On Saturday evening, 300 men and women gathered in the landmark Grand Ballroom on the 17th floor of the Omni William Penn (built a century ago by Henry Clay Frick) to celebrate the 60th Anniversary of The Pittsburgh Experiment. The Pittsburgh Experiment was founded by the late Samuel Moor Shoemaker, an Episcopal Priest of renown who made an indelible impact on the world, not least of which when he guided Bill W. and Dr. Bob to sobriety and gave them the principles that they turned into the “12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.”
There’s a great deal that I’d like to say about Sam Shoemaker – and a book I’m working on titled For: A True Story has much about Sam in it – but today I’m thinking about his life-long call to action. Wherever Sam went, he admonished the men and women he served to “Get Changed, Get Together, Get Going!” This admonition is well known in the “recovery community,” but it isn’t guidance for a drunk or a workaholic only. These three little commands have profound leverage in them for all of us, and are worthy of daily consideration.
Are you in a rut? Coasting? Stuck? Underperforming? Disappointed? Indecisive? Off course? Off pace? Off your game?
Getting dull? Drifting? Underutilized? Overextended? Fried? Wasted? Burned? Bored? Sorry? Discouraged? Down?
Are you any one of these? More than one of these? Is the way you are, like one of these – your life isn’t what you know it should be – but you use other words to describe it?
If the answer to any of these questions is “Yes!” then Sam’s three little commands are for you, just as Sam’s three little commands are for me.
Without a doubt, the starting line for renewal is the admission that renewal is even needed. Saying, “I’m just great!” has never catalyzed anything new. But saying, “I need help!” produces fantastic leverage points that give us the lift we need.
“I’m not okay!” “My life is off track!” “I’m off course!” Say it however you like, but if your life isn’t what you know it should be, then say it! And, admission is way more than half the battle; honest, penitent, taken-to-heart admission is very nearly the whole battle.
Shoemaker understood this about our human condition. We must come to the end of ourselves – to the end of our posturing, lying, hiding, defending, excusing, and justifying. We must come to the end of that part of our pride that is angry about the fact that we need help. Coming to the end of ourselves is a state of true softening, humility, and yieldedness. Things must change, and the first and biggest change that must occur is our willingness to admit that we must “Get Changed.”
When Sam Shoemaker said, “Get Changed,” he was saying, “Hurry up and get to the end of yourself!” The “I Don’t Need Help!” that rides, proud and mighty, in the driver’s seat of your life must step down and allow another to climb behind the wheel. The “Nothing’s Wrong!” must stop its screaming and make space for the “Everything’s Wrong!” that has been desperately whispering from within. “I’ll Never Change!” needs to blush crimson red, grin the grin of the penitent, and finally admit that he doesn’t actually know where he’s going, let alone how to get there.
Beautifully, the first thing we realize, when we “Get Changed” is that we need others. Companionship becomes immediately necessary, and also wonderfully possible. When we’ve come down off the high horse of “I Know What I’m Doing!” we’re prepared to start teaming up, reaching out, linking arms, and taking hands.
It turns out that the things we can’t handle, others can. One of my dearest friends, Rick Wellock, likes to say this: “We are essential to one another.” Indeed, we are. And when we realize (know) this by “Getting Changed,” we can realize (achieve) this by “Getting Together.” What we lack, we still lack, but in the company of others there is no lack. Completeness comes to us, as well as direction and purpose and meaning and satisfaction. It comes to us. It doesn’t come from us.
Do you see what’s happening here? Can you understand what Sam understood? Are you catching the wisdom and natural progression of Sam Shoemaker’s masterful grasp of the rampant stuckness of the human condition, and of what causes our lives to shift from frozen to fruitful?
Once we’re with others, we can go someplace. We can do something. We can be someone. “Get Changed” opens up space. “Get Together” creates capacity. “Get Going” makes headway.
Sam knew one more thing about “Get Going.” We have to! That is to say, the only thing that locks in the “Get Changed” and the “Get Together” is the “Get Going.” Everything unravels if we do the first and second part, but then sit back. Action locks all the gears in place, secures all the gains, and completes the transformation.
In my work with leaders, I’m often struck by the interior and very personal work that needs to be done. Yes, we leaders have a lot to learn about our exterior leadership, but we have inside work that must be done. From childhood, we must work on these human things – how to ask for help, how to play well with others, how to commit ourselves to a pathway and then to see it through. I’m still learning these things that Sam taught, and I’ve been on this learning journey from my very earliest memory.
One of my great joys has been serving for some years as the chairman of the Board of Trustees of The Pittsburgh Experiment, a service I completed at the end of 2014. I continue to serve this great organization as chair of their Advisory Board, and I do it to help the organization, to be sure. However, my deep motivation for this service rises out of my hunger to be close to this life-changing tradition, close to this fantastic energy and to the person and legacy of Sam Shoemaker. Rev. Shoemaker has been dead for half a century, but he’s very much alive in the transformational effect he continues to have worldwide, and also in me.
In the final talk we have recorded of Sam, he rounds in on the end of his speech with a question, asked in his energetic and tightly clipped cadence. “So what have I spent my lifetime telling you to do?” he asked.
The audience responded, “Get Changed!”
“And?” Sam prodded.
“Get Together!” everybody happily replied.
“Get Going!” they nearly shouted.
“Now, go do it!” Sam concluded, his command as crisp as a general.
My city was transformed by the work of the men and women who listened to these big, little commands. Enterprises were turned around. Lives were saved. Marriages and families renewed and the children caught in time. Count me among the beneficiaries of Sam Shoemaker’s transformational instruction. Count yourself in, too! You know what to do.
Photo by Toni Kellar