Saturday, May 25, 2013

#462: Is There Another Story Worth Telling?

Who is the man behind those dark glasses?
I have had a couple of conversations this week about my story... well not the story so much, as about my telling of it. I believe that it  inspires people. That's why I tell it every chance I get. I want them to know that they can come back from a terrible place and be even stronger than before.

But this week, I have had a couple of people challenge me to think about helping people on their own journey without telling them about mine.

It's a hard thing for me to grasp. When practiced competently and respectfully, personal training is a healing profession. A good trainer has personal boundaries and limits just like any other professional. We handle confidential information. We meet people when they are vulnerable. We build relationships based on trust - trust in our ability to help our clients to meet their goals.

But, I have always used my story to help build trust between myself and trainees. Now I am being called to ask just how important that story is to my success as a trainer... and to whom is it more important: to my clients, or to me?

"You use it to build credibility," said one adviser, "but they don't come here for you to understand them. They come so you can help them to get back to life." Another put it this way. "Your professional competence has nothing to do with the fact that you've had cancer. If you're a good trainer, you'll earn their trust."

And so I wonder. Am I exploiting my story for my own sake, rather than for the sake of the people who are so "inspired" when they hear it? When I think of how my coaches earned my trust, it was through the compassionate, joyful practice of their profession, not because of their compelling life stories. Have I been making a big mistake, insisting on being "one of the family?" Or as another counselor put it, "You're making it about you, but it's supposed to be about them."

Am I holding on to the blessings of the past and missing out on the possibilities of the present? Two scary questions come to my mind. Am I a good enough trainer to succeed on my skill and knowledge alone, without the boost I get from being Cancer Boy? And even scarier, if I stop being The Boy Who Didn't Die, will I go back to being the miserable, Fat Man Running that I was before I got sick? Cancer gave me so much. It gave me someone to be. The Survivor. But have I let it become a crutch? Could I be a better trainer, even a more inspiring one, if I left the Fat Man at home?

I guess I've never believed I could be very interesting without a character to play. The actor. The manager. The survivor. Can I find the courage to stop play-acting and just be Bob? Do I even know how to start?

They've got me on a very tight leash at work. They don't want me to get sick again, and they want to be sure I'm well before I assume any real responsibilities. It frustrates me that I've fallen from being the lead trainer to a glorified towel boy. But the truth is, I'm lucky to still have a job at all. There are very few organizations that would have tolerated my illness the way the Y has. I want to be sure I'm well, too. But, how to tell when that time comes?

Maybe it will be the day that I don't need to tell anyone about my cancer - the day that I let my heart and my mind and body speak for themselves, without a superhero persona to hide behind.

It has been a brutal season of letting go, but the hardest could be yet to come. It may soon be time for me to put the dynamic duo, Fat Man and Cancer Boy away for good. Then maybe I'll see who this "Bob" guy is that everybody keeps talking about. They tell me he's worth knowing.

I wonder if they could be right.



  1. Accepting change, even for the better and even in yourself, is a stunning thing for the human brain. And great accomplishments can be somehow as unsettling as great tragedies. You have sure had your share of both and yet your evolution is still not yet complete. I've heard it said (too many times) that life is "not about the destination but about the journey". And it is true that living through enough tomorrows will take every one of us someplace else. Letting go of Fat Man and Cancer Boy and allowing that Future Person (be he Bob or whoever) to find you, and then become you, is something the tomorrows will bring. Those other two guys dwell in places you have already passed through on your journey. I think you're right to let them go soon. You just have to be ready.

    1. It's been a season of letting go for me, Elianne. The challenge is trusting God to provide the next hand-hold as the climb continues. Thank you for your good counsel.


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