The memoir A Mind Unraveled, by Kurt Eichenwald, is astonishing in so many ways.
Anyone can run up against health problems and other major life difficulties, but Eichenwald’s story is uniquely interesting and instructive because of his attitude toward his struggles, as well as his phenomenal ability to analyze situations and make wise and brave decisions in even the worst of them.
His struggles were great. For years, doctors were unable to help him control his epileptic seizures. He could have one anywhere. When he had a seizure, people would often react with fear, ignorance about how to help, or hostility. Some of his college peers did not want to be his friend. Some of his college administrators did not want him to stay enrolled at the university. Some of his employers did not want him to remain working for them. One of his doctors told him that he should avoid stress by giving up on his education and career goals.
Fortunately, Eichenwald had an epiphany one day, while lying in a hospital bed:
“If I faced people who feared me or denied me work, I could control whether I gave up or tried to change their minds. I couldn’t force someone to hire me, but I could work hard, assembling a strong enough résumé to prove that I was a candidate worth considering. I couldn’t make someone love me, but I could be a person worthy of love. . . . I possessed more control than I had believed. Healthy people didn’t always understand the scope of how much could be overcome. I certainly never had before I got sick. As for what I didn’t control—the seizures, how others reacted to me—to hell with it. I could control how I reacted to the uncontrollable.”
Within this section, Eichenwald compares life to someone in an elevator. He notes that you can control whether you push a button, but you can’t control when, or whether, you will arrive. I like this metaphor a lot. I would like to offer another one, though, because life is so much more continuous and complicated than an elevator with its choice of maybe a dozen (or several dozen) buttons.
Life is being the dude or dudette sitting behind the audio mixer (a.k.a. mixing console) at a wild and large musical event. Your job is to control what the audio sounds like when it’s projected from the speakers.
There’s a lot you can control. The vast number of different buttons and levers before you would definitely baffle someone with less experience and intelligence than you. In fact, they baffle and overwhelm you at times. But if you concentrate on your task, you can create a good mix of musical sound.
There’s a lot you can’t control, though. If one of the musicians is playing off key, you can fiddle with the controls for that input, but you can’t change the fact that the musician is playing off key. If someone at that wild, live event knocks over a speaker and breaks it, you can’t control when or whether it will be replaced or fixed; you’ll simply have to proceed in broadcasting from just the working speakers.
I have read and experienced many times the truth, which Eichenwald also states, about the value of enduring hard times. When things are running smoothly, it’s tempting to sit back and enjoy the show, even if it’s not that great. But when things are going haywire? What, half of the musicians are drunk, and half of the speakers are malfunctioning? Then you’re faced with a choice. You can give up; or you can make some serious efforts to refine those controls to try to achieve the best outcome you can.
And, do you know what? Often times, the dude or dudette who’s putting the most, and most prolonged, effort into fiddling with the controls is the one who achieves the most awesome sound, regardless of the number and intensity of obstacles.
Is your life going smoothly? Or is something slightly off key? Or is everything totally haywire? No matter how easy or difficult your life is, you have the power to control many (though certainly not all) things. Are you fiddling with the buttons and levers of your audio mixer to try to maximize the quality of your sound?