In my professional life I witnessed an interesting phenomena, individuals stuck on a past identity. They lived their lives in past triumphs and seem to be locked into days gone by as they repeatedly recount their time spent on the high school football team or their years in the military. I believe it is fine to proudly remember such events, but I don’t think that it is productive to stagnate in days of yore and not move forward.
My personality is similar to what it was when I was a teen, but over the years I have grown in other ways. That process continues in my retirement years. You may ask, how do I know where I need to make a change? The answer is simple, I do nothing and the need presents itself. This is a process that happens to everyone, but you have to be cognizant of the offer and willing to act on it.
I mentioned that I have the same personality as I did as a teen, but I am a different person. I’m more self assured, more assertive, and generally a happier person. I have taken opportunities over the years to grow and to challenge false beliefs that seemed so true that they were law, but they were not.
One significant false belief that I held for many years is that no one would ever want to help me so I needed to figure out everything on my own. As a corollary, I also had to know how to do everything, even when no one taught me how to do something. Somehow, this knowledge was supposed to be embedded in me, and if I couldn’t retrieve it something was wrong with me.
I believed that these sets of beliefs developed when I was a young child, as asking my dad for help almost universally resulted in a “no” followed by a shaming statement. He often gave me tasks to do with no instructions, and would blame me if I did the job incorrectly. These experiences would certainly lead a person to believe that it was their responsibility to solve any problem.
Before you feel sorry for me, I would say that the above was actually a blessing in disguise as I became an excellent problem solver, independent, confident, and competent. If you have lemons, best to make lemonade.
I am a caregiver type, and it is easy to find folks who want to be cared for. That works when you are a physician giving care, but it doesn’t lead to balanced healthy personal relationships.
Many decades ago I decided to challenge the false belief that I’m not worthy of asking others for help, but I did so in a limited way. I have no problem asking Julie or my kids for help when I need it. I always knew that there were others in my life, like my sisters, who would offer assistance if I asked for it. However, I tended to reserve those requests for times of great need.
I have known my friend, Tom for 11 years and we became fast friends over 9 years ago. Early on I had an overwhelming feeling that I needed to protect Tom. This made no sense as Tom is younger, and stronger than I am. In addition, he had lived a successful life well before he ever met me. Tom is a Polish immigrant. I am reluctant to state generalizations, but Eastern European men tend to emphasize their strengths and don’t present as weak or needy. Tom fits this category. So why did I have an overwhelming feeling that I needed to protect him?
As our friendship strengthened it turned out that I did have some skills that I believe helped my friend and protected him from a very real, if covert, threat. However, that was only part of the story. Remember, I believe that if a person is open to growth, opportunities will present themselves that will allow this process to happen.
My connection with Tom wasn’t only about me helping him, it was also about him helping me change.
It takes a significant amount of energy and time to learn things that often have very limited utility. I love learning anything, even trivial things, but it is energy draining. Time spent in such pursuits could be used more efficiently, or the job could have been completed more professionally if I had asked for help. Additionally, there is no better way to learn something than to have a competent teacher instruct you on that process.
My friend, Tom has not only been willing to help me, at times he has been insistent. This process started with small things. Things that I wouldn’t feel too guilty about asking for his help. However, he has gone above and beyond on so many occasions that he has helped me to feel comfortable asking for help from someone who doesn’t have a “blood obligation” to me. Most recently, he spent weekends putting together a new kitchen set-up for Violet the camper van. I wanted a simple modification, but he gave me an entirely new kitchen. When asked why, he responded that he wanted to do it for me.
Beyond the joy of having someone help me, these interactions have taught me a valuable lesson. I always knew that I felt good when I helped someone, but now I know that people feel good when they help me. This may sound elementary to you readers. However, it was a revolutionary concept for me, a person who thought that they didn’t deserve to be helped. Naturally, that last statement comes from emotional Mike, not rational Mike.
My belief that I needed to protect Tom was the “hook” into the relationship, but he showed me that I also needed him to grow further.
I never want to become stagnant. I always want to move forward. I understand that as I age I may need to give up some aspects of my identity, but I have been shown time and time again that when a door closes a window opens. Overall, as I accept who I am, not only my strengths but also my limitations, I can challenge those limitations and sometimes conquer them. How does all of this make me feel? Happy.