So, here’s the deal… This post is kinda all about why I do what I do here. It’s a lot of biographical information that may or may not interest you. It’s very personal, and it’s a little unnerving for me to put myself out here like this. However, I think it’s important that, if you’re reading what I write, you know a little about my background. On with the show…
This question has haunted me for most of my adult life: what if, when all is said and done, I’m completely ordinary? I’ve never believed that about anyone, but it’s my greatest fear. I want to be great at something in life. I want to leave a mark. I know my wife and son love me, but I want them to be proud of me. Do you know what I’m saying? Do you want it too? Deep down inside you, under the layers of stuff that you’ve piled on top of your ambition throughout the years, can you admit that you want to be a rock star at something? Is that dream in you? If it’s not, that’s okay. Things like what I’m describing are intensely personal, and I wouldn’t dare tell anyone how to feel. However, if you don’t feel this way, then I’m probably not talking to you in this post. You can safely move on.
I’ve never really known what I wanted out of my life. As much as it pains me to say it, I think I’ve always sought other people’s approval. I’ve always done exceptionally well in school; overachieved without really having to put forth a whole lot of effort. Never got into any trouble to speak of; never smoked a joint, had my first drink after I turned 21, nothing more than a speeding ticket. I toed the line because I think it’s easier to go along. I don’t mind confrontation, really, but I never saw the point in it for its own sake. A lot of folks rebelled, but not me. Looking back on it now, I kinda wish I had. Not because I feel like I missed out on something, but because I think it would have helped me develop a better sense of self. Up until recently in my life, I’ve never understood that my self-esteem shouldn’t be tied to what others think of me (or what I think others think of me, in many cases). Growing up, I had a ton of self-esteem, because everyone was proud of me all the time. I was doing great in school, didn’t have the wrong kind of friends, knew exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up (so I thought), and seemed to be on a fast-track to success.
When I was 21, I dropped out of college due to some financial issues, and took a job on the night shift at a electronics production plant close to where I was living at the time. This was an extremely lonely time for me. I lived a good day’s drive away from my family and all my friends were still in college. My friends and I didn’t really hang around together much anymore, because I was working nights and sleeping during the day. I spent a lot of time alone. I had a lot of student loan debt, a lot of credit card debt, and a job that paid me pretty close to $10 an hour. Not a recipe for success. I distinctly remember one afternoon when I picked up my paycheck for the two-week pay period I’d just completed. It was $660, after taxes. My bank account had less than $20 in it at that time, and I had written $800 worth of checks in the past couple of days. I remember realizing that my paycheck wasn’t even going to get me back to zero. I was renting an efficiency apartment attached to the back of someone’s house in a not-very-nice part of town, with a lot of ramen, no television, and a mattress. It was not a good time in my life. I cried a lot and generally felt sorry for myself.
I started reading a lot of self-help and inspirational books. I remember hearing someone say that, “where you are in five years is entirely dependent on the books you read and the people you associate with”. I had to believe in something, and that seemed as good a statement as any. I took it to heart and read all the positive motivational material I could put my hands on. I read How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, The Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz, Developing the Leader Within You by John Maxwell, and a million others besides. I made myself a student of leadership and personal development. I found some good people to spend time with; people who cared about me and wanted me to succeed in life. I began to get noticed at work, and I began to get raises. I got off the night shift, into a supervisory position, and then off the production floor entirely. In less than two years from the time I started on the production floor at age 21, with no college degree, I was making $45,000 a year as a financial analyst. That was pretty good money for a high-school grad living in Idaho, let me tell you. I was pretty happy with how things had gone.
Then, on September 11, 2001, I came in early to work and was getting going on a project I had. I flipped over to a news website to see what the weather was going to be like that day (I think it was USA Today) and saw that the first World Trade Center tower had been hit. Of course, no one got much of anything done the next couple of days. No one except for me, that is. I went and enlisted in the Army. I was a patriot, and I was mad about what had happened. I figured that I was one of the smartest people I knew, so I could help out as much as possible by joining the military and doing something important. Within a month and a half, I was on my way to basic training.
The next five years of my life are still kind of a blur. I started off strong in the Army, just like I did everywhere else. Eventually, though, things started to get to me. I wasn’t continuing the personal growth I’d worked so hard for previously. I was hanging around with a lot of people who, while nice folks, weren’t encouraging me to stand out or to achieve. I was frustrated by my lack of autonomy, by the fact that I was treated like a body rather than a person, and by the fact that there were very few things that I had control over anymore. Eventually, I let it get the best of me. I quit trying to achieve and excel, and settled into a funk that grew into clinical depression, and culminated with panic attacks and anti-anxiety medication. Bad news.
The playwright David Mamet said, “We all die in the end, but there is no reason to die in the middle”. I reached a point in my life where I came close to “death in the middle” (metaphorically speaking), and I didn’t like it. One day I turned around and realized that I was 32 years old, had a wife, a son and a mortgage, and I wasn’t doing what I wanted to do with my life. I didn’t even know what I wanted to do until I started writing consistently. However, I knew I was tired of propping myself on the crutch of responsibility; saying I couldn’t do something different than my soul-sucking job because I’ve got those responsibilities. Goodness knows that my wife and son have reasons to resent me after a long day at work: cranky, terse, always dreading the end of the evening because waking up means heading off to the office again. I was willing to sacrifice myself for them, though, because they’re important to me.
What I’m not willing to do any longer, however, is to stay mired in the same place with the same people doing the same thing, over and over. It’s a treadmill, and I hate treadmills. One day, though, after talking with a friend who told me that how I was living was no way to live, I finally realized I needed to work toward something. My old fire for personal development came back; I began to dream again. Have you ever been there? Realized how far off-track you’ve gotten, and turned toward the goal again?
As long as I write a little every day, read a little every day, and keep my mind open for the flashes of insight that provide the topics I write about, I feel like I’m moving forward. Even if I only have 150 twitter followers, and when I announce my latest blog post, I’m met with deafening apathy. Even if my friends and acquaintances look at me funny when I tell them what I write about and why. Even if I never receive the acclaim that I believe I should. Part of me wants to be recognized, but part of me knows that it’s about the art and the peace that it brings to me.
I write the things that I write first and foremost because it helps me solidify in my own mind what is necessary for me to become a better person. I write them publicly in the hopes that someone else is out there, someone just like me. Someone who wants to become more than they currently are, but they haven’t had the advantages I’ve had, or been exposed to the thoughts I’ve been exposed to. I write for me, and I write for that person. If we’re the only two who ever get anything out of this site, then it’s good enough for me. I’ll keep working a tedious job because it’s what funds my passion. I’ve made my peace with that, and have realized that the job may be a means to an end.
But, here’s the thing: I think it’s impossible for anyone to put themselves out there and not create a following. People are starving for someone who wants to do something awesome, and who wants to show them how to do something awesome, too. People want to be inspired.
I want to help people understand what makes them tick. I want to cause people to ask questions. Deep, probing questions that they’re probably avoiding asking because they either: a- don’t know how to figure out the answers to those questions, or b- they know, but they’re pretty sure they’re not going to like the answers. If I had to boil down my personal philosophy into one statement, it would be this: Quit lying to yourself. What I want to do through this blog is find a group of people who want to live life authentically and honestly, and who aren’t afraid to ask tough questions of themselves. Iron sharpens iron. “Where you are in five years is entirely dependent on the books you read and the people you associate with”, remember? I want to associate with people who push me to be a better man.
For those of you who do want to be awesome at something, what are you willing to give up to do it? Can you fight your fear and admit it to yourself that you do want it? It’s scary to admit that, because once it’s done, you have to do something about it. It’s not something you can ignore any longer. Once you’ve admitted it, you have to move forward, or you risk disappointing yourself. It hurts when you disappoint yourself, doesn’t it? I’ve done it so many times in my life that I’ve lost count. I’m done doing it, though. I’m going to make me proud of me for once.
This was really long, but I think it was important. If you finished it up, thanks for your time and attention. Keep visiting and looking for ways to improve your own life while I improve my own. And please, let me know if I can help you do something great. Drop me a line anytime at jason[at]startbeingyourbest.com. Thanks again.
Photo courtesy: MysticMoon14