Sunday, April 21, 2013

25 Years: A Reflection

So here I sit, beginning the last day of the first quarter-century of my life… I’ve been putting off a long post for a while now, and I feel like this is really the most appropriate time for me to sit down and do some thinking. I mean, it’s 3:00 am right now and I’m the only one awake following me and my two friend’s birthday party, but I guess I’ll write until I start to get tired. Or I guess until I finish, whichever comes first.

This has been an incredible year for me. Of all things, it started with the defense of my Master’s thesis and earning said Master’s. That’s a pretty amazing way to start off a year. I’ve moved back to Massachusetts, I’ve found a home in Boston, and I’ve had some amazing times here with the friends that I have found in this community. I have a job in my field; I have had some awesome opportunities with friends, with my job, and with my fellow Enforcers. I had two amazing PAXes and I am continuing to find ways to grow and move forward in life.

25 years… I can’t believe it’s been that long. I really have to take the time and appreciate all of the things that have happened in my life up until this moment. It’s not the most amazing, or the most successful, or the most interesting life out there in the world, but it’s been an incredible journey. To think that I almost didn’t make it through day one… How would the world be without my being here? Thankfully I’m not going to go the whole “It’s A Wonderful Life” route here. With confidence, I can say that my life has impacted people. Maybe not in a global sense, but I have certainly impacted those that have crossed my path. My friends, my family, my clients and my co-workers for sure. This year has really allowed me to appreciate the little things: The tiniest of moments and the simplest of gestures. It’s these day to day actions that really impact the people around you.

If I may: I discovered today (well yesterday given the time) that a piece of my old football jersey (if not a replica of my jersey) is in the newly renovated boy’s locker room of Longmeadow High school. Recently, I have received various messages from my younger sister telling me of the high regard that my former coaches hold for me as a player for this school. One coach even went as far to say that “(He) was one of the greatest players to come out of this school)”. Now, this may look like I’m trying to stroke my own ego here, but there’s a reason why I bring this up, especially in this context. I was a nobody in High School, or at least that how it felt from my perspective. In football, I was okay, I guess. I held my own on the freshman team and managed to start for most of the season, however the next two years went by being completely unnoticed by my coaches. I was a moving practice dummy, again from my perspective. I only got a chance to start my senior year because the guy starting over me was being lazy. During the senior banquet that year, my head coach presented me with two depth charts. One from the first week of the season, to the one prior to the super bowl. He told a quick story about my progression through the season and ended by describing my story as proof that hard work and perseverance can really pay off. Being the unconfident 17 year old that I was at the time, I very much shrugged this whole experience off. I felt embarrassed when this whole thing happened. Hell, I still have a hard time believing that any of this is fully genuine. Yet, every year my father tells me of how those coaches tell my story to our neighbors children. While I have not directly impacted those kids, my story is inspiring and motivational. It shows that anyone can achieve greatness (and in Longmeadow, starting on the football team is a very prestigious position) if they work hard and find their moment to shine. But that’s enough about this particular story.

More recently, I’ve found that the biggest impact that I have had on the people I know is my ability to empathize and connect with people. I don’t feel that this is a particularly difficult ability, and yet it has served me well throughout the years. It allows me to better understand this world, and the people in it. I’m not the most relatable guy in the world, and there are certainly people who are very much not in my corner, but I find that my circle of friends continues to grow, and I find myself much closer with those people who invest the time. I’m someone who tends to give a damn a little bit more than I should. I value that investment, many times to a fault. I’ve over-extended myself far more times than I can count. Yet, this is what I do, and I continue to choose to do so. I guess I try and look at my own life, and the darker and lonelier moments in it. I’ve had many times in which one person could have made the difference, and I didn’t have that when I needed it, especially during my younger years. Knowing that, I guess I try to fill that gap when I see those kinds of moments in others. Not to gain something in return, or to achieve some sort of ego boost, but because I know what it’s like to be alone in the world, and if I can prevent that, I’ll gladly make whatever sacrifice to do so.

Lonely is a feeling I find myself feeling far less these days. While I remain single in a romantic capacity, I’ve never felt more at “home”. I feel welcome in my home, within my group of friends, and the various communities that I am involved with. My self-confidence has skyrocketed this year, and I can thank Grad School and therapy for that. I’m sure I’ll eventually go back into that, but things are good right now so I think that can wait. As most of you know, my strongest community is that of my fellow PAX Enforcers. This year has really taken that sense of belonging to a whole new level. As welcoming as this community has been, it hasn’t always felt so. I found myself triggered after a few things happened out in Seattle two years ago, and I had been struggling to feel comfortable in this community for a while. Let me clarify: these experiences were not the fault of anyone else, and most of these feelings were the result of my own internalizations, but I felt that I had somehow alienated myself to people in the community. This last year set me on the path to move forward from those experiences, and my most recent PAX really helped me break through that anxiety. I had a new position, with a newer management team and a lot of new responsibilities, but we exceeded all expectations and I really found myself at my best. PAX has always been a place in which I have been at my best, but for once I was able to recognize my accomplishments and my place in this group.

Over the course of this year, I have learned to recognize my inherent need for validation and recognition.  I know this has been a sign of lower self-esteem and self-confidence, but I finally feel like I am starting to rise above it. Sure, I LOVE feeling validated and I certainly enjoy being recognized for any and all of my efforts, as anyone would. However, for a LONG time I have struggled to find that validation from within. I always needed someone to tell me how good of a job I did. I didn’t believe anything about myself unless I heard it from someone else. My opinion is biased, but opinions of others aren’t apparently? Thankfully, this is something I’ve managed to transform from a need into a like. I’ve certainly still got some work to do and I still have my moments of doubt from time to time. They occur far more rarely than they ever have in my life, but they still flare up from time to time. Fortunately, I’m quick to catch them and able to quell them for the most part.

Relationships are certainly somewhere where I still continue to struggle. The largest case and point being that I’m single, and it’s been several years since my last relationship. This is something that bothers me far less than it used to, but I still have my frustrations with it. I’ve had some potential opportunities, and a few misinterpretations, but nothing that’s really panned out so far. Given that this is something that I used to perpetually perseverate over, I’d say the place I’ve come to with this is fantastic progress. One of the biggest realizations that I’ve made on this topic is this cycle of cognitive dissonance that I’ve been feeding into for almost a decade. I wrote a long piece about this last fall, but I realized that some of my earliest experiences with romantic feelings were not so healthy, and I developed a habit of mentally building up feelings as a coping mechanism. I learned to be quite perceptive with these things and unfortunately I’m particularly sensitive (in the detecting sense) to rejection or potential rejection. The conflict between what I want to happen, and how I feel things are going creates this dissonance, and it’s created a large amount of anxiety over the years. I’ve only just recently come to this conclusion, so I’ve only barely started working on this.

I’ve also realized that I’ve perpetuated a handful of the problems that have led to my prolonged lack of relationships. The way I’ve thought about a lot of these things has been really flawed. For example: I felt that in order for me to work on my relationships, I would need to be in one. The last few months have really countered this notion. I realized that I’ve had a lot of difficulty making connections with women without some sort of romantic capacity. For… well for EVER, I would not be satisfied with being close to my women friends if I was attracted to them. Everything needed to be in a romantic capacity, and if I couldn’t achieve that then any sort of connection or intimacy that I had established felt invalid, or ingenuine. If I wasn’t viewed in that capacity, then I didn’t feel “special” for lack of a better word. I know now that this has strained a lot of my female friendships and I feel like I’ve finally started to make some distance from this. I know that I can make significant connections with people and have that “special” feeling without needing the relationship to be romantic. This all may sound dumb, but it’s all work in progress, and I’m glad that I’ve been able to make these realizations. While they may or may not influence my current proximity to my next romantic relationship, I know that these realizations will help make future relationships healthier.

Writing all this helps me to appreciate the perspective of how far I’ve come in my life. It’s been an incredible journey for me; I’ve done some really amazing things with some wonderful people (This sentence is giving me déjà vu). I have had an impact just as many of you have made an impact on me. There is value in that that I will do my best to hold on to. I don’t know what’s going to happen next. I’ve got some big choices that I’m going to have to start making soon. The biggest of which is when I’m going to make my next big step. Where is also a significant part of that? I’m gunning for that PhD, and I know that I’ve got what it takes to achieve my goals. For now I’m going to enjoy the summer, hopefully add another PAX to my belt and just enjoy the here and now. I’ve got another 25 years to figure out how I want to live the rest of my life and for the first time I’m able to just sit back and enjoy my life.  I’m happy. That’s not to be confused with complacent or content. There’s a lot more I want to do in this world, but I’ve got my whole life to figure that out. For now, I’m going to have some fun for once.

It’s not quite Monday, but Happy Birthday Matt. I’m going to cake dance in the morning and enjoy an evening at Fenway Park with Adam and Lauren. It’s been a great life so far, and I’m looking forward to the next 25 years!