Year 2020, Skill #25: Get In (Good)Trouble

“The Right Kind of Trouble”
By Pete Liggett, Ph.D.

Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble. ~Representative John Lewis (1940-2020)

John Lewis’ death last month had me thinking about the good, necessary trouble we should all be pursuing. He certainly lived an honorable life in his pursuit of good, necessary trouble. And that life led to his arrest on no fewer than 40 occasions. He was a giant behind real change, real growth, and real self-challenge. Lewis was the champion in the passage of a 2003 bill establishing the National Museum of African American History and Culture. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011 for his lifelong work as a civil rights leader. He also had with 50 honorary degrees and numerous other honors.

Seems John Lewis spent his life getting into the right kind of trouble.

What’s This Got To Do With Me?

Clearly, we are not all destined to live lives as monumental and impactful as that of John Lewis. But we are all offered the opportunity to accept the charge to make the differences we can and to challenge ourselves to step out of our comfortable lives to take risks and put forth an effort to make differences on many levels.

Searching For Meaning

A client who I worked with in therapy talked about the people in her life who she felt were pulling her away from the life she wanted to lead. She is very successful and indicated the people in her life are good people who she enjoys and cares about; but, they seem to value things and experiences that are pleasurable but that do not feed her soul. She wants to be an individual who accepts the charge and challenge to serve and help others—this is, it turns out, where she is most comfortable. While she enjoys her pleasurable life, she wants more of the good life and the meaningful life. She wants a full life. This full life might get her into good, necessary trouble because she wants to make a difference.

Another client talked about the experience he has had of losing track of time and being fully engaged in activities where he has helped others—the Historic Flood of 2015 was a good example. This is an example of what Martin Seligman calls the good life. But he knows that doing those things episodically does not necessarily get him to the meaningful life. (A video review of Seligman’s Three Levels of Happiness is available here).

It’s A Family Affair

My dad will be turning 80 at the end of this month. And, as some of my work friends know, he has been fighting cancer for three years now. He is in a clinical trial and is doing really well at the present time. But he is immunocompromised, so I have forgone traveling to the San Francisco Bay Area to see him during the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, my sister, Michelle, has decided to drive from Portland, Oregon to my parent’s home in the Bay Area—a 10-hour drive each way. She has planned to isolate herself for 14 days prior to the trip and will drive the 1,260-mile round trip to avoid being on an airplane with 100-plus other people. I was really happy to hear she would be doing this when we had the conversation a few weeks back.

A Meaningful Decision

This led to me chatting with my wife, Alisa, about my sister’s plan and resulted in me asking this question: “What’s stopping me from driving to California to celebrate my dad’s 80th birthday?” Well, 2,818 miles and 42 hours of driving, I suppose. But I have the time and am not challenged with having children still living at home. Nor am I currently doing the difficult work of being a family caregiver. I know many others would not have the time or means to tackle a trip like this. During other periods of my life, I would not either. But this is a journey we only get to make once—life that is. And, so, I  decided to drive to California to be with my dad, my mum, and my sister on his birthday.

Of course I realize deciding to drive to California to be with my dad on his 80th birthday in no way reflects the kind of risk that John Lewis envisioned when he spoke of good trouble, necessary trouble. But I do believe he thought that anything worth believing in and putting effort toward required action. And, while we continue to wait for the danger of COVID-19 to diminish, and we continue to be cautious, we have to also continue to live our lives in ways that bring us meaning.

Exactly Where Are You Suppose To Be?

John Lewis’ death and my client’s need for a meaningful life have me wondering what we can all do to challenge ourselves to live meaningful lives. To do big things and be able to look back without regret.

I shared my plan with my dear friend and neighbor, Dane, yesterday morning on my way out to exercise—he was walking his dog, Lucky. He said to me, “Once you arrive in California, you will know you are exactly where you’re supposed to be.”

How is it you want to make a difference in the world and the lives of others? How do you want to live the good, meaningful, and full life?

If you’d like to get to know John Lewis a little more, his “Note to Self” on the CBS This Morning show is available here and a feature of him from the Smithsonian Magazine is available here.

As For Me

I set off early on a Sunday morning and saw  things across our country I haven’t seen before. I will also spend my time reflecting on how I can be more intentional about living a good life, a meaningful life, a full life. And I will give significant thought to how I can challenge myself to get into good trouble, necessary trouble.

That’s what’s on my mind this week along with my feelings of gratitude to a great American and patriot—Rep. John Lewis.


In addition to being a fabulous psychologist, Dr Pete Liggett is a remarkable human being. We are honored to call him friend and colleague. Pete is the Chief Experience Officer for SCDHHS. He also has a small private practice of psychotherapy. He and his wife, Alisa, live in Columbia, SC. His twin 24 year-old son and daughter both graduated from Clemson and are making their way in the adult world. 


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2 thoughts on “Year 2020, Skill #25: Get In (Good)Trouble”

  1. This was a wonderful bit of advice as I start my life as a married woman — to make my sure I am making choices that feed my soul and strengthen my marriage. I love the part of enjoying a pleasurable life but wanting a meaningful life more. That really hit me. Thank you for sharing this post!

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