The Little Benefits of Trying

I’m proud of my brother Mark.

When I was a little boy, I adored him. He was a great older brother. He was about ten years older than me, yet he was willing to come home from a day of high school and play with me in the sandbox. I have a very vivid memory of being really sick on the school bus when I was in kindergarten or first grade or so. I threw up in a trash can and, in the process, broke my glasses. Mark, who was sitting in the back of the bus with his friends, could have done nothing, but he strode up to the front of the bus, picked me up, gave me a hug, and carried me back to the back of the bus with him and kept me on his lap until we got home.

Mark left home for several years when I got older, living in another part of the country, and when he moved back to our area, it felt much like a different person came back instead of Mark. I didn’t know how to relate to this “new” Mark at all and for years it really bothered me. Of course, now I realize that part of it was me growing older, not just him, but at the time, all I felt was a huge gulf where I didn’t feel one before.

Since then, Mark has made a lot of mistakes in his life. Some were completely of his own choosing, some were forced on him by a very unlucky hand dealt to him by life. He missed out on a great career opportunity and a woman who really loved him and eventually he found himself without a job, unable to support his two children, and trying to cut himself off from his family and everyone that cared about him.

At some point, he hit bottom. I don’t know what exactly transpired in his life or in his heart at that point, but over the last two years, he has picked himself up, dusted himself off, and started trying to make things right. He has built a good relationship with his daughters – and they seem better off than I’ve ever seen them. He’s upgraded his living quarters substantially and has made a beautiful home for his family. In his career, he’s gone from getting his job back on the strictest of probation to being one of the most trusted people in his workplace. He’s also started making better choices with his own health – I can simply see more life in him than I’ve seen in (literally) decades. He’s also done quite a lot to rebuild his relationship with his father, which is something very, very important to both of them.

Mark will most likely never read this blog post. He also likely has very little idea of how I feel about him – in truth, his life is such that it probably never crosses his mind. That doesn’t change the fact that my opinion of him has greatly changed over the last year or two. Not because he’s succeeded at everything he’s tried, but because he’s actually trying – and he’s sincere about it.

What has that changed? Here’s a great example: just last weekend, I was visiting my parents and Mark stopped by with his daughters. At one point, Mark was outside alone with Joe and his daughters and another nephew. Two years ago, this would have alarmed me – I would have immediately went outside to keep an eye on my son. Now? I didn’t worry about it at all.

If Mark had asked for help two years ago, I would have been very hesitant to help him. To put it simply, I didn’t believe he was trying to better himself. If he had asked me to borrow $50, I would have simply refused because, quite frankly, I didn’t believe that the money would actually have helped him or his daughters.

Today, if Mark asked me to borrow $50, I would hand him that fifty dollar bill and tell him to pay me back only after everything else is paid off – in other words, a gift.

What’s the difference? I can see that he is trying, and when someone is making a sincere effort, I’m much, much more willing to help – in fact, I often desire to help. I know that I’m not alone in this difference, either.

Two years ago, I would have hesitated to be a character reference for Mark. Now? I’d make the phone call myself to vouch for the person he’s becoming.

So what can be taken away from this story?

Trying and flailing is better than not trying at all. Mark isn’t perfect. He makes little parenting mistakes sometimes, for example. The difference is that he’s there and he’s engaged with his kids, and that’s 90% of the work. He’s trying. He loves his children and it shows when he interacts with them, even if the interaction isn’t perfect – and those kids respond to that love.

People around you recognize your positive efforts. I see Mark perhaps once every two months, yet I’ve seen these changes. They’re as clear to me as night and day. Now, when I talk about Mark with my family and friends, my remarks and feelings are positive, whereas earlier I wouldn’t have said much at all. His positive effort isn’t just changing his own life, it’s changing how other people see him, even though he’s not perfect.

Similarly, people around you are more willing to help if you show a willingness to help yourself. As I said above, I’d be quite willing now to help my brother, whereas two years ago, I would have avoided the opportunity like the plague. This isn’t just true for me – many other people in Mark’s life feel the same. He’s suddenly welcome in places where he wouldn’t have been welcome a few years ago. People say positive things about him instead of negative things. If he needed a helping hand right now, there would be an abundance of hands there instead of just a few.

Furthermore, people who see you trying will often do things you don’t ever see to help you out. You get invitations that you wouldn’t have received before. People speak positively of you as a reference when you’re applying for a job or asking around for help. Some people might even put some of the things you need into your hands without even asking.

These ideas don’t just apply to some specific situation. They’re true for anyone who is trying to produce any positive change in their life. Your effort is seen by others – and in subtle ways, that effort is reflected in how people treat you. You get more support from the people around you and, often, people will do all sorts of subtle things to help you out.

The key thing is to try – and not be ashamed of your efforts. Perhaps today is the day to start trying yourself – and make a real start at something you want in your life.

Good luck.

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