One’s Origins: A Journey from Adoption to Identity – Part Twelve

Welcome back! Previously I shared with you the benefits and blessings bestowed upon me in the years following the completion of my undergraduate degree. I use the word blessings because that is what I truly view them to be. There will always be far more pleasant memories of all I have gained than what I had lost[1]. That is in no small part because what I had lost was lost slowly over several years and is only now being recognized. That was the originally planned intent for Part Twelve.

When I began to write Part Twelve, a flood of thoughts came to me, so I just wrote. As I began my first pass self-review, I realized I had not held true to what I said this part would be about when I closed Part Eleven.  Nonetheless, the musings that inspired what I wrote seem to still resonate and they certainly contributed to detours and re-evaluations along this journey so I’m going to run with it.

I wish to go further into the examination of the impact of this new life I was living. Let’s pick up there briefly and then we will address the new crossroads as I promised at the end of Part Eleven. I mentioned that I was on my way to several years of traveling. A little digging into the intoxicating effects the excessive travel has had on me should prove insightful.

If you ask most people who have successfully recovered from drug or alcohol addiction about their time spent during their downward spiral, you’ll likely hear a common theme. These spirals seemed to just happen, and it feels like the transition from ‘in control’ to ‘not in control’ occurs in the blink of an eye. I was experiencing a not-too-different phenomenon with the life I was leading that was in contrast to so much of what I thought defined me. I am not criticizing the life I was living as being destructive in the way that alcohol and substances can be, and often are. I can only imagine that it is the velvet claws of both that grabs its prey such that the prey enjoys the flight.

There were long periods of non-stop travel and countless nights away from home. I was racking up hotel chain and airline points at a blistering pace. I was becoming accustomed to occasional tastes of what for most might be considered luxury. The perks that come with excessive travel (upgrades in flights and hotel rooms) began to fit me quite snuggly. I have spoken frequently of my ‘external locus of identity’. I began to subconsciously interpret this new lifestyle of mine as being truly earned. I don’t believe I ever felt entitled per se. Rather, I was beginning to acknowledge my own recent successes and allowed myself to reap some bounty from the many seeds I had sown over the course of the previous dozen years or so. I felt validated in the decisions I made for myself and was convinced the universe was telling me that I was finally on the path it had been paving for me[2]. Ironically, if anyone had asked me back then what path I was in fact on, my answer would be the same as if you ask me now what path I was on then. “I have no clue”. The wind blew and my sails complied; and as always, there were no hands on the tiller.

My salary in the early years increased modestly at first. The existential experiences I was having just kept getting better and better. To contrast the life I was living with my far more modest beginnings, the idiom ‘night and day’ does not do it justice. A more accurate description might be ‘winter night at the poles and summer day at the equator’.

Before I knew it, I had the resources and flexibility to book last minute excursions here and there, all the while meeting people from everywhere. This was becoming normal for me and I was loving it. It was this that fed my insatiable appetite for adventure. In the words of Johnny Cash as he was wrestling with the strain of his first marriage, “The road meant adventure, creativity and freedom.” There are few words that have ever been spoken with which I agree as strongly. I still feel this way and it is part of the reason I have never married or had a relentless yearning for children of my own. We’re getting way ahead of ourselves.

There would be months-long stretches where I would be home only on the weekends. My social life at home was unremarkable but the road was another story. A far cry from the touring rock star experience, but nonetheless my road warrior days were not without their wild moments – sometimes in rock star ways.

The hours were long. Tack on travel time (flights and commutes to/from airports and train stations) and I found myself feeling something that had eery familiarity to it. Whenever I was home, there was little in the way of a social life – not too unlike the nine years I spent in school while getting a career off the ground. I tried to date here and there but when you’re only home about ten nights a month, getting relationships off the ground is not easy. The underlying reasons for this are not so benign. While I basked in the adventures of traveling, it certainly made for a lot of time alone on the road. I was not alone at being alone, if I may borrow from “Message in a Bottle” by The Police. Often, when I was unattached at home, it was not uncommon to enjoy the occasional indiscretion. It seems ‘lonely on the road’ is a boat that carries many. And the lonely have a unique way of identifying and attracting themselves with one another. However comforting and life affirming these indiscretions might have been, they drove further apart any connection for me between the physical and emotional aspects of relationships. I share this with neither shame nor pride, it mattered not to me that sometimes the person with whom I was sharing company might have someone else at home. This greatly diminished my belief in the sanctity of it all. This, among other things, adversely affected my ability or willingness to be fully present in relationships at home. I never did promise that our shoes would not get a little muddy along this journey.

Despite all the work demands of my time away from home and the instability it caused in trying to establish normal life routines, I rarely pushed back. The instability and adventure actually seemed to fit my persona. I was willing to simply ‘do what I was told’ because I felt needed and that I mattered. I mentioned before that when you shake the dust off all of us, that is what we all want – to matter in the world, however we define ‘the world’ for ourselves. We must, of course, matter to the right people.

Today, my hindsight could not be any clearer. I look back now and I easily see so many telltale signs that something wasn’t quite right. I was enjoying what from the outside easily looked like success. Even when I saw myself in the in the mirror, I would see the silhouette of a successful young man who was getting less young year after year. For all the success I portrayed, the way I felt was quite different. With the disastrous life I was teeing up for myself at the end of high school as a point of comparison, I certainly did not see myself as a failure. It would have been impossible for me to see myself as a failure. Everyone who knew me saw me either as successful or on my way to success. Remember that the battle cry of external loci of identity instructs me to see myself as others see me – a success. Not just any success. I had comeback from a very deep hole into which I had dug myself two decades earlier. I will never diminish or marginalize the blessings and opportunities granted to me that supported me along this part of my journey. However, I was only now beginning to suspect that my passive role in the design of my life might well have some consequences that are making life more of a struggle than it needed to be.

The consequence of this over time was that I began to feel inauthentic and uninspired. I was beginning to wonder if the wonderful life that had been charted for me was truly right for me after all. It was certainly a positive one in countless ways. But was it mine? The answer now, as it was then, is ‘not exactly’. How could it have been? I had no part in its design. I had been submissive to fate and over time this became more undeniable. After all I had put myself through, I thought there was no way on earth any of this could possibly be wrong. It had to be right for crying out loud! I was getting the respect of my peers the likes of which I had once only dreamed. The idea that this in fact was not quite right was extremely difficult for me to accept. It meant losing the respect I had craved since I was an adolescent.

My response was to force myself though it no matter how loudly my heart was screaming for something different. I was going to double-down. Although I felt it was the correct bet at the time, looking I now see that what I was putting at risk were two of the most valuable possessions we all have although many of us take them for granted. The first was time. Nights away from home became weeks, weeks became months and months became years. It was my ego that kept me forging ahead despite my growing unease. And that is precisely how the second valuable possession began to slip-away. My humility. Once humility is lost, honor follows not far behind.

And that, my friends, is where we will pick up in Part Thirteen.

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[1] I speak of loss here not in terms of lost loved ones but rather just the other side of the ledger in life’s credits and debits.

[2] One of the many beauties emerging from writing and sharing One’s Origins is that I am finally learning (for real this time) that my path is mine alone to chart. I may and shall lean on people who are willing to help when I need it. But it is I who is responsible for charting my path. As we have seen in the years following my return to college, the charting and paving was occurring before my eyes. All I had to do was take the steps. Consequently, I was not learning two of life’s most the valuable gifts and lessons; respectively, self-determination and self-responsibility.

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One’s Origins: A Journey from Adoption to Identity – Part Eleven

As Part Ten came to close, I was a new (albeit older than the others) graduate from Villanova University with a Bachelor of Chemical Engineering. After years of a diminished social life devoting myself to school and work, not having to give my full energy to two important areas of my life was not as easy a transition as I was expecting.  Sure, I was relieved from the time-squeeze of non-stop activity. I nonetheless was thrust into a new existence – one with discretionary time. I think most would agree that discretionary time is just as valuable as, and sometimes more valuable than discretionary money. Who wouldn’t enjoy extra hours some days even if we had to pay for it?

I am inclined to assume that parents who suddenly find themselves with empty nests feel a sense of what I was feeling, but with even higher intensity. Not unlike newcomers to being empty nesters, I too was emotionally engaged with what held my attention twenty-four hours a day. Letting go of a big piece of it is just not that simple. Once it was over, I was certainly left with a hole. What awaited me would not let that hole remain unfilled for long. In the song, “The Day That I Die” country music artist Zac Brown reminds us that “Time has a way of reminding us that we are running out of it.” I assert, albeit sans melody, that time also has a way of consuming itself when we fool ourselves into believing we have ample amounts of it. I would soon have a life that would not only be full but also no less fast-paced then the previous ten years of my life. This time however, I was not in training camp. This was the show. I was in the big leagues of a sport I simply rolled into. This is where Part Eleven resumes.

In my new role with the company, I was learning new technical skills in database design and management. This would keep me further away from a career aligned with my degree, to which my reaction was one of indifference. I was making money and most importantly I was finding my new environment invigorating – and that was all that mattered to me.

In the months leading up to the completion of college, the individuals who headed up our team of database technologists were seeking a new future for our group. The company’s core focus was on traditional design of hi-tech buildings such as pharmaceutical and chemical research facilities. The integration of the technology that controlled the processes inside those walls was less of a focus of the company, but it was at the heart of the work with which my team engaged. This led to differences of opinions in strategies for our growth that became insurmountable. After a few conversations that were at the time far above my pay grade, we all took a vote about our future as a group. The results of were that about two-thirds of us opted to resign from the engineering firm together and take our skills where they would be better utilized and supported. We landed at the world’s largest and oldest accounting and professional services firms whose name hitherto I had never heard. Moreover, knowing now what I did not know then, I am certain that if I had been on my own after school in finding employment, I never would have walked through the doors of this new company. Engineering graduates do not pursue employment with accounting firms and accounting firms do not court engineering graduates.

Eventually I came to observe that people who join the ranks of professional services firms at this level generally fall into two camps. In one camp, there are those who sacrifice greatly (often dragging their families into their sacrifice) to ascend to the upper echelons of their respective organizations. In the other camp, there are those who gut their way through two or three years of very long hours and frequent travel to get the company name on their resume. They then move on with a wealth of experience in search of greater balance in life. I, true to my nature, did both – or neither – depending on your perspective. Sure, I stayed much longer than many[1], but I was not seeking ascension to the executive ranks – at least not early on. As we are seeing a pattern emerge, I merely was going with the flow. In adherence to Newton’s first law of motion, there was nothing providing any resistance to my remaining there, so I stayed. For a single high-energy guy, it sure was one fascinating ride.

In the spring of 1997, I celebrated the beginning of my fourth decade on earth. Also, in the spring of 1997, I along with several dozen new hires, were shipped off to a week-long new-employee orientation seminar. It was the first of many new experiences for me that would become a normal way of life, not the least of which were fraternization and business travel. After eight or nine hours of sitting in a conference auditorium, many of us would convene to dine and socialize. Networking became a new concept to me. It was also the first time I became aware of my sense of inadequacy among a group of esteemed professionals. They appeared to be pretty dialed in to everything being discussed while I was still wondering what the heck has happened in my life since walking off campus for the last time. The same two questions seemed to me gnawing at me like a dull chronic pain. ‘Where am I?’ and ‘How did I get here?’  Don’t misunderstand. I certainly was enjoying the energy of it all even though I felt I was in over my head. All indicators told me that I was in the minority. This wasn’t freshman orientation where everyone was pretty secure in knowing that their peers all shared similar degrees of cluelessness. Here, I dared not reveal to anyone just how clueless I felt. I suspected there were a few others like me, but I was not aware of any secret handshake for us to identify ourselves to each other.

This would be the first of many countless nights I would find myself in a hotel over the course of the next several years. The more remarkable observation through the eyes of this young man who grew up not seeing himself in the white-collar world as a child, was the lavishness of it all. Earlier, I mentioned the growing need for employees in the throes of the information revolution and Y2K. Things were just taking off then. Apparently, lavishness was a way of luring talent – and talent was quite broadly defined. At the conclusion of one multi-week internal training I attended, the employees who were in the class were all provided individual limo rides back to the local airport to return home. I was truly conflicted. Sure, the ride was borderline luxurious, but I could not reconcile in my head the expense being spared to haul a few young professionals home from a training class – especially me, the clueless kid. Afterall, we were the underlings, not top brass movers and shakers. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with a company spending its money the way it sees fit so long as there is transparency with the owners. In the environment in which I was raised, any scenario of me in a limo would have assumed my spot to be behind the wheel, not out in the back with my legs stretched out with a complimentary copy of the Financial Times and Wall Street Journal.[2]

Once I left school and followed my colleagues to a new employer, my career began to move at a pace far greater than that for which I was mentally or emotionally prepared. Moreover, I learned quickly that the unity of the team that migrated from the engineering firm would dissolve as we all became cogs in an enormous wheel and assigned to projects as the new powers deemed fit. The esprit de corps we once had remains today in that many of us reunite for a lunch every year or two. It was an amazing group with whom to begin my career.

I was beginning a life of many more nights on the road than at home. My gypsy soul was being nourished. The energy of it all remained the lure for me but the gnawing questions from earlier were evolving. I believe I was developing some sense of where I was. The ‘How did I get here?’ was still vague. The new gnawing question was about purpose. ‘Why am I here?’ What greater purpose was I serving? It’s that new question that was to remain unanswered for years to come. In retrospect, the elusiveness of an answer to that question was a message to me that this path was meant to be a but a bridge to a place where I would not be besieged by trepidations about my own presence. It was a message to which I was blind and deaf. The implicit signals escaped me. If things were moving along at a pace that fit my personality and I was making a decent living, I knew no other response than gratitude and acceptance. The question “Is this aligned with my life’s goals?” seemed irrelevant to me. In my pursuit of convincing myself and others that I was much more than the dumb kid who made so many foolish decisions nearly fifteen years earlier, I had no idea how to live this new life of mine. I did not have a term to describe it then, but I was experiencing what I recently heard referred to as ‘success panic’. I never expected I would actually end up where I was. It was just one big WOW! I’d actually succeeded in something society values and I did not know how to respond. I had met and surpassed my perception of the expectations of others without consideration for my expectations – because I had none of my own.

For the next 11 years I would be shipped off to-and-fro for various projects. My sense of how things worked began to sharpen so I could eventually focus on the fun of learning again. As long as I was learning, my lack of understanding why I was on the path I was on was less bothersome for me.

One thing about working for a global professional services firm that I believe is undeniable is the amount of experience one can gain in such a short period of time. As a young consultant at a top tier firm, you get to see how the big pieces fit together for a larger whole, and you see it early and often. Underwhelming self-confidence, a charlatan’s complex and an elusive greater purpose all remained a struggle for me. That did not stop me from enjoying the experiences and the learnings (most of the learnings were about myself and my capabilities). Moreover, I also cherished the experiences I shared with so many other people, many of whom were from other parts of the world. It was these relationships more than any other experiences in my life that have molded a much broader world view. I don’t hold my world views to be any more or less valid than anyone else’s. I do hold them as ‘world’ views. From the many conversations (during the workday and socializing in the hotels at night) I learned quite a bit about what it’s like be born and live in other cultures. I recognize that I was limited by my interpretations of their portrayal of their experiences. The best way to learn, though often less practical, is to spend time living there. I admire greatly those who do that.

There is a bit more to share. However, I see that I am quite a bit over my target word count, so I think I’ll draw this one to a close. In Part Twelve we will continue on to new crossroads, new decisions, and further evasion of the question “What does Matt want?”

See you then!

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[1] Of the several of us who opted to leave the engineering firm for the consulting firm, I was the only one remaining after about the first four or five years. I was there for eleven.

[2] Shortly after the return from the dark days of my teens, I assisted my Dad with his little chauffeuring gig for folks in a nearby wealthy retirement community. From this, comes a few short experiences that influenced the view I held as to my place in the world. These were omitted from the blog but will be shared in the book version.

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One’s Origins: A Journey From Adoption to Identity – Part Ten

Earlier this summer, I posted a few updates on the progress of this blog because I was becoming self-conscious about the frequency of posts lessening.

I heard from a few people encouraging me to relax and not worry one bit about the timing. They expressed their gratitude to me for sharing this story with them and others. In what might not be verbatim but in my view a little more than a paraphrase, one person commented,

“Matt, it is us who are honored to walk this hallowed ground with you. It is your journey and we are only ever on your timetable.”

When I read the words hallowed ground, I got chills…big chills everywhere – and a big tear in both eyes. As much as any creator of artistic work or other form of self-expression (I nearly synonymize the two) may assert that they do what they do for themselves, I cannot fathom any of them remaining emotionally indifferent to praise and criticism. Any and all acknowledgement is cherished. It is validation that output from our labor matters in the world. Isn’t that what all of us want? We all want to matter. This will come up when I share what awaits after graduation. For now, I will tell you that I am evolving from one who refers to those who devote themselves to forms of self-expression in the third person, to one who makes such references in the first person.[1]

I began One’s Origins almost as an extreme release. I spent my entire life repressing a sense of incompleteness because I did not know how to articulate it in a way that would productively guide me to resolution. When I first learned that I have biological half-siblings and cousins from my father, it took my breath away – quite literally as I recall. I talked about my initial doubts in Parts One and Two. But even then, once I heard from Dan for the first time, I was subconsciously preparing myself for the end of the quest for the ‘something missing’. There was sadness down deep of which I was consciously ignorant. The repressed emotions about my incompleteness was an underground sea of molten lava. Once I met Dan and learned more about my father’s family, eruption was imminent. Genetics, we are learning, deserves the credit for my compulsion to grab the (metaphorical?) pen and paper and begin writing to channel this eruption.

In earlier parts, I shared my strong childhood affinities towards something different from the path I have been on for some time. Hitherto, I have refrained from discussing this in much detail and I feel now is a good time to pry a little further. This sense of something different has always been a quiet source of sadness and incompleteness for me. I have been repressing it for over five decades. One of the greatest beauties of living this experience now is recognizing it and leading the charge to bring about its end. Moreover, the inspiration to share the emotions emerging from this resurgence of self is unstoppable. I have always felt something different from the lifepaths I have chosen but lacked either the belief that it was real or, and probably more accurately, I lacked the courage to see it as real. I am now awakening to the consequences of not choosing my life’s paths. I allowed life to choose its path for me. I do not believe that I am alone in this. I believe many of us look back at our childhood dreams and reflect on why we did not pursue them. We come to a fork in the road and see one path follows our dreams (the world inside ourselves) and the other path follows along with norms and expectations of others (the world outside ourselves). Here, ‘others’ can refer to the world at large or simply our families and others close to us. In either case, these wants of others are almost always (I am in inclined to wager that they are always) mere interpretations we hold as to the expectations of others based what pleases them. For people with an internal locus of identity like myself for whom self-value comes from how others value us, taking the second path – the one more travelled – is often the one taken because we see safety in it. It is ‘no risk, no reward’ at its most sublime.

For an adult adopted as an infant, this ‘something different’ can often be outsized and have genetic underpinnings. I accept that many of my contemporaries certainly live their whole lives never experiencing that which I am describing. For these few, I can only hypothesize that for them there is either deeper or prolonged repression, which in and of itself might not be problematic, or there is a greater overlap among their genetic dispositions and the environment in which they are raised.

I feel it is critical that I stop right here and make one thing abundantly clear. I am blessed with the environment in which I was raised. The sense of sadness or incompleteness to which I refer is, in no way whatsoever, a reflection of my upbringing. I cannot speak for all adults who were adopted as infants, but I unwaveringly believe that I am very far from being alone in saying that incompleteness is innate in the psychological wiring of many adopted children. It is begotten post-traumatically by the abrupt and permanent separation of an infant from the being in whom he or she spent the first nine months of existence. With the rare exception of those who are emotionally imbalanced, it is traumatic for the birth mother as well. I challenge anyone to find a woman who has given a child up for adoption who did not experience at least some grief at separation. This not to suggest that adoption is problematic. Adoption is one of humanities greatest gifts to itself for reasons that I don’t have the space to get into here. Like with all things, there are downsides. With adoption, the upsides significantly outweigh the downsides in almost every situation.

My Mom and Dad did exactly what any of us can ask of adopting parents. In addition to providing love, nourishment, shelter and guidance, the marking of a successful adopting parent is the provision of an environment that makes this incompleteness bearable. Making it disappear altogether is simply not in the cards dealt to many adopted children. When I mentioned earlier that I feel I won the adoption lottery with my Mom and Dad, I was not mincing my words. They made tremendous sacrifices for their two sons. In my case, many of their biggest sacrifices were made for no other reason than to help me right wrongs I made as a teenager. My love and gratitude for them is eternal and beyond measure.

Getting back to my concern about the reactions of others pertaining to the timetable of me sharing my journey is, when I think about it, a little irrational. There is no contractual agreement stipulating anything whatsoever regarding One’s Origins. Yet, I find myself owing an explanation when I am running behind. An objective look at this peculiar reaction on my part yields for me two observations. First, it is an alarming piece of evidence that I still, as I always have, feel the need to explain myself because I often had the experience of falling short of meeting the expectations of others. The second observation is suggestive of subtle narcissism on my part. From where would I ever get the idea that the world is waiting with bated breath for me to post another blog? Sure, many have come to look forward to new parts being published. For me to think, however, that the lives of others go the slightest bit askew when I become unpredictable with the timing of my blogs just might be a wee bit narcissistic. Sure enough, some with whom I have been close in my life have, on one or more occasions, opined on narcissistic attributes I supposedly exhibit. I suspect a correlation exists between narcissism and an external locus of identity. Both are indicative of challenges with self-acceptance. There is, of course, no point in me getting defensive. If that is what that quadrant of my Johari Window[2] reveals, I shall see it for what it is and learn from it without challenging it.

In Part Nine, I shared what seemed to be a smorgasbord of opportunity to grow both professionally and academically. A very large part of this was luck and timing. In the mid 1990s and for the next dozen years or so, what came to be known as the information age was a boon for the economy and everyone willing to join the party. It was almost as if knowing how to turn on a computer and commitment to a solid work ethic was all one needed to find good paying employment. Moreover, in the years leading up to the turn of the century, preparing companies’ systems for Y2K was a big deal. (Y2K was the acronym for ‘Year 2000’. It referred to the massive undertaking of getting computer systems across the globe ready for the 1999 to 2000 date change.) It was big business and it became a sub-industry unto itself for a few years. If everything I was going through had happened a decade earlier or later, most of what I shared in Part Nine possibly might never have occurred. That also means much of what I will share in Part Eleven would not have happened either. For now, we are approaching the end of my academic career.

From beginning to end, my undergraduate degree was a nine-year road and consumed just about every waking moment of my entire twenties. I think I can fairly say that I did not have a twenties. Well, not in my twenties I didn’t. I had my twenties in my thirties. For most young adults, the third decade of life is the breakout decade. Regardless of whether or not you went to college or began working right away, our twenties are when most of us begin to make our mark in the world as adults. My peers worked hard, played hard and did what they wanted to do when they wanted to. Except me. I did none of that. I got up each day and I went to school, then I went to work and back to school to either take whatever night classes were offered that would help me finish sooner or work in the labs as necessary. I would get home late and start the whole thing over day after day for nearly a decade. Lest I be caught exaggerating, I will share that I did squeeze in time to join the company softball team and nine-hole evening golf league some summers.

Once I decided to move back with my folks in my mid-twenties to finish my undergraduate work, I set a goal that by lining up the rest of the courses with precision, I would graduate before my 30th birthday which would be April 5, 1997. It was a squeeze, but with an even further diminished social life, I could accomplish this. More than simply taking extra classes, I would sometimes have to maintain the same number of classes per semester while taking on more hours at work as I become more acclimated to my new role on the database technology team.

Throughout this whole decade of my life, I was learning things about the physical world at an alarming pace. And I loved it!! I was stimulated beyond control by the activity of learning. The assignments often included many long and complex mathematical equations that had to be solved in a particular sequence like puzzles. I would put a lot of effort into these exercises because of the challenge and as I have said before, I was hell bent on proving to myself that I was not dumb, and I was not a throw-away of humanity. I never did develop any noteworthy love affair with Chemical Engineering as a profession, but I sure as hell loved the structured and relentless learning about it.

I accomplished my goal. I handed in my final exam a week before the end of the year in 1996, a little over three months before my 30th birthday. A little over a month after I turned 30, I walked with the class of 1997 the following May with whom I had taken most of my classes. My degree, however, says December 1996.

After I handed in my final exam I left the campus ready and excited to return to full time work. My first order of business was to tender my resignation (for the second time at the same company). It was time to go where few, if any, Chemical Engineers have gone before: to a global accounting firm.

And that my dear friends, is where we will pick up in Part Eleven.

Thank you all for the gift of your presence.

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[1] In his 2009 book, “The Talent Code”, author Daniel Coyle tells us of a 1997 study lead by Gary McPherson that revealed an undeniable influence of “perception of self”. Young music students who thought of, and referred to, themselves as ‘musicians’ were statistically far more likely to put in the work necessary to excel as musicians. (The Talent Code ©2009 Daniel Coyle pp 102-106)

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johari_window

 

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One’s Origins: A Journey From Adoption to Identity – Part Nine

Hi everyone! Summer break is over and time was well spent pursuing a couple other projects I am excited to share in the very near future.

We concluded Part Eight with me being towed out to the launch pad to jettison towards a career certain to usher me towards an existence replete with self-respect. I just had to keep following the yellow brick road that was being painted by others. Towards the end of Part Eight I mentioned that doors appeared to open up for me. When they did, I believed that a safe assumption was that I was meant to walk through them, so I did.

Just as the world was beginning to look like it had become my oyster, something happened that could have brought much of it crumbling down. I planned that Part Nine would be dedicated to sharing that story with you. Due to reasons I will not get into here, since drafting Part Nine I have come to understand that the timing for doing so is sub-optimal. I hope to revisit and share this part of the journey at a later date.

For now, let’s jump right back into things once I moved on from the reparative period working in the trades to an office services job at an engineering firm. In so doing, I transitioned from community college student taking general business administration courses to a night student at Villanova University enrolled in their College of Engineering.

I mentioned in Part Five that part of the reparative work included repairing a tear I made in my relationship with my Mom and Dad (as well as with many others) – that in no small part is attributable to my Mom’s aneurysm. I had returned to live with my parents after the fallout from a few years ago. Long before the term ‘boomerang kids’ found its way into our lexicon I was a boomerang kid early 90’s style. My boomeranging ways were the ‘prodigal son’ kind.

This prodigal son was about to move out into the world on his own for the second time. This time there was no tumult and there was no heartbreak. This was just a bird leaving the nest in which it hatched. But again, I ain’t done boomeranging just yet. We’ll get to that a little later.

Shortly after my promotion to supervisor, I found a three-bedroom apartment, the tenant of which was seeking a roommate. It was a half mile from the office and a short walk to the regional rail train station. The sixth stop after the station near my new residence was located on the Villanova campus. It was less than a fifteen-minute commute by train and a mere few hundred feet of walking in total to get from my front door to my classroom. Was it not safe to conclude that this was indeed the right road for me? All the right things were happening. I was developing a deep sense of faith that I was on the path intended for me all along. In there, ever so subtly, lies the flaw in my thinking. My faith played a passive role. Favorable outcomes did not occur because I had faith. Instead, I was acquiring faith because I was experiencing favorable outcomes. New job. New home. New school. I was ready to tackle the world. As the saying goes, “be careful what you wish for.”

During my tenure as supervisor for the office services department (circa 1993), the company was acquired by a much larger engineering firm with a global footprint. This was also about the time I had to make a decision about matriculation. Which discipline of engineering would I pursue? Recall from Part Eight that it was opportunity and my trust in the waves that carried me, and not any particular desire, that pushed me towards engineering – though math always fascinated me. Now I had to decide which kind. Well again, signs from the heavens, the universe, the Ouija Board (whichever best aligns with your world views) was about to tap me on the shoulder and whisper in my ear the decision I was meant to make about matriculation. (In the case of the Ouija Board the decision was simply being made for me.)

The company I worked for prior to the acquisition had only a few disciplines of engineering. In addition to the architectural department, there was Mechanical (HVAC and piping systems), Electrical, Fire Protection and Systems Integration. Our clients were other companies seeking engineering and design work on new buildings as well was repairs and rehabs on existing buildings. These buildings were sometimes just office buildings but more often they were huge research and development facilities in the Pharmaceuticals industry. For this reason, Mechanical seemed like decent choice. It’s broad and the Mechanical department comprised a decent portion of the entire company. From a practical standpoint Villanova offered Mechanical engineering as one of its programs in engineering.

The acquiring company, on the other hand, had a huge presence in the Petroleum industry. Here in the U.S. they had significant presence with the oil companies in the southern part of the country.  At Villanova, there were four engineering programs: Mechanical, Electrical, Chemical and Civil. I don’t know (even today) if there exist any accredited programs specifically called Petroleum engineering. There could well be. I was told by those with whom I conferred for advice that Chemical Engineering overlaps significantly with work in the Petroleum industry. The Ouija Board had revealed its answer. I was to matriculate to Chemical Engineering.

What I did not know at the time is that (at least then) among all undergraduate engineering programs – and among all undergraduate degrees in general – Chemical Engineering required (by no small margin) the greatest number of total credit hours. Remember I was taking night classes; six to eight credits per semester on average and I used the summers to take electives. This was going to take a while.

Shortly thereafter, I learned that many of the classes required for a Chemical Engineering degree were not offered at night. Uh oh! I was now committed to this path. After all, far be it for me to dismiss the wisdom of the Ouija Board. There was only one thing I could do. Resign. I submitted a letter of resignation from my job as supervisor for the office services staff. I had enjoyed tuition reimbursement for the last two years. But if I was going to get this degree done before my thirtieth birthday (a target I set back when I first started at the community college when my academic ambitions were lighter) I had to migrate to a full-time student status. Resigning meant no more tuition reimbursement. I would have to learn about and apply for every loan and grant available to me. And of course, no income made paying rent a bit challenging. I had one more boomerang move up my sleeve. At about the age of 26, I was moving back home with my Mom and Dad to finish my undergraduate work.

I was called into the office of the Regional President who was the person in charge of our entire office. My resignation letter went up two more levels above me and landed somehow on his desk. He congratulated me on the decisions I was making for the betterment of my life. He then asked if I could work around my new daytime classes. If I could manage around my courses such that I could still keep tabs on things with my staff and their responsibilities, the company wanted me to stay. I never expected that or even imagined it. I was truly humbled. As a part time employee, I would not qualify for tuition reimbursement, but they would continue to sponsor my health insurance coverage. Of course, it would also provide some income. I said yes and we shook hands. I walked out of his office feeling about as good about myself as I could ever remember having felt in a very long time.

About a year later, while I was still in the part time role of supervisor for the office services staff, I was invited to join a team in the company that had recently commenced a very large technology integration project to automate the manufacturing of a vaccine for a global pharmaceutical company. Philadelphia, the city nearest to me, is on the western fringes of what was referred to as (and probably still is) the ‘eastern pharmaceutical corridor’. Between Boston, MA and Washington, DC and especially in northern New Jersey, there is a huge presence of the biggest names in the pharmaceuticals industry.

Upon receiving this invitation, a conversation ensued that went something like this:

“I have no idea in the world what your group does or what this project is about.”
“No problem! We will teach you everything you’ll need to know.”
“Ok. You guys know I am a part time employee now because of daytime classes, right?”
“No problem!”
“Also, I am pursuing a Chemical Engineering degree, not programming or computer science.”
“No problem! One of the managers on the project is also a ChemE. Just keep working towards completion of your degree.”

Was that my Ouija Board talking to me again? Onward and upward I go. Literally upward in that this team was located on the second floor almost directly above the office services room where my team was located.

In much the same way as working for Bob (Part Six) in the trades refocused my life and provided me the opportunity to learn and become a contributing member of society, working with this team opened my eyes to how things come into being in the world that most people either take for granted or are simply not bothered to contemplate. I was going to work on a project designing what was at the time cutting edge technology to automate manufacturing of a product that would address life or death situations on a global scale. My Dear Ouija Board, where on earth are you taking me on this journey?

Before I continue, perhaps I might clarify that I am not much of a believer in Séances or Ouija Boards. My multiple uses of this ‘game’ is intended merely for humor and levity.

The best part was being invited to join this team on this project as my first foray into professional white-collar work was that it was a team that stood by one another rather than positioning against each other. I would later in my career become dreadfully too familiar with that lesser desirable team dynamic. For now, I could not have been more blessed with a greater group of individuals to shepherd me through this brand-new leg of my journey.

One thing that some of you might be wondering is how does this new opportunity square with Chemical Engineering. The answer is quite simple. It doesn’t. Of course, I would see common engineering lingo all over the place as I was now exposed to it literally night and day – and weekends too! Other than that, nada! My new role was to help create and support methods of testing programs and data that composed a rather elaborate relational database being built to support automated manufacturing. Not a chemical to be found anywhere. Which is a good thing. Not a bone in my body had a desire to become an expert on chemicals. I had matriculated a couple years earlier and was in no way going to turn around now. I had many credit hours already in the bank pertaining to Chemical Engineering and I was not to have them be for naught.

In Part Ten we’ll see what happens to a particular individual who never took any college entrance exams; was expelled from high school his senior year; had a brief run with substance use; quickly straightened himself out (aided by the near loss of the woman who adopted him); and is now a full time college student at a top ranked school in what is arguably one of the most demanding degrees offered at the undergraduate level. Next up is graduation and what follows. This ride ain’t done yet!

Thank you for your company as always. See you in Part Ten.

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Protected: One’s Origins – Part Eight

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