growth

You don’t know who you are

You will never completely know or understand who you are. There’s a whole unknown you floating in your subconscious that only shows itself through dreams and surreal moments when you act in ways you thought you never would or could.  In some ways it represents your potential and depending on how you develop yourself that potential could be amazing, but it could also be disastrous.  Sigmund Freud would probably say that trying to get to know yourself on this level is trying to get more in touch with your Id and Super-Ego at the same time.

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“There are no mistakes.”

It’s a bit ironic actually, because the Ego (the moderator between those two) can be such a robust and confident thing when it really has no right to be.  The truth is we spend the majority of our lives trying to figure ourselves out (and that’s okay!)  I should actually say that the smart folks spend their days trying to better figure themselves out.  Unfortunately far too many people are busy looking outward than inward.  So they define things (especially the shitty stuff) by what their environment and those that inhabit it have shown them, instead of trying to figure out what they’re doing in that environment to begin with.

Don’t misunderstand me, I realize that people are often born into very unfortunate environments and circumstances.  As I’ve illustrated in previous posts, my own circumstances weren’t exactly roses and rainbows.  Some people don’t get to learn about themselves. It’s Maslow’s pyramid and they don’t make it past the first level.

An old friend of mine and I were discussing Maslow’s pyramid the other day and it both complimented and derailed what I intended to write about.  For those of you uninitiated, the essential idea is that human needs and progression happen on five levels.  The base of this pyramid are basic needs: food, water, sleep, sex (though.. I believe this transcends a bit… let’s call it “reproduction”,) oxygen, etc.

Once you’ve got your basic needs covered,the next level involved safety on every level.  Protection from the elements, security in your job/income/lifestyle, and basic personal safety.  All the things that lay the foundation for some level of confidence in your life.  But once you get all that figured out, you get to start on the advanced stuff.

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“Shit.. was that level 1 or level 3?”

Level three of Maslow’s pyramid consists of social developmental needs. This fuels the desire for popularity in high school and then evolves into being accepted and respected by your peers at work while simultaneously developing friendship, intimacy (there’s that sex again!), affection and, of course, love in your personal life.  Each step of this pyramid can be a life-long endeavor for many individuals, but I would wager that a very large percentage get stuck here (including, it seems, me.)

The good news is, you don’t necessarily have to achieve any of these levels in any sort of traditional manner to begin work on the next level.  Hell, I’m relatively sure you don’t even have to make it halfway.  As long as you have a basic understanding of achievement on any given level, you can probably grasp the next level as well.  But that’s dangerous, because the point of the pyramid is to illustrated how to form a solid foundation for each level and building on an unfinished foundation can (obviously) end up in disaster.

But let’s say you jump to the next level and go for the really advanced stuff. Level four of Maslow’s pyramid is all about going from being accepted, to leading and transcending the pack.  Achievement, mastery, independence, status, dominance, prestige, self-respect, and respect from others are the needs this level presents.  By this time, you’ve figured out how to play the game of life, and now you need to do better than just play well, you need to excel at it.

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Maslow’s pyramid for the modern age.

Should you manage to develop yourself to the point of excelling at life in terms of what you want to achieve and what you want your peers to recognize about you, you’re ready for the supposed pinnacle of the pyramid: Total self-actualization. Now we’re getting into super-human territory that involves setting world records, becoming billionaires, scaling Mt. Everest, or becoming the President. Fortunately for a fair percentage of the people who are trying to fulfill this need also realize this potential by helping others find their way up the pyramid.  On the flip-side though, this is where the world’s absolute worst humans do the worst damage.

The point of that quick overview though was to illustrate a point: you’ll never reach total self-actualization because you will never completely know and understand yourself.  Even if you somehow thought you did, you can’t, because it’s fluid.  That’s actually one of the great joys of life.  One of the greatest strengths of humanity is it’s fluidity and adaptability.  Some very smart, very enlightened people close to me struggle with this a lot and admittedly I do as well because it’s frankly exhausting if you don’t step back to recognize it for what it really is: growth.  Not only is it growth, but it’s advanced growth that only a certain percentage of people in the world have the luxury of knowing.

It’s a given that people reach the fifth level of Maslow’s pyramid all the time, but as I

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Oh…

mentioned earlier, a lot of those people left an essential level undeveloped… some skipped it entirely and paid for it.  They are easy to see, the people who seem to have everything, experienced so much, but are still miserable.  They act out, break down, and sometimes die far too early and sometimes by their own hand.

The point in all this psycho-babble is that I’ve realized that the biggest mistake we can make is attempting to rush through or force our personal development.  We seek to master our environment and to balance that out we must seek to master ourselves.  But both are fluid and can never really be mastered, so we have to realize that it’s enough to continue learning, continue developing and build our foundations strong on each level so we have a solid base when we someday reach the top of our own personal pyramid.

You don’t know who you are, and you never will, but the point is continuing to get to know yourself.  When you do, you get to the fun part: Being pleasantly surprised and amazed at what you can do… and then being able to live happily with it.

 

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You Don’t Have To “Follow Your Dreams”

“What do you want to do?”  “What do you want to be?”  “What’s your passion?” “What do you want to be when you grow up?” “What do you dream of being?”

Rich.  And Happy.  With Kids.

Oh, you want to know how?  Well fuck off, I don’t know.  Except I do, and that is: whatever I can do that will get me there while keeping me happy, letting me live my life, and allowing me to keep my dignity intact/stay true to myself.

I suppose that’s awfully specific for somebody that doesn’t know, but as a thirty-six year old single male that achieved “full yuppie”, and then spent months unemployed until just recently, I’ve had a lot of experience and a fair amount of time to mull this over.  What I figured out is that all those questions above seem encouraging and productive, but they can, in fact, be exactly the opposite.  They can demotivate and even create insecurity where there doesn’t need to be any.

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Obviously they had different priorities…

The thing is, some people have dreams when they are little, but as we grow, we change and (hopefully) so do our priorities.  When we’re kids, a lot of us really hate taking naps.  Sleep is so boring!  But years later, as an adult, nap time is a close second (and let’s face it, depending on the person, it’s possibly not second) to the horizontal mambo.  We grow, we learn, priorities change, and so does what we dream of.

When I was a young boy, I wanted to be a fighter pilot so badly that I studied different aircraft, their capabilities, their combat roles, and even the engines that powered them and who made them.  I thought the SR-71 Blackbird was the coolest thing in the world.  I grew up, took the ASVAB, aced it, and made the Marines love me (yes, I know I should’ve talked to the Air Force first, but that Staff Sergeant talked a good game.)  They told me I could take my pick of assignments between the AV-8B Harrier II (the jet that can take off vertically and hover) or the F-18 Hornet (The fastest and most maneuverable mainstream fighter the US produced at the time.) I was sold on the F-18 and made a soft commitment to enlist   I trained with Staff Sergeant Johnson to prepare for boot camp while learning more and more about the program.  It would entail military “basic” school, the Naval Academy, and then Flight School specializing (in my case) in fixed-wing aviation.  The long and the short of this was a minimum of a fourteen year commitment once I signed on the dotted line.  And when that day came, my eighteen-year-old self thought about my friends, my girlfriend, and the person I thought I would become, and I walked away (Sorry Staff Sergeant Johnson.)  Once I got realistic about my childhood dream, I didn’t want it any more, and that as okay.

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Most dreams seem to involve mountains and sunsets…

But especially in recent years, society has moved to this obsession with goals/dreams.  People who don’t have a specific one are in danger of being labeled as unfocused, distracted, lacking direction, drifters, or any number of relatively negative terms.  This, in turn, can make people who don’t really have a specific dream feel insecure about the lack of that dream.  They can begin to think there might be something wrong with them and feel like they need to invent a “passion” to define themselves.  This can have the opposite effect, and lead to an abundance of wasted time pretending to care about something that is ultimately unfulfilling.  Such a situation is much more common that we might think and can easily lead to a number of psychological issues.  Ironically, inventing your passion is a very effective way of stifling a real passion you may not know you have yet.

For instance, I remember looking at characters in movies that weren’t the good or bad guy, but were the “right-hand man” and thinking “That would be neat… I could totally be THAT guy rather than the main good/bad guy.”  It wasn’t a dream, it was just a respect for that sort of person that I identified with passively. A couple of decades later that’s the majority of my recent professional experience.  Even better is that I (generally) like it and have made as much, or more than most of the people I know who are “following their passions”.  I never thought to myself  “Someday I’m going to be this awesome Executive Assistant!” but by being open to it and accepting the natural evolution of my career in that direction, I realized that I was, in fact, actualizing something I had passively envisioned more than a few times.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not hating on people who have and follow their dreams.  I have a ton of respect for them.  Many of my very close friends have pursued their dreams and passions and are reaping the rewards of their dedication over the years.  They worked hard, put in their time, (most) suffered to some degree, and are rewarded by the option of doing what they always wanted to do.  But that’s not everyone, and more importantly it doesn’t have to be everyone.  We have to dispel the idea that dreams = life success.  They can most certainly create motivation to succeed, but they are not a requirement.  There are a number of other ways to motivate yourself.

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And that’s OKAY!

Achievement and/or success often breeds motivation, and sometimes it takes a whole lot of trying things and failing to find it.  Further, you may very well find that what you succeed at is something you never even considered before.  That’s where business roles that I call “tool” types come from.  They aren’t what you typically think of when you dream of what you want to become.  Therefore they often aren’t “visionaries” or well-known business leaders.  But instead of having their own dream, they enable/assist the dreamers in order to grow and take their visions to whole new levels.

Maybe you never dreamed of being an accountant, but you find you’re naturally good at it, and it rewards you well leading to job satisfaction and general financial success.  That process can make people pretty happy.  The same can be said for what I do as an Executive Assistant.  I get to live vicariously through extremely successful CEOs, Inventors, Celebrities and other notable dreamers.  I am compensated well and often enjoy a number of (expensive) fringe benefits without the drawbacks of being imbalanced as said visionaries often are (out of necessity really.) I stay balanced and I help to balance them, leading to a great deal of personal and job satisfaction.

There are countless roles that can lead to professional success as an “enabler” or “tool”.  So I’m not saying don’t dream, I’m just saying that if you don’t have a specific dream, don’t stress it.  Provide for yourself (and those you need to provide for) and take pride in that accomplishment.  Just keep trying to improve yourself.  Try things, fail (more than) a few times if you need to, and focus on what you want for yourself.  You don’t have to have a direction  as long as you keep yourself moving forward in some way.  Keep making your own path, cutting through the jungle of life and you might just find that you look up and discover something that you or nobody else had thought of yet. Accidents like that have made a lot of people both rich and happy.

 

About Change and Where We Belong

It has been a busy holiday season and new year, but finally a chance to get back into routine, and that includes my blog!

One of my best friends was visiting from her new home in Japan this last week.  She’s  stayed with me a couple nights while also visiting her other friends and we’ve been catching up on the changes in the sixteen months or so since she left.  I was a little concerned, because sometimes when people travel abroad and start a new life in a difficult, unfamiliar place, it’s easy to come back and latch on to what’s familiar.  So we were on our way to a friend’s house and I asked her if she was feeling at home again (more or less baiting her for my underlying question: “are you not going to want to go back?”  Her immediate answer was: “No.  I don’t belong here.”  Wow.  In that moment I realized how much she’s grown even since she left.

She looks Japanese.. right?

She looks Japanese.. right?

I should clarify that she’s one of my best friends because she’s always been wickedly intelligent, friendly and otherwise awesome as a person.  She took the time to get to know me better than anyone had in a very long time, and to this day reminds me when I’m repeating my cycles.  When she was accepted to the prestigious JET program, she had been scared and excited to leave everything she’d know.  But it was her dream to live in Japan someday and it won out over any fear she had.   When she arrived, the first few months were tough, and on and off she struggled with homesickness and bouts of depression. But now, that moment in the car she spoke with such resolution that I knew she’d gotten past it all.  She made her home in Japan, and she knows, she feels that where she is now is where she belongs.

So the new year is upon us, and though the dates and turning of the year are very often in the minds of those who recognize it, there’s something to be said about powerful tradition and the influence of so many minds on the same wavelength.  Our cycles are reflections of our minds, so it’s silly to think we have no influence over them.  We break and remake them as we learn and grow.  The predominant theme of a new year is (of course) new things, new lives, even a new you.  But while everyone wishes for “new”, many are hesitant to wish for the same thing: “change”.  New does not happen without change.  Even if you’re only adding to your existing life, it will inevitably change it.  People fear the idea of “change” because they are afraid to lose what they have and what they are comfortable with, but it’s all about your attitude.  Embrace change and the excitement and experience that come with it are your rewards.  What you should retain will stay with you in some form anyway, the only things you will truly lose are the things that are probably holding you back now anyway.

In a sense, my friend gave up her whole life here to travel to a new place and begin again.  But now she visited over a year later, and she has actually lost nothing.  She came back to friends, family and even pets and could easily have stepped back into her old life as if she’d never left.  However, many people (including myself) noticed she was different.  She has evolved, and further,  instead of sinking into routine, she felt far away from home among us.  It sounds bad, but in essence it means she has embraced her new self and her new life.  It means she has grown.  Some people embark on journeys or make resolutions to change, but many (probably the majority) end up sinking back to what is comfortable.  This involves locations, relationships and professions.  Comfort is easy, and that’s not always a bad thing, but if we rely on comfort too long and do not push our boundaries, we become stagnant and that gives rise to many major issues from boredom to depression.  In order to be fulfilled, we have to feel as if we are growing and/or working toward something.

It's hard not to feel like you belong in moments like these.

It’s hard not to feel like you belong in moments like these.

That’s why finding where you belong can be so difficult; often it’s not a specific place, it’s a situation… it’s a state of mind.  You belong where you can learn, and grow and be made to feel valued for your contributions.  In a comfortable situation, you are taken for granted as much as you take things for granted, but continuing to develop yourself and your situations prevents this on both sides.  That’s not to say that everyone has to uproot and move thousands of miles to find where they belong, sometimes it’s simply a new living or work situation.  But the point is, as hard as it is to to tell when you are there, If you’re honest with yourself, it’s easy to tell when you’re not there.  You feel it when you don’t belong in a situation.  Listen to that, and have the courage to make the change.  I’ve been guilty of clinging to things I was afraid to lose and delaying change in the past, but it turns out that when you embrace change and grow with it, you don’t lose nearly as much as you think.  Especially those who you are important to will make the effort to follow you on some level and reunite with you when possible.  If others fall to the wayside, they have other priorities and probably would have eventually anyway.

That’s the thing about change, be it a new year, a new place, a new relationship or a new profession:  It’s going to happen whether you like it or not.  So, embrace it, direct it and make the most of it with a great attitude. Grow, Change, Love and find where you belong.