It is 5:30 in the morning, and I sit and type. Five-thirty may sound early to you, but I actually slept in today, as my normal wake time is 3:50 AM. A very early wake time, signifying a change in my life, a change that involved risk.
I’m getting older and I’m examining my life carefully. I’m getting older and I’m asking myself the big questions. The questions that are big for me, anyway.
I have never been much of a risk taker. I tend to be a plodder. I tend to play it safe. I’m one of those people who may look on the surface as someone who pushes the envelope, but I really don’t.
I do things that I feel that I have a reasonable chance at succeeding at. I will take on a project, like creating a complicated website, even when I don’t know the first thing about web design. My arrogance tells me that if someone else can do it, so can I. I will teach myself photography, or how to play a musical instrument, or how to bake bread, for the same reasons. Yesterday my wife told me that I’m good at everything that I do. That may be true, but what about the things that I choose not to do?
There are somethings that I have done in life that have felt risky to me. Leaving graduate school on the pipe dream of becoming a physician was one of them. It felt foolish and crazy at the time. It felt like I was throwing my carefully calculated future away. But it was not a true risk, as I felt compelled to apply. Directed by what I felt was my Higher Power. As a doubting Thomas I recall the regret that I felt when I sent in my medical school applications. Each application felt like a nail in the coffin of my prior plan of becoming a university professor. My Higher Power reassured me by flooding me with medical school interviews. Every school, sans one, wanted to talk to me. It was as if God was letting me know that when He wants me to do something He will stand by me, and make it happen. I remember how many of the different school interviewers commented that they were moved by my personal statement. A writing that just flowed out of me, without much thought or reflection. Another God thing, I suppose.
A year ago I took a risk. Major for me, trivial for most; I joined a gym. I avoided physical activity all of my life. I have been told that I’m clumsy, weak, and physically inadequate. By avoiding physical activity, I didn’t have to face my perceived limitations. I joined a gym, but with the gentle hand holding of a friend who walked me through each step of the way. A friend who intuitively sensed my high level of fear and discomfort. Although it felt like a great personal victory, I never would have accomplished it without my friend’s help. So, was joining a gym a risks? On reflection, it is hard to say.
Yesterday at 5 AM I sat with the same friend in his office. We are working on personal improvement plans. We have been working on them for months, as you can only do such things in small bites. In some areas I have no problems coming up with a plan of action for myself. Yet, in others I am utterly immobilized. Risky things.
Yesterday afternoon I decided to tackle a project that I had been dreading. I have a room in my basement that has become a storage room. It is filled with things that hold my interest. Photography equipment, electronics, musical instruments, camping gear, old computers… the list goes on. The room had fallen into complete disarray after I dug around for a few things needed for some creative projects. As I worked on the mess I realized how fortunate I am. If I have an interest I have the ability to indulge myself. I have so much cool stuff, tools that could help me grow as a person for years to come. But the cleanup also made me sad. The room represented so many of my aspirations. Yes, I am a photographer, but I want to be better, more creative, more inspired. Yes, I can knock out a tune on a guitar, but my skill is static, and I never seem to find the time to practice and improve. A room filled with hope, somewhat dashed because of my inability to take risks.
I mentioned to Julie that I had been working on a self-improvement project with Tom. “Don’t you think you should clue me in as it will affect me?” she said. I told her that my goal was to become more authentic, more real, more true to who I really am. She replied, “That is very Benet Brown.” It may be, but my desire to change isn’t from reading the latest psychotherapy guru, it is a natural evolution that is erupting from deep inside of me.
So who am I reader, and how am I different from the persona that I portray to others? That is a difficult question for me to answer. My external persona is indeed me, but only a part of me. A sub-part, so to speak. There are many other pieces of me that have been shielded and consciously buried.
I have been exploring the rough and tumble me. The part that enjoys using a choice expletive for the sheer exhilaration of doing it. The part of me that wants to build things with my hands, go camping, get muddy.
There is the free spirit part of me that wants to embrace unstructured free time, and not feel guilty that I’m not being productive enough.
There is another part of me that wants to break down barriers, and form true close connections with others. I have lived a life of service, and most of my connections are based on doing service for others. I’m trying to change that by being more real, but I fear that my intensity will scare people away. Are there people who could tolerate the always thinking, always intense, always obsessive, always somewhat different, always enthusiastic, always problem solving me? I like doing service for others, but there are times that I would like someone to take care of me. Do I deserve to be taken care of?
I’m trying to allocate time for myself. I am exploring new activities and behaviors. I am exploring new ways to connect. On the surface those close to me tell me that these are good things, but the stronger subtext is that I have changed, and that I should return to my former style of behavior. “It’s not just me, others have commented on how you have changed,” I’m told.
I am told that people have noticed that I’m acting differently, swearing more, less obsessively concerned about placing the needs of others before mine. I am asked why I have to go to the gym, hang out with a friend, have a certain level or order around me, or a handful of other things that were out-of-character for me. But these are, or have become, my true character. I wonder, can those people around me not only tolerate my change, but also embrace it and celebrate it? System Theory says that change can be difficult, but it is possible.
I am determined to not return to behavior as usual. I battle to move forward, and to be true to myself. We are only given so much time on this planet.
I won’t bother you with the goals that I developed for myself in my personal improvement plan. I will tell you that one goal is especially daunting for me. Every time I think of making the smallest movement on it I immediately panic and retreat. It is possible that my ambivalence is a sign that I should just let go of that goal. It is possible that I’m immobilized by the fear of moving on it. It is possible that I want too much, or my goal is too lofty. Perhaps, I need to simply accept where I am at, and be done with the agony of indecision.
When I am in such a state of uncertainty my only option has been to pray for guidance. If you are so inclined, I would appreciate your prayers too.
Today my goal is to live bravely, fully, and authentically. It is a goal that is harder than you could possibly imagine.