Fear And Magic In Plainview, Texas

My running career has taught me the importance of training, mental attitude and the value of positive role models. I often uncover mentors who inspire me in the authors behind the books on my shelves. One such individual is http://www.thomrutledge.com/. Thom has 20 years of professional experience guiding his readers from self-judgment and perfectionism toward genuine self-compassion. Thom’s trademark sense of humor, a down-to-earth practicality, and his own compassion are the common threads that run throughout his unique brand of self-help psychology. I recently asked him (TR) how he feels about the communities in which he chooses to participate and the gift of connecting with others.

AM: What kinds of qualities attract you to someone when you meet them for the first time?

TR: What attracts me is sort of intangible, something very subjective — it is a sense of comfortableness I experience when I meet them. Of course, this is a gut reaction, and is, by definition, imperfect, but I think I have a pretty good track record when it comes to recognizing good people when I meet them.

When I meet someone in a work situation, I appreciate someone who is confident, but not arrogant — someone who can talk about himself, without making the entire conversation about him.

AM: What person (or group of persons) has had the greatest impact on the shaping your career? Why?

TR: There are people who have contributed to who I am professionally quite directly. Chief among those is Jacqueline Damggard, an amazing therapist in Atlanta, Georgia. What I learned from 2 years of training with Jacquie transformed both how I perceive myself and my clients and many of the specifics of how I work with people. In a less direct way, I consider Red McCarthy of my hometown of Plainview, Texas, to be a major influence. I haven’t seen Red since the early 1970’s, but he was an amazing magician, several years older than I, who took the time to teach this kid magic. But not just magic —- Red taught me about performing, about what he always called “showmanship.” It has been many, many years since I worked as a magician now, but there is not a time when I stand up in front of an audience to give a lecture or facilitate a workshop that I don’t make good use of what Red taught me.

Here is something that Jacquie and Red have in common: generosity. They were both very clearly happy to take the time, and demonstrate the patience, to share what they know. I do my best to remember their examples when I am feeling rushed or impatient.

AM: How has a “buddy system” helped you to stay the course when you might otherwise have felt like quitting?

TR: First up in response to this one is my marriage. Dede and I have been together for almost a quarter of a century now, and we have both learned more than we could ever convey about the meaning of true partnership. We refer to each other as lab partners — you know, in this great experiment called human life. Like any innovative and curious lab partners, we have created our share of explosions, but what we are discovering makes it all worthwhile.

As a recovering alcoholic, and someone treated for depression, I could go on and on about the importance of the buddy system. One thing I absolutely believe — from both my personal and professional experience — is that when it comes to all things psychological, only isolation can kill us. No depth of depression or extreme temptation from my addiction can destroy me, as long as I remain true to my commitments to remain connected to my support system, no matter what.

One of my broken-record points in my therapy and in what I teach is that none of us can do this thing called being human alone. We need each other. And I will continue to shout from the rooftops (until I slip and fall from the roof, so to speak) that reaching out to one another is an act of strength, not weakness.

AM: Which communities do you enjoy getting involved with? Why?

TR: I already mentioned that I am a recovering alcoholic. That comes with one of the most amazing communities on the planet. Wherever I am — wherever anyone is — on this planet, it is very likely that I can find an AA meeting to attend if I need to connect to my fellow human beings. I have been to meetings in other countries, where I didn’t even understand the language — but I was right at home.

One of my favorite things to do is to volunteer with our local Gilda’ Club (support for cancer survivors and their families). There are more wonderful things to say about the http://www.gildasclub.org/ than we have time or space for here. The people there, both the ones who work there, and those there for support, are incredible role models for me. I can walk into Gilda’s anytime, and know that I will be reminded of what is most important in life. That kind of experience is only possible through community. Connection is what it is all about.

AM: What advice would you give to someone who is feeling isolated?

TR: I want people who are feeling isolated to know that I understand the feeling —- that I have a long history of feeling that way, and of self-sabotaging myself by isolating, keeping myself cut off from others. What I say to someone feeling this way is that it is essential that they not wait until they feel like connecting with other people to reach out. This is a time to take action, even if it feels like you are working against your own will. Reaching out at times like that can be the scariest thing you have ever done, but it must be done. We need each other — it is the human condition!

Thom Rutledge is a psychotherapist, speaker and author in Nashville, Tennessee. He has written several books, including Embracing Fear: How to Turn What Scares Us into Our Greatest Gift and Simple Truth: Ideas & Experiences for Humans from Less-Than-Perfect Families. In addition to his Nashville-based practice, he speaks internationally about how we relate to fear and about his own innovative Intra-personal Psychotherapy. For more information about Thom and his work, visit www.nutshellwisdom.com or email thomrutledge@earthlink.net.