For ten years, I did the things. I did the things people do to impress other people who have no authentic concern for their well-being or personal joy. I wanted to make my family proud. I wanted to prove the haters wrong. I wanted to show my biological father (who wasn’t present during my childhood) I turned out just fine without his influence or protection. I wasted a decade being everything I thought everyone else wanted me to be. I didn’t even stop to hear my own voice or chase my own bliss.
I fell in love with the idea of making my own money when I was 13. My mom took me downtown to grab a work permit and I found a part-time job near home that I could walk to. (Yeah- that’s right. Been a hustler since the 90’s). Earning my own money was all I could do to contribute. My mom worked long hours, 6 days a week, to give her children everything. I wanted to be just like her.
Fast forward to 2005, I was a sophomore in college and being broke was exhausting and terrible for morale. I couldn’t stand eating Ramen every night and I needed money for gas, clothes, and everything a 19 year old “literally cannot live without”. I didn’t really enjoy college. Never got excited about going to the club, hanging out on campus, or traveling to the beach for spring break. “Getting to the money” became an obsession, unhealthy and addictive but also impressive and admirable. Some people admired me most at moments in my life when I liked myself the least. I started a corporate career at 20. I completed classes online to make room for a salary and professional wardrobe. I rented a fancy townhouse. I bought white furniture that was too expensive to spill red wine on without crying and cursing. I was a successful mess. Drowning in the goals I thought would eventually bring me satisfaction- and a Range Rover.
I eventually bought a home, bought the dream car, bought more shoes and checked more boxes on the growing list of agonizing, empty goals. I was miserable.
I woke up on my 30th birthday and decided to take some vital steps in a different direction. My only goal was to live a more authentic and healthy life, not based on things and financial gain. I wanted to know God as a best friend and not a genie I could call on to grant my shallow wishes. I wanted to love deeply instead of using people to fill vacancies in my bed and my heart. I was tired of myself. Tired of being privileged and pitiful.
Here’s what I changed:
Friends. They say the 5 people you’re around the most influence your choices and perspective the most. I made the painful but necessary adjustments to strengthen my core community. I have a few people in my life who make me better. I trimmed the fat. What was once a crew of 30+ people who just said whatever I wanted to hear is now a small council of wisdom, integrity and honesty.
Judgement. Self-pity is a hell of a drug. I wasted so much time reliving mistakes. I ate terrible fattening food when I was depressed and I was depressed because I wasn’t happy with the choices I was making. When I made the decision to change my life, I had to start with working on myself from the inside out. I stopped eating food that made me sick and sluggish. I stopped punishing myself for choices I’d made in the past. I tried to focus on victories and appreciate the lessons that came from losses.
Spiritual Discipline. God saved my life. Not in a “this is a cute Pinterest quote or bumper sticker!” kinda way. But in a literal way. Without a gang of friends, life gets really quiet and lonely at times. I had to make a choice. Lose my mind or find comfort in something permanent and profound. I chose to get to know God in a way that still sustains me now. I don’t need a crowd of people applauding my decisions. I don’t need a posse. I’ve got a best friend who is ever-present and so consistent.
I’ve learned so much and I’m still learning. What I write is reflection, an exercise to help me heal and evolve. I know the changes I made may not seem necessary to everyone. I do hope the lessons I’ve learned may encourage someone who is on a journey to a more meaningful life.