Life

Saturday March 23, 13:26:25

I want you to know me better, so here’s a small look into my life.

My first pair of skate shoes were black, worn-out DCs. I was 12. They were Bryan’s, my new, 14-year-old neighbor’s. He had, I guess, outgrown them. He wanted me to have them so I could be like him – a skateboarder. And I was happy to oblige. And for the next two years, I skated (poorly) and made a series of other decisions out of a pure desire to belong, to feel accepted.

I did that poorly, too.

From being called the “Douche of Spades” when the five or so neighborhood kids decided to start their own skate club (aptly named “The Spades”), to getting into regular fights at school, I was an all-around misfit.

To be honest, that was the case even before I tried to be Bam Margera. I still sort of am, in a more buttoned-up kind of way.

After my parents moved from that rural subdivision in unincorporated North Carolina to its neighboring city,  the focus of the social pressure shifted from skateboarding to rap music. By that time, I had persuaded my mom to replace the DCs with Osirises,  which would later become a great complementary accessory to low-hanging skinny jeans and a baggy, clearance-rack Element sweatshirt.

The marriage didn’t last. My mom’s engine blew on her car. And we moved back to rural America. This time in Illinois.

“Those farmboys will beat you up,” my papa would joke, as he chided me for my urban style. They didn’t. They just made fun of me and called me gay.

So I hung out with the three or four other skaters. We each battled our own pains, silently. That’s probably why we always partied.

Once I quit partying with them, they stopped hanging out with me, too. So, having no close friends to keep me there, I decided to leave regular high school. It took me a long time to pick myself up from all the following I was doing, to craft my own roadmap that would allow me to thwart how misguided I had become.

But that’s behind me now.

Today, seven years later, I’m 25, a soon-to-be young, upcoming professional. I’m more comfortable with myself; I have good, supportive friends; and a solid grounding in my own values. Though I still feel social pressure, it’s not a pressure to change myself in any way like it used to be. It’s more like a longing.

A longing to feel like I can relate. A longing for lengthy, humble, and intimate conversations about things I care about, important cultural issues and global disparity. A longing for support and validation.

I think that after I’m established in life with a stable income it will get easier. Your 20s are supposed to be the best years of your life. While, yes, I cherish my health and my lack of substantial commitments, the deep desire for stability, for certainty, for security, for clear signs of success – well, that’s a pretty big trade-off.

So I say to myself, “I’ll be happy once I make it.” But I know that isn’t true. I can tell from the lessons of others who “make it.” In reality, I’ll be happy once I learn to make my own happiness. Once I learn to be fully content, hopeful, and optimistic regardless of circumstance. Thankfully, on many days I am, but there’s still a great deal of inner work to do.

I’m confident that the disposition in its mature form will come with time and wisdom. A lot will, I believe – more than I can imagine. Until then, I will continue to pray that good people along the way who are a little more fortunate and a lot more experienced than me continue to extend a hand up and offer the benefit of the doubt.

On the come-up, that’s probably the best you can hope for.

Speak your needs and feelings.

The discomfort you feel will dissipate.

It’s better to fight for a better life by being honest with people about their shortcomings than to live with dull satisfaction in your relationships.

Confront them – kindly and respectfully.

And make your life (and friends) better.

If you find yourself saying “I shouldn’t be doing this, I shouldn’t be doing this, I shouldn’t be doing this” when you really want to do something, that’s addiction.

The voice inside your head is yelling, but you do it. Then you rationalize.

You say to yourself, “Well, I’ve already done this, no turning back now.”

So you do it, and you regret it. It feels terrible. But It’s human.

We’re all fighting this struggle.

Yours might be shopping or chocolate or a drink – soda or otherwise.

I just ate a bunch of chocolate and ice cream at 12:30 AM two nights ago.

It sucks. Recognize that it’s normal and get back on the horse.

You got this. Old habits die hard, friend.

Someone I went to college with recently won a big award.

This person doesn’t like me.

As a matter of fact, almost all of the ambitious people that I went to college with don’t like me.

They’ve said unkind things about me behind my back.

These people are lauded for their accomplishments at my university, while I and my work have been looked down on by the people who praise them.

I’ve never understood it.

When I saw that the award was won, I decided to look at their social media profile, and they have a lot of likes, which spiraled my mind into a place of comparison and shame: “I didn’t measure up,” “I wasn’t good enough,” and “Why wasn’t I accepted?”

These are hard moments. These are the moments that people talk about when they speak of the dangers of social media.

After entering that dark place, I reminded myself: the likes don’t matter, so what if I never understand why they didn’t like me, and I shouldn’t expect to be liked or praised by everyone – nor should I want to be liked by people who would judge and treat me so unfairly.

The only people whose opinions matter are the ones who show us that they care about us, the few that take the time to get to know who we really are.

Also, a part of growing up is growing comfortable with the fact that other people’s lack of grace or kindness must not define your happiness or your actions. There are only three metrics of success that matter:

  1. Whether, overall, you are living the life you want, doing the work you want to do, and making the changes in the world that you seek to make;
  2. The number of meaningful moments shared; and
  3. The amount of love felt.

The peculiar form of ambition that manifests as a desire for broad validation is futile. There is neither contentment nor goodness to be gained through comparison, particularly of online profiles.

Many think that to be cynical is to just view things negatively. It’s not. It refers to the idea that people suck because they’re selfish.

Jaded means that you are tired. You find tasks that once excited you to be boring.

You probably know that many people become both.

They’ve failed.

Their work is viewed as humdrum, tedious, and bereft of appreciation.

I once had a boss tell me that he wanted to beat the idealism out of me. Now, he’s won. He was right. I’m beat.

Because lately, this is me.

Lately, I’ve failed.

Driving 10 to 15 hours a week, multiple weekly deadlines, haters, and busy colleagues with no patience for thoughtful conversation about the future of American democracy have left me feeling exhausted and uninspired.

And I’m angry about it.

What do I do?

Well, I start fighting: for what I know is right, for what I believe in, for my why.

I refuse to settle for a life without conviction.

I refuse to settle for a life without fierce idealism.

Step one: cleanse my life of news and anything that’s not invigorating. I don’t care if I don’t seem smart to my colleagues. It’s more important that I like myself. And my life.

Step two: recenter myself on my why. I’ve lost it because I’ve grown too focused on getting by. On my challenges. On my battles. On my failures. On what’s not good enough. On scarcity. On fear.

Step three: don’t settle for the status quo. I will speak up. I will make my truth obvious. I will act on that truth. I will readjust and take ownership of my immediate environment.

I will be okay if it’s eccentric.

Weird is expected.

Forget conformance.

Forget the career ladder.

Forget branding.

Forget thought-leadership.

I will just do what I believe is right for me.

I will retake ownership of my life.

Recently I met a man who had a large tumor and continues to have significant health issues.

His experience has impressed upon him the realities of death.

Now he appreciates the small moments in each day: the smile someone gives you when you hold the door for them, others’ life stories, and intimate time in small groups.

It’s a reminder that the minutiae matter.

I encourage you to notice them.

Your life will likely become much more fulfilling.

Good things can wait.

Besides, how good are they if they take away from your happiness?

They say adulthood requires suffering. It’s a lie you’ve been told.

Sure, you’ve got to be disciplined, but don’t suffer regularly for a paycheck.

Take your time and appreciate what you have, particularly when your plate is full.

There’s so much wonder and excitement and good books and amazing experiences out there.

And so much to look forward to, even things you might not expect.

So quit worrying. Work will always be there. And a good life requires play and appreciation.