I got my first tattoo when I was twenty years old. I waited until I was newly married and along with my wife, we did what most couples in the early parts of the new millennium were doing and got matching Chinese symbol ankle tattoos. My tattoo stands for God is Truth, it is the Chinese symbol for the word truth inside a Jesus fish. Very minimal, small, but the beginning of my ink addiction. Since then, I added a small cross to the inside of my right forearm, and outside of their personal meanings of faith for me, they were simple in design and again left me craving more. Of course, as a massage therapist in a service-based industry where, let’s be honest, first impressions are significant to maintaining a clientele, especially as a male in a female dominated industry,the thought of a tattooed arm may be a slight deterrent to some. However, being in business for fourteen years, over ten as the owner of the clinic, I felt it was acceptable to pursue further skin art. The issue was always what imagery I wanted to adorn my overly thick and rather solid forearm with (I’m a massage therapist don’t forget, so unfortunately my forearms are about twice the size they should be, which isn’t always a good thing for circulation to my hands). The plan was always to have a sleeve tattoo. To be honest, part of the desire may have been my passive and sensitive nature and wanting to subconsciously feel a little more edgy and tough, for lack of a better word.
When my life began to fall apart and business was suffering, my marriage was beginning to slip through my hands,I soon began to rely more on my faith to simply survive each day. Just the simple action of getting out of bed was incredibly difficult, yet there were so many people who needed me to be present. My kids, my clients, my coworkers, my team. Most days I survived on medication and caffeine, simply trying to get through each day only to lay awake each night dreading “What is Next”. The idea of my tattoo came through the words of a song by MuteMath, my favorite band,presently on heavy Spotify rotation. Their song Remain off the Vitals album, struck a huge chord the first time I heard it. As I struggled with deep depression and anxiety,among thoughts of suicide and self harm, the words were a mantra that literally helped me off a bridge in the early parts of the summer in 2017:
Just keep trying; Just keep fighting; Just keep going; Just keep surviving
Just keep walking; Just keep breathing;Just keep holding; Just keep believingMuteMath – Remain (Vitals 2015)
These words resonated so strong with my situation that I made sure to have them inked permanently on my arm. Luckily and much to my amazement, thanks to the social media gods, I was actually able to have the lead singer and incredibly talented and generous Paul Meany pen the words to paper and send it to me via Instagram. So not only do I have the lyrics on my arm, but they are actually in the penmanship of the writer.
Taking account of my life and where I was at the present, It was the beginning of my new focus on the What is Next. I decided on a few key elements that I wanted to display on my skin. A dove to represent my faith, a compass to show that I don’t know where my life is going to go, a pen and a blank page to represent my unfinished story, a clock with no hands because I don’t know the timing of things to come, and a tree with the birth dates of my five children to represent the strong roots and that they are always and will always be a huge part of my life.
The beautiful thing about a good tattoo artist is their ability to take a mixed bag of components and within a few days, have the perfect design, placement and vision for exactly what the piece will be. Luckily the artist I had put ink to skin is a good friend of mine from public school days some twenty-five years ago. I don’t think Ian knew just how his design would absolutely perfect. The attention to detail, the small nuances that only a keen eye can see literally brough tears to my eyes.
My tattoo sessions became like therapy. It is a constant and visible reminder of the journey I am on, and how important my faith and children are in this journey. I think the discomfort of a tattoo is also a little therapeutic to be honest. A way of numbing the internal pain with an external stimulus. Its also great to catch up with an old friend!
So what does this have to do with the concept of What is Next and how it applies to life and business? For me, I needed the visible reminder, I needed to have something that I can look at each day and know my story isn’t finished yet, my choices and my mistakes can be redeemed. It is not the same for everyone, I’m not suggesting everyone go get a tattoo on your forearm, so you can have a reminder of life’s journey. If that is what you want to do, I can suggest a great guy to go see!! This was my therapy, my reminder, my coping,and it has worked. Everyday I can look at my arm and know this is a permanent reminder of the hope I have and a faith I carry that life will work out, it’s not over, and in time I can begin to ask What is Next and focus with intent on the next steps to begin my own healing process and recoup the sense of self lost in the past.
My suggestion to start the process of thinking positively What is Next, is to find a reminder; something you can see, touch, feel, read, everyday that will act as a constant reminder that choices and consequences can be redeemed. We are not a simple product of our past and life will continue to move forward and so must we. As beaten and broken we may become and how close to the literal edge we might find ourselves, there is always hope in the journey. Our story isn’t finished yet. So let’s journey together and focus on What is Next, looking at the past for guidance and encouragement.