I see them sometimes, old friends and neighborhood friends. I see people from my past life whom I miss and appreciate their appearance. I also see people who I’ve spent time and shared intimate moments with but yet, now we just pass each other like strangers on the street now. I think about the different phases of my life. In each phase, I was always searching, always trying to find my way, and always looking to fit and find my place in the circle.
I see these phases like chapters in a book with a plot that keeps changing. I suppose one could call this our different phases of maturity. Then again, one could just call this life, in which case, all things do and must change.
Identity is everything. Who are we? What are we good at? What do we do to stand out in this crazy world to be honored or validated? How do we avoid rejection and emotional discomfort?
I have been several different people before I chose to become who I am now. In fact, I look back on the past phases of my life as if they were different lifetimes.
I think of me five years back. I was different then. I am even more different than I was 10 years back. I think of the person I am now at the age of 46 and then wonder what the 26 years old version would think if we had the chance to interact.
I think of the ideas I used to have and the opinions I would follow. I think of the personalities I claimed to be mine, but yet, none of them were ever me. This was only me just trying to fit.
I used to be a chameleon. I would try to find ways to acclimate to my surroundings and be like-minded and wanted or welcomed.
I remember the mid-20’s version of myself, always trying to prove me to others, and always looking to socially advance, as if my crowd and my circumstances could actually improve me as a person.
However, I never felt as alone as I did when I was riding along with an unfit crowd. I spent the wildest nights of my lifetime, out in a crowd of thousands, and yet, I was totally alone.
I recall my so-called friend, browbeating and proud, telling me about certain people he hung around with. They were the so-called cool kids. He told me I needed to learn how to act. I needed to learn how to be because whichever way I was at the time, I was unfit for the so-called cool crowd.
One night, I was at a place called Wings near my old hometown on Long Island. This was my first time. I heard about this place before and I heard about some crazy stories but I always felt left out because I was never part of them.
Turns out, the so-called cool kids weren’t very cool at all. I saw one of them sitting on the floor and vomiting into a drinking glass because he drank too much.
In fairness, however, there was an odd and disgusting talent to this.
He would grab a glass, vomit, and not over-fill, stop, and then grab another empty glass from the bar and do the same thing. He never missed or spilled a drop.
Oh, by the way, this guy was cool . . .
Another from the cool crowd was drunk and walking up to different girls in the crowd asking if they wanted to see his manhood, which in short, was nothing spectacular, and yes, there is a pun intended in this case.
I remember thinking, “This is cool?”
Then I realized the thing that made their wild antics more acceptable than mine was because financially, they were very well off. They came from big homes and wealthy families. This was a case of social snobbery at best. And me, I was the designated driver in a beat-up blue four-door Chevy with a sagging headliner that hung from the ceiling and a loud muffler.
One night, I was with this crowd in a place known as Bright Fellows. I was near the bar with a group of people, enduring, and taking their sarcasm on the chin when suddenly, a very large man started walking through the crowd and clearing a path. His name was Joe.
I knew Joe from my childhood days. I knew him from my knucklehead times. He was always kind to me, overprotective, brotherly, and certainly physically intimidating.
I had not seen Joe in a long while but he knew me and he knew about my story. Joe knew that I went away, changed, and cleaned up. He also knew I kept my mouth shut when it came time to face my charges.
As they say, timing is everything.
Joe pushed through the crowd, grabbed me, lifted me up high over his head (mind you, Joe was a very tall man, almost gorilla like) and screamed, “No one here is bigger than me! I will fucking kill anyone that comes near you!” and then Joe dropped me down and walked away.
I remember the faces of the people I was with. Their expressions went from sarcastic and smiling to awkward and uncomfortable. Their banter switched from bullying to overly friendly.
I knew this was not the place for me. But still, I was searching and looking to find my place in the circle. I wanted to find a place where I could fit in and feel fine.
I wanted to be fine to be me and fine to act, think, and do as I choose without the threat of insecurity or outside opinion.
I know this is not something people will often admit to. This is certainly not an idea people claim when trying to portray them as tough or cool or any of the socially popular terms.
Regardless to age or whichever phase in life; I firmly believe we are always that kid just trying to find our place on the playground or in the sandbox. We are still trying to show off our toys to gain attention, seeking to be wanted and included, hoping we will be invited to parties, and looking to be picked first when choosing teams to play a game on the playground.
It is odd to think about this now but some of my more socially successful times were also some of my loneliest.
I think back on the attitudes I held and the things I said or did. I think of a saying an old friend of mine would say when thinking of the person he used to be.
He used to tell me, “Sometimes I wish I could go back and strangle the me I used to be.”
I relate to this.
Sometimes I think of the things I said or the things I did and then I shake my head. I cringe sometimes, I cringe about my feelings of insecurity and how they dictated my actions and friendships.
If I could go back and tell me anything, I would probably explain, “Your insecurity is unnecessary.”
I would point out that most of the people in my old circle of so-called friends are only temporary fixtures in my life. None of them turn out very well and most of them are more insecure than we are.
I’m not sure when it happened or when it was that I decided to walk away. But one day, I grew tired of playing pretend and trying to impress other people. I grew tired of people pleasing and never pleasing me.
I was tired of being afraid to have an opinion and tired of being quiet when all I wanted to do was speak out and say, “This is not right!”
I was tired of the schoolyard bullies and the social bullies, which later became corporate bullies and workplace bullies.
I grew tired of the interactions and the water cooler gossips. So rather than contend or interact; I backed my chair away from the tables where I sat and stood up. I stepped to the side, pushed my chair back in place, and without saying so much as a word, I gave me the permission and dignity to simply walk away.
I had an interaction with a workplace bully recently. He is not physically stronger or bigger and there is no physical threat however, word of mouth in the workplace has taken place of physical violence in the schoolyard.
Each time the workplace nonsense began to pick up; I stood up and walked away. I did not say anything. I did not banter back and forth. I just kept quiet and walked away.
Going forward, I do not interact. I do not speak unless work dictates a need to relay information. I do not speak with an attitude when speaking is necessary, but more so, I speak plainly.
I do not ask for or seek personal conversation. I keep this strictly business. When something crossed the line of personal inappropriateness, I reached out to the chain of command. I proposed my work and expressed facts, not opinions or emotion. I did not make this personal. Instead, I explained my effectiveness and that I want to maintain an ultimate level of productiveness and bill-ability.
I did not feed the bears. I did not shake the cage. In fact, I didn’t do anything except remove myself from an unworthy competition between me and someone I do not fit with.
It took me years to learn this lesson. Then again, all lessons come in time. Maybe this is why I enjoy coaching and running empowerment classes. As I see it, perhaps this will create a spark in the wellness machine and put someone else’s struggles to an end.
After all, everybody needs wellness
At least that’s what my good friend Mila says.