From the time I was a little boy well into young adulthood, I was bombarded with words and actions that conveyed the same hurtful, hyper-critical, self-limiting and badly misguided messages from lots of different sources who knew or should have known better: “Don, maybe if you were just a little different, a little better, a little more productive, a little more compliant, a little more perfect, a little more or less something, you’d be accepted and, more importantly, finally get the love you want and need.” Who was I to question all those voices? After all, they emanated from people who professed to love me – or at least who were “suppose to” love me. I didn’t. Instead, the more their voices reverberated in my mind, the more I came to believe they were true. And so, like anyone searching to define themselves and longing for approval, to fit in and be accepted, I tried a little harder – to be a little better. Each time I did, however, unbeknownst to me, I grew incrementally more insecure, more uncertain about whether I was doing enough and, more troublingly, whether what I had to give would ever be good enough. Not surprisingly, over time, people took advantage of that insecurity.
Many years later, I heard that voice again – loudly, unexpectedly, unequivocally and unapologetically. Initially, it struck that same familiar chord and elicited the same response: “You don’t like the way I do things? I’ll do them differently. You don’t love me? I’ll try to be someone else. You just let me know when I hit the mark – your mark.” This time, however, for reasons that are not at all clear to me, I ultimately decided that enough was enough. For once, I took an honest inventory of myself and I realized, likely for the first time, that I was pretty darn awesome! Was I perfect – hardly. I was far from it. Truth be told, I’m even farther from it today and likely will be farther still tomorrow. And, for a change, I’m okay with that. However, I also discovered that I’ve done (or at least tried my best to do) an awful lot of good in my life – for a lot of people – and, along the way, mostly remained true to my personal Mission Statement: Live selflessly and help others. I also realized, among other things, that I have a good sense of humor, that I’m fun to be with and a good and loyal friend, that I’m reasonably creative and a fairly decent writer – and that I’m wise, even if I haven’t always been successful at applying that wisdom in my own life.
I’m not entirely sure why it took me nearly 50 years to figure all that out about myself, particularly since I suspect most of those traits have been part of who I am all along. What I am sure of is that I have no one to “blame” but myself for the fact that it did. Better late than never I suppose. Still, there are times when I wonder just how much more I could have done had I reached (and been willing to fully embrace) those same conclusions about “me” much earlier in life. But there is an important lesson in all of this: We do ourselves a tremendous disservice by allowing others’ attitudes about and perceptions of us to become our own. More often than not, most people would rather we not succeed or at least not shine with the radiance of our full potential lest we cast too bright a light on their own insecurities and/or weakness of purpose. Instead, we are far better off taking an objective inventory of ourselves – that is, as long we’re capable of truthfully evaluating the many things that likely set us apart in a positive way. If, for any reason, you’re not capable of that level of objectivity, by all means seek out someone you trust implicitly to serve as that truth-teller (http://tinyurl.com/a9tdsco) and listen attentively to what they have to say! Trust me, you and the world around you will be glad you did.