Monday, October 8, 2012

Making The Perfect Man - A Compass for Men in the 21st Century

Part One: Hero Worship, The Magic of Self Realization. Several weeks ago I noticed a marked shift if my behavior and reactions, to bottom line it I was losing it a lot with my children. As all parents know, children will test your resolve on a daily, sometimes hourly, sometimes minutely (is that a word?) basis. As the child of severely toxic parents it was imperative in my run up to parenthood that I learn to do my best to not lose my cool with my kids. That’s not to say I don’t believe in discipline, teaching manners and respect and personal responsibility, I insist on it, but I’ve also had to work very hard at not being the impatient, often intolerant father my father was for me and my siblings. But as every parent also knows there is no preparation for the constant onslaught of demands children make upon you and the frustration a parent in this day and age can feel trying to serve both pupil and master.
My youngest, who turns 4 this year, is best described as a blender with the top off – at any given moment she can be screaming her head off, dancing with a huge grin on her face, telling her older sister she’s adopted, or hugging me and my wife and telling us in the sweetest voice possible “I love you guys, thanks for breakfast.” And we never know what we’re going to get or when. The other night she was in a particularly difficult mood – it was hard to discern what was really bothering her, but she was so frustrated over something that didn’t go her way she threw herself to the ground, began tearing at her clothes, pulling at her hair and smacking her own face. Needless to say I was worried about her. As best I could I tried to calm her down and get her focused on something else… a book she loved, her blanky, anything! Nothing worked. After about 30 minutes of full on 110% tantrum, she turned up the volume and began an attack on her sister. First she told her she didn’t love her and that she was mean, then she scratched her face and left deep welts on her cheeks. My oldest daughter is a sanguine, sweet, calm person simply took the abuse knowing that to do otherwise would cause more upset for all of us. But for me, I had enough. I picked up my little Tasmanian Devil suddenly, carried her upstairs, put her in her room and slammed and locked her door and left her there for the rest of the night without dinner, without a bath or without brushing her teeth. Now any parent reading this may agree that the frustration we feel in trying to deal with the terrible 3’s is often too much, but for me – one who prides myself on always being my best – I was at that moment certainly not. And it wasn’t because of how I reacted to my daughter, it was the feelings I was feeling along with the reaction. I was resentful, and for the first time in her young life I simply didn’t want to be around my daughter, nor did I care about her feelings in that moment. That feeling – or more accurately that lack of feeling for my baby frightened me. I knew something was up and I had to find out what. Resentment has been my Achilles heel since I was a boy. As a sensitive kid who always seemed to be the brunt of abuse, teasing, bullying, or sheer neglect, I regularly battled the pain associated with the incongruity of being a good person and getting negative feedback despite it. I’ve worked very hard in my life to eliminate the triggers that cause the feelings of resentment, but lately, in the last several months, I noticed that resentment was getting the better of me in more places than just my home. I was experiencing it with clients, with my parents, and with my brother as well. Something was up and it was time to take a look under the hood. I took a long walk around my neighborhood one early morning and just allowed whatever thoughts or feelings I had at the time to pass by me. After about 2 miles on foot, I still hadn’t discovered what it was that was getting to me, so I went home, showered, got dressed and went to my office to work on a new project I was researching, about family dynamics and the roles each person plays in a dysfunctional family. And that’s when I discovered it. It hit me like a ton of bricks when I found this interesting quote in a write up about codependency: What the family dynamics research shows is that it is actually the good child - the family hero role -who is the most emotionally dishonest and out of touch with him/herself, while the acting-out child - the scapegoat - is the most emotionally honest child in the dysfunctional family. In my family dynamic I was the family hero – the quiet one who stayed out of trouble to spare my mother more pain as she dealt constantly with my squeaky wheel brother. The phrase emotionally dishonest and out of touch with himself shocked me! I needed to figure this out because now I was really confused. After all, I have spent 25 years of my life challenging myself to live an honest life of openness and integrity, and now I’m reading that I’ve been out of touch? To understand why I had such outrage, you need to know more about my family. My brother, who is now a successful sober business man living in Westport, CT with his wife and two children, had rough beginnings; his severe dyslexia and hyperactivity disorder steered him into an early life of acting out and dropping out which led to drug use, alcoholism, and other destructive and narcissistic behaviors. I was regularly the brunt of his alcohol-fueled rages often being roused out of my bed late at night because he came home drunk (at 15) and wanted to sleep there, sometimes teased, sometimes physically abused, often humiliated by my brother’s incessant pranks and careless insults. As the youngest in a family torn apart by alcoholism, abuse (both mental and physical) and a broken family dynamic which can best be described as "Every Man For Himself", I looked to my brother to be my strength in the chaos of those early days, but he was so wrapped up in his own pain he never saw the damage he was doing to himself, my mother or me. Being the quiet, introverted one meant not being a problem for my mom, I kept my feelings, aspirations, pain, and self esteem locked up and learned to cope by living in a world where fantasies and unrealistic expectations gave me hope of an escape. The biggest example of how I simply wasn’t living in the world everyone else was, showed itself when I auditioned for the school play Carnival. There were two parts that I was up for; one was Paul, the brooding misunderstood puppeteer with a limp and low self esteem, and the other was Marco The Magnificent, a dynamic, womanizing magician who steals the girl from Paul, breaks hearts while he wields a sword and a cape and an “F-you” grin. Obviously I wanted to play Paul, the depressed puppeteer, but the director insisted that I audition for Marco as well. I told the director – in fact I insisted – that I play Paul, but despite my connection with the character, the director cast me as Marco and I was baffled. Throughout rehearsals I hemmed and hawed and played the character as small as possible until opening night I was so upset about playing this character – a person I couldn’t possibly connect with – I wound up in the bathroom throwing up an hour before curtain. The director pulled me aside and told me “I’ve been waiting for Marco to find you, and I’m concerned that he won’t make it tonight.” I was surprised. “Don’t you mean me finding Marco?” I asked. “No, Marco knows who he is but you don’t,” he said, “Do you know why I cast you as Marco?” “Because I wanted Paul?” I said sarcastically. “No,” he answered, “Because you ARE Marco! You don’t even know it.” This was the answer I wasn’t expecting to hear. He went on: “One day you’re going to see that Paul chooses to be sad, he’s a victim of his circumstances. But Marco – who may have a similar or even worst past – chooses to believe in his own power. He doesn’t listen to his past, he creates his NOW and he does it powerfully.” I had never been spoken to in that way by anyone - up until that point in my life I believed that the best way for me to get along in the world was to keep my head down, stay out of everyone's way, and suffer in silence a lost life that would never amount to more than an apology for being in the way. In that moment, I didn't just hear the director's words, I felt them. For the first time in my life I realized that I had a choice to do, be, and feel something different than I thought I should - that I could be better than I thought I was allowed to be. It was an awakening for me - one of the first kick's in the ass in my life that would lead to more and more discovery of who I was meant to be. That night I went on stage and decided to believe that I could not only play Marco, but be him. I embodied the character and like the director said, he found me. On stage I was another person - not one that I created or acted like, but actually a person that I felt I could be myself.... a person that I was all along, but was simply not convinced has a right to be there. It was an incredible night, and a fantastic performance. Afterwards one of the girls in my class that I had a crush on came up to me and congratulated me on a great job. I was so in the moment of being Marco that I asked her to the Senior prom and she said "Yes"! The experience with playing Marco was one of the progenitors to my empowerment journey that I have been on for over two decades, and despite my never ending search for the Marco in me, I find that now and then I can still be blindsided by frustration over things that I don’t even understand – like my resentment over my daughter’s behavior. But it was the article I read that opened my eyes to a deeper understanding of myself. I realized that the good boy I was trying to be as a kid seemed to only receive pain and disappointment, and that my brother’s behavior was given attention and eventually help despite the pain he caused those who got in his path. Watching my younger daughter scream, throw a tantrum and scratch my other daughter’s face triggered the resentment I have carried from my own experiences. Watching my two kids interact, I saw my brother acting out and hurting me all over again right in front of my face 30 years later, and out of pure rage I punished my squeaky wheel child when all she needed was understanding, while ignoring my sanguine child when all she needed was a kiss to make it better. I understand so clearly now the difficulty my mother endured trying to raise the two of us, how hard it is to split favor between two very different kids with very different needs, how simply reacting to behavior instead of understanding it and working with it can inflame the situation, and how past experiences often cause us to ‘fix’ presenting problems in the now, despite the fact that the now may not need fixing at all. Parents teach us so much about the world, but the first lesson always comes from the instinctual reaction we give to our kids to make a bad situation better. Some of us are quiet or reserved, some of us yell, some know just the right balance. But in all cases our kids are watching to see how they fit into the mix. For me, as the family hero, I believed that my pain and disassociation with reality was real and that a fix for it was to hide my greatness. Much like Paul the Puppeteer, I did a disappearing act into fantasy land to survive the real world just outside.
And despite 25 years of work on myself, in some ways I feel like I’m just now emerging from the fog of that original dysfunction... Not by my own design necessarily, but out of circumstances over which I have no control; mishaps which force me to open old wounds to make sure there’s no lingering infection. I’m also learning this year that I don’t always have to like my life to love it, and understanding that allows me to be a human being, to make mistakes, and to forgive myself for the lessons I still have to learn. Luckily for me, to my children I am Marco The Magnificent. And I intend to earn that title every day by bringing a little magic to both of them. Be Your Best! Steve

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

This Isn't it.

How many times have you said this: “If I only had ___________________ then I’d be happy” ? You could fill that blank in with just about anything and it would have meaning to you. A lot I imagine. We all believe that changing that one thing that’s getting in our way will bring about a happier life if only we could change it. But the fixation on happiness – the belief that is we simply eliminate the one negative thing in our life that is holding us back – is a phenomenon best described in the sentence we all have uttered at one time or another: “This Isn’t It.” Years ago when I was first starting out as a coach, I worked with a guy (we’ll call him Gus) who believed that just about everyone in the office where he worked was talking about him behind his back. He never engaged with his coworkers, never spoke to the them directly, and never verified if indeed he was the subject of this gossip. Gus had a high level position and as a result of his beliefs about being talked about used his influence to transfer one of his top talents thinking she was the source of the ‘back-stabbing.’ The woman he transferred was one of the best at her field and the company soon suffered as a result of the loss. Productivity decreased, malevolence swelled, and Gus – who took on her position as leader of that division – was eventually fired for his poor decision making. By the time he came to me, he was lost in regret and confusion over what had happened. Whether its Gus removing his most valuable player, or you or me cutting off our noses to spite our faces - fixating on the goal of security will naturally summon its opposite – insecurity. By questing for joy, you are forced to acknowledge that which is keeping you from that joy, that which you believe is the source of your unhappiness, thus giving it power, thus making it wrong. And when you make something wrong you never learn what that thing may be teaching you and you stay stuck. This is why millions of us ask each day “Why am I unhappy?” Despite your best laid plans to eliminate doubt, fear, competition, insecurity, those elements will still haunt you if you don’t take a look at why you have them in the first place. Why have some people achieved great things and you haven’t? Why do some people seem to have it all, and you still struggle with finding happiness? There's only one difference between you and someone just like you who may have more success in the same area where you struggle: The successful person believes from their core that they have a right to achieve their goals no matter what – this is what gives them that competitive edge, that passion, and ultimately that success. Try this exercise and see what you come up with: I want you think of someone that is successful. It can be anyone who has what you want right now. Now answer these questions: Does this person they have a firm grasp of his/her own abilities? Does she/he ignore the fear of what others think? Do she/he always seem to know in their heart that they belong where they are? If you answered “Yes” to those questions, then you’re thinking of someone who has the edge in knowing themselves and their abilities, including the ability to harness the confidence it takes to follow through on going for their goals. Now… ask the same questions about yourself. Do you respond “Yes” to each question? If not, why? What will it take to get you there? With the above in mind, write down a sentence about yourself based on how you feel, filling in the blanks below. Be as honest with yourself as possible, and don’t think about what you’re writing, or how you can respond perfectly, just simply write what you feel based on your current situation. If I only had ______________________________________________ Then I’d do _______________________________________________ And finally be _____________________________________________ Now, take the word “Be in the last sentence and match it with the word you wrote down and live your life that way. If you wrote “Happy” be happy first. If you wrote “Wealthy” be wealthy first. The only thing standing in your way is the fact that you put your haves before who you’re being. You think if you’re going to be happy you have to have something outside of you change. It will never work that way, because chances are that thing outside of you is never going to change and if youre waiting for your happiness to be dictated by an external even over which you have no control, you’re going to be waiting a long time. Being love first will attract love in your life. Being happiness will allow others to be attracted by your joy. Being forgiveness will clear the slate for the right relationship to find its way to you. The bottle doesn’t make you a drunk, the tall brunette doesn’t make you ugly, and your friend’s success doesn’t make you a loser. If you’re waiting for something in your life to change just so you can be happy or successful, start with yourself – what can you change? If you’re blaming someone else for your lack of success or misery, forgive yourself for playing into the debilitating fear that has robbed you of your ambition. Consider this quote: “All my life I was knocking on the door, until it opened and I realized I was inside the whole time.” Be your best, Steve