THE GIFT OF DESPERATION

by Matt Thomas

In my work, I have a front-row seat to a good bit of carnage. It is a reality that I have come to appreciate, a gravity I feel with acute awareness, and a welcome reminder that not long ago I was the primary driver of my fair share of dysfunction. Most weeks I speak with someone desperate to find a new employment opportunity. Usually, they have lost their job or are worn down from years in a toxic environment. Just as often I sit across the table from a leader of a business who is fraying at the seams. Either overwhelmed by inordinate business challenges, or strained personal relationships, or both. In their voices, I can hear the hope fading.

Inevitably, and without prompting, they will offer some glimmer of optimism. If we could just get rid of so and so. If we can land this one client. Sometimes these scenarios aren’t too far-fetched, but more often than not, they are a pipe dream. Usually, it is self-talk, a hope of speaking into existence a future that is unlikely to come to fruition. For the individual looking for a new opportunity, they know deep down inside that their manager isn’t changing and work will continue to be the darkest part of their life until they find something new. For the business leader, they know that increasing the sales and marketing budget, rolling out a new business unit or product line, or overhauling their middle management layer probably isn’t going to move the needle. They are not quite at the end of their rope but are pretty dang close.

Unfortunately, and especially for type A’s, we fight the hardest just before hitting the bottom. I have seen leaders draw out their last gasp for months, even years.

At this point people in pain wade into the last gasp. It is the sum of those moments before bottoming out. Unfortunately, and especially for type A’s, we fight the hardest just before hitting the bottom. I have seen leaders draw out their last gasp for months, even years. Flailing wildly in hopes that a magic lever will appear they can pull to finally taste freedom. I know this is true because it happened to me.

Two years ago my life blew up. The details of my story are too personal and precious to share in a public medium but suffice it to say I bottomed out in spectacular fashion, personally and professionally. Relationships were severed, a business lost, and the pain and trauma those closest to me had been experiencing as the result of my defects of character finally exploded to the surface. Looking back I can see a man who was inches from the bottom for nearly a full year before the walls caved in, unwilling to accept that I was running out of options and determined to turn the ship of my own human frailty into some cosmic redemption story. What a fool. I wouldn’t wish the pain I experienced in those months on my worst enemy, but the suffering gave me one of the greatest gifts I have ever received, desperation.

Looking back I can see a man who was inches from the bottom for nearly a full year before the walls caved in, unwilling to accept that I was running out of options and determined to turn the ship of my own human frailty into some cosmic redemption story.

For the first time in my life, I had no plan B. For someone who has long prided themselves on adaptability and ingenuity I had run out of options and had no idea what to do or where to turn. I came face to face with my complete and total lack of control. It was unnerving to say the least, and in truth, I fought it for a few months. But slowly and surely with the support and love of my wife, faithful friends, and mentors, I found my footing and accepted an invitation into a new way of living. A path that demands rigorous honesty, personal discipline, genuine vulnerability, and gratitude for the simple, undeserved gifts.

One of the most significant gifts that desperation continues to give is the belief that every good thing in my life is gravy. Extra and undeserved.

One of the most significant gifts that desperation continues to give is the belief that every good thing in my life is gravy. Extra and undeserved. I feel zero pressure to close big deals, impress a new client, lead a big successful company, or make sure everyone likes me. An impossible task anyway! When we are desperate we finally stop trying to troubleshoot the pain in our lives like we would an incongruence in the P&L. Instead, we are forced to raise our hands and ask for help. We are given the gift of recognizing our own limitations and frailty. Of accepting how much we need each other just to get through some days.

Certainly, desperation can lead to poor decision making. Some of our world’s greatest tragedies are the result of desperate people going too far in the wrong direction. Usually, these individuals see desperation as a giant that needs to be slain, but instead of a sword, all they brought to the fight is a stick of dynamite that will blow everything up, including them.

If you are at the end of your rope here is my two cents: stop flailing, lay flat on your back, raise your hand, and ask for help. Very un-American I know, but I believe you are on the precipice of the good stuff! At the height of our desperation, we can’t see clearly, much less make good decisions. It is not weakness to acknowledge that things are broken and far from what they should be. In fact, it takes great courage and strength. Reality is a hell of a foe and our world is built to keep us out of touch with it. The real gift of desperation? The clarity, freedom, and order that comes with being right-sized. A realistic view of our own importance and the importance, or lack thereof, of the things we have grown to care so deeply about.

It is not weakness to acknowledge that things are broken and far from what they should be. In fact, it takes great courage and strength.

So, if you are a candidate desperate to escape the pain of your current situation, as hard as this season is, soak it in for all it’s worth. This too shall pass. If you are a business leader fraying at the seams, I hurt for you and hope you’ll give up the fight and accept your humanity so you can get on with living a healthy and whole life. Wildly successful or beautifully insignificant. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter much either way.