My Girlfriend tells me from time to time “I wish I had met you 20 years ago”. She feels like she has wasted the last 20 years in a relationship she knew wasn’t going anywhere, but she stuck it out anyway. We’re getting along really well, and our relationship is developing into something solid, healthy and real. If it had begun 20 years ago, she feels like she wouldn’t have wasted all that time in an unhealthy relationship.
She’d be wrong.
20 years ago I was a completely different person. I’m not saying that I’ve had a major personality change or anything; I’m the same person as I’ve always been. What has changed is my perspectives, how I feel about myself, and how I treat others. I’m not where I want to be, but I get better every day.
20 years ago everything was different. I had small children at home that of course require a lot of attention and financial support. Your life tends to be focused on them, and your activities are school, sports, and their wellbeing. There is not a lot of time for anything else, much less even be aware of your own attitudes.
My job was completely different too. That was about the time I started moving up the corporate ladder. By 2000, I was a senior executive and heavily invested in my career. I was far removed from the front line workers, and managed by metrics and budgets. I had very high expectations from all my employees and demanded excellence all the time. I wasn’t a bad boss, but I know I was hard to work for. And I had no problem terminating anyone that I didn’t feel measured up. One of my positions I was known as ‘The Executioner” because I eliminated an entire team at once. I tried to be fair, but in reality I was harsh.
The money was much better. I was well into six figures, and was living large. I had luxury cars, a second home, country club membership, and entertained lavishly and often. I was so proud of my affluence and position, and had no problem letting everyone know about it.
I had absolutely no tolerance with service providers either. Since I ran my own service organization, I demanded the level of service that I expected of my own staff. I would berate the front line service people, and demand to speak to supervisors, not stopping the escalation until I got what I thought I should have. And if I didn’t get it, I would let them know of my displeasure in no uncertain terms.
I did try to treat people with respect, but had the tendency to mock any opinions that I deemed to be uninformed or less intelligent than my own. Maybe not directly to their face, but I’m sure that they could feel the scorn.
In short, I was a jerk.
Sure, I had plenty of issues throughout the years. My moods went up and down more than a hooker’s panties. I was frequently hospitalized, and went through a whole bevy of medications. But I could always explain it away. You would think that as much as I went through and as often as Doctors and Loved ones suggested that there was a problem I would at least entertain the idea that I had an illness. But no: I was completely in denial. For about 15 years my mood swings had a lot of impact, but weren’t severe enough to appear significant. Yet, there were all the medications, all the therapists, all the meltdowns. There were always reasons though; I was going through a divorce, my job was stressful, I had family problems. It was always something else, and never because of me.
But that’s all changed. One big influence has been the economy. The executive jobs aren’t available anymore like they used to be. I’ve always worked in technology, and in my area those jobs are gone, and the medical industry has taken over. And at least in this market, if you don’t have a medical background, there’s no chance of being hired in any capacity. So I took a job as an individual contributor doing support. It’s not level 1 (Thank goodness) but it’s still dealing one on one with problem resolution directly with the customer. I’m now doing the job that in the past was supervised by my direct reports. What a change in perspective! I know what it’s like now to be on the other end of the angry customer calls. I may want to help them, but I’m limited by resources, protocol, and policy. I will never yell at a customer service representative again. If I ever get in a position of management again, you can be sure that my leadership style will be different too. I’ve learned firsthand how difficult this job is, and found out that there are much better ways to help employees produce. This is a very negative situation for me, but I’ve taken something positive out of it.
The biggest change has come from acceptance of my bipolar disorder. Once I understood that I have an illness I’ve been able to address it, and manage the physical and emotional symptoms. That’s a big thing, for sure. But it’s more than that. Not being bombarded with the constant mood swings, I have the energy and motivation to work on other issues that both relate to the illness and general personality deficiencies. I have become so much better at managing stress, and maintaining a positive and healthy attitude. The way I treat others has improved as well. Everyone has issues, stresses and challenging influences they have to deal with. I hope that people can understand that I have my own trials and difficulties; it’s only fair to accept that others have their own. I really try to be much more understanding and supportive of people in general. Do unto others…Right?
My perspectives and approaches to relationships has grown tremendously. That is an article in itself, but I’m really committed to developing a healthy, honest and meaningful partnership. And I truly believe I’ve made great progress.
I’m not done yet; I never will be. But everything I have experienced up until today has shaped me and created who I am. And that’s true of everyone. People may or may not learn from their past, but either way it has a direct effect on their present.
As far as meeting my girlfriend 20 years ago, our lives have both been following different lines. At the moment, those lines have converged, and we both bring in what we’ve learned, what we’ve experienced, and even the baggage we still carry from the past. Will those lines merge together? Or continue on in their separate directions? Only time will tell; I have no expectations either way. But I tell you that when those points met, there was another milestone on the paths of our lives. Regardless of how it turns out, there will be takeaways and lessons to be learned. In its own way, big or small, it will affect who we are.
We all have pasts, good and bad. We can either learn from them or move forward, or we can wallow there and never get any different. For me, I want to embrace the history of my life, gain as much as I can from the experience, and become a better human being. Honestly, some days are better than others. But I do believe, truly, that I’m a much better man then I was 20 years ago. And should I be graced with another 20 years, I hope I can say the same.
We are who we are as a result of everything we’ve been through.