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And the Back Alley Man said, “Whatcha Gonna Do?”

An elderly couple lived across the back alley from us as our children were growing up. The man continues to be referred to by our adult children as the Back Alley Man. John (his real name) received this nickname from our youngest daughter who was perhaps 4-5 at the time.


We were getting our holiday trailer loaded and ready to head out for the weekend. My wife, Brenda, was busy looking after all that was needed to be done on the inside of the trailer. My job was to get everything ready on the outside.


Having not seen me for quite a while, she asked our youngest daughter to go find me. When she came back, she said, “He’s out by the back fence visiting with the Back Alley Man.” And . . . .the nickname was born!


John and I visited often over our back fences, in the alley, or in one of our yards. He was a retired farmer who enjoyed our conversations as much as I did. Occasionally we would be talking about some sort of newsworthy issue that had caught our interest. When we had finally talked the issue out, John would eventually end the discussion with, “Well, Dana . . . whatcha gonna do?”


Looking back, it seemed like he would come to a point where he realized he had talked the issue out, that it was out of his control, and he decided to let the issue go.


There is one key point hidden here. We can’t control all the things that are in our environment. Not that we don’t quite often try to do just that, myself included! Trying to control things that are beyond our ability to control them is a high-stress trigger. Realizing that there are some things we just can’t control begins with becoming aware of just that. Only then can we start the process of letting go.


Think of Lena Jordan, the first person to complete the deadly triple somersault in 1897. She could not have completed this without first letting go of the bar she was on – hundreds of times in practice.


Think of Ricky Henderson stealing a record 1460 bases – none of them would have happened if he hadn’t first left the base he was on.


We all have old habits, ways of thinking, and patterns of behaving that are no longer serving us effectively. They are holding us back from moving forward on our desired path. Learning to let go of them is always the starting point – always!


Your Challenge


  1. Take some time to make a list of some of the changes you would like to make in your life. Maybe keep a running list somewhere easy to find.

  2. Let the list grow for a few days.

  3. Then, for each change you would like to make, ask yourself, “What is holding me back from making that change? What do I have to let go of?” You will always find at least one reason.

  4. Once identified, let go.


Is it easy to let go? Not always. Can it become a new habit? Absolutely – with practice.


You can ‘keep on keeping on’ with some of those ineffective habits, or you can let go and build the ones you would like to have.


“Well . . . ‘watcha gonna do?” Because only you can do it!

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