For most of my 20’s, I was hell-bent on becoming successful. My then 20-something brain thought that being successful meant having a ton of money in the bank, and worked tirelessly to accomplish that goal.
A lot of nights were spent sleepless; fueled by caffeine and a drive that likely came from a sense of insecurity I tried to overcome. I felt that reaching some level of success would somehow make me feel like I was good enough.
Good enough. For who? Others.
Most of my early career came at a time when other people were still in school, as I dropped out of college at the age of 20(ish) to start my entrepreneurial path. As much as I wanted to be successful, I also didn’t want to be discovered for my young age.
That was a trend that began when I was 15, because that’s the age where I started a full-time college education, and certainly not because I was in any measure smart or academically accomplished; my older siblings were. I rode in on that train on their coattails.
At that age, I remember going to school and perpetually being afraid that other students would figure out my age and somehow ‘expose’ me in front of an entire classroom of students; revealing my as the ‘kid’ I really was.
There were very few moments during that chapter of my life that I felt I actually enjoyed fully, because of that fear of being revealed for my age. I felt like an imposter for some reason, and never once thought to realize that it was pretty ‘cool’ that I was a young kid on one of the largest college campuses in the nation.
Looking back now, I sincerely wish that I had stopped to realize this, rather than later in my life. I would have enjoyed that time a lot more, and probably been less likely to try to mask my age by the choices I made – namely, in joining a fraternity at the age of 17, who went so far as to ask the university if they could formally pledge me at that age – which was denied.
What wasn’t denied was the partying that I did with that group of guys – at the age of 17. I went on to formally ‘rush’ the fraternity when I was 18, and moved into the frat house less than two months after I turned 18.
Some might look at that experience as some sort of ‘coming of age’ for a young homeschooled kid. I don’t. It was just a lot of poor choices and brain cells that I’ll never get back, which did absolutely nothing to contribute to my success as an adult.
Shortly after I moved into that house, I got a phone call telling me that my beloved Opa (grandfather) passed away. I remember sitting alone in one of the stairwells and crying my eyes out, as not a single one of my ‘brothers’ remotely tried to comfort me.
In a lot of ways, I think that my professional life followed this same sort of gung-ho pursuit of being respected by others. Just like I wanted to fit in at a fraternity, I also wanted to ‘fit in’ to life and somehow be somebody that others would recognize, respect or even admire.
The older I get, the more I realize that life has a lot of similar patterns. When you don’t break free from one of them, it simply presents itself in another form later on in your life, because the ‘matrix’ knows you’re going to fall into that same trap with half the effort it took to get you to fall into the first one.
That last line is probably worth reading again, if there’s nothing else you read in this blog.
I have spent a tremendous amount of my life time and energy trying to feel like I’m good enough, and it wasn’t until recent years that I started to realize that the answer to this pursuit didn’t lie in other people – rather, it was inside of me all along, and it simply relied on me accepting myself, as I am, in order for me to know, feel and believe that I’m ‘good enough’.
When I first found out I was going to be a Father, I felt a sense of fear and questioning about my ability to be a good Dad, because at that time, I still didn’t feel like I was good enough. On the road ahead, instead of being ‘good enough’ I feared that I would somehow become a ‘deadbeat dad’ that failed his child.
As an adult, I carried a lot of pain as a result of losing my own Dad when I was 20. I tried to mask this pain by not letting myself feel it, which resulted in years spent partying and trying my best to paint on a smile that I never truly felt like giving, because I had never spent the time to properly grieve the loss of my Dad.
A lot of those mistakes could have been avoided if I simply gave myself permission to have the cry that my 20 year-old self never gave himself permission to have.
Now a Dad myself, I think that a lot of these patterns in my life have become evident to me in a way that I can now clearly think about them. Not just as myself, but also through the eyes of Atlas. How would I hope that Atlas handles X circumstance/scenario, for example.
There are a lot of things that my Dad did right, though he wasn’t a perfect man. One thing that my Dad always did for me was make me feel safe, loved and heard. Because of his example, I do my very best to provide Atlas with the same feeling of safety, presence and encouragement that I received from both of my parents.
My parents wouldn’t let me do certain things – like play football or see R-rated movies until a certain age. However, they always encouraged me to explore things that were interesting to me, and I did.
When I was obsessed with becoming a scuba diver, my Mom scraped together spare dollars (literally) to buy me a wetsuit and buoyancy compensator from somebody selling them via our local newspaper. I wore it less than five times, yet I don’t think that she ever felt the money was wasted – though it certainly could have been used to pay one of our utility bills.
My parents made a lot of investments in their children. And every single one of them paid off, though not in the traditional way one views their portfolio. As adults, we speak to each other on a very regular basis and provide friendship, emotional support and love despite being separated by hundreds/thousands of miles. We continue to play musical instruments, read and guard what goes into our eyes, ears and minds.
In our own way, we’ve all become ‘successful’ even according to external standards. The only ones in our family that have suffered financially are the ones who chose to party, and I threw myself in that bucket for more years than I’d like to admit.
Now, I see things a lot differently than I used to. In many ways, that is. I no longer feel like I’m chasing my tail in pursuit of success according to anybody’s standard – other than my own. And I also feel like despite the failures and shortcomings I’ve had in life, I’ve taken the time to reflect, learn and make conscious choices for my future that will somehow lead to a different result than prior choices.
Today, success looks like spending time with Atlas and the people I love, more than having a huge bank account. It’s having ownership of my time via an occupation that doesn’t require my full-time effort to maintain, and being able to fully devote myself to being a Dad when I have time with Atlas.
Success looks like being able to take a break in the middle of the day and go rollerblading, play my guitar, or call a friend and listen to what’s going on in their life, or a family member.
Success means being able to give back to the local community, help those in need, or reach out to the people that others have forgotten about and offer them something that brings value to their life.
Success means being able to look at my life and recognize the aspects of it that I’d be thrilled to see Atlas embody someday as he becomes an adult, while there are other measures of it that I hope he never has to experience.
Success means letting myself cry when I hurt, and admit that not every day is full of sunshine and rainbows – because they aren’t.
Success means letting go of resentment and hurts, without a desire to get even or somehow settle the score.
Success. It doesn’t cost a thing.