“It’s better to live a day as a tiger than live a thousand days as a sheep.”
Tom Ballard remembers his mother telling him these words, even though she only shared them with him as a child. Unfortunately, the memories of his life with his mother are limited to the first few years of his life. A formidable, courageous woman, Allison Hargreaves was a prestigious mountain climber. She pushed the limits in every climb and often led the pack when it came to female climbers. This didn’t last long though. One tragic day, in her thirties, Allison and six other climbers were swept off K2 by a blistering wind. It ended her life and set her son on a path to follow in her footsteps.
But then, at the start of 2019, after breaking records and covering new ground for climbers, Tom Ballard died in similar conditions to his mother. And although it might seem simply coincidental, Tom Ballard’s journey towards achieving success has far deeper roots than initially meets the eye. In fact, it’s all about unfinished business, and the relationship he had with his mother.
The Power of Unfinished Business in Our Lives
Many psychologists have witnessed the effect of “unfinished business” on many of their clients in adult life. If we interpret “unfinished business” as being an interruption to the process of developing a bond with a parent, it’s easy to understand why being unable to finish that process and form a successful bond can cause significant trauma in a person’s life. This trauma can be so significant, in fact, as to disrupt multiple areas of development, including the relationships people form later on in life.
In fact, many therapists have noticed that clients who lose parents early in life tend to seek and cultivate relationships that recreate the conditions for bonds that they had with their parents, siblings and other important figures in their lives. Sometimes these relationships are healthy. Sometimes they’re dysfunctional. But at the core of each of them, there’s this longing to recreate the conditions to come to terms with the past – to finish what was left incomplete.
But Tom Ballard’s case was a little different. Rather than attempting to transfer his longings for his mother to a relationship with a partner, he sought a connection with his mother by pursuing her passions. To connect with her, he learned to climb the mountains that she climbed and take on the challenges that she faced. We can guess the reasons why he did this, but at the end of the day, all we have to go on is the fact that he repeatedly chased these challenges, no matter how difficult or downright risky they might have been.
Alpinism, the climbing of mountains, is a sport for the fearless, the brave and the disciplined. Tom had all of these qualities, but perhaps he had something else as well: a void. And although a void sounds like something that is born only out of loss, every person in the world has a void in their life, to some degree. That void might be represented by a lack of meaningful relationships, a search for a romantic partner, or the pursuit of career success. It can be something different for everyone. But no matter what your void is, the important thing to remember is that if we’re ever going to live our lives as healthy, functioning members of society, we need to know where our voids lie and what we can do to conquer them.
The Void of Self-Esteem, Self-Worth, and Action
Perhaps Tom’s story is one of self-esteem, of self-worth.
It could be the story of, “When I complete x, I will be worthy of love.”
Does this sound familiar? Many of us spend great deals of our lives chasing after self-worth in all the wrong places. We pursue thrills that could kill us, please people that are harmful to us, and abuse our bodies to find something that is far deeper than we could ever reach through any of these actions. Unfinished business is the void that we’re longing to fill. It’s the place that aches within us. We’re all searching for happiness in some form, but our lives change the moment that we add awareness to the mix.
Filling Your Void
Step 1: Discover Your Void
The most important action step you can take– the one that determines the progress of all your future steps– is honesty. Because whatever your void is, if you’re going to conquer it, you first have to be honest with yourself. What is it that you’re after? What do you want more than anything else? Once you’re aware of your voids, you bring them into the healthy scrutiny of your awareness.
Step 2: Be Okay with your Desires
Now that you’ve been honest with yourself about what you want, it’s time to take a closer look at your desires. Doing this can sometimes be painful, especially if you’ve ever been made to feel weird or silly because of your goals. This can become problematic in a new way, first because it leads to invalidating your own dreams– which, in turn, invites you to be less honest with yourself, and secondly, because it creates a division between yourself and society. When you internalize the opinions of others and perceive yourself as ‘wrong’ or ‘weird,’ it’s unhealthy, and can often make you angry at the world. So, take a good, honest look at yourself and your goals, and focus on self-acceptance. Be kind to yourself and be supportive of your goals– provided that your goals are healthy, and will not bring harm to yourself or others.
Step 3: Weigh Up the Pros and Cons
Once we’ve acknowledged our desires, we need to be realistic about how we can achieve them. If they’re attainable at a very low expense – great! If the cost of chasing them will lead to pain, suffering and more significant loss than we deem necessary, then it’s time to decide how vital this unfinished business is in the long run.
Step 4: Exercise Self-Appreciation
This step is the most important of all. There will come times when we have no control over our unfinished business. The void will remain a void because the conditions to achieve them are beyond us. In these moments, we need to be especially loving of ourselves. We need to remind ourselves that we are enough, that we deserve love and to be loved. That includes loving ourselves.
We all have voids and we all have things that we’ve left unfinished. But the good news is that we have a choice: we can either let it stay unfinished, or we can make a conscious effort to rectifying that situation and writing a brand new chapter of our lives. And while these tips for filling your voids are super helpful and will absolutely work for you if you’ll let them, sometimes you might need a little bit more.
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