Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Overcoming One’s Character Flaws Means Remembering to Love Yourself

copied from original posted on 3/21/2017

Me being neither pajama nor tacticool. Make the time to do something epic for yourself. You’re worth it.
Photo credit, Samantha Bonilla.
To be a good man means part of you needs to take the hero’s journey. Not a caricature of a hero’s journey, a real one. The full archetype of self-worth learning kind of journey. Dude there’s no heroism in being a prick — pajama or alpha; that’s just hiding behind an artificial stereotype. Nope. You need to find what it means to be an individually good man, a real hero.
Part of that journey is that you have to learn to succeed. Part of it, and probably more the more important part, is that you have to learn to fail. One of the best pieces of mentor advice I ever got came from a meeting I had in the late 80’s with then recently retired USAF General Bill Creech, the former commanding officer of the Tactical Air Command. Four stars. He was an imposing figure. I had the misfortune to annoy him a time or two challenging the rubber on the ramp assumptions of the reliance on his fleet of mosquito sized F-16’s in a world evolving full of threats requiring more range, loiter and ordnance in places who’s then obscure biblical names people can name today as part of the current events geopolitical landscape. I lost those operations research battles, not for lack of trying or being wrong, but because those were the circumstances of the time. We needed airplanes in large numbers to swarm over the Fulda Gap. So Bill is doing his post-retirement consulting rounds with all the major aerospace companies and he takes a meeting with me. He did to specifically to give me this one piece of advice, “Son, sometimes the only way to win is to lose gracefully.” That is such an elegant summation of a true hero’s journey.
There’s nothing worse for you in the world than getting down on yourself when you start to lose. It drains you of your energy, your sense of humor, your tolerance. People can see it, particularly the people that know you well. It’s amazing how tiny changes in your smile, your posture, even the tension of your skin telegraph that things are not well. People start asking you if you’re feeling alright, if you’re giving too much and not taking enough, being too quiet, getting grouchy. We’ve all been there.
The reason doesn’t matter, it’s one of those emotional roller coaster things humans do; some have wilder roller coasters than others. Mine are not that wild. I’m a brooder. I overthink things. I over communicate my unformed thoughts. I cling to my trusted touch points. In general, I bug the crap out of people until I figure out what’s bothering me.
In novel form, I become afflicted by what’s called a character flaw. It sets up a journey to resolve it. My goals at the beginning are always almost misguided, a story of misinterpreted facts. The troubled part of my psyche is my own internal antagonist, the enemy within preventing me from achieving my true goals. The plot is a series of dramatic back and forth battles inside my head. The supporting cast in the play is everyone who must suffer through my bugging them as I do it. The ending is where some sort of resolution comes to either overcome the flaw or figure out how to coexist with it. Spice it up a bit and you’ve got a script.
My last flaw had to do with overextending myself giving to so many people and so many things that I lost a grip on myself. The realization dawned on me and was reinforced more over time as the people who loved me the most started telling me to be a bit more selfish and look out for myself; that I don’t need to be needed by everyone all the time no matter how many people keep asking for things.
There is truth to the fact that I do get asked for many things big and small. It’s part of having talent. I do tend to give everything I have and I do tend to win at what I do. I have this Jack Ryan boy scout thing that compels me to use my talent to do good. You do get to do the most interesting things. People like you for it. Heck, people pay you for it in both monetary and non-monetary ways. But it is a character flaw. The flaw is best described as being addicted to being needed. Do too much of it and you feel like you have no time for yourself … because you don’t.
I knew I was overextended and I started dumping obligations a couple of years ago. It was the beginning of a nervous reversal of a lifelong motto of turning one’s desires into one’s obligations. That’s a classic formula for creating success in life. It’s also a trap one can easily fall into to spread yourself too thin. I had so I began to shed things I’d done for over a decade; in some cases, for most of my life. These were things that had real responsibility. The changes I was making created real vacuums and forced learning curves on other people who would need to step into the shoes. Some were for work. Some were for hobbies. These were things I had nurtured into the kinds of effortless grace that other men attach their entire self-images to. But their time had come. I needed to clear the deck to make room for the next desires I wanted to turn into my future obligations. That’s also a classic formula to creating additional success. What I had not fully accounted for was that there is a mental price to be paid to let go of things. In the process of shedding what I consciously wanted to, I’d also cut back on too many of the activities did just for me. And it brought out deeper latent wants I’d been deferring dealing with, in some cases, for years.
This is the part where you have to accept that your first goals were not your real goals. In books, it’s the hero’s epiphany moment. Except, it’s happening to you. You have no idea what the real answer is you need to find. You do realize that the cost of what you have to really give up or change is a lot higher than you’d thought. And it scares you, truly scares you to see that it’s not a clinical thing to find yourself again. The only thing you really have is the conviction that you need to find it.
This is where loving yourself comes in. This is where believing in yourself comes in. This is where you must turn to selfishness to find self-worth. This is where I am as I write this article. I have no idea what Act III of the play will be like. But I do know I’m worth moving forward into it. And I know my overarching theme is to do it as gracefully as I can.
If you have had similar issues beset you, I hope hearing this perspective helps yours.

Be Epic in Whatever You Do

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Long night of nerding completed.

I have to remind myself every now and then that there's a big difference between "maintenance grade" IT staff and "superstar" grade IT gurus. Superstars know the innards of their boxes so well they can think outside them. They know how to pivot the jewel and look at every facet head on. They are the magicians; the ones who pull rabbits out of hats and make it look easy. As a manager, one steps further away from the keyboard as time passes. One learns the art of success through the hands of angels of a lesser god. But every once awhile, in the middle of the night, when all hell has broken loose, you still get the chance to show the kids how it's done ... and remember that you can still build Rome in a day.
Be epic in whatever you do.

It's worth the work to know how to make a difference in this world.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Are You Trapped In an Incomplete Man?

I know I am a good man.  Some would say, maybe too good.  Thirty years ago, as a young man in love, I made choices.  I picked from the still not fully formed pieces of myself and began a journey into my future as a husband, a father, a provider.  The pieces of me I kept in the open were the ones that would make my life with the woman I loved work.  And even here, I separated the pieces into a home life and a work life lest the hyper-competitiveness of what I must to do to provide hurt the selfless nurturing that I must do to be the rock, the comfort of my home.   The rest of me I put aside into that little space all men keep in their hearts that a therapist will eventually tell you to take for a walk at sometime in your life.  Those were the habits of "singledom", the essences of selfishness that might damage a still budding marriage between two people that life has not yet taught the full cost of the vows they just exchanged.

Career and the arrival of children would put considering the cost of this Faustian bargain on hold for decades.  There’d be ups and downs.  Life’s journey is like a novel.  One chases goals, overcomes antagonists, keeps going.  One is Tristan, the archetypical new man, following a personal hero’s quest to be the knight to his princess.  It’s a life shrouded in the fog of the moment.  Careers had set backs followed by opportunities.  The cycle continues and, if one is fortunate, it advances and ones ability to provide stays ahead of one’s obligations.  I got lucky here.  My work talents climbed me through the ranks with titles like Vice President of this and Chief whatever officer.  Disposable income enough to provide shelter, leisure and options for a brood growing up in a rapidly evolving America.  My family got lucky here too.  As a couple, a former boyfriend and girlfriend settled down to the co-worker job of being mom and dad.  And over time, under the stress of having teenagers, one does lose one’s identity.  We forget who were are for a little while.  That’s the job.  We become the jobs.  And we become robotic at it.

And then the job begins to dissipate.  It’s a dangerous vacuum.  The years living on autopilot place heavy sacks full of stones onto our backs.  It happens to all of us.  It’s part of the circle of life.  It’s kind of a roll of the dice as to who feels it first.  I’ve had friends where it’s the woman that sees the vacuum first.  As motherhood wanes, the aloneness of living with a stranger provider is agony.  I’ve had friends where it’s the man first.  The episodic predictability of mid-life hijinks that people make light of are real deeply felt expressions of angst.  Sometimes they make it through the gauntlet.  Sometimes not.  The ones that don’t carry that linger of sadness that comes from feeling the sack of rocks on their backs that can never be resolved because it’s too late.

If you catch it in time, the challenge is clear.  A husband and wife completing their career as family management co-workers face a daunting task.   Each has grown over decades into different people.  The hardest question in the room is can we be boyfriend and girlfriend again?  Are we still compatible?  Is the love we had that made us commit everything recoverable from beneath years of layers of compromise, resent and neglect?

It’s worth a shot.  If you’re a good man, this is the time look in the mirror and see what you've become in the last quarter century, take stock of your qualities – warts and all, and figure out how you are going to work past the creeper sweeper instincts of your co-worker wife to ask the pretty girl that you can’t take your eyes away from inside her out on a date.  This may take several tries and being persistent enough to survive the spurn of one’s advances.   But hey, that’s what it took to win her the first time.  There are no shortcuts.

And this is where the incompleteness of one’s manhood comes in.  The bottom line is that girls don’t want partial men.  They never did and they’re right.  But that’s what one becomes over time.  Incomplete. Parenthood is about stability. It’s deleting the risk, the adventure; the very core of desirability and sexiness. That "singledom" stuff.  The part of you that got put into a cage a quarter century ago.  It’s needed again.  You cannot be complete unless you are complete.  It’s a dangerous thing to free from it’s cage.  It’s immature compared to the rest of the man you’ve become.  And it’ll be bitter about having been cooped up.  There’s work to do.  It’s an exercise that is fundamentally selfish; but more importantly, it’s a vital exercise one in finding one’s total self worth again.

You’ll be looked at oddly when you first start doing it.  Maybe even accused of reneging on years of agreed upon comfort.  The scariest part is that you don't know how it's going to end.  That's the nature of life.  But it’s vital for your well being.  It's the only way to unload some of the rocks from your sack so you can take on what comes next.  And the people who truly love you will care.