The Character Movement

Josh Cleveland's Family

Don’t Stop. Ever.

By Josh Cleveland, Youth Frontiers Retreat Musician

Allow me to flash back to seven years ago. I was thirty years old, I had a failed marriage and a four-year-old daughter whom I lived five hours away from because I was living with my parents. After a decade of living a life where I put more effort into building excuses than building anything of substance, I had come to a startling realization:

My life sucks. Big time.

It was at this – one of the toughest points in my life – when I made an important decision; I was going to make the next ten years of my life better than the last. That was it. Bam! Good luck. Mic drop. End of blog post!

Just kidding. Kind of.

This was going to be my mission for the next decade of my life and I knew that there were a few things that needed to be done in order to accomplish this goal.

First, I needed to look honestly at what brought me to this point. Then, I needed to move forward and not linger. The mission could easily have stalled here for another decade or longer. I had to be willing to take responsibility, make amends and then keep moving.

Secondly, I needed to figure out the things that I could control and change them. (A sub-point here is that this part can take time. More time, sometimes, than anyone would like. But it is time well spent.)

I realized that I was going to have to give all I had to make this happen. I was working at a coffee shop at the time, going back to school, going to counseling and still a dad. I made a commitment to give my all to each area of my life. I was the best darn barista I could possibly be. I was, surprisingly, a good student. In counseling, I was brutally honest about where I had been, but also where I wanted to be. Finally, though the distance was really tough, I gave all I was to my little girl. I made mistakes along the way for sure, but I owned up to them quickly and moved on. It was amazing how much my fear of mistakes and failing faded when I began seeing them as an opportunity to be better and make this decade better. My dad once told me (well, maybe he was constantly telling me and I was finally in a better place to hear him) to always do more than what is expected of you. So that is what I did. That is what I’m still doing.

Thirdly, don’t stop. Ever.

To have a better decade than the last, I had to work hard and be willing to keep on going. I also, for my own sanity and sense of hope, had to throw away the idea that “one never truly arrives.” Life is a journey for sure, but I needed to have tiny destinations along the way – places to measure progress, to set new goals and to just stop and take some deep breaths.

The happiest and most connected to my life that I had felt in a decade came when I moved back to Minnesota. I was now three minutes from my daughter – not five hours. I had my own place, no longer at my parents’ (What is up fine, young bachelor?). And the cherry on top, I was working at a credit card collection agency as a collection specialist. Eight hours a day in a cubicle making, taking and managing over three hundred calls a day with people who sometimes downright hated my existence….

I loved my life. Seriously, I really did. Sure, the job was horrendous, but I didn’t care – I could have been touching poop with my bare hands and I wouldn’t have minded. I was working hard, I was changing the things that I could control and I was four years into a better decade.

As I write this, I am now seven years into this new decade. My daughter and I have an amazing relationship, I have a wonderful wife and partner and we have recently added a new little daughter to the mix. I now have a job that I truly love, working with people I can really pour into, with plenty of opportunities to live out my dad’s advice. And I continue to live out my goal to make each day better than the day before.

My hope is that these words I am writing will inspire us all to work hard. Work hard at everything. Because, a better life doesn’t come from a job, a house, a relationship or anything else. It comes from what we bring to ourselves through working hard and pushing through the tough stuff. I know this isn’t a cure-all. And I surely don’t have it all figured out, nor have I done it all right. I only wish to offer what could be a starting place.

Start by making tomorrow a better day than the one before it.

Then don’t stop. Ever.

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