I believe I was about 7 in the pic above.  Wait until you hear what was in the mind of this 7 year old, and how it made me who I was….both the good and the bad.

On one of my long drives to work the last week, I was looking in the rearview mirror a bit.  It happens from time to time, and it often leads to feelings of anxiety – and not liking myself much.  There are things about me I don’t like very much.  Sometimes I say things I instantly regret, we’re human, aren’t we?  However, I often find myself completely justified in the behavior at the time, only to regret it days, weeks, or even years later.  Many of these situations involve conversations with my friends.  Many of them know I’m a little off-center and are forgiving.  Those who don’t know me as well might…..not like me as much.  Or….less.

Where does this come from?

“I want to be relevant, but I despise being the center of attention”. 

If I were writing the puzzle of who I am, this is sort of it in a nutshell.  My Rosetta Stone.  The encryption keys to who I am are in this one sentence.

In my field of work, I’m very accomplished.  I now manage a team of well….a lot of people.  I’m not writing that to brag (more on that below), but I’m writing it to put some perspective on how I got to where I am, and what drives someone like me.  I’ve always been extremely competitive.  But why?

“I want to be relevant, but I despise being the center of attention”. 

So let me fill you in on something.  Some people are born attractive.  Some are born tall.  Some are born into extreme wealth or on the right side of the railroad tracks.  Many of these people, believe it or not, have one up on everyone else in life.  Women would flock to these attractive men, swoon over their height, or perhaps date them because of their wealth.

I needed an edge.

Early on in my life, far before I learned the concept of multiplication, I figured out product differentiation naturally.  I didn’t know what it was called, but perhaps this is something that is built into our genome.  I understood that I could not compete head on with these guys.  I needed something else.  It was survivor’s instinct, if you will.

It started when I was very young.  Relatives, friends of parents, etc would comment how my little brother was cute….and then sort of as a throw away comment as to not hurt my feelings, someone might mention I was “handsome” – occasionally, but everyone loved my little brother – even the girls (irony is a bitch sometimes).   I never received a Valentine – for real.  Just the stupid ones they make everyone in your class give to you.  From an early age, I had a ridiculously terrible self image and felt not one single female liked me.  Kids can also be cruel, and just not realize it.  I spent a lot of time as a child crying to myself, not letting anyone know.  Because, if they knew they got to you, they would make it worse.  To be invisible, that was the super power I wanted!!  I adopted a fighting mindset.  Maybe I couldn’t beat certain kids up, but I sure as fuck wouldn’t back down to anyone.  I didn’t like getting bullied, and I’d rage out against someone.  Or come up with a plan.  Or stand tall.  But I hated the feeling of someone trying to act better than me.  Just no.

So I would withdraw.  A lot.  Not because I hated people, but because I just wanted to take a back seat and observe.  I wanted to see how others ticked.  A funny thing happened when I did this:

I was able to be invisible.  I essentially did this my entire 9th grade year of school when I switched schools.

Not literally invisible of course, but if you really want to be irrelevant in life, you can be.  I told myself at a very, very young age that I wanted to be relevant.

So I started applying myself to school work.  And before you knew it, I was scoring higher than everyone on tests.  In every subject.  I would get looks, like “you’re a smart guy!”.  I even had a girl that I liked keep coming up to me asking how to spell things.  Then the negative attention happened…

  • The girl came over, and guys started making fun of me, you know, the “kissing in a tree” thing or whatever the hell it was.  I then said something mean to her and spent the next 10 years of my life regretting that one sentence.  Not sure she talked to me at all after that.
  • People started calling me a nerd and other things not flattering.

So then I might get one or two wrong on a test, just so I didn’t have the top score.  It killed me inside.  But, I needed to be relevant – but keep under the radar.  I was ok with being in the circle with 2 or 3 others, but the top dog? Didn’t need it anymore.

But I became infatuated with winning.  You see, this was MY product differentiator.

To be, or not to be, that is the question“.

So I began mastering everything I could.  Every sport I could play, I did the best I could.  I played harder than everyone, even in practice.  Every swing of the bat was for the fence.  Every throw was as hard as I could throw.  Every run was as fast as I could run.  I out-hustled people.  I took offense when someone batting 200 points below me was put in MY spot.  How fucking dare that asshole?  I will end that guy.  I didn’t like alpha dogs challenging me, and I’d war with them.  No one was above me in the pecking order of competition….I created my own destiny.  And I would destroy my brother at every single game we ever played.  He was more attractive than me to everyone, but I needed to show him and everyone that I was better than him.  And so 20 years later that didn’t send anyone to a counselor or anything, right?  Fuck my life and what I did at times to others to feel relevant.  No guilt or remorse here felt daily or anything, right?  These are the things people that get success in not the most ordinary ways have to deal with.  For everything we have scrapped for, fought for, clubbed for to make our own way – there’s casualties along the way.  It’s “survival of the fittest” built into our DNA.  And those who are not given all of the tools to succeed at birth need to find ways to survive.  Years ago, I learned with Machiavelli, “the ends justify the means”.  Well…sometimes the means are not something people are proud of, let me tell you.  People only care about “the ends”.  How you get there, well….that’s on you to decide how to get there.  Hopefully most of you can live with yourselves.  I have a tough time, sometimes.  At least it shows I’m human….lol.

Much of my drive was from 3 major factors in my life:

  1. Socioeconomic background
  2. Girls
  3. Dad/Mom

With my socioeconomic background, well, let me explain something for the audience.  Poor doesn’t know a race.  The most money my dad ever made in his life was $13,000 per year as a steelworker back in the day.  For the first few years of my life, my mom was mostly a stay at home to raise my brother and I, and she went back to work with a vengeance – then finished her bachelors later and got her CPA when I was 12/13.  Anyway, I’d be in class with these kids who had parents who were doctors, lawyers, etc in these expensive clothing – and I was rendered somewhat invisible because of where I lived, who my parents  were (or weren’t), and what my clothing were like.  In my school district, it didn’t even matter if you had the correct brand name – you then had to buy it from the most expensive store.  Fuck them.  From a very young age, I experienced classicism.  These kids acted better than me.  Fuck them.  They were born into different circumstances.  They aren’t better than me.  And I fucking ruined them come test time.  My mom told me in 3rd grade, that I’m going to college.  She will do whatever she has to do, but I’m going to college.  I immediately told everyone in my 3rd grade class….because well, I wanted to be relevant.  And I bragged about it.

I won math awards, spelling bees, perfect attendance awards, music awards, cub scout awards, baseball all star….chess competitions…..I even went to college as a 5th grader.

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With girls, I used to play these games in my head.  If I could run faster, this girl might like me.  If I could play an awesome trumpet solo, some girl might like me.  If I am the smartest kid, she might like me.  All the time, I was trying to get attention from my merits.

But a funny thing happened.

As a 41 year old, at this moment, I can’t recall a woman ever telling me she found me attractive.  Ever.  I can’t recall any overt gestures, I can’t remember any flirting.  And I’m married and had an interesting dating life over the years….women loved me, they adored me, but what’s funny is I have never, to this day, ever felt….”attractive” to any of them.  As an adult, you learn there are some women who are incredibly turned on by smart people – called sapiosexuals, but as a kid who was the poorest, fattest, and not the tallest kid…you just always felt ugly and irrelevant.   No one wanted to be your Valentine.  And that shapes you.  And how you fight.  And how you compete.

“I want to be relevant, but I despise being the center of attention”. 

Here I am again.  Pick me!  Pick me!

The cub scout  badges of my life are worth noting – because I want to be relevant.  I fear that without displaying these badges for all to see, that I’m rendered into the invisible category.  That because I’m not the most attractive, the tallest, or the richest, that if I do not put out my product differentiator, that people will forget me in favor of others.

So in my life, I have talked about my achievements.  I’ve done it…because:

“I want to be relevant, but I despise being the center of attention”. 

But a funny thing also happens.  It’s called bragging, and people fucking hate it.  And, I can tell you, for all of the people I thought I brought closer to me because of my cub scout badges, I probably drove away 10.

It is the product of unintended consequences.  “Hey everyone, I want you to like me because of X!  Look!”  – and away they go…

I don’t like the image of the child I was, being picked on because I had a few pounds, was poor, and was not the tallest – I fired back that I beat you on a test!  That I’m smarter than you!  That you make fun of me now, but you’ll be pumping my gas someday!  Your spelling is atrocious.  You grammar is at a second grade level.  I made myself your peer by brute force.  And I hate myself for it.  I wish I didn’t have to do it.  I wish I could go through life not having to be a peacock of sorts, but without it, I fade into irrelevance….

“I want to be relevant, but I despise being the center of attention”. 

So, as a 41 year old, I still haven’t mastered the delicate art of this.  While many of you see my health blogs, it is part of my journey to be relevant by not being viewed as the ugliest person in the room.  I’m trying to change my self image at the core of me.  I used to also play a game.  I’d be in a room of 20, 30 people or so, and I’d then put myself in some sort of pecking order of how women might perceive me with attractiveness.  Interestingly, without fail, I’d put myself dead last.  Every time.  I would go into parties and immediately realize that if I liked a girl, she would undoubtedly like every other person in there more than me.  So there was no competition with girls and friends, because they also would just assume a girl liked them and “take them” from me without any thought or consideration I might have liked them first. I didn’t matter…they were “better” than me in their eyes.  Now, I started drinking booze in college to shut that up in my head, and it seemed to work for the most part.  I just haven’t figured out any of that while sober.

My self worth did not become attached to my appearance, but my successes.  My trophies, my accolades, my talents – this became my self image.  The problem is, none of you could see this.  And none of you would know it unless I told you.  So I tell you because I think you might value me for it.  And many of you despise me for it.  What’s funny about my trumpet talent was that as much as I loved playing it, I did it for me and not for performances.  I hated…HATED performing.  I didn’t like the spotlight on me during my solos – as all I ever thought was that people are going to think I’m fat, and I could not stand having 1,000 people looking at me.  I’d play that conversation in my head 100 times in a minute prior to the solo and it would get to me.  I could not stand to be the center of attention….but on the flip side, I wanted people to notice my talent.  What a catch 22 that was….and still is.

The art of finding the balance of being relevant, but not bragging is one of the hardest things I’ve ever dealt with in my life.  And I still fail at it a lot.  If I don’t remind people of my achievements, I’m just that poor fat kid getting made fun of – and I put on my boxing gloves and fight back.  My weapon was my intellect, my accomplishments….but those very weapons ultimately get pointed at me….to the point I hate myself for it.  I wish I didn’t have to use those weapons….and I am thinking that without my extra weight down the road, I might be able to retire those boxing gloves forever….that perhaps my self image/self worth can be displayed externally?  That with a healthy body and an attractive appearance, I’m then “valued” by others?  That I’m relevant just standing in a group of people without opening my pie hole?  Interesting thought for me.

I’ll never get taller.  That’s just a fact, I’ll have to live with my 5’9″-ish self.  Perhaps I can work on my body and make my self worth more external to others?  The money has taken care of itself by sheer brute force…but I still deal with self image issues and how others perceive me.  It’s a struggle I deal with almost hourly every day.

“I want to be relevant, but I despise being the center of attention”. 

I feel like my best move for awhile is to back out of the product differentiation game altogether.  Just focus on my body and change my self image to more identify with something I’m happier with.  Something I’m more confident with.  Leave the product differentiation to the work side of my life, and keep it out of my personal life.

Perhaps someday I’m in a room with 30 people and I feel I’m in the top 5 or 10?  Maybe that would do it for me?  It’s going to start with not being dead last anymore…and I’ll work from there.

I just know that at this point, I think I’m just done talking about the cub scout badges…the pic above was more or less a demonstration of what I’ve been doing that I’m done with.

I need to leave this self image in the rearview mirror as I build a new self image.  I never knew how before, but I feel I now have the tools and ability to do it for the first time.

The main picture here, I believe I was 7 or so in it.  I look back on it, and I don’t think I was an ugly kid – but somehow, I felt the ugliest – and because of this, I feel I developed like that.  I’d like to get back to just being confident with myself and let everything else fall into place.  To step back into the mindset of that 7 year old – to feel that ugly to others.  It’s just not right.  I know this now, but my self image, or lack of it, has directly led to the competitor I became – and perhaps without that terrible self image, I would never have been as successful as I am?

Another catch 22.

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