Despite turning 37 today, I am not yet grown. But it’s ok, I’m still looking optimistically towards my maturation horizon. Let me explain.
I live in a modest apartment, alone and in a small town in NE TX. Despite spending 50% of the last 15 years at work, my net worth is negative. Emotionally, I’m 12 years old, as my therapist often reminds me. I have an active tinder profile.
I could keep going but I’ll stop there; you get the point. Nonetheless, I believe in my trajectory; hence my optimism.
I’ll pause here and offer up item number one on my list of things I wish I knew earlier in life:
Where you are headed is more important than where you are
Short of an in depth analysis as to why this is true, I’ll simply ask you to reflect on your last hardship, mistake, misgiving – what got you through? I’m willing to bet it was something like the idea that it wouldn’t last forever and that things will get better. This idea is reflective of the fact that human beings are capable of, and highly motivated by, our own ability to shape our future outcomes for the better, regardless of the present predicament.
Take the last year for example – I launched a blog, made a couple positive moves at work, got a puppy, started an MBA program, took my kids on a vacation for the first time since my divorce, kicked a couple addictions and got out of a toxic relationship without sinking my own ship. This all on the heels of 4 prior years marked by divorce, depression, estrangement from my children, near joblessness and excessive legal and medical debt.
Still, one could argue that my recent accomplishments are trivial given I’m approaching 40, and I would be hard pressed to rebuke. Regardless, I have my story as to why (call it cognitive dissonance if you prefer) and I’ll share the high points with you here momentarily.
But first, learning number two:
Connection starts with me
Sure it’s cliche but it amazes me how much of my struggle can be attributed back to never really understanding this at a deep, something approaching a biological level, as well as an intellectual and emotional one. In fact I still often wrestle with healthy human connection in both personal and professional relationships. Let’s jump back into my story here for context.
I grew up in an emotionally volatile home with a family history of mental health issues, which might be best understood as bi-polar (although neither of my parents are yet to be clinically diagnosed as far as I know). As the oldest of three, I consumed the lions share of my parents focus and energy. On good days I felt like Superman, on bad days Lex Luther. On the balance I developed what’s know as an insecure attachment model.
The cliff note version of the clinical definition is that all children need to feel secure in their parental relationship. Children can handle some rejection, loss, injury, etc. but it needs to be consistently reinforced with a message of love and acceptance. If, however, the parental figure doles out love and acceptance one moment and rejection the next, without a consistent, clear pattern as to why – the child will become anxious and insecure, often manifesting these traits long into adulthood.
In summary the result was that, in my mind, other people became more important than me. My survival strategy was, ‘if I am perfect, I can make others happy.’ The reality, of course, is that we are not in control of others’ emotions any more than we are the weather. But as a young, developing child thirsty for secure attachment, I took every possible correlation as causation – when it worked, I felt like superman; when it didn’t…you get the idea.
Circling back, it now makes sense to me why I placed such a high value on relationships and intimacy even though they always felt so far away. The outcome of all this searching was that I never developed a relationship with, or even any real care for, myself. Going forward; connection starts with me. Or, if you prefer, in the sage words of an old friend –
“two things are most important and they must be done in order: first figure out where you are going and second, who’s coming with you”-credit Alan B.
Sticking with cliche, I’ll wrap this up by leaving you with this final birthday nugget:
Emotions are temporary – don’t give your future to them
There is a difference between being informed by emotions and being swept away. Evolution didn’t accidentally devote 80% of prenatal development to your brain nor was the organ designed to be a single input / output device. Yes, feel your emotions, explore them, learn from them – and then choose your response based on what the best version of you would do.
Had I known this earlier, I mean really understood it, this post would have come out two decades ago and would be replete of much of the aforementioned heartache.
But, again, where I am headed is more important than where I am.