“The unexamined life is not worth living.” —Socrates
Even 10 years later, I easily consider it my worst day at work ever.
The exact day was in the middle of December and I was working at a church in Wisconsin. At some point, under my watch, a snowball fight broke out among 100 middle school students. This would be fine—and even expected in Wisconsin—except the snowball fight was taking place inside the church.
Piles of snow were being grabbed from the nearest exit, rounded into slushy, lopsided spheres, and thrown across the room toward unsuspecting students on the other side. In response, as you might guess, the snowballs were promptly thrown back at even greater speeds.
In my defense, it escalated quickly.
But my boss, who happened to wander past the room and witness the melee, didn’t seem to care. His only words displayed little understanding, “Clean this up. And stop by my office first thing in the morning.”
My heart sunk. This was not going to end well.
Fortunately, this is not a story about getting fired. And unfortunately, it is also not a story about challenging authority, sticking it to ‘the man,’ or even the rebelliousness of youth. This is a story about avoiding escape, remaining in the moment, and the painful joy of choosing to journey inward.
After cleaning up snow and water and mud off walls and carpeting, I got in my car to drive home. And suddenly remembered what would meet me when I walked in the back door: silence.
You see, back at home, I was in the middle of a 30-day No Television experiment—no entertainment from screens of any kind. No cable, no sports, no movies, no video games—not on television, computers, tablets, or phones.
And for maybe the first time in my life, I was forced to sit in silence with my own self rather than turn to entertainment as an escape from my troubles.
With no TV to turn on, I sat alone on my couch, in a dark living room, rewinding the events of the evening. I saw the look on my boss’s face peering into the room. I imagined all the possible outcomes of tomorrow’s meeting. I ran through the worst-case scenarios of what could have happened during the snowball fight. And I sat alone in the weight of the moment.
Then, I began a journey inward— an incredibly difficult journey of assessing my own heart and mind and soul in response to the evening.
Why did I allow a snowball fight to happen in the first place? Was I that desperate to be liked by middle schoolers that I would allow them to do whatever they wanted?
Why was I so afraid of tomorrow morning? Being fired was almost certainly not on the table. Was my identity so wrapped up in my reputation at work that this stain could literally paralyze me to my couch in an empty room? Does this seem healthy?
Was I so desperate for praise from others that I worried about my coworkers finding out? Was my leadership potential being questioned? Was my personal need for affirmation so significant that nothing else mattered at this moment in time?
I did not like what I saw. It was hard to be completely honest with myself in that moment. But it was important and worth ever hard-fought moment of not giving in to the urge to turn away and escape. I was intimately introduced to my ugliest motivations and fears.
It can indeed be a humbling experience to search our hearts, to be reminded of their depravity, and have our true motivations exposed to us.
I think that is why so often we choose to escape instead. We turn on the television, a video game, Facebook, or Pinterest. We turn to alcohol, tobacco, or other substances. We eat, we run, we shop, we go back to work, or we turn to unhealthy relationships.
But when we escape our present circumstance too quickly, we miss the difficult joy of looking inward. We lose opportunity to discover the motivations behind our pride, jealousy, anger, loneliness, narcissism, or selfish pursuits.
Is the discovery of these motivations all it takes to overcome them? Absolutely not. But slowing down long enough to recognize them is almost always the first step.
Image: Kyle Person