I was helping a buddy with his resume this weekend. He has great credentials, and an illustrious job history. Still the challenge was – do we shape it just to get the job, or to let the reader in on who really he is, and what he really wants? In other words, should he be authentic?
I remember sitting in the lobby of a Toronto hotel during the heyday of Internet 1.0. I was there for meetings for something that ultimately had no importance at all, but at the time it was the thing. My associate took it upon herself to berate me for not being dressed properly. I was a disappointment. I evidently should have been wearing a different suit, and I had on the wrong watch (I was proud of my Timex Ironman with the missing button). I clearly wasn’t prepared.
Now, I spent quite a bit of energy trying to not only look, but act the part. I had mad chameleon skills in the day. I was whoever I needed to be, when I needed to be it. I could fake it with the best of them. My insecurity, along with my real character, was buried deep.
However, that day in the Royal York was a bit of a revelation. While clearly not her intent, I learned it was possible to not ‘be like everyone else’. Rather than being upset by her words, I realized their absurdity. It was the beginning of a freedom, but still an on going issue and challenge for me, to be myself.
Authenticity is a risk. I might not be accepted, liked, or chosen – and many times I haven’t been. Not giving a fuck is hard.
How cool would it be if my friend got a job based on who he really was, rather than who he thought he should be?
I recently read about an author who had a book on the bestsellers list and was working on a commissioned screenplay. She had put together a spreadsheet of all her submissions over the years. Of her dozens of manuscripts, essays, articles, plays and short stories, only 2% were accepted for publishing. With that level of ‘success’, I am not sure how one would get out of bed in the morning, let alone keep writing.
I think it’s a universal feeling that rejection sucks. However it seems some are better at dealing with it than others. I’m not one of those. I can see how I’ve arranged things to avoid the disappointment and judgment of being told ‘no’.
Early on in my working life I tried being a Life Insurance salesman. (you have no idea). I was told that success came from making fifty cold calls a day. “Each ‘no’ gets you closer to ‘yes’” so the bullshit went. I lasted about three months before I developed a psychosomatic back issue and ended up in my apartment with the curtains drawn watching daytime TV.
Jobs are one thing, but relationships take rejection to a different level. I find I often wait for a signal that it’s ok to reach out or open up. Initiating is risky, especially with those I am closest to, I guess because the stakes feel so high. Inherent in intimacy is the potential for disappointment. But, what if both people are more worried about that, than connection, then what?… I’ve got the number of a good therapist.
My new role model is the 2% successful author. Stepping into life means accepting the possibility of ‘no’, over and over again. Sounds awesome eh? But really, what’s the alternative?
Every once in a while I have a wave of remembering my own mortality. An, ‘oh by the way, this is all going to end for you at some point’. I greet the not-so-cheery thoughts with varying degrees of panic and dread, and then the moment passes.
Then there are the little daily reminders, like reading glasses, bad hearing, and an ankle that’s sore when I first get out of bed. I have not come to terms with the fact that I’ve got less to go than I’ve already come.
I was having lunch yesterday with a young guy (they’re all young now…) who’s in the middle of running a couple of successful businesses, while being a dad to two small kids and another on the way, oh, and owning a dog who spends most nights barfing and keeping the house awake. I jealously told him he’s living the dream, and he looked back at me like I’d lost my mind.
There does seem to be a point in time when one’s gaze goes from looking out into the future, to around back into the past. Neither really makes much sense.
I’m often faced with the desire to want what’s happening in the present to get pushed behind me. I discount the experience because of pain, suffering, lack of sleep, or it just not being that fun. But, really, it’s all part of it. It all matters. A lot. Doesn’t it?
I knew a guy who refused to acknowledge his birthday. He subscribed to a notion that his life was one long continuum, where there was no starting point or finishing line. I thought he was nuts, and I am sure his mum did too.
Instead, I’ll side with Ram Dass and be content with: “Be Here Now”.
So, where were we? Oh, right, I had my pants around my ankles. I guess what I am saying is that to risk love and intimacy is to risk shame. Isn’t that awesome? I certainly don’t remember that talk when we went through pre-marital counselling.
I’ve been married almost 30 years. I’ve wanted out a bunch of times. I thought it was because of incompatibility, falling out of love, blah, blah, blah. I think the real reason is because I was afraid of being and expressing myself. I couldn’t stand the idea of judgment, or rejection. And worse, it wasn’t just acceptance I was looking for, I wanted endorsement…. well, the pants are clearly off now.
The thing is, all that conversation was happening in my head with no one else in the room. I made up all those stories. It was easier to create a reason, an excuse, than it was to face up to the idea that I was scared of who I was. I’d see other folks seemingly getting to ‘be themselves’ and wonder how the heck they pulled it off. I had decided I didn’t measure up, and that I had some imaginary line I was supposed to toe.
There are likely plenty reading this thinking, “my god, his poor wife”. I know, right? Gives new meaning to long-suffering. Yet, despite my best efforts at sabotage, she’s hung in there.
I type in past tense, but it’s hardly a done deal. I’m stuck with myself – the good and the, at times, overwhelming bad. I have no illusions of moving beyond shame – but I do know I have to find a groove where it doesn’t take charge and overwhelm.
I have no problem with getting naked, I just don’t like being exposed.
“Why don’t you write more about intimacy and love in your blog?” someone recently asked. I was reminded of a vivid memory from childhood:
“We’ll show you ours, if you show us yours” offered the older neighbour twins to my twelve year old friend. It seemed like a fair deal to me and I, as his learned then ten year old advisor, suggested he take it. However, while he held up his end of the bargain, the girls ran back to their house giggling all the way, leaving him rather exposed and with little or nothing to show for it.
All to say, these things are tricky. I’ve been at it awhile, but feel I have little expertise in the area of love and intimacy. I have fumbled around since that day by the fence, with varying degrees of success and failure.
One thing’s for sure, it’s not a negotiation. Good relationships have more to do with how I feel about myself than they do what anyone else offers me. Too often I’ve wanted attention and affection to validate me in some way, leaving my partner in a pretty much impossible situation.
It’s like the inflection one chooses when saying “I love you” – it’s either a statement of fact, or it’s a needy request for “and I love you too”. Contrary to that sappy Tom Cruise line from Jerry Maguire, no one else can complete me.
In my experience, love and intimacy are exposing and can even be embarrassing. But they only really work if there are no conditions. I have to accept, and even be content, that there will be those times I’ll find myself standing alone, pants around the ankles. I am sure my childhood buddy would concur when I say: that is much easier typed than done.
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