To be a good man means part of you needs to take the hero’s journey. Not a caricature of a hero’s journey, a real one. The full archetype of self-worth learning kind of journey. Dude there’s no heroism in being a prick — pajama or alpha; that’s just hiding behind an artificial stereotype. Nope. You need to find what it means to be an individually good man, a real hero.
Part of that journey is that you have to learn to succeed. Part of it, and probably more the more important part, is that you have to learn to fail. One of the best pieces of mentor advice I ever got came from a meeting I had in the late 80’s with then recently retired USAF General Bill Creech, the former commanding officer of the Tactical Air Command. Four stars. He was an imposing figure. I had the misfortune to annoy him a time or two challenging the rubber on the ramp assumptions of the reliance on his fleet of mosquito sized F-16’s in a world evolving full of threats requiring more range, loiter and ordnance in places who’s then obscure biblical names people can name today as part of the current events geopolitical landscape. I lost those operations research battles, not for lack of trying or being wrong, but because those were the circumstances of the time. We needed airplanes in large numbers to swarm over the Fulda Gap. So Bill is doing his post-retirement consulting rounds with all the major aerospace companies and he takes a meeting with me. He did to specifically to give me this one piece of advice, “Son, sometimes the only way to win is to lose gracefully.” That is such an elegant summation of a true hero’s journey.
There’s nothing worse for you in the world than getting down on yourself when you start to lose. It drains you of your energy, your sense of humor, your tolerance. People can see it, particularly the people that know you well. It’s amazing how tiny changes in your smile, your posture, even the tension of your skin telegraph that things are not well. People start asking you if you’re feeling alright, if you’re giving too much and not taking enough, being too quiet, getting grouchy. We’ve all been there.
The reason doesn’t matter, it’s one of those emotional roller coaster things humans do; some have wilder roller coasters than others. Mine are not that wild. I’m a brooder. I overthink things. I over communicate my unformed thoughts. I cling to my trusted touch points. In general, I bug the crap out of people until I figure out what’s bothering me.
In novel form, I become afflicted by what’s called a character flaw. It sets up a journey to resolve it. My goals at the beginning are always almost misguided, a story of misinterpreted facts. The troubled part of my psyche is my own internal antagonist, the enemy within preventing me from achieving my true goals. The plot is a series of dramatic back and forth battles inside my head. The supporting cast in the play is everyone who must suffer through my bugging them as I do it. The ending is where some sort of resolution comes to either overcome the flaw or figure out how to coexist with it. Spice it up a bit and you’ve got a script.
My last flaw had to do with overextending myself giving to so many people and so many things that I lost a grip on myself. The realization dawned on me and was reinforced more over time as the people who loved me the most started telling me to be a bit more selfish and look out for myself; that I don’t need to be needed by everyone all the time no matter how many people keep asking for things.
There is truth to the fact that I do get asked for many things big and small. It’s part of having talent. I do tend to give everything I have and I do tend to win at what I do. I have this Jack Ryan boy scout thing that compels me to use my talent to do good. You do get to do the most interesting things. People like you for it. Heck, people pay you for it in both monetary and non-monetary ways. But it is a character flaw. The flaw is best described as being addicted to being needed. Do too much of it and you feel like you have no time for yourself … because you don’t.
I knew I was overextended and I started dumping obligations a couple of years ago. It was the beginning of a nervous reversal of a lifelong motto of turning one’s desires into one’s obligations. That’s a classic formula for creating success in life. It’s also a trap one can easily fall into to spread yourself too thin. I had so I began to shed things I’d done for over a decade; in some cases, for most of my life. These were things that had real responsibility. The changes I was making created real vacuums and forced learning curves on other people who would need to step into the shoes. Some were for work. Some were for hobbies. These were things I had nurtured into the kinds of effortless grace that other men attach their entire self-images to. But their time had come. I needed to clear the deck to make room for the next desires I wanted to turn into my future obligations. That’s also a classic formula to creating additional success. What I had not fully accounted for was that there is a mental price to be paid to let go of things. In the process of shedding what I consciously wanted to, I’d also cut back on too many of the activities I did just for me. And it brought out deeper latent wants I’d been deferring dealing with, in some cases, for years.
This is the part where you have to accept that your first goals were not your real goals. In books, it’s the hero’s epiphany moment. Except, it’s happening to you. You have no idea what the real answer is you need to find. You do realize that the cost of what you have to really give up or change is a lot higher than you’d thought. And it scares you, truly scares you to see that it’s not a clinical thing to find yourself again. The only thing you really have is the conviction that you need to find it.
This is where loving yourself comes in. This is where believing in yourself comes in. This is where you must turn to selfishness to find self-worth. This is where I am as I write this article. I have no idea what Act III of the play will be like. But I do know I’m worth moving forward into it. And I know my overarching theme is to do it as gracefully as I can.
If you have had similar issues beset you, I hope hearing this perspective helps yours.
Originally published at medium.com