It was my birthday two days ago. I turned 35. I don’t know how I feel about that. I know a woman with near the same birthday as me, and she has started a successful business, raising kids with a loving husband, and worked her way to an executive director position for a non-profit. Me? – not so much. I found two quarters and a penny on the bus floor today, though. – That’s something.
When you look at my life…on the surface, there’s not much to see. I live in an apartment, on a life-time housing voucher provided by some non-profit company in Denver; (even though I live in Boulder). A lot of my friends or the people I see day to day, don’t even have that much. I have no job, no car, no girlfriend, no children, and the only parent that I do have is dying and won’t speak to me. That’s depressing – or can be, if I let it.
But I’ve always held this remarkable ability to see hope where others see only darkness. This capability has seen me through foster homes, getting kicked out of the Marine Corps, being fired from numerous jobs, and a six year stint of homelessness, some jail time, and even some probation.
I’ve always held the conviction that a person is made up of their values and beliefs and their character. If those aren’t in alignment, then you got a problem. Your life won’t turn out quite the way you intended. I have spent a great deal of my free-time wrestling with the issue of how to align those three foundations within myself. As a result, I probably know much more about my own psychological process than most people know about theirs, and have steadily been teaching myself ways to transform that process so that it supports me in where I want to go and what I would like to do with my life.
The first issue I came across while still living on the second floor of an apartment with my dad and his third wife in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, was my penchant for reading romance books. I read tons of fantasy and romance books as a sort of way to forget for the moment that I wasn’t experiencing too much of that in my own life. But at some point, I got tired of settling. I wanted to make more money. I didn’t want to be worried about my dad or my own financial security. I wanted the time, energy and resources to pursue my goals. At some point, I decided to start reading non-fiction books…specifically, what you might term self-help books. I did so. I found myself frequenting Barnes and Nobles four or five times a week, picking out books with titles that caught my eye, and then sitting down, indian-style in the aisle and making my way through a chapter or two at a time. I would come back again and again until I had read the entire book. This was a bit more difficult to do for me, than most. I had no car, and no bicycle and the shopping center was about 2 or 3 miles away. So, I would get the urge to read something, go out and follow the railroad tracks, attempting tightrope walk them as far as I could before falling off to one side and doing it again. While I would walk, I would think about my life and how much I wish I could change it. I wondered what it would really take to do so; and at times, more often than not, I wondered if it were even possible to do so.
For months, I continued to educate myself by reading these self-improvement books. The topics I was most interested in had to do with character-building, leadership, and making money. Early on I was exposed to an author who also happened to be a christian minister. John C. Maxwell. I can’t tell you the profound effect that this man had on my idea of what it took to be a leader. He has written more books on the concept of leadership than any other author I know of.
One thing became clear – success wasn’t something that you just stumbled into. You didn’t just fall into it on accident. You had to work at it; and by “it” I mean “you” – as in, you had to work on yourself. I discovered that all my virtual mentors or success coaches in those books kept saying the same thing, just in different words. The theme was, “The Inner game is just as important and even more so, than the outter game.” What does that mean? Well, the outter game has to do with developing skills, and gathering knowledge concerning the path of success that you are on. Whereas the inner game had more to do with conquering your fears and anxieties, becoming a better person, getting clear about what you wanted and why it was so important to you. Since then, I’ve distilled the inner game down to these three elements: Developing Character, Learning Emotional Intelligence, Gaining Faith. With these three elements in place, the outter game became so much easier to accomplish.
I’ve often wondered if I was born “special”. I was put in special education classes early on. I had a hard time getting along with people when I was younger – especially children my own age. My dad once told me that I was socially retarded. Well, maybe he didn’t use the word “retarded” exactly, but I knew what he was getting at. I didn’t know how to communicate my needs in a manner that wouldn’t alienate people. In short, my Emotional Intelligence IQ was extremely low. Over time, I began to notice a pattern that would play itself out like a broken record. I would see someone that I wanted to get to know; I would approach them and then I would end up pushing them away. It got to the point where I felt that it wasn’t even worth it to try to make friends; it just wouldn’t work. Unfortunately, I am, more than most, a sensitive person and want people to like me. Being an “ENFP” according to the Myers Briggs Type test, I crave human contact and relationship more than most other psychological types. What irony! – that what I craved most was denied me by my own lack of understanding of how to read social cues and how to behave in social contexts.
Yet something my father told me once when I was about 16 and comparing myself to all the other kids out there, stuck somewhere in the back of my mind. He said, “Dave, you are like a deformed lion cub. When all the other cubs are out there running around and trying to catch their gazelles for dinner; you are too weak to do so. But you are a smart cub and resourceful, and as a result, you will learn how to catch these gazelles a different way; and in time you will no longer be lame. Right now, you see your weaknesses as a disadvantage; but in time, you will have spent so much time and energy learning to master your weaknesses, while at the same time learning alternate methods to survive and get what you want. At some point in your adult life, you will have gained a tremendous advantage, because you will not only have mastered areas that you were once weak in, but you will have surpassed most normal people’s abilities, and in addition, you will have cultivated other skills that most people never even think about, let alone practice and master. Therefore, the way I see it, this is actually a good thing!”
He was right. I’ll give you an example: Most of my life, I have detested the idea of having a 9-5 job. I had many, and most of my bosses either fired me, or I quit. On the surface, someone might look at that and say to themselves, “This guy will never amount to anything. He can’t even keep the simplest job.” Yet they are missing something. Over time I told myself that no-matter what, I would avoid getting a traditional job. I would learn how to work for myself. This was a huge undertaking for someone who had never done so. It was extremely optimistic to think that it might even be in the realm of possibility; and yet, after living on the streets and in shelters for about six years, I have cemented a sort of resilience within myself, which allows me to wait out the worst while planning for the best. I have begun surrounding myself with people with strong character and their own resilience. – People who have imagination. People who not only dare to dream, but dare to take action on those dreams. Together, we have formed partnerships to help one another attain those dreams. Together, we have taught one another through hard-won experience, the nature of starting the simplest on-line, small business. Homelessness eventually placed me in situations where I had to get along with all kinds of people, a lot of them – crazy! It forced me to learn how to communicate and how to “Win Friends and Influence People” – the title of Dale Carnegie’s best-selling book on how to do exactly that. In a way, I learned that it is much more important what you DON’T say, than what you do say. I learned through this 6 year experience that keeping my mouth shut and listening to those around me, could teach me things that I didn’t know. It could also teach me how to relate to people in a manner that would have them gravitate towards me, rather than away. I guess that I could have learned some of this at a typical job; but a lot of it I would not have had the privilege of having ingrained into my core personality until it became part of the very way I operated in life. For a while I was running my own small glorified yard-work business. I hesitate to call it Landscaping; but in a way it was that minus doing any kind of stone-work. I worked for my pastor. He would continually call me up to do some things around his house: replace the mulch, thatch the yard, weed the garden…stuff like that, and he would pay me a modest $12 per hour for several hours to do so. After a few months of this, I asked him if he’d be willing to refer me. It wasn’t three days later when he left me a text message that his wife’s mother and her husband needed a bunch of pine needles bagged up and tossed away. I called the number my pastor gave me and arranged to work for them later on in the week. That single referal and my relationship with my pastor, opened a doorway to a group of clients that were obscenely wealthy – at least by my standards. Not only were they wealthy but they had a real need for pine-needle clean up. After having people picking me up and dropping me off at my apartment, I get self-conscious and a fear began to dominate my thoughts that I was appearing un-professional. That I should have a car and drive myself to their houses. It was this fear which eventually destroyed the business I had built. I began telling my clients that they no longer needed to pick me up; that I would catch the bus. This made it much harder on me to keep my appointments. My impatience and the way I viewed myself, and the pride I had created eventually caused my business to fail, and the relationship with my clients to become strained.
I did very well for a while. I had to learn all kinds of things from scratch like how to schedule and re-schedule appointments, what to charge, how to keep myself from burning out, how to say no to work that didn’t meet my needs – or the money that would have been generated from that work. I had to learn skills of operating certain machinery and learn to streamline processes to be able to work faster and get more done. I had to teach myself so many things and ‘wear’ so many ‘hats’ – salesman, marketer, worker, collector, conversationalist, secretary…etc. Had I been working a job, I would not have learned these things. I would not have been exposed to problems which inevitably cropped up, which I was able to come up with creative problem-solving solutions from. I would not have had the energy nor the time to pursue this small business with the attention-to-detail, fervor and focus which it required of me.
That was an example of how I was able to turn an apparent ‘weakness’ not being able to get and maintain a job, to a strength of being able to run my own business, set my own rates and to create a flexible schedule. I didn’t have to worry about when I was going to get my vacation, or wonder if I was being paid enough. I could accept the jobs that I looked over and liked, and reject the ones that didn’t feel right to me. I made much more money than I would have, per hour, had I worked a job at entry level wage. I built my character, learned more about people in general, and discovered that I could overcome obstacles. Lastly, it taught me the process of starting a task and then what it took to finish it satisfactorily.
That essence of that last sentence is absolutely critical, I believe. It’s one thing to accomplish small tasks that you’re told to do, and quite another to see, in your mind’s eye, the finished product, be able to lay out the steps, in order, that are necessary to reach that goal, and then to put that plan into action, weaving your way around obstacles as they appear, until you bring into tangible form the conception which you only had in your mind, a few days earlier. The more you do this, the more you teach yourself the art of being able to visualize and then bring into concrete form, your life. This teaches you that excuses don’t amount to much. – That blaming others for your lack of success won’t get you what you really desire. – Or even that blaming yourself won’t do much good. What you need is the ability to think clearly, strategize, make a plan, use your imagination, have patience and a good bit of humor when things don’t go quite according to that plan, and to analyze and evaluate the results of your attempts at crystallizing an idea down to it’s concrete equivalent.
Their are what I like to refer to as, “Wizards of Change”, which have a remarkable ability to quickly do these things. I like to think of myself as a “Wizard of Change-In-Training”, eventually getting to the spot in my development where I can help to influence the direction of entire communities or countries. Wisdom, first and foremost is required; for you can be given all the power to do a thing, yet without the wisdom to know the results of a given set of actions – you can not only fail at what you were trying to do; but you could hurt people while trying to do it. This is why I value learning from my own life experience and from smaller things, first. I don’t want to have the power to change things without first having gained the wisdom to employ that power in an effective manner.
Thanks for reading…hope you enjoyed it.
And by the way, Emily…I haven’t written for a while, and the fact that you decided to ‘follow’ my blog and my other one “Poetry by 34” (which, incidentally, I will change to “Poetry by 35”) and I got that announcement in my email, caused me to want to start blogging again. There you have it, Emily, your actions had a direct impact on my life- cool! 🙂