This post contains self-disclosure. If you are sensitive to such things, please be advised.
I don’t have a lot of difficulties talking about my inner feelings; I guess that comes from my years working as a psychiatrist. I know that everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Growth is a journey and not an experience that ends at some arbitrary age, like 18, 21, or 65. It is essential to acknowledge this fact, and it is imperative to recognize that learning about oneself happens on many levels. In other words, it is possible to understand the same truth about yourself but to appreciate that fact in many different ways.
A common theme that has impacted me throughout my life has been the differing opinions of my childhood worth. I have mentioned this conundrum in the past, and I’m sure some of you are thinking, “Oh God, here he goes again.” I would have to agree with that assessment, but the topic seems pertinent to so many of my quirks that I have to revisit it.
The basic gist of this issue is that on one front, I was told that I was stupid, fat (ugly), lazy, incompetent, a POS, etcetera. At the same time, others said to me that I was intelligent, kind, reliable, and gifted. As far as the ugly identifier is concerned, it seemed as if girls liked how I looked, but I have no other point of reference in this regard.
Initially, I embraced the latter opinions, which allowed me to move forward. Later, I intellectually accepted them based on available evidence. However, emotions run deep, and the emotional aspects of early trauma can be challenging to reconcile. I am an introvert, but beyond this, I am a person who moves very cautiously when forming connections with others. A part of me wonders if I’m imposing on the other person, as this was a strong childhood message. Since teachers and others praised me for things I could do, I assumed that was my value. However, I have not let early experiences completely rule my life, and I have used the understanding of my past as well as current observations to challenge those skewed beliefs.
As I have said above, I received the most praise for what I could do rather than who I was. Some of this centered on how I could think; some were based on aspects of my personality. For instance, I’m reliable, a hard worker, and a good provider. I felt that these attributes gave me value to others. But in many ways, these things seemed like parlor tricks that I knew how to perform; they only represented a small part of who I was.
I would like to share a secret with you. I have always had a fear that people close to me would abandon me if I no longer could perform for them. The image that comes to mind is an elderly Inuit being placed on an ice drift once they are no longer beneficial to their community. I would like to emphasize that I didn’t experience this fear intellectually. As a trained scientist, there was no empirical data to support this hypothesis. My worries were on an emotional level.
It was impossible to challenge this emotional millstone during my working life as I was constantly producing, constantly giving of myself, and continuously making money. However, that all changed when I retired, and my lifestyle took a one-eighty. As I moved away from a lifestyle model that had given me so much success I had to face my greatest fear. But how would I do that?
The following incident happened this morning. Many may feel that it is trivial, but reality is written in trivial events. I could give similar examples from others close to me. However, to do so would make this long post even longer and would not serve any additional purpose. I’m writing about this incident as it is fresh in my mind, but it is no more significant than other lessons that I have experienced since I retired.
Last night Chicago was blasted with freezing temperatures with a low of 17℉. I love experimenting and learning (my drugs of choice), and I decided that last night would be the perfect time to test out a Wabasto heater that Tom and I installed in Violet the campervan. This particular heater is plumbed into Violet’s gas tank and is designed to lightly sip on petrol, which it combusts to heat her cabin. I had already done some experiments with the Wabasto. I knew that the heater worked, but I had never used it in a real-life situation. So I decided that last night was the night, and I started the heater as I got ready to camp in my driveway. The experiment was a resounding success as the cabin was a comfortable 61℉ throughout the night and into the morning. This result proved that I could winter camp, even in a boondocking scenario.
My friend Tom has been incredibly busy as he has several projects on closing timelines. I have been thinking of ways to help him, but I concluded that the best option was to simply stay out of his way. In other words, I would give him space so I would not become another thing that he had to do. When I say he has been busy, this is no exaggeration. Yesterday, he started his workday before the sun was up and ended it at 10:30 PM.
At 6 AM this morning, I was greeted by Tom, who knew that I was spending the night in the camper. He went out of his way to pick up some coffee and drive it over to me—a simple act of kindness that was utterly unnecessary but very much appreciated. To me, it was a statement that said I was important enough for him to alter his insanely busy schedule. It deeply touched me.
As I stated earlier, I could give examples of others close to me who have shown their genuine care for me even though I can no longer produce for them. My interactions with those whom I care about are mostly routine. I try to be a good husband, father, sibling, and friend, but I no longer perform circus tricks. I can only be me, the same me I was when I was age 5, age 10, age 25, or age 50. The person me, not the scientist me, doctor me, photographer me, or insert title here me. To have those whom I love value just me is emotionally mind-blowing. It is also emotionally healing. Another gift that retirement has brought.
I write this post as a personal reflection and primarily for my kids to realize that growth is a continual process. In addition, I write it to emphasize the reality that at any age, we can always grow, learn, and become more whole as a person. We can challenge past false beliefs. So many individuals are uni-dimensional. They view their life based on singular criteria. Perhaps it is their career, wealth accumulation, or possession and conquests. However, I am here to tell you that living such a life leads to a sense of incompleteness. We are so much more than a single note; we are symphonies. No one can conduct a symphony without hard work, practice, and introspection. It is the same for our life symphony. Every day gives us opportunities to expand and understand our complex selves. As we know ourselves, we gain the knowledge to fulfill who we are. That growth is constant; it is not static. I hope this post encourages you to pause and pay attention to your inner soul and how you are either meandering towards or away from those core things that are truly important for your wellbeing. Explore your career, relationships, interests, and life. What falsehoods do you refuse to let go of? What realities are you neglecting to embrace?
I thought I would add some photos of me from various points in my life. Each represents a different season of my life. My circus tricks change, but I stay the same.