Ben. I’m so glad I found you! You probably don’t remember this, but you once played your guitar by the Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey, CA where my then-boyfriend and I danced to one of your songs. That was a very special night for us and a big part of our love story. He is my husband now. We are both military. I am currently stationed in Alabama and he is deployed in Afganistan. Our anniversary is coming up and I would really love to send him a recording of that song we danced to. Do you have it available?”

    Needless to say, I let her know that I sure as heck remember her, sent her a recording of “Wild,”, thanked both her and her husband for their service, and said that my prayers are with them.

    How validating it felt to get that message from her! Looking back over my adventures as a musician, the path is peppered with these cool little moments like that… moments created by people, God, and me just sharing my gifts in the art form of music. Those moments make all the struggles, miles, and hardships seem worth it, and looking back, I would not trade them for anything.

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