Wednesday, September 30, 2015

30 Days of Real Life Campaign #30DRL

Note: This essay is dedicated to my wife, Lina, as well as to her friends -- especially Amanda Merrell -- who are currently conducting the “30 Days of Real Life” (#30DRL) campaign on Facebook. I love what you are doing, Ladies, and wish to add a few cents to the fire of your authentic efforts.

Real Life is Hard 

No matter how good things may appear on a person’s Facebook wall, real life is HARD, and can sometimes get messy and ugly for even the best of us. I know this is true, not because I am one of the “best of us,” but because regardless how many Facebook pictures and posts that may suggest otherwise, my life is often hard, and sometimes gets messy and ugly—just like everyone else’s.

This article reflects on the “pictures” of life that we are hesitant to post on Facebook or Instagram, but that are just as real as the images we choose to share with the world via our ever-broadening circle of virtual friends.

Happy Birthday!
Just yesterday, I posted a lovely “HAPPY BIRTHDAY” tribute to my beautiful, wonderful, talented, intelligent, dearly beloved, and semi-sweet (inside joke) wife. In doing so, I searched my photo collection to find the most beautiful picture of Lina I could possibly find. This – of course – is the picture I decided to post, along with another pic of the two of us mirthfully laughing in each other’s arms and looking as though are lives were one unremitting span of connubial bliss....  If only!

Before I share “the rest of the story” in the spirit of the #30DRL campaign, I wish to note that Lina really is beautiful, wonderful, talented, etc. It is also true that we really do have a wonderful marriage, and I really am the luckiest man in the world to have found her and convinced her to marry me. It is also true that the Good Lord has exceedingly blessed and prospered our individual and collective lives as we have strived to follow the example of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that all of this is only PART of the story of our lives. It is the BEST part about our lives, and is therefore the part we are most eager to expose online and/or share with others—and rightfully so. No one wants to be friends with someone who is always airing their dirty laundry for others to see—and smell. There’s nothing attractive or inspiring about that. I am not writing this article in an effort to encourage people to start plastering newsflashes and photos detailing their problems all over social media (that is, unless you’ve completed doctoral research and written a book on the subject...SMILE). I am simply writing it to remind us all that no one’s life is as exclusively pretty as the pictures we perpetually post online—as my doctoral research and new book so tellingly evince from my own life’s ugly challenges. (To get a FREE copy of my Personal Narrative that details these life challenges, e-mail me at and I will send you a PDF copy, at no cost to you).   

ALL Couples Face Challenges
Sometimes We Fight

The unvarnished truth of the matter – which our perpetually perfect and positive Facebook posts often belie – is that Lina and I are just ordinary human beings who wake up every morning and face weaknesses, shortcomings, temptations, irritability, and fatigue just like everyone else. Sometimes we even fight (disagree), and sometimes vehemently so. This is not to say that we are arguing all the time, or even most of the time, but the fact is that we both have minds of our own, and we each use them independently—and that is a good thing, albeit it can sometimes spawn conflict.

Recently, we had a disagreement that left me so emotionally wound up I ended up throwing one of Tucker’s toys across the room and slamming the door of our bedroom in order to puerilely punctuate my frustration. As I reflect back on this childish behavior—which happened just a few weeks ago, I admit to feeling a little embarrassed. I supposed that Lina was probably equally frustrated; to her credit, she responded a LOT more maturely than I did in the situation. Such it often is with men, it seems.

Over a period of a few days, we both had time to reflect on the incident and the issues surrounding it, communicate on a deeper and more respectful level, and eventually reconcile our differences in an amiable and respectful manner that was borne out of a greater understanding of where the other was coming from. But in the meantime, I'm not gonna lie... it got kind of messy. This was not the first time Lina and I had had a fight (disagreement) in our seven years of marriage, and it will not be the last.

When teaching leadership and management seminars with my professional work, I often share the great truth that conflict itself is not inherently bad – even though it can sometimes get messy. Success in relationships – personal or professional – is not contingent on an absence of conflict, but in how conflict is approached, navigated, and resolved. In truth, without conflict, very little actually gets done in life—and very little growth occurs in relationships. This is not to say we should proactively seek out conflict, but when it occurs – and in real life it inevitably will – there is little value in passively running to hide or aggressively bullying your counterpart.  The higher pathway lies in assertively facing up to it and then respectfully resolving the conflict with an eye single to the equal worth of the other person.

Occasionally you’ll hear a husband or wife make the specious claim that they “never fight.” Whenever I hear such a claim, I figure that they are either a LOT more mature than I am, or that they are doing one of the following:
1. Lying 
2. Not thinking for oneself, or

3. Passively acquiescing to what the other person wants without any regard for one’s own desires in the relationship.
ALL three of these scenarios is much more damaging to the long-term vitality and richness of a relationship than temporary conflict that is respectfully resolved, which can actually serve to strengthen a relationship over time.  I know this is true because the ways in which Lina and I have chosen to respond to our various riffs over the years have served as building blocks that have ultimately strengthened our marriage.  Nevertheless, we (and especially I) still have a long ways to go.

So there you have it my (Facebook) friends—all 951 of you: sometimes Lina and I fight. Yes, it is true: our lives are not as perfect as our Facebook posts suggest, and we are certainly far from being perfect individuals or a perfect couple. Despite this reality, we do have a lot going for us and have much to thank our Heavenly Father for, not the least of which are the blessings of having a best friend, a beautiful lover (well, at least I do), and a cherished counselor and confidante. No, it’s not perfect, but till our dying day, we will strive to follow the advice a former Bishop gave us—to take the word “divorce” out of the dictionary, which can be accomplished by living true to the marital covenants we made to God, the community, our families, and to each other by always striving to put the relationship ahead of our individual, selfish desires—with which we both struggle to varying degrees. 

So… the next time you see someone’s beautiful, pristine, and “perfect” life plastered all over Facebook, remember a great truism: Everyone has problems; if you think you know someone who doesn’t, it just means you don’t know them well enough yet.

As we scroll through our “walls” to see the endless posts uploaded for others to see, it is tempting to compare ourselves to others, whereby feelings of either jealousy or superiority can easily arise, accompanied by prideful musings of resentment or smugness. It can be easy to assume that some people have it much harder (or easier) than we do.

In the midst of such musings and emotional contractions and swellings, we would do well to remember the words of Susan Evans McCloud, who once penned the following quatrain in a famous hymn:
Who am I to judge another
When I walk imperfectly?
In the quiet heart is hidden
Sorrow that the eye can’t see.
My life probably looks a lot different (better) on the outside to others on Facebook than it does on the inside to me, which is one of the reasons I decided to publish to the world the hellish experiences I faced with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), depression, and other frightening internal struggles, the vast majority of which were never readily apparent to others. I want to give hope to others who also face challenges, failures, rejections, and disappointments, which in the end, is ALL of us.   

Everyone Faces Challenges

The more I learn about this world’s inhabitants and the diversity of adversity faced by its monumental milieu, the more I realize that in the end, everybody has it hard in one way or another. Moreover, I become increasingly convinced of the great truth taught by Victor Frankl—that masterful psychiatrist and courageous victor of Nazi treachery:
A man’s suffering is similar to the behavior of gas. If a certain quantity of gas is pumped into an empty chamber, it will fill the chamber completely and evenly, no matter how big the chamber. Thus suffering completely fills the human soul and conscious mind, no matter whether the suffering is great or little. Therefore the “size” of human suffering is absolutely relative. [2]
In light of Frankl's astute judgment, let us all strive to judge each other's weaknesses a little less and celebrate each other strengths a little more.  Furthermore, may we not despair when our troubles seem greater than another's; neither let us be jealous when our successes seem less than another's--remembering that for human beings, what seems is often quite different than what actually is.     

In conclusion, I don’t mean to discourage anyone from posting positive (or even perfect looking) pictures on Facebook. Rest assured, Lina and I will continue to do so. Nor do I intend to encourage anyone to begin to unnecessarily or inappropriately air their dirty laundry for others to see. I simply want to influence a greater sense of compassion and a lesser degree of judgment toward our fellows by reminding all of us that we have more in common than we sometimes realize. This is especially true when it comes to our universal experience of life's endless, painful, and often perplexing adversities. Thank God for the hope that Christ has the power to "carry us beyond this vale of sorrow into a far better land of promise." [3] 

Lastly, when we do choose to post our perfect pictures, let us do it for the RIGHT reasons—to develop, cultivate, and nurture friendships; to lift, encourage, and inspire others to be happier, healthier, more fulfilled human beings; and to share in the joy of our cherished relationships.

This means that when I post the most beautiful picture I can possibly find of my wife on her birthday, I am picking that photo to honor her and make her feel special and gather the goodwill of our friends to help us celebrate a special occasion -- and not merely to brag to everyone about what a hot wife I have, even though it is true -- I do have a HOT wife!  ... that was also for YOU, Babe.  Xoxo, -JJ


[1] Hymn #220, Hymns of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (1985, p. #220).
[2] Frankl, V. E. (2006). Man's Search for Meaning. Boston, MA: Beacon Press. Page 44. 
[3] Alma 37:45 (The Book of Mormon).

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