When you’re not your job, your relationship, your traits, your qualities, who the hell are you?
· · ·
“Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become the next moment. By the same token, every human being has the freedom to change at any instant.” — Viktor Frankl
When I was six years old, I was knee-deep in an illustrious Little League career that rivaled the folklore of antiquity. Okay, not exactly — more like the antithesis of what I just said. Baseball, much like every other sport I had tried up to that point, was essentially an agency of passing the time — because, well, six-year olds have to do something.
One afternoon, as I stood firmly beside home plate — ignorant to both the pitching machine and general tenor that I didn't really belong there — a wild pitch caught me square in the calcified framework better known as my cheekbone. Though the contusion beneath my eye exuded an element of toughness conspicuously absent from my personality, I concluded the sport wasn’t for me. At that moment, I advised my mother that ice hockey would be much safer recreation to partake in.
I couldn’t tell you how my eager and wide-eyed sense of wonder conjured up the idea that hockey would deter me from harm better than, oh I don't know, literally any other sport, but it didn't matter — my mind was made up. And from the first moment I stepped on the ice, hockey became everything. My sense of identity. My gateway to meaning. My purpose for living and means for thriving. And it all happened in a flash. Before I knew it, the sport and I were synonymous. Through every new school-year, every household move, every painful progression of life, hockey remained my constant — until it didn’t.
My final game in high school saw me collapse to the ice as the seconds evaporated from the clock, sobbing at the exit of arguably the only thing that brought me any sense of certainty in life. Why was I so resistant and afraid?
Maybe because of what I felt I was lacking underneath the hood. Maybe because loving a sport meant not having to determine whether or not it loved me back. Maybe because I was so fearful of life’s unpredictable left-hooks that I never branched outside the realm of conventional thinking to fashion up an actual dream or two.
· · ·
Lucky for me, my conscious awareness was nowhere near capable of assimilating the sources of what drove my behavior. Instead, it locked its targets on warding off awkward moments in public and quieting the expressive scorn that circumvented my psyche. It became a sociological game of capture the flag where the strategy was fly low enough beneath the radar to hide the fact that despite the hard exterior and macho posturing, I brought nothing compelling to the table. I hadn't a clue who the fuck I was.
Like riding on bald tires, this was far from a long-term solution. I needed to supplant the nothingness, and I needed to do it fast. I had to develop a new niche before exposing myself as the bullshit artist I always knew myself to be.
My parents and coaches had encouraged working out for a number of years and, evidently, my body was finally beginning to respond. “This accomplishes the same thing hockey did: a sense of purpose compounded by shielding my insecurities”, I ruminated. In short order — through the adoption of fitness as a newfound portrait— I knew who I was again.
· · ·
Sparing you the morose and sullen details of how much life sucks when the only person you care about is yourself, the experiment did not go well. There was too much vanity, too much comparison, and too much extrinsic focus for me to keep any of my supposed core values employed. No matter how much physical might I produced, my mental strength was simply too far behind.
As a result, my self-worth, self-esteem, and self-respect careened inside my heart like a Formula 1 car — never in control and always trying to get someplace else. This was predicated when I lucked into the greatest opportunity ever presented to me, as my ego promptly burned it to the ground.
So, back to the drawing board I went. Only this time, more angst, more trepidation, and more resentment. #successprinciples
The internal dialogue was getting progressively more abusive and harder to contain, and my sense of self had become as blurry as my -6.0/-7.5 vision.
· · ·
It was then, I decided I needed help. I realized I had a problem, one I couldn’t quite diagnose. But rather than seek legitimate help from an objective source or expert, I opted for self-help — because there’s just some things I’d rather let kill me than share them with the world and risk embarrassment.
So like any bro-fessional, I read a few books, listened to a few tapes, and all of a sudden, my identity was once again reborn. I loved this stuff. I couldn’t get enough. It was positive, reinforcing, and — best of all — it surmounted those nasty insecurities of mine by making me appear “smart”.
Not smart like valuable insights actually solicited for-smart, but smart like an overarching viewpoint, “This is the only way to accomplish x”, and “I know you didn’t ask for my opinion but you’re going to hear it anyway because I can’t stand to be in the presence of my own silence”-type smart.
Holy Instagram. Like we need anymore of that.
· · ·
So what did I do? This is the part where I’m supposed to share with you the triumph, right? On the contrary — I’m really not intending to give you any advice. There’s plenty available. Simply double-tap the “Home” button and mosey on over to Facebook or Insta — it’s an all-you-can-eat buffet.
What I’m actually doing is apologizing — for losing sight of who I am. Whether you’ve known me since the beginning (Hi, Mom!) or are just getting acclimated with my writing, I want you to know I can (and will) do better. The stages of life I just walked you through are far from my rear-view. Like the accessories on the sides of your car suggest,
“Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.”
I’m not immune to any of the fill-the-void behavior I described. In fact, it still happens. I get lost some days. I step away from the throne of my mind’s eye and into performance mode, focused on forcing outcomes that result in the conscious construction of piles of shit like this:
The reason I’m not fond of these is not because of their content or message, but because I didn’t write any of these essays from the heart — I wrote them with a specific goal in mind to obtain more views, more readers, more attention. I pretended to be an interpreter of what people wanted to read, instead of being a communicator of what I know is inside me (By the way, these are just a few examples — I’ve done this on numerous occasions).
· · ·
However, the critical distinction between me today — one day before my 29th birthday — and the overzealous athlete, roided-up narcissist, or stuck-up prick, is I’m aware of it now. I clearly see that without my self-defining propositions, traits, hobbies, ideas, and attributes, I am nothing. And if I am nothing, to me, that means I can be anything. I can transform at the drop of a hat. I don’t have to hitch my wagon to the sport I play, lifestyle I fancy, or article I wrote that day. Who I am is a wide-open landscape devoid of barriers and judgments — it’s simply what I choose to be that day. And I’ve gotta say, it feels rather freeing.
Sure, I could schlep around my past, my occupation, or some hardened belief-system, but who wants to carry a bag that heavy? Why not simply opt for the best available version of me on each day that’s gifted?
You don’t have to answer the questions — no homework tonight. I simply wanted to let that out. I’m sorry for the times I’ve clearly been full of shit and moreover, I’m sorry for thinking so little of you that I thought you were naive enough not to notice.
I can’t say it won’t happen again, for we all have our vices. What I can say however, is the impact is very much felt. I don’t like being someone I’m not, and I’m certain I’ll make a far grander impression on you simply by giving you my realness — whatever I know it to be at the time. I’m working diligently to ensure my comprehension grows into mastery.
· · ·
From this moment forward, you will receive the best of me. I won’t posture as something I’m not and if I do, I’ll practice the fine art of correction as swiftly as I lost sight of who I really am.
For who I am is nothing, and therefore everything.
And in this moment, I choose to be love — for you, and everything else around me.
It is with an open heart and an empty mind, I thank you for reading.
I love you.
· · ·