As I sat for hours in the gridlock of traffic last week while Birmingham dealt with an unexpected ice storm, I had one question on my mind: Why haven’t I already moved to the Caribbean?
It sounds like a joke, but I was half serious. I’ve thought for a long time that I’d like to move to a Caribbean island. I have nothing except history tying me to Birmingham (or any other place). I’m tired of the cold that I experience for a few months in the winter. I’m tired of the humid southern summers. I’ve visited a dozen or so islands and I keep finding myself wanting to go back and stay.
So why was I creeping along — and getting trapped on — highways covered with enough ice to be skating rinks last week instead of living on a tropical island?
I could probably give you a dozen reasons. The cost of living is high. The opportunities to make money are more limited. There would be new cultures to learn, maybe even a new language in some places. I’d be leaving friends and familiar places behind. And on and on.
But the bottom line is far simpler. I simply haven’t been willing to commit to doing whatever it takes to make it happen. I’ve accepted the status quo because inertia was easier than committing to change.
As I sat on Valleydale Road a week ago Tuesday afternoon in the ice and watched people abandoning their cars to walk, I thought about this a lot. And I was reminded of a story that Mike Hernacki told in his book, “The Ultimate Secret to Getting Absolutely Everything You Want“:
I was once sitting in an empty hallway of the federal courthouse in a large midwestern city. That day, the courts were not in session. The judges were conducting pretrial conferences and other matters “in chambers,” so only a few lawyers were about. I was one of the lawyers, waiting for my pretrial conference to begin.
As I sat there, two attorneys entered the hallway; they were talking about a large lawsuit, which they had obviously just settled. The two men were about the same age, though one of them was considerably taller and more distinguished-looking than the other. They were physically quite different in appearance but were dressed about the same, wearing neatly tailored three-piece suits.
“I’m glad we got this settled so quickly,” the shorter man said. “I’m closing my practice, and this case was the last major item for me to finish.”
“Closing your practice?” the other asked. “Why?”
The first man flashed a big grin. “Because I’m moving to Florida.”
“How I envy you,” the taller attorney said. “I’ve wanted to move to Florida for years. I’m tired of the noise and the traffic and the cold weather here.”
“Then why don’t you leave?”
“Oh, I can’t move now,” he lamented. “My practice is established. My family is rooted here. I have a home, a mortgage and a hundred other strings tying me to this city.”
The shorter man was silent a moment, then said, “That’s interesting. I, too, have an established practice here. I have a family, a home, all those things you do. But I’m moving anyway.”
Suddenly, the taller man’s face reddened, and his anger flared. “Then you’re just … throwing away everything,” he said, almost shouting. “And you’re a damned fool!” With this, he turned sharply on his heel and strode away, his footsteps making angry echoes down the empty marble hall.
As the shorter attorney shrugged and walked in the other direction, I thought about what had just taken place. These men seemed to be in almost identical situations. They were in the same profession, were close in age, had similar responsibilities and seemed to have the same desire. Both wanted to move to Florida, yet one was excitedly on his way, accomplishing his desire, while the other, in frustration and bitterness, was not. Exactly what was the difference between the two?
I figured that both lawyers surely knew what was involved in such a move: giving up an established business, uprooting a family, facing the possibility of higher living costs and fewer professional opportunities in the new location — plus who knows what other, unforeseeable difficulties. Both men knew what was involved, yet only one was actually making the move. I wondered why, and filed the question in the back of my mind, hoping I could answer it one day.
Some people want to move to Florida — or to the Caribbean — and they do it. Others of us think of the reasons we can’t. Or we just watch the years roll by and we let inertia dictate our course. I don’t like thinking of myself as being part of that passive group.
In the book from which this story comes, Hernacki said this is the ultimate secret to getting what you want: “In other to accomplish something, you must be willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish it.”
It sounds deceptively simple, but doesn’t he have a point? If you want to change your life, don’t you have to be committed to making the change? Don’t you have to be willing to ignore the obstacles that come up? Don’t you have to be willing to make what you really want your priority?
This is a lesson that I intellectually learned years ago. Sometimes, though, I still haven’t internalized it, at least about a lot of things. Instead, I have a tendency to quit when things don’t look promising. I have a tendency to get down and give up when someone says, “No, I won’t do what you want.” I have a strong tendency to be unwilling to do “whatever it takes” to accomplish the thing I want.
This applies to where I live. It applies to what I do for a living. It applies to the art I want to make. It applies to who I’d like to have in my life. It applies to all of the things that matter to me the most.
I’ve thought about this a lot in the last week. I don’t know where that thinking might lead me. I’m not sure where it could fit in with the other changes I’ve been making in my life lately.
But if I’m honest with myself, I know that I don’t want to be here for the next winter storm that hits Birmingham (or anywhere else). I’d rather be on a tropical island.
I have to decide whether I’m willing to do “whatever it takes to accomplish it.”