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My Programming Was Based on Lies
At some level, I had a sense of that as I was growing up. That I was operating from a place of something very wrong. But I didn’t get my first deep look until I started seeing a therapist as a 25-year-old. I started to get it and do something about it around age 50.
It’s not that our lives were completely awful, or that my parents didn’t love me, or that they beat me. (Except of course for the occasional whippings that would send them to jail these days.) That was just normal for us then. We didn’t go on vacation. But my friend, Mark, and his family went on vacation. I used to go over and watch home movies of his vacations! In any event, from my early years, I took all of the unhappiness and uncertainty in. I mean really in. As I later came to see very clearly, I was hard-wired around a couple of things.
1. This whole thing was going to fall apart and I was going to be on the streets. That it was up to me to save it. Save me. And, I didn’t know how to do that. That is messed up, of course. I was 5 years old, but that is exactly the programming I baked in. 2. I did not want to be poor.
Truth Mixes With Lies
So let’s fast forward. I grew up in the country and we worked. I was mowing lawns from about the fourth grade and doing farm work for small pay by the sixth grade or so. I liked to have a little money.
I remember one particular job working for a farmer named Homer Crymes. Mr. Crymes was the grandfather of one of my classmates. That classmate, my younger brother, and I did a two-and-a-half-day project for Mr. Crymes. I remember I was 16 because I remember driving over to pick up our paychecks when we were done. This was August, and it was hot, dirty hard work. When we finished, Mr. Crymes said to my brother, “You work very well.” But he said to me, “You work as well as any man I've ever had in here.”
That felt great. It became my internal battle cry. That recognition. Like a newfound sense of true value. I didn’t understand then that the notion of my internal value was deep in the hole. On a scale of 1 to 10, it was a minus 10. So, I worked. I worked full-time at the local supermarket for years while in high school. There’s nothing like punching a time clock and working alongside people feeding their families. I was recognized as a good worker.
I didn’t make it to college until I was 19. I showed up on campus in January 1978. I finished in December 1979 and began my career with Arthur Andersen on January 2, 1980. I mean, how many 19-year-old maniacs finish their bachelor’s degree in two years?
The lies were all to do with my devastating sense of inherent value. I didn’t understand that. I was trying to fill programming on the inside from something on the outside. That outside part was programming too. I get a picture of me being in a leaking lifeboat and building muscles like Popeye as I furiously bail water. It’s not that there weren’t some positive results. But what a hard, inefficient, and limiting way to go about it.
Results Mixed Too
Surprise, surprise. I did create my Arthur Andersen job, which I wanted very specifically. I knew from before I had the job that I wanted to become a partner. I did all of that. I couldn’t have been in my own way anymore, but I was a worker. I was focused.
I could talk about the ups and downs forever. Making seven digits some years, and way less others. Living in $2.5 million houses and living in places a fraction of that. Fantastic trips all over the world, working much of the time and full of fear, stress, thinking about work and “things” all of the time. I could talk about my great wife and three great daughters. I could talk about divorce and my 8-year-old daughter moving to Norway.
Most people would probably see me as a successful professional through all of those years. In many ways, I was. What I was, like just about everybody I meet regardless of their balance sheet… My life was a great example of “partial success." If you could graph it out, it would put any spiky stock market chart to shame. Really good highs, big lows. I didn’t just drown in those lows. I tried to outwork them. You see, that was my programming. Just outwork it. We think we are calling the shots. That’s bullshit. Our programing calls all the shots.
One night in my late 40s, I woke up in the middle of the night. My heart was beating fast. I told my wife, “I think I’m having a heart attack.” I walked into the bathroom, leaned on my hand on the countertop, and looked at myself in the mirror. I went out like a light. I remember dropping to the floor and hitting my cheekbone on the granite. The next thing I remember was two firemen carrying me down the stairs. In the ER, they never really came up with a diagnosis. I am quite sure it was an anxiety attack or something like that. I never thought of myself as anxious. Just the opposite. I’d always been the guy who thought he could do anything, outwork anyone.
I had always thought I could succeed my way out of my problems. It felt like I had been swimming upstream really hard forever. I had been for almost 50 years. Funny thing is, I knew that was no way to live. I just didn’t think about it.
In part three of "Unlock Your Potential," you'll learn through my life experience how to change your life for the better and harness that last elusive 25% to unlock your full potential.
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