For 37 years, my relationship with myself was not a very good one. I lived for others. I lived for things. I lived for what I thought I needed to be done.
These narratives were consistently dwelling in my mind, but easily submerged with the help of adrenaline filled activities, meaningless relationships, alcohol, and television.
Things came to a head in January of last year when I punched a hole in my bedroom wall after drinking to excess. My wife was with me (yet again) to witness my loss of control. She had seen me turn depressed and angry, but now I was violent. That night, she watched me call multiple best friends and babble incoherent nonsense before going really dark and talking about Marine friends that we lost. Somehow, I didn’t wake my 14 month old daughter up.
The hole remained unfixed until we moved out in July. I needed a constant reminder of who and what I had become.
This wasn’t a discovery phase as much as it was an acceptance phase. It was time to take ownership, not just of the drinking, but also of all the buried beliefs inside that could result in such terrible explosions.
I was a mediocre pilot because I was scared to cost Marines their lives. I was, and still am, a distant family member because I failed as a child to truly embrace my Hispanic culture. My Spanish is pretty bad. I was a terrible boyfriend and husband (before my current wife) because I was initially flattered that people wanted to be with me and there weren’t many “cons.” I gave my closest friends guilt trips when they let me down, when in reality I was projecting what I thought about myself.
So, how did I cut ties with this version of myself? How did I consciously abandon myself, and all the learned behaviors I utilized to live decently and to excel at work? For me, there were two major catalysts that allowed me to navigate to safety.
First, my wife. She knew I was flawed when we met. She saw me become more flawed: personally and professionally. Yet, somehow she KNEW I could come out on the other side. She gave me permission to seek happiness, which began in July with leaving a job that I loathed from the moment I started. She then watched me clumsily meander into the world of entrepreneurship. In a few short months I was skyrocketing into a stratosphere of happiness I’d never felt, and my business was growing on a daily basis. Without her unwavering support I’m unsure of what the current landscape of my life would resemble.
Secondly, I was unflinchingly honest with myself. It was time to stop shaming myself for who I was and who I wasn’t. I looked at each and every problem and decided to take the actions to solve them at light speed. I did it with no regard for anyone or their opinions; accepting myself unapologetically was my only priority. This was the seismic turning point.
I credit this to two people: (1) Gary Vaynerchuk and his brash truths about life and why we should live it to the fullest (e.g. “You’re gonna die”) and (2) Gary’s Chief Heart Officer, Claude Silver, for her nurturing perspectives and uncanny ability to help us swim to the surface even when we feel we are out of air.
My evolution has been dramatic. I now find myself projecting positivity, optimism, and human connection. The unplanned byproduct is that I am now living in this wonderful and peaceful ecosystem of people and evolving opportunities. I interview leaders, authors, celebrities, and veterans in an effort to unwrap them and hear their life stories. This endeavor was an accidental part of my entrepreneurial journey, but perhaps a very intentional nudge from my subconscious.
People are all just trying to make it. The phrase “[…] puts their pant legs on one leg at a time just like you,” or any version of that is in fact, true. We all have dark passengers, moments of doubt, and negative self narratives. We all also have triumphant moments, joyous occasions, and positivity to spread.
I waste almost no time on situations or people that don’t bring me joy. I no longer foolishly judge people or myself. Instead, I maintain an environment that is strictly conducive to my happiness. This is the relationship with myself that I always wanted.
My friend Matt, a very special person and Marine, passed away recently. At his eulogy one person noted:
“Matt was larger than life. To him, you were either all in or in the way.”
It was not only an astute and accurate observation but also a profound approach on how we can all live our lives just a little bit better.
Having ended a relationship with a former version of myself doesn’t mean I don’t constantly reflect. I think of how I would console an 8 year old me that’s confronted with the ugliness that life can be from time to time.
What would I say? How could I be supportive but honest? Honest but candid? Candid but helpful?
It certainly wouldn’t involve telling the boy to form fragile romantic relationships, drink alcohol, or form a collection of temporary distractions.
I hope it would be a conversation about how loving yourself is a hard skill to learn, but one that will help you stare down adversities with confidence. I would make clear that most problems are better off addressed and acted on right away. I would mention that failing is more like “failing forward” and the life value is unparalleled. Most importantly, I would leave no doubt in his mind that there are many others who suffer equally and often times suffer worse.
“Rich, uplifting each other can yield a support network or tribe that will be there when you fall. If they aren’t, it’s ok. You’re strong enough to swim to the surface all on your own. You got this.”