The only time you should ever look back,
is to see how far you’ve come
An old college friend messaged me this morning to catch up. It was good to hear from them, and we had a good — but brief — chat. They were one of my closest friends in college, and they saw me go through an awful lot, thanks to my heavy drinking. They tried to reach out to me to help, a number of times, but I was pretty much of a goner, in those days.
It would be easy to say it was just the drinking, but it was so much more. I really believe that the multiple concussions I had in high school had a lot to do with my attitude problems and inability to keep focused and clear about my priorities. I was not accustomed to making good decisions about the people I hung around with — in high school, I faded to the background, when the after-effects of several concussions and a whole lot of rough-housing and heavy partying took over my life.
So, by the time I got to college and I was away from the structures and restrictions of my youth, I was ready to just “let go” — and that’s exactly what I did. It only took me a year to get into real trouble, and this college friend of mine has been saying repeatedly over the past year or so that we’ve been back in touch, that they wish they had been a better friend to me. I am assuming that means they thought they could somehow save me from myself and my inner demons. Or maybe at least advocate for me better, when the police got involved, and a nasty-ass judge who favored local townspeople over ne’er-do-well college kids started making life difficult for me.
Looking back, I don’t think that there’s much of anything they could have done for me. I had too much I needed to work through, and I transferred out of that school after two years there. The next stop I made was a better solution, academically, but again I got into trouble — drinking too much, falling down drunk a lot, doing more of the same as I was before, but this time, much worse. And I isolated like crazy, which didn’t help me any.
I wonder sometimes… if I had been able to reach out for help earlier, if I had allowed others to help me (instead of pushing them away like I did), would things have turned out differently for me? It is really hard to say. Even if they had been able to be a friend to me, I doubt I could have let it all in. I was too much at odds with myself and everyone/everything around me, to really allow much to penetrate this hard head of mine. Combining a succession of mild traumatic brain injuries with drinking, was a really bad idea, but — like so many others — I did it. And it did me no good. At. All.
In any case, it’s all water under the bridge, and the experiences I have had, have made me who I am. The best reason to look back on all of it, is to see how far I have truly come, to look back on the flood waters and rapids I have navigated in my past and to be genuinely grateful that I am alive today. It didn’t have to turn out that way. I have found myself in the midst of human traffickers, drug dealers, violent criminals, and all manner of thieves, cheats, and liars, over the course of my life. The fact that I am living a good life today, with a marriage of 20+ years and a home and a favorable employment situation, is really something to celebrate, rather than regret because it’s not something else.
I’ve been grappling with that a lot, lately — regret over my past, and things not turning out better than they did. So many of my professional peers, including folks 10-15 years younger than me — are farther along and doing more with their lives. They have much better prospects than I, or so it seems. Job-wise, I do feel like I’ve been held back by my situation… until I really think about it and realize how other people with the same type of history as I are living.
I have friends who have been through similar circumstances to my own, and none of them are even close to the quality of life I have. They came from similar circumstances, but they made different choices, and now — as far as I can tell — they are in decline, while I am on the ascent. I don’t want to get caught up in making anyone better or worse than anyone else, because who can tell what is in the mind and heart of another. And yet I can’t help comparing my situation to others’.
I guess that means I’m human.
Anyway, it’s fall, and that means it’s a time of reflection and recapping the past year. I always feel like this is the end of the year, with Halloween being a sort of turning point leading into the new year. It’s a cellular thing, I guess. Growing up in farm country, Halloween was the time when everything was ready to be cut down and turned over, and the nights were obviously longer than ever, so it really felt like The End. Thanksgiving, to me, feels like the start of the year, with a kickoff celebration of what’s to come. This time of year, with the falling leaves and shortening days, prompts me to look back on the past months to do a kind of inventory of where I’ve been and how far I’ve progressed.
I have to say, for all the challenges of the past 12 months, I have made significant progress. I’ve managed to extricate my mind from the hold of my current employer, and I have managed to stick it out long enough to not look like a flake, by leaving my employer in two years’ time. I have made some real progress in my work, achieving some pretty impressive feats – even if the cost was high. I’ve also had some real revelations about myself and where I want to fit in the world, and I’ve made some real strides with regard to my eating and exercising. I’ve become more active — all across the board — and that’s a really good thing.
With regard to the part I want to play in the world, after re-connecting with some old friends and co-workers, I’ve realized that I really did get sidetracked by the whole career thing. For the past three years, I’ve been living under the belief that by applying myself and working hard and showing real results and good progress and transforming the way my job is done, I can be a valued team player who has real career prospects. The first year in my job, that was pretty much true. The thing that held me back, was me. I didn’t put myself forward enough and I didn’t leverage the connections I had, to move forward. For the past two years, my prospects have shrunk and shriveled, and now it’s pretty clear that no matter how well I do my job, if I don’t say the right things to the right people at the right time, I’ll be perpetually marginalized and relegated to the “average 80%” pool of employees at this mega-corporation. Just a number.
Looking back, there’s part of me that regrets not pushing harder for the career advancement thing. But with a week’s vacation behind me, I realize now that it would not have worked, because that’s just not how I want to organize my life. I don’t want to be a high-flying hot-shot at work, to the point where it takes over my life and is my identity. I don’t want to give myself 100% to that path, because there is so much else I want to do with myself, and there is so much else I need to experience, beyond the realm of that whole career business.
If I had wanted to push for promotions and move up in the corporate world, I would have done it. If I had wanted to advance professionally and take it all to the next level, I would have gotten it done. But the fact of the matter is, I am deeply distrustful of that whole world, and more than anything, I want freedom and balance and the ability to move at will about the world. I’m more interested in questions, than answers, and I want to be free from any licensing agency or professional association that could impose its standards on me and shut down my voice. I would much rather hold down a day job for the structure and society, and then be free to do my own thing in my own hours.
And given that for the past three years, I’ve been in a job that has required me to be available pretty much anytime, any day, moving back to a 9-to-5 job will probably feel like a breeze. It will give me time to research TBI and to write. It will give me time to build out the library of resources I’m compiling for mild TBI understanding and recovery. It will give me time to do what I really want to do — freely read and write and think and talk the way I see fit and am drawn to do, without the intrusion of those who crave power and influence in the world.
And that, to me, is progress. Realizing and remembering – yet again – where I am going, and why… that’s the best sign of growth and strength that I could ever get.
Looking back, there are many things that could have gone differently and could have been “better”. There’s also a lot of stuff that could have turned out a whole lot worse. All in all, it’s been a wild ride — and here I am, on down the road, with a whole lot of experience under my belt, that makes it all worth it.
So, onward we go. Looking back to see how very far I’ve come. And yes, it is very, very far.