I was a little upset at first. I mean, obviously people are going to think I’m a showboat, and a little bit of a prick. But then I thought… that’s me. I said those things, I did those things. I can live with that.
I watched The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou last week, and that line stuck with me. The scene is preceded by the titular character reading a less-than-flattering article written about him, which, per his character, would sting his insatiable ego. This turn, to me, is the perfect encapsulation of the epiphany of self-awareness, and possibly more importantly, self-forgiveness.
The line carries much personal weight for me as well. For who knows how long, I would react defensively to any criticism, because I saw myself as a keen dude. I was able to explain away my infidelities, my aversion to emotion, my cruel teasing as something integral to me. I trumpeted my past failures and shortcomings as things beyond my control. “Eh, circumstances weren’t right for that relationship to work.” “I was raised by great parents, so I haven’t had to deal with any pain! Quit being serious and make jokes.” “She should have accepted my nonchalance as healthy!”
But through the gift of hindsight, I realize that all these stinging criticisms of me were spot-on. I was a cheat. I did pretend to be an emotionless automaton to hide my true self. I chose novelty over strong relationships. Also, these comments were made by people who cared about me enough to tell me these things so that I may improve. It was a huge hit to my ego, but that’s the first thing to go when you admit wrongdoing. And I was wrong.
I told lies (to myself and others) so that I would be popular, accepted, affirmed, whatever it was to satiate my ego. I felt for so long that I was unpopular (I think mostly because I was often treated as a weirdo/misunderstood in elementary school) that I fell into popularity’s seductive trap and became a people pleaser. To maintain that, I told lies, I acted shallowly, and when I was accused of such, I ran from the accusations and tried to explain them away.
Honestly, I wish all the hurtful things that have been said about me weren’t true. I wish I could undo the pain. I wish I could take back the mean things I said. I wish I held myself accountable for the emotions of others. But, I’m human. I will continue to make mistakes, say dumb stuff, and inadvertently hurt others until the day I die. I mean well, but I will always have blind spots. The trick is to be aware of my words & actions so I don’t fall into hurtful habits.
So, like Bill Murray’s character, I’ve come to understand that what was written or said about me is true. I said those things. I did those things. I’m okay with that. But I don’t want to repeat those mistakes.
(Post-script for the concerned: I’m okay. I’ve been doing a lot of soul-searching though, and it hit me that I’ve done a shit job of being emotionally honest, or even acknowledging that I have emotions. I feel like I’m tearing down a lot of walls and that I’m being pulled in a million different directions, which, to me, says that I’m growing up. Change for the better should hurt, and if this is a little uncomfortable to read or completely out of character, good. That means it’s working.
But seriously, I’m okay. I still think I’m a stellar guy, but I’m working on being a better man.)