Bob is such a great, positive name. It's light and fun when compared to Robert or Jonathan or Donald. People even use it to describe something floating gently on the water, saying, for example, "Watch that duck bob on the ocean's waves."
When the events I'm going to describe took place my life had been anything but a gentle float on the waves of life. It had been more like an endless downward spiral. I think it started just as I was turning into an adult. I had a 4.0 grade-point average in high school. But something happened, and I barely graduated from college with a 2.0. I was probably lucky to get that.
I bummed around for another five years before I decided to really focus on my career, find a wife, and start a family. But the downward spiral held true. Over the past ten years I've held twelve different jobs. "Laid off." "Downsized." "Rightsized." It doesn't matter what they called it, I was fired. And those instances don't even count the times I was dismissed for getting into fights with co-workers who would do things that would just drive me crazy.
And with each loss of a job I felt my confidence slipping. Each new job resulted in a lower salary, sinking my feelings of self-worth even more. A wife and family? Not even close. I don't think I'd even had a girlfriend in the last six or eight months. Time just flies by when you are sinking lower and lower.
All this effected me physically, too. I weighed about forty pounds more than when I was in college and I would huff-and-puff going up even a small stairway. I coughed all the time and I seemed to be getting colds or sore throats about once a month.
In short, my life was a mess. So when I got laid off — again — I found myself wandering the streets of St. Joseph, just walking, feeling piteous and filled with rage. At about 11:00 p.m. I wandered into a coffee shop for a slice of apple pie and coffee.
I took a drink of bitter and acidic black coffee. It would have tasted better with some cream and sugar, but it matched my mood, so I drank some more. The pie was... well... it was typical of what you would find at a cheap diner. Rather than eat it I cut it into pieces and played with it, feeling miserable and sorry for myself.
Suddenly, I felt a tap on my shoulder. "Yes?" I said, turning to see who had accosted me. It was a man of about 60 who was all smiles. He looked like he would be light on his toes and was so filled with energy that he seemed to be glowing. His eyes sparkled and he was obviously very happy. Considering my mood, if I had been a violent person I would have killed him right there for daring to interrupt my pity party.
"What's your name?" he asked. I could hear the energy and strength in his voice.
"Uh...Bob." I replied only because I had no reason not to. If he started to talk about some multi-level marketing scheme I knew I would be able to hurt him even if I couldn't kill him. Thankfully, he didn't.
"I saw you from my table. I thought you might need this." He put a bag down on the table and picked up my check.
"Wait," I said. "Who are you? What's this about?"
"You'll see," he said, his back to me as he paid for my snack and walked out the door.
It was several seconds before I was able to realize what happened and close my mouth, which had been hanging open. Was this guy some sort of a "nut job," or was he trying to sell me something?
I looked back at the bag he had left and pulled out the contents. It was a book called Freedom From the Ties that Bind by Guy Finley. "What is this?" I wondered. I looked at the title page and saw that someone, maybe the man who had left it for me, had scribbled a message there. It read:"No money. No tricks. Just read this book. You need it."
I got up and looked out the door of the diner. The man was definitely gone. I went back to my chair and started looking at the book. On the back cover it said, "Imagine finding an inexhaustible source of strength within that allows you to leave all self-punishing patterns behind. Imagine having the power to choose the life you really want, and to know that you won't have to go through this life alone." Again my mouth dropped open in surprise. I wondered if that man had been reading my mind.
The back cover went on to say that the book "...reveals hundreds of breakthrough secrets of self-liberation that show you exactly how to be fully independent and free of any unhappy condition. Even the most difficult people won't be able to try your temper or get you flustered. You'll feel anxieties and doubts about your future fade away. And you'll enjoy solid, meaningful relationships based on your conscious choices rather than self-defeating compromises."
Now, I know that the words on the covers of books are intended to encourage people to buy them, but I got the distinct impression that this book was written especially for me. And even if it wasn't, somehow the man who paid for my coffee and pie knew that I needed it.
After a day of walking around and punishing myself, I decided to do two things. First, I would go home and get a good night's sleep, and second, I would study this book tomorrow.
The next morning I made some coffee and sat down with the book. The first paragraph of the book floored me. It read, "What if you knew that everything was all right, right now? Isn't this what you really want? When you face the sun, the shadows are at your back, so what if the only reason your life isn't going as well as you would like is because you've been searching for the sunrise while facing west?!" (p.ix)
This was the first revelation I received from the book. All along, I had been blaming my problems on others—bad teachers, bad jobs, bad co-workers, bad bosses, women not looking for relationships, and so on. It had always been someone else's fault. Now, this book was claiming that my situation wasn't caused by all those other people, it was caused by me! I was responsible for what was happening to me.
"Okay," I thought. "What should I do about this?" The answer came on the next page. It says that in this book I'll learn "...the sense—and sanity—in doing nothing! Imagine: you'll learn to not respond to the call to action that's kept you running in circles up till now.
"The thought in your mind now is, 'What do you mean, "do nothing"?! I have too much to do; I'll never catch up! Besides, I'm not lazy; I'm a doer! If I don't do it all, who will? If I don't keep up the pace, I'll fall behind—and then where will I be?' And the answer is: you'll be off the treadmill and out of the rat race. From this new vantage point on the sidelines you'll gain a true view of your life and events. From this solid ground you'll reap your heart's desires." (p. x-xi)
My breath, now, was coming in rapid pants and I was trembling with excitement. These few words had made me realize that the "ties that bind" are things that I was doing to myself. The only way I was going to come out of this downward spiral was to start thinking and acting in ways that were different from my past. I had a feeling that this book would help me in that quest.
I thumbed through the book, looking for practical ideas. I read this practice: "Become aware, right now, without thinking about it, that you are thinking. See that there are thoughts and feelings coursing through you. As you watch their movements, be their silent witness. Just observe...[A]ssume no position on the thoughts and feelings you see moving through you. Don't put yourself on either side of any thought's content. In other words, be neither for nor against any thought with any other thought." (p.44-45)
Well, that sounded weird. But I decided I'd give it a try and see what happened. I shook my body a bit and got comfortable, then I took a deep breath and let it out. I was feeling hungry. I was feeling alert. I was having thoughts about the feelings. I realized that these thoughts and feelings were not "me," they were simply something I was experiencing. I was not my thoughts or feelings, but I could choose to act on them if I wished to do so.
Suddenly, from out of nowhere, I remembered an old co-worker who had treated me badly. I felt angry and could feel the rage surge through me.
I came out of my reverie wondering what this proved. The book continued: "If you can't see some thought or feeling as it goes through you, then you don't have the choice whether to be that thought or feeling..." (p.45)
And finally, it made sense. Merely because my co-worker had treated me badly didn't mean I had to get angry. Merely because I was angry didn't mean I had to get into a screaming argument with him, like the argument that ended up getting me fired. I could have simply recognized my anger and its cause and "done nothing." If I had followed that pattern I would still have my job.
"But the guy had insulted me and my work," I thought. "Should I have just taken it? He would have moved ahead and I would have been left behind simply because he had not told the truth." And then I laughed. So when the layoffs came, my reaction based on anger had resulted in me being sacked while he was still there. I might have done better if I had...done nothing.
For the next several days I did three things. First, I started looking for a new job. Second, I continued practicing the simple technique of self-observation. And third, I continued to read Freedom From the Ties that Bind.
Toward the end of the book, there is a section called "Thirty Keys to Change Your Destiny." They ended up changing my life.
The first key read, "Step out of the rush and into your own life." (p.161) This started me considering what I wanted for my own life. I sat down and wrote out a short list of the things I really wanted. A family. Enough money to support a family. Time with my family. Then I looked at the job offers in the paper that I had circled. Fully half of them didn't pay enough or would have required too much time. I didn't have to settle. I crossed those off my list.
The fifth key read: "Go beyond the best that you think you can." (p.162). I had circled several of what I had called my "if only" jobs. They were ones that sounded great "if only" I possessed all of the qualifications requested in the ad. But they were the ones that were the best. They were forward-looking. I crossed out all of the others.
The ninth key was "Face those fearful feelings." (p.163) Money was getting low and I really needed a job. Should I waste my time going to interviews for jobs where I didn't have all of the desired qualifications? I was afraid of doing it. As an insight into this key the book reveals that, "Any weakness faced by looking in this new direction becomes the foundation of a new strength. Face those fearful feelings. Fearlessness follows." (p.163)
I started to laugh. Why was I afraid? The worst they would do is throw out my resumé. I sent out seven resumés that afternoon.
Within two weeks I had heard back from two of the companies and arranged interviews with them. Each of them told me that although I didn't have all of the qualifications I was better qualified than any of the other applicants and, if I got the position, they were willing to train me! I ended up having two job offers with higher salaries—much higher—than I had ever had in my life. But which one should I choose?
Freedom From the Ties that Bind had given me such good advice that I went back to it. Key 16 said that "Now is always the time to: Follow what you love." And that's what I did. I chose the job that gave me a future doing what I wanted, working with finance in big business.
Although I didn't list all of the keys here, I have been following them all. In fact, I find that for me it's good to read Freedom From the Ties that Bind every other month or so to refresh my memory of how to be free of my old way of thinking and acting, the ties that bound me to an unhappy past. I always seem to learn something new, too.
That was two years ago. In that time I've received training at my job and three raises. The people at work like me and I get along so well with co-workers, even the rotten ones, that I have more friends than I know what to do with. I'm healthier than I've been in years and lost thirty pounds without doing anything or even thinking about it. Sara, my girlfriend (we've been together for almost a year, now), helped me choose a wonderful new house, which I purchased. I think she's hoping I'll ask her to marry me so we can have a reason for decorating the "extra" room in pink or blue. I don't think she knows that I already have a ring and I'm going to propose on her birthday next week.
I told her about the book and the changes I've been through, and now she's read it, too. About once a month I go out, late at night, with a copy of Freedom From the Ties that Bind placed discreetly in a plain bag under my arm. I go to coffee shops that are open and look for someone sitting alone at the counter who looks angry and bitter. I go up, tap him or her on the shoulder, and say, "I thought you might need this." Then I give him or her the bag with the book, pay their bill, and leave. I hope they see the feeling of joy I have now. I hope it helps.
Editor's note: All quotes used by permission.