There have been any number of times in my life where I thought I’d achieved some level of mastery over myself and how I interact with the outside world. At these moments, I then became full of pride and ego, and eager to educate those who I imagined to be less fully developed than me. I had a sense of entitlement about it, with an implicit understanding that younger, less experienced people would just naturally fall into their roles of being my mentees, and look up to me at all times for guidance.
I did nothing to earn this stature. I’d merely lived longer than some of these people had. I was hurt and shocked when I began to see that they weren’t going to just accept my opinions as Bible truth simply because I’d spent more time on this earth than they had. In fact, many of these young people who were arriving into my professional world seemed to actually despise me for being that much older than them with not much in the way of titles, awards and published articles to show for my extra time spent as a professional.
Some of these younger people were clearly full of their own sense of entitlement. They had been groomed and helicoptered by mommy and daddy for their entire lives, without ever once being told that they should accept a lower grade because they probably didn’t do enough to earn it. They believed that because they’d won plenty of awards during their high school and college years, and now carried with them the requisite bachelor degrees in liberal arts or business subjects, that they could simply barge in and make demands on what their titles and salaries should be. Some of the more outspoken ones actually found great success, at least during their first few years after college.
The more I read about what someone really needs to do in order to be successful in this world, the more I realized how unsuccessful I’ve always been, and how little I wanted to actually obtain the kind of success that our culture holds up in high regard as the measure of having made something of one’s life. In other words, I finally reached that age of being too old to be called a young adult, and accepted that I was not going to be a prodigy or wunderkind or what have you. If I was to have success in this life, it was going to be as a late bloomer. But, this type of scenario of success didn’t seem to me to be the end-all, be-all thing to obtain.
What I really wanted to accomplish was a certain sense of knowing who I was beyond the veil of mere appearances and old sages who claimed to know the answer. I didn’t want to accept any particular description of me as being the final word on who I am. I knew that I was more than my physical self, as I’d had experiences visiting planes beyond this one where the reality was as hard and solid as any oak door you can punch–a reality firm and true and unlike shifting dream realities–and I had witnessed revealed truths about the nature of my physical being while studying anatomy and physiology that led me to declare that know amount of unguided evolution could have put so many complex systems in place.
I wanted to be severe and highly critical in my examination of the person I’d accepted to be myself over the years. For, I’d never really landed happily at a stage where I was completely comfortable inside my own skin. There was always something awkward about myself–it seemed there were pieces of me that just didn’t quite ever fit inside the narrative that unfolded in front of parents, siblings, friends and classmates. Because I’d walked alone for so many years, I’d get the usual pop psychology diagnoses from friends and family. Others seemed to know that I’d wake up one day and realize I was really an X, Y or Z, but not the person I’d been claiming I was.
And, to some degree they were correct. For too many years, I played the role of the consummate people pleaser, and would grow severely depressed if any person at all walked away from me in disagreement. The overarching theme for me was one of seeking out a way of being that most people in my culture could agree was “cool” and relEt, legitimate, etc. Having had very little social exposure by the time I started college, this approach was severely misguided, and to put it most simply: I was dishonest with myself.
I lied to myself about who I really was through almost my entire young adult life. I did this because once I started to get to know who I really was beneath the wannabe cool kid, I could see that most of my tastes and true ways of being were not that popular with my mainstream culture. I loved Jesus. I never wanted to get a tattoo. I preferred classical music to rock n’ roll. I got more profit from reading Catholic writers old and new than I did from reading Kant or Marx or Freud. I felt more joy looking at classical and Renaissance art than I did looking at modern and post modern art. I didn’t care for sports that much. I liked some aspects of technology and the way the Internet had helped me maintain a full-time job throughout two recessions, but I wasn’t obsessed with gadgets and gaming and robots and such.
What’s more, I didn’t really feel the need to condemn people who didn’t think like me, but I was so very tired of trying to pretend that I cared about the same things that they cared about.
At first, I thought I was going to hop on the express train to sainthood. I started attending a Catholic church and went to a series of Catholic initiation classes for non-Catholics, which were attended mostly by people getting married to Catholics. I thought that I would convert to Catholicism, see if the perfect, much younger, virginal Catholic lady would appear in my life, and then become a priest if this didn’t happen within a few years. At the end of my Catholic classes, when I was getting ready to seriously think about joining this denomination, I met some people who seemed to be exceptionally cold and disdainful when they spoke to me. It was like high school again, and not feeling like I was going to be accepted into the cool kids clique.
But, the problems were all my problems, not theirs. They were simply reacting to my own stiff front that covered a whole host of unresolved issues. I was thinking I could go from being someone who drank a six pack a night and looked at too much porn to being the next Thomas Merton in a matter of months, and I needed a little more time to learn how to be a human being among other human beings.
When I stopped drinking regularly, it did something to me. While I spent almost every day of my life sober, I most certainly spent almost every day of my life coping with the remaining alcohol from the night before and the urges to imbibe more alcohol during the approaching evening. In other words, whatever social skills I did pick up in my twenties were ones that I was going to have to learn all over again as a truly sober person. This was something I didn’t understand in the least, and it would take three years of working at a major non-profit and seeing so many potential mates come and smile at me and then reject me after they thought they’d gotten to know me.
I was suddenly a thirty-four year old man who was probably ten years younger in terms of my social skills and general sensibilities.
Of course, it wasn’t all that sudden–it had been a self in the making for years–but it felt like a sudden shock when I realized just how much more mature most people my own age were.
It was a little daunting, to be for sure, but I knew that I hadn’t really ever been given the luxury of living a normal life, and so I was accepting of the fact that I would have to walk a lonely path for some time to come as I got things right with myself and God. Fortunately, I met my wife, and I didn’t have to walk this path completely alone, but I still think that life is mostly about being by yourself, and learning to be okay with that.
I’ve learned to partition a lot of things that go on inside my head. I suppose some psychologists would say that compartmentalizing problems is a recipe for trouble, but I’ve actually found that cordoning off certain negative thought patterns, and reserving alone time away from others to deal with them, is a method that works more often than not. I’ve learned that life runs much smoother if you partition off the part of yourself that is always screaming “me first”, even if you aren’t as sincere as a saint about it, you still profit more from completely focusing on other people’s problems while not thinking at all about your own.
I’ve employed this unsuccessfully in the past by keeping my own problems at the forefront of my mind and then sharing them with the other person under the guise of relating to them. In actuality, I’m not relating to them at all when I do that, but I’m simply engaging in a bit of “quid pro quo” pity party conversation. At its best, this kind of activity is unproductive–at its worst, it is the source of bonding with needy, clingy people and creating unhealthy, co-dependent relationships.
In all honesty, I don’t think anyone who calls themselves an adult should spend much of their time obsessing over their own problems and issues. I think our ancestors were much better equipped to just suck it up and deal with it. I think that a lot of our present day coddling of our children into their middle adult years will be looked back on by future generations as excessive. I think that you occasionally do have to find the time and place to vent. A private journal like this one is a good place to do it.
This way, I’m not putting any more weight on the shoulders of my wife than I already have, and I can release some of the buildup that has accrued in me since I last thought deeply about myself and where I’m going to end up for eternity.