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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Oh, the things you learn

I go through these phases, like most humans do, where I think more deeply about how I feel about some things and what I've learned from life in general.  Heady stuff?  You bet.  But I know I am not alone in these intellectual parts.  My curse...or blessing, depending on one's that I am sometimes compelled to write about such things on this here corner of the Internet.  So, if you are fan of (what one blog post respondent once not-so-artfully described as "trite") deeper meaning, personal stuff, then this one is for you.  If you are not, well, I promise to post a Family Guy video next time.  Prom-night dumpster baby.  Fair?

Note that I write the above under the almost given assumption that folk (or folks) are actually reading this, thereby actually violating one of my core tenants, namely that I don't especially care if anyone is reading what I write in the first place.  You see, it can be so very complicated in my head at times.

Anyway, on to the "trite".

Over the past 18 or so months my life has changed in some pretty dramatic ways.  I'd like to think that I've changed in some pretty dramatic ways as well, although some of these changes are more "inside looking in" than outward facing.  Probably the biggest change, in totality?  The fact that I was capable of changing, period.  Now I am a smart enough guy to intellectually understand that we are all...assuming a reasonable amount of emotional sanity...capable of changing our lives for the better.  But one of my key learnings has been, and continues to be, that there is a tremendous gulf between intellectual understanding and practical application.  Looking back about 18 months ago, I could have repeated many of these same things to anyone that would listen, but my actions and re-actions were not of someone who could actually apply this stuff to his life.

What changed?  On one hand I forced myself to make some very difficult life decisions.  On the other, circumstances forced me to make some equally difficult life decisions.  In totality, it was as if my very being had been saving up change for decades, and then, like some liquid under pressure, it all came out with a force greater than I thought I was capable of handling.  It's ironic:  we think to ourselves "I am going to do THIS" but what ends up happening is that "I did THAT".  The analogy of a liquid under pressure is a good one here, as I was fairly sure for a small period of time that my vessel would end up breaking under the pressure.  Fortunately it didn't.  One of the things I've learned is that we are all remarkably durable vessels.

Now if all of this sounds remarkably cryptic, then well, you are paying attention.  It is cryptic, to an extent, and that's the way I want it.  This was my insanity, and I have no desire to bring anyone else down into my level. Besides, the folks that would end up getting mentions during this period don't deserve to be caught up by name in all this mess anyway.  They had to live through this once, and that's more than enough thank you very much.  There were heroes in all of this though, and while it would be more than fitting to tell every story of kindness and concern that I experienced during this period, I simply couldn't do it all justice.  I will mention just one example that happened early in November of 2010:  a certain executive at work noticed that I had lost a ton of weight and apparently looked remarkably peaked; now this individual isn't someone I would consider a friend, and no where in the Executive Manual does it say "give a crap about your former staff members", but she took the time to stop me one day and say "Steve, you don't look good.  Take care of yourself...a lot of people count on you" (or something very close to that).  She didn't need to do that, but she did anyway, and I will remember that small act of concern forever.  This also points to another thing I have learned:  one small act of kindness can be remarkably powerful.

I also experienced great anger during this period.  The details simply don't matter here, but what does is that anger isn't an emotion that I am equipped to process very well.  It blows apart my emotional circuitry if you will, as I am simply not an angry guy by definition.  I also felt tremendous guilt for feeling angry.  Note that I am neither going to apologize nor attempt to rationalize how I felt back then, but I do accept it for being genuine.  It's tough when you fancy yourself something of an emotional super-being, un-phased by tremendous pressures around you, and then all of a sudden your self-facade ends up getting torn down.   Another lesson learned: I am all too human.

By the way, the anger is done.  It simply didn't go away like a headache does after some Advil is taken, but rather I think I was finally able to process it in a way that made sense, and instead of just disappearing, I came to see and regard it as being a part of me (see above; I actually am human after all).  Yes, the most important element of that "processing" was the allowance I gave myself to actually be angry in the first place.  It has also been important to separate out the parts of that anger that were really directed towards myself.  Sounds simple, huh?  Well not so for me. As noted I will never be an angry man, and while I can't predict the future, I can walk away from my experiences over the past 18 months knowing that I am now better equipped to deal with something like anger far better than I was 19 months ago.  Winning.

It's probably not a coincidence that I've chosen to write this posting about this topic now.  Today's date isn't all that significant to me.  I have been thinking about this kind of stuff now for quite a while, and maybe there is just enough critical mental mass now such that I can take a stab at articulating it in some manner. If you call this articulating.

Some other things I've learned over the past 18 months...

Chances - I've learned to take chances.  Period.  These would be, for the record, non-analyzed chances.  No calculus here.  Just taking a chance.  For some this comes easy; for me it never did and it still doesn't.  But now I have help in the form of a great partner and I am getting better at it.

Get Help - Speaking of help, there is nothing more pathetic than someone foundering but yet unable to reach out a hand for assistance.  I was fortunate in that in the midst of the worst of what I felt, I had the ability to get help.  Part of that was my leading myself, part of that was at the suggestions of others, but regardless, there is no wallowing in the false pride of isolation.

Myself - I've learned, to a far greater extent, to really and truly believe in myself.  I've learned that how I saw myself in the past was far different than how other saw me and that maybe...just opinions and self-observations were ever so biased towards the negative.  This is remarkable stuff, in that just about anyone who sees me (or reads a bio of me for that matter) would probably think that I basically have my "stuff" together.  The problem was that I didn't believe that at all...I do now, at least to a far better extent.

The Grass Isn't Greener - As I have noted in other postings, the grass is not greener "over there" and everyone has a story.  That perfect person or couple you see?  They have their own share of dysfunction and "story", just like you do.  It's very powerful when you finally realize that the world doesn't consist of just three types of people:
  1. The near perfect...
  2. the disastrously dysfunctional...
  3. and you.
We are all caught up in our own both unique yet oh so common dysfunction, and while there is no crime in acknowledging the truth, it is criminal to assault your own psyche under the false pretense that somehow you are uniquely broken.  We are all equally broken.

The Future Is Written...In Sand - I don't believe that any of us are predestined for anything, at least not predestined by anything or anyone other than ourselves.  Put another way, we really do control far more of our lives than we care to sometimes admit.  I suspect the feeling of predestination is something of a mental smoke-screen to avoid the difficult choices in life.  It was for me.

Attitude Matters, Most - I learned what was best said by W.C. Fields, who noted:

“Attitude is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than what people do or say. It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill.”

He was right.  How you show up to life is a major part of how you live life.

Post Script
I'm looking at the above and realizing that this has gotten very big, so perhaps it's time to stop now.  I've done what I've set out to do, which was to talk about a "then" of about 18 months ago and contrast it to a "now" of April 2012.  Maybe in October of 2013 I will revisit the topic, but for now I'm reasonably satisfied that I've said and made my peace.  I am, as the song says, alright.

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