I don’t really have any regrets up until now. No regrets, but I do hate that there have been so many missed opportunities. I’ve had so many chances to do many great things, yet here I am in my mid 50’s with a mid level job and nothing to show for almost 40 years of working. Well, to be honest I really can’t say that there have been missed opportunities after all.
I’ve had a life of opportunities lost.
In one sense I have accomplished some amazing things. I barely got out of high school, and the two year degree I have is really just a joke. I graduated from a two year private ‘business college’ that was there more for the tuition than actually providing an education. Except for the basics of accounting I didn’t get anything at all in those two years. With only a little better than a high school graduation I really shouldn’t have expected too much from my career.
But I have accomplished much, in spades.
I only learned the very basics of accounting, but I was fortunate in that my Father-in-law was a retired auditor, who had started his own accounting practice. Even before I graduated he brought me into the business, and I quickly learned more than I did in college. When my marriage ended a couple of years later that association ended, but I had gained enough knowledge and experience that I continued on with my own business. This translated into my self confidence, and I found a job as the accountant for a small wholesale company. And in 5 years this small company grew exponentially, and in my early 20’s I was the Controller of a National distribution firm.
And then my illness reared its ugly head.
It started with a depression that landed me in the hospital. My boss wasn’t happy at all, and lost confidence in my abilities to do what needed to be done. Then the mania hit, and my delusions of grandeur had me thinking that I should be making double the salary that I was making. I ended up quitting that job to pursue my accounting business full time. Now all of the coworkers I had at the time have since retired with a healthy pension and 401k from staying on with the company.
I had a great career, and threw it away.
My accounting practice did well however. I believe now that I was hypo manic, and had tremendous energy and drive, building a solid business in spite of my age and lack of credentials. I wasn’t getting rich, but I was definitely making a comfortable living. Then I crashed and burned, and spent significant time hospitalized as a result. This particular episode was devastating. Needless to say, I lost my business. The illness had completely taken over though, and it was another 7 years before I went back to work.
Another promising career gone.
When I did go back to work, it was as an entry level computer operator. It was the very beginning of the personal computer era, and I had developed an interest in my business as I went from paper ledgers to computerized systems. I had no technology background though, and my first job was doing backups for a mainframe on second shift. I baby sat the process, only there to change tapes every 20 minutes or so. There was a lot of down time between tape changes, and to keep busy I taught myself to program. I went from there to desk side support, which gave me the opportunity to learn even more about the technology.
In 3 years I was managing the entire support department.
From there I talked my way into a Network Administrator job at a new company, even though I had zero experience in networking. Three years later,. I was with yet another company as the General Manager of Customer Support. I learned so much about the product I was supporting that translated to Director of Product Management in just a couple of years. From there, I changed companies yet again, this time to take a position as Vice President of Operations.
Not bad for a High School Degree.
The downside of this is that I never stayed in one position for more than three or four years. I wasn’t losing jobs, but as my mood fluctuated so did my self perception and motivation. Some jobs I left because depression resulted in a loss of faith either from my management or in myself. Other times I was flying high, and believed I was capable of so much more than I really was.
Not that it was all the illness. I made a lot of dumb decisions.
If I had only just held on and pushed through each episode my life would have turned out drastically different. I had chosen to ignore the obvious, and continued to make the same stupid mistakes over and over.
And don’t even get me started about relationships.
The truth is all my previous marriages were doomed to fail from the start. Either I had gotten involved for the wrong reasons, was attracted to the wrong type, or just quit trying instead of trying to make things work. Yes, being bipolar had a direct impact on all the failed marriages. But like my jobs, most of the overall responsibility belonged to no one but me.
I’m an intelligent guy. Not trying to brag, but I know I’m smarter than the average bear. One of the reasons I was able to accomplish so much in my career was because I was able to grasp concepts much more complex than my education and my quickness to learn enabled me to perform in positions I took that I wasn’t qualified for. I never had the formal education, but managed to teach myself through life experiences and self study that put me with others who had obtained their advanced degrees. I have a remarkable memory. Once I have seen something once, read about it, heard what others said or perceived ideas it became part of my knowledge bank. My reasoning skills allowed me to create my own ideas and perform at a very high level using all this wealth of information as a source.
But if I’m so smart, why am where I am now?
I could blame everything I’ve lost on the fact that I’m bipolar. But that’s really not true. Yes, this illness has caused many negative consequences from my behaviors. Not all of my destructive behaviors however are related to the disease. My personality has been shaped by many factors outside of the mental illness. Being bipolar has certainly impacted my life, but it’s not the only influence in making me who I am. I’m intelligent, sure; but I know that I’m not nearly as smart as I think I am. So many decisions I have made throughout my life were just plain bad ones, even though I’ve always been able to go back and point fingers at being ill.
The worst decision of all was ignoring what so many qualified people tried to tell me.
I have been through so many horrible experiences over the years. It’s certainly not normal to have so many times I’ve been so unable to function that have required hospitalization. Normal people don’t try to kill themselves. I knew from a very early age that there was something wrong with me, but I chose to ignore the obvious. I sought out treatment, but wouldn’t accept the real root cause when I could have done something about it. There’s no cure of course, or any guarantee that had it been address in the beginning that things would have been any different. Not treating the right thing however did.
So ultimately, the responsibility for all those squandered opportunities belongs to me, and me alone.
Not everything has ended up in failure tough. I have produced two wonderful children that have grown into adults with unlimited potential. It’s too much for me to take responsibility for their accomplishments, but they are still my legacy. Regardless of any influence, upbringing or even genes, they have made their choices and created their own opportunities. But there’s one undeniable fact. They wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for me. Even that wasn’t 100% my doing; it takes two. My illness has had a very negative impact on them as well, I’m sure. But in spite of it all, they’ve made the best of what they’ve been given and have already accomplished so much.
I’m incredibly proud of them both.
Yes, I’ve blown most of every accomplishment I’ve ever achieved. I believe though that everything we go through is for a reason. I will probably never know just who I’ve touched or influenced in the last 50 years. I’m sure there have been those that I’ve positively impacted; I’m equally sure that my life has been a warning to others. Pain and suffering I have inflicted on so many over the years has resulted in great lessons learned.
Yes, so much wasted time, so many lost opportunities. But no regrets. I may not have accomplished what I feel I was capable of, but my life has had purpose. And who knows what the future might bring?
I’m not done yet.