Why do I help people figure out who they really are and how to live authentic, often extraordinary lives? Because I’ve been down this road, and it can be hard and lonely. I want people to know that they don’t have to be satisfied with a “normal” life and that they don’t have to travel this road alone.
I’m not normal. Never have been. Throughout my life, I have been nagged by a persistent thought that I must be on the wrong planet. Most “normal” situations usually leave me thinking “That’s not quite right. Is that really the way it’s supposed to be?” I’ve spent the last 25 years trying to figure out why I am here, why I have so many different passions in so many different areas, and why I see things differently than other people.
As with most things, if you don’t have a clear grasp of who you are and what you want, the world will be glad to provide an answer for you. I remember a scene from my college days. After listening to me describe my struggle with finding the “right place” in this world, a friend from high school replied “You don’t really have a problem. You just want people to think you’re special.”
Bam. There it was – an instant and deep blow. I’m sure the comment was thoughtless and said in passing, but it cut quick and deep, right to the heart of where I live. It still does. I still want the chance to say “But I am special, don’t you see?” Sadly, most people won’t see you as special. Instead, it’s all up to you. If you don’t define yourself, the world will try to define you anyway. I constantly find myself fighting the urge to wonder if I should just “grow up” and act like a normal adult.
I tried to be normal. I really did. It just didn’t take.
I’ve had all sorts of “normal” jobs, and each time it has felt like being crammed into someone else’s mold. I’ve often felt as though my professional life got onto the wrong train at a station. The more time passed on that train, the farther it took me from the station and where I wanted to be. The longer I rode, the more difficult it seemed to go back.
I was polishing this text in preparation of launch day and realized that some of it was leaning a bit toward marketing-speak. I don’t want this to sound like a sales pitch. This entire project comes from my own need to be authentic and if I really want to describe “the fall and rise of me,” then I have go further along in my “fall” before I start.
Several years ago, an organization-wide restructuring gave me an opportunity to leave my current job with grace and I took the opportunity to enter entrepreneurship for the first time. Since then, I’ve owned several businesses. All of them had partners and all of those partners were friends. Some businesses were successful, some were not, and some never left the printed page (although they still cost money). At some point, I’ll cover the pros and cons of going into business with friends in a blog post. For now, suffice it to say that the last venture cost me one of my closest and longest friendships and tens of thousands of dollars of debt. When I finally landed another “normal” job, my family was literally weeks away from having no equity, no saving, no income, and a mountain of business debt. Scared by what my wife and I considered a near-tragedy, I was just happy to have a job that paid the bills. Personal fulfillment was not even part of the discussion.
I entered that job feeling lucky and grateful, but I was emotionally bloodied, my ego was bruised, and my self-confidence was in tatters. The dissolution of my business turned into a legal battle that lasted another four years, becoming a constant strain both emotionally and financially. Compounding that, my new job put me in close proximity to one of those toxic people that can destroy entire organizations. This guy was a psychological time bomb; constantly paranoid, angry, mistrustful, and belligerent. While I managed to stay on the safe side of his wrath for several years (until I too eventually became a target), I remained constantly anxious and panicked. Every day, I was paralyzed by thoughts of “I’ve got to get out of here.”
The turning point came when I decided to enter a certification program for organizational consultants. There, I was surrounded by talented executives and professionals who didn’t know me or my recent history. As a part of the training, we did a lot of introspection and self-discovery in small, intimate settings over the course of seven months. While those folks definitely saw me as weary and somewhat wounded, they also saw me as someone with valuable skills and unique experiences. For the first time in several years, I began to feel like a competent, albeit unusual, person with something valuable to offer. It was the beginning of remembering who I really am.
I left that experience determined to become an organizational consultant, working with client organizations and businesses to help them become more successful and creative. I knew that I wouldn’t be a traditional consultant but I thought I could follow on the examples and success of my new friends and colleagues. I made a plan, collected tons of advice, and started trying to develop a business. I tried to balance between being unusual enough to seem new and fresh while maintaining that air of professional competence associated with traditional consultants. In the end, I realized I was still trying to force myself into the mold of other people’s expectations. I didn’t really want be that consultant.
One day, I decided enough was enough. If I was going to be truly honest with myself, I wasn’t being truly authentic. If it wasn’t going to be in traditional consulting, then I would have to do something entirely new. In fact, what I said to myself was “Screw all y’all. I’m doing this my way.” The reason people seek me out is because I see things differently. I didn’t take the traditional path to conventional success, and that’s what makes me valuable. When I was hired to do IT Project Management, the Chief Information Officer said “I hired you because you have a Psychology degree and a Divinity degree. That’s what we need.”
(Luckily, I knew a little bit about IT Project Management as well.)
So, here we are. I’ve spent most of my life feeling like I don’t really belong on this planet. I’m too strange for the stuffed shirts and ties, and I’m not strange enough for the artists and “creative” types. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to “spin” my skills and experiences to fit the expectations of others. I’ve received advice from all sorts of respected professionals and creative people and I tried to make my journey seem less diverse and less eclectic. In reality, all that did was diminish the things that make me unique and valuable.
We all need to stop thinking of the things that make us unique as liabilities and start seeing them as assets. We all need to live a life that is more authentic, keeping close to those values and perspectives that make us who we are. I’ve beaten my own path through the jungle of what is “normal.” I’ve worked hard to change my personal life and my professional life, and now I want to help people find their own path for discovering who they are meant to be.
Here are my promises to you as we take this journey together:
I hate “spin.” It makes my head hurt. Good marketing demands that I try and present myself in the best light possible, but I will always try and stick close to the simple truth.
No Time Wasting
I will not be tweeting about what I ate for lunch, or how much I’m looking forward to Movie XYZ. There are other places to share the minutiae of life with friends and family, but it’s not here. I will only publish stuff that I feel meets a high standard of usefulness and general awesomeness. My goal is to help you find yourself and then change your life so you can start being the person you really are. I won’t publish anything that doesn’t help that goal.
I tend to be a pretty private person, but I believe that being open about my own journey can help you along yours. I will work hard to share what I believe to be appropriate and helpful. My journey is by no means finished, and I still have work to do. We can walk this path together.
2 thoughts on “The Fall and Rise of Me”
Jay, I’m pretty sure you’re my brother from another mother. If you would have just inserted my photo instead of yours, that article could have been as easily about me (though I don’t think I would have written it as well).
Best wishes with this new endeavor and your continued journey; I will be a faithful reader (and hopefully, a productive learner as well)!
All I can say is Power To The People! I’m just glad that there are other people out there who feel the same way.