I’ve always been the type of person who needs to pour my all into something—I feel most satisfied when devoting my entire attention, emotion, and inspiration to one endeavor. But I never pursued the task of forging my identity with nearly the same fervor. I think that’s because I like a clear beginning and end and subsequent feeling of accomplishment, and that cannot be had with such a lengthy, multifaceted process. There’s no real definitive end to it or established procedure for going about it, or really even a specific thing to work toward. This ambiguity made it difficult to get started on, so I never really did.
I instead poured my all into many, what came to be, inconsequential things that I was certain would make me into the man I wanted to be. I acquired new friends, upgraded my apartments and cars regularly, found new employers offering greater pay—always tangible and superficial things that at the time seemed like the clear choice for quickly elevating my social status and perception of myself.
But many years back, just as I’d reached the zenith, I started on a downward trajectory—as is required of what goes up. All the things and people I’d filled my life with started to break away, because of time or impracticality or volition, and what I was left with was merely a shell of the man I thought I was creating. There was nothing of substance underneath because I hadn’t filled it with the knowledge and experience that life provides along the way. I had avoided the trials and tribulations that build a person’s foundation and cognizance of who they are because it was easier to give myself the excuse that I didn’t have time for them—I was pursuing other, greater things that would make me far happier. (True happiness, I now realize, often comes from doing those things I’d rather not.)
So I found myself at an impasse: I could just plug along through the rest of my life always knowing but never admitting I had gotten off course from who I wanted to be, or I could accept it and work toward changing it. The former seemed kind of depressing, and I knew would ultimately lead to more unhappiness, so I decided to give the latter a shot—see if I could usher in some much-needed change.
Okay, so where to begin? Overhauling yourself is no small task. I mean, I was damn near the point of demolish-it-and-start-over, not just let’s-slap-on-some-paint-and-throw-down-new-carpet. So, there was a great deal of work to tackle in order to bring about the changes I knew would lead to contentment.
I determined the first step was accepting what I had acknowledged. This proved to be challenging because my pride wouldn’t let me think of myself as anything other than the great person my never having been challenged had taught me that I was. I had to convince myself that shortcomings and flaws don’t make me a terrible person; they make me human. Plus, my endeavor to improve myself was itself a commendable act—there are some decent qualities in me after all!
With that done, I could then begin digging into the intricacies of my flaws, bad decisions (how those two were related), and highlighting areas where I could make some modifications.
I found that I had wasted a lot of effort on maintaining a façade, sometimes multiple. My aim was to try and fit in with whatever group it seemed had the greatest potential to further me, and also give me that feeling of belonging I yearned for. But no matter how great a job I thought I was doing of fooling everyone, it would eventually come to light that I did not possess the requisite traits for acceptance into the clique and I’d find myself ostracized yet again. Instead of trying to convince myself that I was someone I wasn’t and forcing the square peg into the round hole, I should have sought out the good things that were actually part of me, allowed them to bolster me, and then let fitting in somewhere happen organically.
I realized that I was seeking a grander profession as a means of improving my sense of worth and purpose—not by doing greater deeds or being more sincere and empathetic, but a greater title. One thing they say about men is true (because that’s all I’ll admit to right now): we are defined by our jobs. It is insufficient to be called a dad, husband, son, etc., because that doesn’t serve to describe “who I am.” But doesn’t it? Aren’t those titles of greater consequence than what any occupation can provide? I now see the folly in my old thinking. Who I am certainly affects what I do, but what I do is not who I am.
Ultimately, it was my pursuit of this phantom man that I thought I should be that led to a loss in my sense of direction and what I really wanted out of life. If I want to fill this shell, I need to get back to what used to make me feel validated and happy with myself. I need to embrace who I am. Only then can I embark upon and enjoy the journey of life as I was intended to.