“I’m learning who you’ve been ain’t who you’ve got to be.”
From ‘Better Than I Used To Be’
First recorded by Sammy Kershaw and later covered by Tim McGraw
Writers: Bryan Simpson, Ashley Gorley
Welcome back! It’s been a wild few weeks since Part Seven was published. I use the word ‘wild’ in the most positive sense imaginable. My challenge for parts eight, nine and possibly ten, will not be a lack of great stuff to share. Rather, organization will be my challenge. One emerging benefit from sharing the One’s Origins journey is learning so much about what might have been done differently if I were to begin writing about this all over again. If, or dare I say when, One’s Origins is put to print, this blog is serving as the perfect sandbox. I am blessed with opportunity supported by your company.
I continue to struggle with a lingering quandary. Shall I maintain continuity in story line? Or shall I opt for a more organic or dynamic reading experience by interjecting present day occurrences in real time that have everything to do with the learning about my genetic origins? After much deliberation (essentially with myself) I have decided to take the path of continuity. In my view, it is simply easier to let the narrative flow if I commit to continuity.
In Part Seven, I shared a very painful experience involving my first experience of being in love. It began as I was heading into a dark time in my life and it survived with no lasting blemishes. In fact, it emerged all the stronger. That was thirty years ago! Life had to go on. The only unknown was who was going to chart the course ahead. I certainly had no confidence in myself to be in charge. My rationale was that the last time I made life decisions for myself only a few years earlier, things did not turn out so well.
So where to turn? That is the focus of Part Eight so let’s begin. From the onset it seems reasonable to start with perhaps dreams, desires, a vision of future self, etc. I had all of the above. What I lacked was an awareness of how sacrosanct each of those were in their service of providing the very guidance I desperately needed. On my best day, every dream I had of a life for myself was tossed into the bin of frivolity not to be taken seriously. I was convinced I did some serious and almost irreparable damage to my reputation and close relationships as a young man entering adulthood. I had some serious ground to make up and fast. The only target I set my sights on was proving to the world and myself that I am not one of society’s throw-a-ways. It’s the world I wanted to see accept me. And it was me whom I needed to accept me. Remember the whole ‘external locus of identity’ thing? My goal was not to be me. My goal merely was the swift eradication of the world’s memory of who I used to be. Therefore, my bogus concoction of what the world wanted from me was my guide. As I write this, I am reminded of what my MBA Ethics professor once said to our class many years ago. “If you want to do good in this world, find a good [person] and do what they do.” I had a version of that as my compass fifteen years earlier. ‘If you want to be successful, find a successful person and do what they do.’ Of course, my definition of success was then, as it remained for years, having a respected and impressive career path. In my myopia, I believed the only way to achieve this was to find a path that was 180° from whence I had recently been in just about every shape and form.
Closing out Part Six I discussed my foray into college. I enrolled without any idea of what was to be my focus study. My Dad had recently made the off-the-cuff suggestion of business management. That was enough for me shrug my shoulders and say, “Ok, I guess that’s it.” Enrolling in a community college has much fewer hurdles than highly ranked institutions. For starters, SAT scores are not critically necessary. And that’s a good thing. Given the timing of my mid-teen mess, I never prepared for or took the SAT exam. (A standardized test in the U.S. for college bound students.)
This was in 1988. The year I turned twenty-one I began what was to become a nearly nine-year undergraduate journey. The leading indicator for me that I was making positive life choices by returning to school was listening to deluge of encouragement from so many who were close to me, not the least of whom was Tonia’s (Part Seven) encouragement as I went through my first couple semesters.
After about four years of working in the blistering heat and frigid cold, someone who was dating a childhood friend of mine was working in the accounting department of a local, 250-person engineering company. She told me they were looking for someone to fill an entry level position in their printing and mail room. Unlike your stereotypical copy machine operations, most of our tasks centered around reproduction of architectural and engineering drawings in large quantities. In these days, electronic distribution of documents such as these was still years away. (For levity, feel free to associate with the contemporary sitcom “The Office” or go for further back in the archives to recall the iconic 1991 Saturday Night Live skit ‘Copy Machine’ with Sting, lead singer and bassist for the pop band The Police – coincidentally one of my favorite bands in high school.)
I learned that once you are there for a year, they offered tuition reimbursement as long as your course work was related to an engineering discipline and you got at least a B (3.0) or better. I applied, was interviewed and offered the job within a few weeks. This was in October 1991.
I immediately changed my course path at the community college from business to engineering. Matriculation into a discipline (Mechanical, Electrical, Civil, etc.) was not a bridge I would need to cross for a while. Taking classes at night – about two classes per semester – lengthens greatly the time required to finish – or make any progress for that matter. This did not discourage me in the least. I was on a mission.
Within my first year at the engineering firm my supervisor moved on to a different role within the company and I was promoted to supervisor. Our group comprised about six or seven individuals and we managed document reproduction, shipping/receiving and deliveries of engineering drawings for local clients. Once I hit the one-year mark, I explored other schools with better name recognition to continue my engineering degree at night. Once I got myself on a better path, I was back with my parents for a few years while I tried to re-establish myself as a society keeper rather than a throw-a-way.
Conveniently located about halfway between the office and my home was the campus of Villanova University – about twelve miles west of Philadelphia. Their engineering program had a solid reputation and it was also a lot more expensive than a community college. With only a couple courses per semester and tuition reimbursement, little deliberation was needed on this decision. It was a no-brainer.
One might think that transferring from a community college to a school of Villanova’s caliber is a labyrinth nearly indistinguishable from that which a high school graduate seeking acceptance into a top-ranked school would have to master. Not so. Since I was applying for night classes, and I had a track record at a community college with mostly good grades, and, perhaps most important, I was able to show that I could pay the tuition, there was no other formal vetting procedures. While only a few years earlier I was destined for a life somewhere between poverty and vagrancy, I was now enrolled as a student in the College of Engineering at Villanova University. I still had yet to come to the bridge of matriculation. That was still a couple years away.
One thing to keep in mind is that all this was happening in the early 1990s long before higher education evolved into the financial and influential powerhouse it is today. I refer you to pp 24-25 of Late Bloomers by Rich Karlgaard. The idea that success necessitated a college degree was beginning to seep into the water supply of consciousness at an ever-increasing rate. It is now at problematic levels.
I had a base level of appreciation for the blessings and second chances life afforded me. I’ve said this before, and I will repeat it again and again. I am very fortunate. I know I am very fortunate, and I am grateful. Other people, many of whom did not know me, took a chance on me. And that made all the difference – if I may borrow the second half of an oft cited sentence from Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken.
It is both a blessing and a curse that so many doors seemed to open up for me once I jumped off the wrong path. I was becoming convinced that this is how it all works. Simply show up and opportunity reveals itself. Voila! I must be on the path of my destiny! I reasoned if opportunity found me, that was the only sign I needed to believe this was where I was meant to be since all I had to do was show up and do my best and the rest would fall into place. This idea in and of itself is not false – but only to a point. Rather than me happening to life, I let life happen to me. And it was a glorious and even slightly serendipitous strategy by which to pursue the respect of others and the eradication of any memory of who I used to be.
I have spoken before of being motivated by external cues rather than internal ones. I needed the world to accept me in order for me to accept me. It would be almost thirty years later before I learned that the exact opposite is true. The world will naturally be more accepting of me – and of each of us – once we accept ourselves for who we are. The world is ready and waiting to accept us once we do.
The twenty years to follow can best be described as a ride in a rocket ship. To say my wildest dreams were exceeded would not even make sense because they were not aligned with any dreams I held for myself. But there sure was alignment with my goal of impressing people and garnering respect in the modern world.
There was just one more obstacle. I was not completely through with making flawed decisions with life damaging consequences. I had one more up my sleeve. And that is where we will pick up in Part Nine.
Thank you all as always. You lift me.