Why My "Growth" Is Bankrupting Me

On loneliness, self-absorption, and the backlash of personal growth.

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“How you do anything is how you do everything.” — T. Harv Eker

I always felt useless as a kid. I patiently waited for my extraordinary gift to arrive — the talent or skill that would propel me into the ether of stardom and difference-making I felt I was always destined for.

It was teased a number of ways: the above-average percentiles in health, intelligence, and charisma, to name a few. However, nothing quite remarkable enough to be viewed in a way that would do anything for my crippling self-doubt. 

I desperately wanted to perform — live, rather — with ease like the other kids. I had enough ability to be held accountable for, yet never enough to complete anything of substance without a legitimate struggle. It was all risk and no reward.

From wherever I viewed from, this seemed like a lose-lose situation.

So I started pressing the mute button on life.

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Over time, my effort and enthusiasm dwindled. I became resigned about pretty much everything. I felt late to every party I was (supposedly) invited to — getting a girlfriend, college selection and registration, making life plans, or just having some actual, genuine fun.

My life was a bad soap opera — devoid of a compelling plot to justify such heavy drama.

And then I stumbled upon something. Not quite the gift I had long been awaiting, but a glimmer of hope that would keep some of the darkness at bay — at least for a little while.

I discovered a natural leadership ability within me — something contradictory to who I knew myself as. Despite being the captain of my hockey team and the oldest of three siblings, leadership was my antithesis. So when people began listening to me at work and fashioned me a title with “manager” latched on its end, I grabbed ahold for dear life.

I began reading, listening, asking, and learning everything I possibly could about what it means to be a leader — what it means to be useful when looked to. I put it all into practice each day, fine-tuning the actions I took based on the results I produced.

Unfortunately for everyone involved, I saw the books I read, tapes I listened to, and people I learned from as an opportunity for radical transformation instead of simply adding to who I already was.

Don’t get me wrong, radical transformations are fantastic — it’s just they aren’t always totally necessary. Sometimes just keeping things out of the way is more than enough.

And so I became the books I read, the tapes I listened to, and the people I learned from — there was no me anymore (not that there was very much there to begin with). I was a walking, talking Instaquote — which, as I’m sure all of you, becomes white noise rather quickly.

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Here’s the golden nugget I missed: I was actually a leader, actually useful, when I wasn’t trying to be. It never registered for me that was the leadership my supervisors and colleagues were talking about. Insecure and restless, I became fixated on the result and not where it actually came from.

The same goes for every time I’ve been a great partner in a relationship: I’ve been my very best for people when I’m not present to myself, but present to the situation — when I’m just there with them, side by side, sharing whatever experience is happening.

I wanted so badly to be useful because I never felt like I was. I had a taste of feeling like I was needed— that I mattered — and as a result, it had me scared to death to suspend any of the behavior that led to it. 

To be totally vulnerable. 

To be wildly curious. 

To be silent.

And it’s now become a paradox: the deeper I focus on being a leader and being useful for people, the easier I fall into the trap of being that way with everyone, including potential romantic partners. 

No one wants to be with someone who has all the answers. Who gives advice every step of the way. Sometimes people don’t want to be contributed to — they’d rather be the contribution themselves.

Sometimes, people just want someone to simply be there and shut the fuck up.

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It’s interesting to look at the relationships of my past: where I was either trying to be useful and it wouldn’t take, lived out the usefulness and created co-dependency, or didn’t feel useful and self-sabotaged my way out.

All rooted in worrying about myself instead of simply being present in the relationship.

They say leadership can be lonely, to which I’d agree with — as long as I’m trying to be a leader with every person I come in contact with, I’ll continue to de-humanize myself to the point that the prospect of being in a romantic relationship with me won’t even get off the ground.

And look, I get that there’s nothing wrong with being a leader and being useful at all times. I don’t mean this in a sense that it should be impossible to characterize these things within the confines of a committed relationship — that’s ridiculous. Of course leadership and usefulness will be there, often by way of their own volition. What I’m saying is my intense focus on the two has blurred the lines of what’s most appropriate for the context of which I find myself in.

And this is totally normal, for how you do anything is how you do anything. So if I’m unable to separate and compartmentalize (shocker), perhaps I should take another look at what values I’m leading with in my life, for they impact every area.

I don’t need to be leadership as much as I need to be love. I don’t need to be a communicator as much as I need to be a listener. I don’t need to be useful as much as I need to be joyful.

It’s so simple, and by living into the perceived uselessness of my past, I complicate the hell out of it.

It’s time to live life. Not learn from it, not grow from it — all that will happen on its own if I’m playing full out. It doesn’t have to be a struggle or a sacrifice, for life is a game. It’s made up. By taking it too seriously, I stop playing the game and the game starts playing me.

This is my story.

Being useful or not isn’t in the conversation I’m having. If others say that about me, great, but it’s not going to run my life.

I want my story to involve community, family, intimacy, connection, listening, love, passion, joy, peace, commitment, and an overwhelming sense of gratitude.

Once again, I have to get this is not about me — but not in a way that I’m saying it like a fucking humblebrag (I’ve done this before).

No, I just have to get this is life and this is all I have. And as long as there’s nothing I’m concerned with more than myself, I’ll be alone.

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I’m fine. You’re fine. We’re all fine. We all have plenty of information. Plenty of know-how. Plenty of ability. Knowledge is a gift, but so is reading a situation to determine what’s appropriate to apply to it.

I’ve spent a great deal of time and effort simply saying what’s on my mind to seem useful or be a leader, instead of actually being in the conversation.

All to outrun the demons of my past.

And you know what? They can have me — I’m not running anymore.

The significance is added by me. I’m the one that calls them demons. I call it fear when my body knows it no different from excitement.

I’m the one that says I need to be this or need to be that. I’m also the one that can say, “Shut the fuck up and get back in the game. Life is happening out there!”

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I totally resonate with Socrates when he said, “The only thing I know is that I know nothing.” The more I learn, the more I confuse myself — ignorance can be bliss, apparently.

But life isn’t about knowing, it’s about living. Anything we aim to learn is for the purpose of living better anyway. It’s time to put this shit into action. It’s time to be there for someone for the sake of being there, not so I can be perceived as a leader or as useful. It’s time to allow someone to be there for me, to drop my guard and let them.

My love will give me everything I could ever want and then some.

To channel singer/songwriter Trevor Hall,

What I know, is that I don’t know
And now I dance and I sing and I live full
I give it all to the call of the unknown

What I say, is that I don’t say
And now I rest no stress in the Holy Name
All fears and my tears give it all away
I play, 

Like a child of the earth

I give it all to my love, my love, my love, my love, my love, my love…

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Thanks for reading!

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