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From the Sponsor’s Desk – Big Dreams, Bigger Excuses

“Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which one has overcome.”
– Booker T. Washington

American educator, author and advisor to presidents and a dominant leader in the African-American community.

Change is often a challenge to master. It is also ubiquitous. So, if our standard response to change is to ignore it, or to resist it, or to attempt to embrace all change, the results can be equally trying – feeling overwhelmed, feeling depressed, trying to check out (figuratively or literally) and other assorted and nasty consequences.

About 18% of the US population over age 18 are affected by an anxiety disorder. With the exception of PTSD, women are twice as likely to suffer from anxiety disorders as men. Add in those affected by alcohol and drug addiction and Facebook fixation and other social media dependencies and the total affected by anxiety, depression and addiction could well exceed one in four.

As project and change managers, we impose change on others and have it imposed on us. We’re the folks in the middle, so to speak. Undoubtedly, a similar number of our cohort is experiencing anxiety, depression and addiction. When the change load gets too great, how we respond can determine the fate of our project, our team members, our stakeholders and the state of our careers and personal lives.

In this story, we’ll see how one individual coped with changes to his world, feelings of anxiety and depression, low self-esteem and subsequent addiction. His trials and triumphs are a testament to the power of individual and collective determination to change the world for their betterment.

Thanks to Dan Wischnewski for the details on this story.

The Situation

I met Dan Wischnewski through LinkedIn. As the District Manager for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business in the Winnipeg area, I thought he might have some stories that I could pass on about major change and the lessons learned. Of course he has those stories. But I opted to go with this story instead. It is a universal theme world-wide, the struggle for personal meaning, safety, self-sufficiency, achievement and self-realization.

In school, Dan was a chronic underachiever. He suffered through his school years with an undiagnosed learning disability. He just tried to get by. His teachers let it be known that they considered him “stupid”. As a result, his classmates viewed him in a similar light. He developed a violent temper to defend himself against taunts in the school yard and beyond.

Throughout primary and high school Dan was the comedian, the class clown, which alienated his teachers further but brought some respect from his classmates. Fortunately he was a great talker, outwardly engaging and an excellent athlete, which helped his feelings of belonging. But behind the cool façade, his self-esteem was near zero. The problem became worse in Junior High. But he felt he couldn’t tell anyone about how he was feeling. He didn’t believe anyone cared. His approach was to grin and bear it.

Dan started participating in the party scene, drinking to excess. He used pot, dropped acid. In his early 20’s he started to use cocaine. He moved from job to job, province to province. Dan called it the geographical cure. He worked in restaurants, partied all night and had ready access to drugs. He was a functional addict

After years of abuse, partying, little sleep and bad diet, he started feeling ill. He realized that the people he knew and hung out with were also ill, or dying, or murdered. He found himself on the street and living in his car. The final indignity occurred when the car got towed, with him in it.

Over the years his parents had tried to help. His mother asked Dan to pin a note in his pants with their address and phone number on it. Just in case someone found his body. Finally, desperation won out. He got in touch. They sent him a plane ticket home. He went into a recovery program. But, he had one foot in recovery, one foot using. He was back-sliding.

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Dan was a single parent with a young son. Dan’s moment of truth came because of that relationship. Dan and his son were walking down their apartment hallway. Dan was in a hurry and so surged ahead, expecting his son to keep up. Instead, his son said “Daddy, don’t leave me”. That simple message shook Dan to the core. From that point he vowed never to let his drug use affect his son. He committed to doing whatever it took to get clean.

And so he started his search.

The Goal

Don’t celebrate sobriety. Shut the door.

The Project

Dan tried a number of recovery programs. Some of the components made sense and worked. Other elements didn’t. He decided to create his own roadmap to clean.

Dan spent 3 or 4 hours every day in his car on the job. He started listening to podcasts to fill the time and to provide insights into how he could move forward. Tony Robbins and Wayne Dyer were big influences. One of Dr. Dyer’s quotes aptly describes Dan’s search: “Be miserable. Or motivate yourself. Whatever has to be done, it’s always your choice.”

Dan started talking, and listening, to experts in addiction, anxiety and depression. He read everything he could get his hands on. He started making notes about what worked for him, what didn’t work and the things he needed to try. He started meditating. He started setting personal goals. He started journaling, notes to himself about what he was thinking and feeling, how he related to people he met, about hopes and fears.

The project, Dan’s search for his cure, lasted five years, with a myriad of twists and turns, with back-sliding, small victories and a multitude of hopes and fears along the way. But he succeeded!

The Results

Dan has been drug free, other than the occasional beer or glass of wine, for a while. He wouldn’t tell me how long. As Dan states, “When people ask me how many years I’ve been clean I really don’t have a number. What I say is, I’ve been clean long enough to change every part of who I am and become the person I was meant to be.” Not a bad answer!

He has written a book, Big Dreams Bigger Excuses, which sold out its original order. It’s now in reprint. He dedicates a share of sales to local charities.

He is a motivational speaker. He has spoken of his addiction struggles and on other topics at local MoMondays, an organization dedicated to sharing stories and life lessons. His speeches were recorded on Youtube. He has talked about his addiction struggles in online forums. He has volunteered with the local United Way. 

He is a personal coach, with a mission to guide people on the path to living the life they have always dreamed of.

Finally, he has set his sights on The Toastmasters International Accredited Speaker designation, a program designed for professional speakers who combine expert knowledge in a particular subject with mastery of the spoken word.

And, oh yes, he also has a challenging day job that he loves and a girlfriend and son who are his biggest backers. Along with his parents, of course. Not bad for someone who was considered challenged during his school years.

Dan’s motto – for everyone who wants to overcome challenges in their life, who wants to live a better life:

  • It’s never too late
  • There’s always hope
  • Everything is possible if you’re willing to do whatever it takes.

What Dan Learned

Dan’s journey provides a blueprint for anyone who is facing anxiety, depression and addiction challenges. In fact, it’s a pretty good framework for anyone who just wants to up their game and get more out of life. Here are the practices that worked for Dan.

  1. Count on friends, family and colleagues – Dan’s low self-esteem led him to believe no one cared about his problems. Fortunately, he discovered a different reality. If you’re struggling, let others know. You’ll be amazed at how quickly and whole heartedly people will try and provide the support you need or point you in a helpful direction.
  2. Do Research – Dan’s time alone in the car gave him the opportunity to hear what others had to say about the challenges he was facing. Those podcasts, along with his other inquiries and his parents support and direction provided the foundation for his climb back to health and self-respectability.
  3. Leverage daily rituals – Driven by the research, Dan established daily rituals for when he gets up in the morning and before he goes to bed at night. He follows them rigorously. He uses techniques like meditation, visualization, affirmation lists and journaling to reinforce his feelings of well-being.
  4. Keep a Journal – Dan uses daily journaling to elicit his successes and failures and shape his plans to keep him feeling confident and strong. He records his goals for the day, how he performed, how he feels, how he interacts with others, and any other thoughts and ideas to guide his future actions, beliefs and behaviours.
  5. Contribute – Dan benefited from the help of others. He wanted to give back. So he wrote a book and gave part of the proceeds to charity. He’s also a public speaker and personal coach.
  6. Set goals – Dan realized one of the major gaps in his life was an absence of goals. So he started setting targets for himself – small daily challenges, weekly targets, monthly and longer term goals and finally his life’s mission.
  7. Celebrate small victories – It’s vital to recognize any success, regardless of how small. In Dan’s case, those many small victories have resulted in a stunning personal transformation.
  8. Use failures are an opportunity to learn – It’s easy to get discouraged when something doesn’t work out the way you had hoped. Dan took his defeats, and there were many, and used them to spur his journey to happiness.
  9. Happiness is a choice – Perhaps this is Dan’s most significant discovery. Happiness is up to you. That realization drove every action Dan took to put his life back together.

These nine techniques helped Dan provide a framework for his healing and sustained well-being. They may work for you as well. If you’re suffering from addiction or depression or experiencing anxiety on your job or in your personal life, try Dan’s techniques. If you know someone who is going through these challenges, give them Dan’s list. Or do as Dan did – build your own. We wish you all health, happiness and well-being! From the number of Happiness Doctors, happiness courses and happiness professors around, it’s obvious that there’s a huge need for help to combat our often frenetic existence.

Finally, thanks to everyone who has willingly shared their experiences for presentation in this blog. Everyone benefits. First time contributors get a copy of one of my books. Readers get insights they can apply to their own unique circumstances. So, if you have a project experience, good, bad and everything in between, send me the details and we’ll chat. I’ll write it up and, when you’re happy with the results, Project Times will post it so others can learn from your insights. Thanks

Drew Davison

Drew Davison is the owner and principal consultant at Davison Consulting and a former system development executive. He is the developer of Project Pre-Check, an innovative framework for launching projects and guiding successful project delivery, the author of Project Pre-Check - The Stakeholder Practice for Successful Business and Technology Change and Project Pre-Check FastPath - The Project Manager’s Guide to Stakeholder Management. He works with organizations that are undergoing major business and technology change to implement the empowered stakeholder groups critical to project success. Drew can be reached at [email protected].

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