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.
“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?!
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.
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.