Before baseball star Mickey Mantle died, he faced and came to terms with his lifelong alcoholism. As he was withering of liver disease, Mickey held a press conference at the Betty Ford treatment center. A reporter asked him, “How would you like people to remember Mickey Mantle?” Pale and gaunt, still sporting his famous Yankee cap, he replied, “I would like them to think that I finally made something of myself.” I was shocked. One of the most loved and celebrated sports heroes of all time — my hero — did not respect himself until he took back the power he had given to his addiction.
A few months later, Mickey Mantle died. Soon afterward I saw a touching newspaper cartoon showing Mickey meeting God, depicted as a person. The two were ambling down a long road in heaven, with God’s arm around Mickey’s shoulder. Mickey turned to God and wistfully remarked, “I can’t believe all the errors I made.” God turned to Mickey and answered, “But you gave them a ninth inning they’ll never forget.”
We have all given our power away to something — many things — and our lives have sucked for it. We have bestowed undue power to lovers, money, bosses, addictive substances, fame, dream homes, religious dogma, parents, children, doctors, lawyers, agents, therapists, psychics, teachers, the police, politicians, sports heroes, movie stars, gorgeous men and women, business moguls, the news, and occult sciences. The list goes on; you can add more of your own.
You give your power away when you make someone or something outside of you more important than what is inside of you.
If you do not value who and what you are, you will seek to borrow worth from the outer world. You will look for validation from people whom you believe know or have more than you. But since everything you need is inside you and no one can know more about your path and purpose than you do, any power you ascribe to external authorities must eventually explode in your face and leave you feeling worse than when you started. The question is not, “Have you given your power away?” The question is, “How can you get it back?”
If any aspect of your life sucks, getting it unsucked is an inside job. You do not need to import power, for you were born with it; you just need to plug the holes in your bucket through which it is leaking. The quest is about peeling away the lies and illusions you have been told — and went on to tell yourself — that have kept you living smaller than you deserve. When you do, you will be amazed to realize how much you have settled for. Then you will have little patience for halfhearted living and reclaim your right to live from choice rather than default.
Any experience that leaves you feeling empty, less-than, or needy, does so for only one reason: You entered into it feeling empty, less-than, or needy. The illusion is that relationships will take away the pain that keeps you feeling small; the reality is that relationships magnify the pain that keeps you feeling small. And yet there is a gift in the process: you remember that the source of your strength is inside you.
On an episode of the television show Northern Exposure, a young woman named Shelly receives a chain letter promising that if she passes the letter on to a friend within three days, good luck will come to her. She mails her letter at the local grocery store/post office and immediately Shelly begins to receive money, meet men, and enjoy all kinds of success she has been seeking for a long time. She is ecstatic — the letter really worked! A week later Shelly returns to the post office, where the clerk holds up her unmailed letter and informs her, “I’ve been waiting for you to come back; your letter needed more postage.” Stunned, Shelly realizes the chain letter did not create her run of luck — she did. She concludes, “I guess I’m in charge of my own life after all.” So are we all. Your life is not what the stars, numbers, genetics, environment, politics, or economic conditions make it; it is what you make it.
Perhaps the final lines of Woody Allen’s classic movie Annie Hall sum up how we stay trapped in painful situations — and how we can escape them. A man says to a psychiatrist, “My wife thinks she’s a chicken and she’s driving me crazy!” The psychiatrist asks him, “So why don’t you leave her?” The man answers, “I can’t — I need the eggs.”
You don’t need the eggs anymore. They are rotten, taste horrible, and don’t nourish you. When you elevate others at your expense, nobody wins. When you source your life from inside out, everyone wins. As you strike gold in your own self, you will quit giving the people in your world a carbon copy of the terror that runs their lives, and give them a ninth inning — or a first, or a fifth — they’ll never forget.
By Alan Cohen