Is that all there is? Many people say life is just a vicious cycle of ups and downs, and I agree to a point. However, the difference between having a positive and negative attitude is not what happens in those ups and downs but how we respond to them. For instance, having an ache or a pain can make us appreciate the times when we are well and feel great. Or on the other hand we can spout long dissertations on all of our increasing aches and pains, past operations and the misery of just being alive.
There is a common myth that says, “Once a negative thinker, always a negative thinker.” I am living proof that it is not true. There are two ends of the spectrum – death or life. If only it were that simple. Life is complicated unless we learn to literally change our minds. Believe me, it took me many years to learn how to be a positive thinker.
The man who first got me into public speaking was my former principal where I taught, Mr. Tom Kopplin. Tom had left his position at the school to be a full time public speaker. He was the one who introduced me to the term and system of PMA, Positive Mental Attitude. He said, “Deb, I am going to mentor you as a public speaker, because you already have such a positive mental attitude about everything.”
The year was 1999 and I had definitely swung my attitude pendulum to the “right” side. Tom just supposed I had always been that way and thought I would be the perfect person to represent the PMA model. Tom loved speaking and became proficient in taking on “characters” whom he portrayed to help the audience get his point. However, Tom didn’t live out the positive life he portrayed.
For those of you who have ever experienced living with severe pain, or raising a disabled child, or battling chronic depression, you might understand Tom’s dilemma. He experienced all of these while centering his professional life around helping others and making them laugh. His goal in speaking was to help others have a positive mental attitude. But Tom never learned the all-important step of self-application; he just simply couldn’t practice what he preached.
I loved Tom and his whole family, especially his severely disabled daughter Katy who was one of my English and Drama students for all four years of her high school. Tragically she died when she was a young adult, and Tom never got over her loss. I had tried to cheer him every time I saw him, and took him books, tapes and invited him to my speeches. I even took him to a Billy Graham crusade here in St. Louis and prayed with him. The last time I saw Tom was when I went to visit him in a nursing home. He had practically stopped eating and his precious wife was beside herself with worry. He was asleep, in a fetal position, wearing a diaper.
Many folks have unresolved issues in their lives just as Tom did. He had been abandoned and later adopted as a child, but had overcome insurmountable mountains to become a high school principal, professional public speaker and loving husband and father. However, Tom, like many of us, failed to overcome his own personal demons while spending his life helping others to do so. I never gave up on Tom, though he gave up on himself.
Why is it that some people seem to be able to overcome, yet others just sink lower and lower in their valleys? Many would say that therapy, medication, psychiatry, even shock treatment was their answer. All I know is that by way of personal experience, I grasped at one last straw that Tom was so reluctant to grab; and that is what personally kept me from self destruction and suicide when I was in my own personal pit.
The Carl Jung psychological model of mankind is where I first saw it put into theory; by then I had already put it into practice. Dr. Jung contended that the only way a person can reach “wholeness” in life is by living a balanced life, physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally. Tom was unwilling to grasp the ”spiritual” which I believe would have opened the mental and emotional well-being he so desired. Because I had been deficient in all four of these areas, and even today must keep all of them in check, the scientific, medical, theological, and psychological research of our day backs up all of this.
Perhaps I was one of those who learn through trial and error, and believe me there were many trials and a whole lot of error! But over and over again in all of my teaching, speaking, radio, television and traveling I have met real people with real-life stories who confirm this truth in their own changed lives.
I have no idea what you may be facing today, but I know one thing for sure: if you are willing to take a close examination of your life and allow those closest to you to have input, you will see which of these four areas of the Jung model you need most to improve. Then if you are willing to seek help in that fine balancing act you must learn, you will later see that living “happily ever after” can indeed be a reality. After all, the older you get, the longer you live. How you live out those years is entirely up to you. “Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and the door will be opened.” Don’t just grow old, just grow.
Dr. Debra Peppers, a professional speaker for 25 years, is one of only five inducted into the National Teachers Hall of Fame, which followed her retirement from Lindbergh High School. A member of the National Speakers Association, she has traveled to all 50 states and 60 countries teaching others that if she can go from being a 250-pound high school dropout, to Teacher of the Year there is hope for every child and adult. Her web site is http://www.pepperseed.org.