I want positive, accelerated change.
That sums up everything I want very nicely. I started with change, but change isn’t enough. Change has always happened. I’ve changed. I’ve stopped seeing myself as a great man above almost all other men who walk the earth. I’ve come face-to-face with my demons and my weaknesses. Just a few minutes recording my own voice and playing it back is humbling enough. I’m not great.
I added the word “positive,” but then I realized that this is not enough either. It isn’t something to be sneezed at, as any change for the positive is always better by miles than change for the negative. Most natural change is for the negative, anyway. I am going gray and bald faster than I ever imagined I would. I have pains in places I didn’t know there could be pain.
Further, I have experienced plenty of positive change by degree. Well, at least this year wasn’t as bad as last year. At least I’m not as badly off as I was three years ago.
Let me be clear. This is not enough, either. So, I had to qualify the statement again with the word “accelerated.” I want positive, accelerated change because I want to see myself a year from now geometrically better off and happier than I am today, not just slightly better or “at least I’m not as bad as I was.”
In order to achieve this, I have to start from zero again. I can’t grab onto the next idea that pops into my head and proclaim that this is the golden key to accelerated, positive change. I can’t accept the words of a motivational speaker at face value — “just change your attitude,” yeah, right. And what happens when my attitude changes back three hours later, and things rapidly spin out of control and the next thing I know I am screaming at the universe?
Clearly, something else about me has to change before I can begin the process of sustained, positive attitude, and remain in the right, receptive frame of mind for when the right opportunity comes my way that is the pivot upon which my accelerated, positive change will depend.
To be completely honest, I wish I had a bigger, more nimble brain. I wish my intellect could keep up with the problems in a math book, and I wish that I had the quick, versatile thinking to rapidly provide a comeback to the endless arsenal of critiques and negativity thrown at me. Of course, I’m always able to come up with a grand response after I have the luxury of going back to reflect on the moment.
I wish I had whatever kind of positive energy seems to well up inside of the extrovert, and always keep them smiling. There are too many days where I just don’t feel like facing people. I can’t stand it when I feel great on the inside, but they are clearly seeing a scowl on my face, and reacting accordingly, and then all of a sudden it spins out of control, and I feel as if they are actively thinking thoughts against me. I wish I had the ability to easily make friends with strangers, and not find myself at workplaces six months later still struggling with building any kind of rapport with my coworkers while twenty more come after me and make friends with everyone in the office.
I don’t have either of these things — I don’t have the heart I wish I had, and I don’t have the brain I wish I had. I certainly don’t have the body I wish I had, but I gave up on that one a long, long time ago.
The question is: where do I begin? What is most primal? How do I effect deep, sustaining changes within myself that transform me for good? I don’t want to get all pumped up and full of a lot of false energy, make a few friends during this manic period, and then come crashing back down and find myself quickly being ostracized as the office grump.
It’s better to not even try at all. Then, people never have any memories of you being someone with great potential, and they accept you as a mediocre dud from the start. No, it’s better to not even make the effort of starting over at a new workplace until you can fully realize your changed self, and be capable of creating a different, lasting series of relationships that you can build a network off of. Or something.
But, still: where do I begin? A lot of motivational books will tell you something along the lines of it being all about having the right attitude. However, what does that mean? If you can only fake it at most half of the time, then you are surely going to get pulled under by your negative side during the half time you aren’t Mr. or Ms. Sunshine. Your average cynic will declare that being positive is complete bunk, and that the only way to keep it real is to be negative and hypercritical of everyone and everything all the time. I find this to be equally untenable. There are periods where I do feel 100% like a great extrovert on the verge of becoming the next Senator or something, and the feeling is real, and I am not getting it from faking it or drinking.
What triggers the feeling? It’s usually triggered by knowing that I have the weekend ahead of me, and I can temporarily pretend that all of my professional problems don’t exist. Sometimes it comes at the start of a new job, when I feel like this time things might be different. Sometimes it’s simply seasonal, like when the sunlight finally comes back in the majority and overtakes the dismal darkness.
But, I want to experience change that is profound and revolutionary. I want to experience change like I haven’t ever felt it before. I don’t want to be 18 again. I want to be me of the present, but fully transformed into something great. I want to be highly aware and in full possession of my wits in any situation, and not go on autopilot in meetings or just let naysayers and detractors tear down my ideas so easily. I want to be somebody else.
Maybe that’s what separates me from a lot of other people. There are two kinds of people in this world–those who are completely satisfied with who they are and are living out their dreams, and those who are mostly unsatisfied with who they are and are living out somebody else’s dreams. It’s much easier to fool yourself into thinking you are in the former group of people than to admit that you really are just fooling yourself.
Then, you have to question everything. Did I make the right choice to do X, Y, Z? But, I don’t want to go there. I’ve been down that road enough times, and God hasn’t handed me anything remotely approaching an opportunity to relive my past and make a different decision at a key moment in my life.
I want to start from where I’m at and change that.
I want to smile more. I want to smile all the time.
Maybe I’ll start there. Nothing so grand as discovering my true calling or meeting a great mentor who can make me into a millionaire, but simply smiling more. I’d like to be able to smile when I’m in a lot of pain, and when I don’t know if the other person is a friend or foe. I want smiling to come naturally and often, and feel completely sincere when it spreads across my face.
But, I won’t stop there.
The truth is, as much as I’d like to place emphasis on the heart, it’s my head I pay too much attention to, and it’s my head that I feel is lacking at all times. I didn’t begin this blog entry with my socio-emotional development in mind. I was thinking about how slow and undependable my brain is.
I am constantly in fear of missing something huge. I am constantly thinking that something huge is right around the corner. I don’t want to start thinking about something small–I deal with enough pettiness when I do work that gets me a paycheck.
I want my brain to be retrained to operate at an even grander level. If the reality of my surroundings is humble and small, so be it, it doesn’t mean that my inner world must be the same.
I rely heavily on the Internet for this. I have long since passed the age where I want to expand my mind by taking hallucinogenic drugs, although I do have my moments where I wish that my mental diet of coffee, books, the Internet and writing consisted of something more–some little pill to give me just another bit of an edge.
You might think I’m crazy to say this, but I find myself going online to read the headlines and thinking that not much has changed in the twenty years since I began going to the periodical room in college to read every newspaper and magazine I could get my hands on. At that time, the online versions of periodicals weren’t much of anything, and the old CRT monitors made reading online rather painful.
I remember there being a headline about police brutality in NYC–Abner Louima–and a bunch of newly minted congresspeople wanting to impeach the President. I have watched Israel/Palestine tensions flare up time and again, and thought, “this is going to be the one that breaks it for the entire world and sends us into WWIII.” But, it never happens. The world seems to be smoldering with more tensions than it probably was on this day in 1994, but I don’t think we are seeing global conflicts at their peak. I still had professors who were focused on the scope of international politics from the perspective of the US and Russia, and to some degree, this hasn’t changed. But, I remember thinking even back then that the world of players the US must contend with were more than just Russia, Germany and Japan.
The point is that trying to get a better vantage point, a bigger perspective, by reading more and more news articles, is not necessarily conducive to developing the required brain to see things at a bigger scale.
One exercise that I kind of do informally in my mind: I look at binary perspectives and attempt to look at each side in isolation, both sides together, and then imagine a viewpoint that is above and beyond them, or one in which they don’t exist at all. Some examples are: male vs. female, old vs. young, Liberal vs. Conservative, poor and middle class and modestly rich vs. the 1%, those with technical skills who’ve had no problems finding employment since 2009 vs. those who have no technical skills and have remained unemployed or underemployed, Americans who served in the military and their immediate families vs. those who have been mostly removed from what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan. Everywhere you look in America, you can find two Americas.
A lot of people seem to want it to be that way. We are no longer able to possess a distinct Other enemy in the form of the Communists, so what are we supposed to do? The hyper-PC world of today prevents us from really isolating any other group of human beings who were born the way they are and putting ourselves on the other side of them. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does leave a lot of people confused about who the hated Other is supposed to be. This is why zombie movies and shows have become so popular. There is a viscerally pleasing feeling to watching someone butcher another humanoid creature who isn’t quite human. We can project whatever Other humans we secretly despise onto the zombies.
Most of the comment boards at news sites devolve into name calling that doesn’t even give you a clue as to which side either party is on. Everyone knows that our elected officials aren’t interested in coming together to find practical solutions, but are looking instead at defining more clearly how they are the real Americans and those other people on the other side of the aisle are not.
Beyond just being an exercise to gain more perspective and empathy for others, it also helps me understand myself better. I have to come face-to-face with pieces of myself I’ve tended to ignore unless they rise up unexpectedly in social situations–pieces of me that are still boyish or even effeminate. Do I want to get rid of them? Is it a bad thing that I have more of a feminine side than a lot of men? Perhaps this is a negative astral artifact from a past life that should be exorcised, or a deep imprint from me identifying with Mother too much and not making the proper Lacanian cuts at the symbolic stages of my childhood development?
Quite frankly, I’ve lived through much happier years when I am able to tap more deeply into my masculine side, and talk in a deeper voice that comes from the chest rather than the nose. I am happier when I am able to find myself consistently reacting to situations in life like a man hardened by many life-threatening situations. People respond to me better. I whine and complain less. I begin to be more proactive and less reactive. I feel like I can see things more clearly.
But, it also has a rather limited dimension to it. If I completely forego empathy for others who aren’t white, male and GenX, I start to see myself becoming just another dude like any number of the dudes who hang around poolhalls and bars too long. I also start to feel as if I might be out of my element–that I’m not really made to simply become another pure dude.
It is much easier to retreat into the comfort of words. Within the paragraphs of other storytellers of fiction and nonfiction, I find myself completely empathizing with any number of characters who in real life would no doubt reject me at a glance. I remember the first person I met whose blog I’d been reading for months. I thought for sure that she and I were soulmates. And then, upon meeting her, I could sense that we were both rejecting each other at a glance.
For me, the characters on television are still too messy and coming at me in odd angles that I can’t quite approach. There is little or no resonance with any characters on TV, because they are all stripped of their humanity in order to be characters. It doesn’t matter if they are on a show that is supposed to be fiction or not–they almost never show their souls.
Do I need to re-qualify my original statement? I want positive, accelerated change without selling my soul. I don’t want to become a caricature or parody of a man just to gain a few extra dollars. I don’t have any qualms about selling my soul in the sense of selling out–I would gladly take a high-level, high-paying job at a big corporation in a second if one were offered to me. It’s more about changing too much, and taking pieces of me that I cherish as helping me stay multi-dimensional, and throwing them into the fire.
I’ve already thrown a lot of pieces of me into the fire.
I’ve thrown the whiny me into the fire, and the me who immediately seizes up with fear upon meeting new people. The me whose voice raised up an octave and eyes fluttered when he got nervous. I’ve gotten rid of the me who self destructs the second a social situation goes bad–someon makes a remark about my shyness or I sense that I’ve been rejected by the other person. I’ve gotten rid of the me who thinks that one day I will master a kind of Harry Potter wizardry over the physical world by developing my mental powers, and I’ve stopped fantasizing about ruling the world like a megalomaniac.
The me I want to keep is someone who prefers to find a peaceful, constructive solution to any problem. I reject all isms that are practiced and preached. I am annoyed by the columnist Paul Krugman who preaches the same macroeconomic solution to anything and everything–national debt, unemployment, lack of innovation, skills gap, etc.–more government stimulus will create more jobs, and more people will spend more money, thereby stimulating all aspects of the economy. I am equally annoyed by the proponents of Ayn Rand, who naively believe that they are solely responsible for all of their successes in life, and the Invisible Hand of the completely Free Market will solve all of the problems. I am annoyed by anyone who preaches the same panacea to be applied across the board at all times, no matter what. Of course, I was annoyed by people who thought Obama was going to solve all of the nation’s problems immediately, and equally annoyed by people who have refused to see anything good he’s done. I very much got to be the same way with Bush over time. This expectation that one man is going to fix everything, and then the ensuing disgust when he tries to go around Congress who has been blocking him from fixing anything–it’s all theatrical and absurd.
The real solutions don’t seem to come from the heavily partisan, the career politicians, the people whose eyes are fixated on government whether they love it or hate it–the real solutions seem to come from people who are too busy going about implementing real solutions to pay much attention to what is regularly said in the media.
I want to accelerate change in myself, though, and not continually find myself asking: why did I end up here again? Why am I yet again working for a company in a role that is menial and mostly production-oriented, instead of one that is managerial, creative and strategic? The only answer is that I haven’t changed myself enough. I can’t blame where I work. I’ve done that enough already. I can’t blame the people I’ve worked with. I can’t blame unanticipated life situations or anything at all that has happened to me. If I keep finding myself singing the same tune over and over again after I am a few months on the job, then clearly I am presenting a face to the world that appears to be only ready and capable for a certain kind of work.
In the past, I’ve struggled with self esteem. I can remember my mom bringing home literature from our school that she’d picked up, where they were stating that they were going to start teaching kids to have more positive self esteem. And, my mom was dead set against it, because she felt that kids would take to seeing themselves as gods and not give God the credit for their self worth. Unfortunately, I think this kind of attitude permeated my upbringing, so I was wholly unexposed to the concept of self esteem for a long time. So much so, that I really had to go look the definition up online to get a clear understanding of what it meant. I immediately could see that I possessed very little of it.
My sense of self worth was so low–I always put other people in my class up on a pedestal. It was low to the point of being almost a kind of perverse egomania. I imagined that I must be perceived by all of the girls in the class as the ugliest boy in the class. I reasoned that I was probably the must uncoordinated and least athletic. I was certain that joining the military would decimate me and I would end up one of those guys who died getting beaten by his fellow soldiers for having caused them to do too many pushups after one of his personal screwups. When a girl did agree to go out on a date with me, I immediately thought that she was either just doing it to be nice to me, or I began to scrutinize her to try to determine what was so screwed up and desperate about her that she would agree to date me.
By the time I did develop some self esteem, I was probably about the age of 27, and it was mostly because I’d had two semi-successful serious relationships. I took the self esteem too far, though, and became cocky for any number of years. I blew my image of myself way out of proportion. I became certain that I was just a few tweaks away from being movie star handsome. I thought that after posting a personals ad, I would be having all the sex with strange women I could possibly handle. Of course, the self esteem went on a roller coaster ride during those years, swinging erratically from utter self-loathing and abasement to complete narcissim and cocky self aggrandizement.
Not much of it stuck, though, because my image of myself was still pretty superficial. I was always taking on the world from a week, shallow vantage point, and getting easily knocked down. There was nothing true, deep and hard about who I was, and it showed to almost everyone.
Writing has certainly been the tool for pulling me out of this. To be for sure, I’ve had my periods where I allowed myself to write with my blinders completely on, and pretended that everything that wasn’t going right in my life wasn’t my fault. I’ve written plenty of things that were utterly self-deprecating as well. But, when I am in a place where I really do want to change, and I am trying my damnedest to be completely honest with myself, writing has helped me see things more clearly.
But, I also think that I am reaching the limits of what writing can do. My brain can now successfully talk and write in complete sentences that are mostly free of bad grammar, stuttering, pauses and um’s and like’s and such. I can read a lot of things quickly, and retain a fair amount of it. However, I feel like this is a kind of plateau. I am not having any breakthroughs. My mind has fallen into a comfortable groove, and it doesn’t want to be shaken up.
If writing is to remain a tool for creating change, then I’m going to have to accept that I need to do more exercises where I am writing positive mantras that aren’t necessarily fit for sharing or even re-reading.