Making Meaning Out of Your Mess – 4 Things I Learned While Shipwrecked

How do you find meaning in the mess?

What do you do when life doesn’t go quite according to plan? After years of hard work and tedious effort, you reach a place you never thought you would be – tired, burned out, and unhappy.

That’s what happened to me.

The good news is that this is one of the greatest places in life to find yourself. I know it’s counter intuitive but it is true.

Why? Because it is the place to rebuild and resurrect. What I mean is this: when you come to the end of yourself all of your defenses and pretences are down. There’s not much left to protect. Somewhere deep inside, you’ve resolved that you must change because life isn’t going according to plan. You must transform into the real you that’s been hidden.photo_man_water_rainbow_copy

You become like the mythological Phoenix who has come to an end of itself and is ready to be reborn. There is nowhere else to go but to turn inward and to God – it’s a perfect time to rediscover your passions and the things that matter most. You are finally in a place where you have the courage to blow up the old wineskins of your life that use to work for you and make way for something beautiful and new. Something amazing rises from those ashes.

The psychological notion of this is the ‘death of the ego.’ Richard Rohr says, that we live out of our egos the first half of our lives and spend the second half learning to live without fear and pursue the things that really matter to us. Or, “When you get your, ‘Who am I?’, question right, all of your, ‘What should I do?’ questions tend to take care of themselves, as he writes in his book, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life.

Are We Going About Life the Wrong Way?

The idea is that we spend much of the beginning of our lives trying to find ‘containers’ that help to answer critical questions we face in life. Who am I? Do I matter? How can I support myself? Who will go with me?

In this ‘first half of life,’ we spend most of our time doing our best to answer these questions and then placing boundaries around them because they have become our identity. We get stuck.

This was similar to my predicament. I absolutely loved what I did. What I didn’t realize is that too much of my identity was wrapped up in it. Tom the author, Tom the speaker, Tom the orphan advocate and justice guy. None of these things are wrong by any means, I had just allowed myself to put too much stock in them. And the truth was, I really didn’t want to be some of them. Traveling all over the place was conflicting with the time I needed to spend with my wife and family. I ignored those signs and the issues got bigger. I was trying to protect containers, not what was inside of them.

Whatever identity I had was actually good and it was true. But now its not because my life has changed, the seasons have changed and what stands in front of me has changed. I had to dig deep and find the courage to walk a road that I didn’t know and that would only be made by walking.

“Wanderer, your footsteps are the road, and nothing more; wanderer, there is no road, the road is made by walking.” ~ Antonio Machado

I ended up shipwrecked. You can watch the video about it here if you like.

Do Not Be Afraid

One of the most common instructions you see in the Bible is, “Do not be afraid,” occurring 365 times. Once for every day of the year – because we need to be reminded every day. Our human tendency is to operate out of fear regularly. When we understand who we really are we simply don’t need the old containers anymore and we can walk away from our fears of protecting them.

We do, however, need what’s in those containers because what’s in them has made us into who we are.

People who are beginning to walk free from their ego’s can look themselves in the mirror and know with certainty the answer to the question, “Do I matter?” This is primarily because they know who they are and they’ve closed the gaps of their own hypocrisy. They don’t need to protect and defend, they are just able to love and be. The judgment of others no longer holds power over them. There’s no longer a need to protect an identity, defend ourselves, or prove ourselves to the world – we can walk away from those fears and live in the freedom of who we were created to be.

That’s what leadership is about. Becoming more real and more authentic. It’s living the kind of life that revealphoto_Brene_Browns to others that the person I want to become (my ideals) and the person I am, are closer to the same.

For me, I’m learning to live in true freedom. I’m understanding what it means to not be afraid and to live for what’s deeply important to me: my faith, my family, freedom, hope and vulnerability as I wrote about in this post. In the words of one of my mentors, “Sure, I’m scared. But I am not afraid.” The road ahead is beautiful and filled with unspeakable joy.

So, make these principles a staple part of your life diet, and you won’t be pulled towards the containers. Instead, you’ll begin making strides to live for the things that really matter.

4 Things I Learned While Shipwrecked

  1. Fear is the primary driver of human emotion. Don’t let it drive you. Have the courage to live the kind of life that reflects what’s most important to you. When you do, everything else falls in place.
  2. Get clear on the, “Who am I?” question. Once you do, life has more meaning and purpose and you can be free to live life on your own terms.
  3. Be bold and step out of your container and do something way of the box. Something that’s always been on your heart, that’s meaningful and significant to you.
  4. Live for experiences and not things. You won’t remember the thing you bought, but you will remember the first time you saw the Eiffel tower or Michelangelo’s painting in the Sistine Chapel with someone you cared about. 


Believing in You and Your Dreams ~ Tom

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7 thoughts on “Making Meaning Out of Your Mess – 4 Things I Learned While Shipwrecked

    • Thank you Elizabeth! I really liked the email you sent out for your campaign. I would love to know how that is going for you. I’m thinking of doing one in the future.

  1. It’s great to see you walking this out and being able to lead others into the freedom you’re experiencing. It’s an awesome thing.

  2. Tom, good thoughts and a great reminder that what we often think as shipwreck and interpret it as the end, becomes the grandest thing to happen to us and ultimately the start of a new way of living. Thanks for all you do. Buen Camino my friend!

    • Thanks David. God can take the worst things and turn them into the best things! Come back to see me in Spain!

  3. Great insight on what we wrestle through in the first half of life. It is helpful to hear it put that way.