Fear. Fear of rejection, fear of loss, these feelings start out small, surface when we are young and grow, gaining in strength as the years pass, if we turn a blind eye. I think back to one of my first fully participatory snowball fights. There were many growing up on Long Island, the winters cold enough to give the children some off-white under-siege adventure to enjoy. There were some really big kids on my block back then. Small ones too. One of the eldest would usually split us up into equal squads. Then it was on. We sought body shots for victory, taking pride in our aim, strength of arm and speed, trajectory of object thrown offering up clues. My neighbor, nearly the same age as me took aim, firing in my direction. He came up short, a well packed iceball (yes, his brother had taught him well, formulate snow into round ball and store in freezer for later use) landing at my feet that I scooped up with my offhand and ran after him with. We were the same age, eight years old, though I was more than half a head taller, unquestionably faster and stronger, the trajectory of my throws more impressive. But it was never about any of that back then. We were having fun. That was all that mattered.
Fast forward four years. I was still one of the biggest, still one of the strongest. Sports mattered, as I was a boy and boy’s external matter is most often made up of sports at that age, if one aspires to be “cool”. Now I was the one choosing squads. I remember feeling important, the unapologetic, competitive juices of boyhood coursing through my veins as I called the shots, took lots of shots, made lots of shots, and hit lots of shots out on the soccer pitch, blacktop hoop and baseball diamond. I was earning their respect out there, my young, athletically-driven peers. Inside the classroom that quickly evaporated. I have always been naturally inquisitive and eager to share an opinion on anything intellectually based. It’s a big part of who I am today, a big part of who I was back then. I raised my hand more than most to answer and ask lots questions. We were now at the age when kids began to take notice, judgments surfacing. Phrases like “teacher’s pet” began to spread like wildfire. I was no longer seen in the same light. I didn’t eat lunch with the “cool” kids anymore. Banned. I was picked on incessantly, deemed a gentle, giant nerd. There were laughs and there were looks and I did not like them. I took measures to ensure these things didn’t stick, working more on my jump shot than on my homework, hardly ever raising my hand in class, picking on the smaller kids during recess if I saw an opportunity to add value to my self-perceived “coolness”. My mom was head of the PTA and I was into the arts. I stopped writing, stopped drawing. I became very embarrassed whenever my mom was at school. I was rebelling…ultimately, against myself. It was out of character. It is something we have all experienced; puberty and peer pressure an ugly, evil two-headed cohabitant of mind, body and spirit.
In high school the other boys quickly caught up to me in terms of height and athletic prowess. I was no longer “the man.” I was still a good student, though not the standout, model student I had once been. There were other kids in my class that were both smart and athletic and seemed “cool.” To think at how I looked at things back then, the snowball growing, gaining momentum. Upon reflection, I’m left to wonder how things would have turned out for me scholastically in those later years if I had known what I now do, that none of it mattered. If I had stayed true to my trajectory I would have participated more in class and shown more interest in my studies. I let my environment strip me of what I was naturally drawn to…Back then. So what if I got picked on? Well, I was young and there are often growing pains. In high school I was able to move past all of that, or so I thought. I didn’t care as much what people thought of me. I hungout with whomever I chose to, most of the time. I even began to write poetry again. But alas, the snowball grew, as I was making sense of the world around me, still hedging at times to suit societal needs. What made it worse in a way was that I had begun to gain awareness, in terms of my actions, though still did not always act in alignment with the truest version of myself. Behaving in a way you think others would want you to act is never okay. It is one thing to be considerate, another to change who you are. I remember feeling bad about it, even back then.
Onto college. I got into 9 out of the 10 schools I had applied to. My parents were proud. I was happy, able to pick my favorite institution. I didn’t give much thought to the major I chose. Finance. Many of my peers were choosing business majors, peers I respected, peers I admired. Many of these peers were the “smart jocks” I previously mentioned. I had taken an accounting course my senior year in high school. It was okay. Why not? Midway through the second week of my first semester I knew that it was not for me. All of my friends from high school I spoke with regularly were keeping with it. Why shouldn’t I? Sophomore year I had the opportunity to take two electives that I absolutely loved. Journalism and Old English Lit. Geoffrey Chaucer, you are the man! I thought. But when my parents asked me how school was going I didn’t give them any specifics, said that it was good, and assured them all was well. A stubborn young man, there I stood, thinking my actions true. And the snowball in size and number grew. Where there had been one, now were a few. Again I was letting other factors influence my decision, ultimately veering off course, pursuing poker as a career, and being fortunate to graduate with my degree. Choosing poker in a way served as the beginning, paving the way for true growth. It was a horrible decision, seeing as I was enrolled in school at the time and already behind in my studies, but at least I had made a choice wholly my own. It was something I enjoyed, something that tailored to my strengths, and something that let me be myself, at least in part.
My mid-to-late twenties was when I finally began to gain footing. I was laid off from a finance position, went back to school full-time, had my back go out on me countless times and lost a girlfriend very dear to me, ultimately because we just weren’t meant for one another. I was forced to look myself in the mirror many times. Who am I? What is important to me? What does it mean to be a man? Where will I end up? How will my life turn out? Will I be able to save up enough money while going to school to prepare for family life, should I find love again, get married and settle down? Is the clock ticking? Am I enough? These were the types of things on my mind. I found that I already knew who I was and what I wanted. I was comfortable with the person in the mirror. Troubles began to fade away. I was learning to fully let go. Life instantly got easier and better. I began to make decisions based on who I am, rather than basing it on what society was telling me to be. At the time I didn’t fully realize my perception was off, that it was actually my perception of society that had led me to conclude I must be this way or that in order to succeed. This was at the root of my sporadic bouts of unexplained anger-infused rants. No one likes to feel pidgeon-holed. In actuality, we live in a pretty open, forgiving, try, try again country. Sure there are times when circumstance can feel and is in all actuality, restrictive, but hey, that is life. And the snowballs having amassed, sufficiently enlarged, suddenly took form. There stood a man, made up of snow and ice, top hat and pipe, carrot for a nose, beads for eyes, neither fully himself, nor fully disguised, but for the first time fully aware of himself, what he was, what he had become, and who he wanted to be. From that point on things were different.
I learned to accept things about the environment and about myself I could not change for better or worse, focusing on the things I could address to allow for growth and tailoring my lifestyle to who I am, taking into effect the well-being of friends and family, my interests and financial situation. For me everything seems entwined. I began making smart decisions most of the time. I began to incorporate change based on who I want to be, which is, essentially, the best version of my truest self; ultimately, letting go of limiting thoughts, thereby allowing room for true growth. I started going back to the gym, not trying to do too much, accepting my pain in a way that allowed for newfound pleasure. I picked up meditation and yoga, as in my readings I have always been drawn to eastern medicine, philosophy and way of life. I began running again. I pursued long-lost hobbies. I wrote more vigorously, posting poems and short articles on social media, getting over my fear of rejection, as these were my most intimate thoughts, some of which I had never shared with anyone. I stopped worrying about meeting someone. I stopped trying to makeup for lost time. The benefits were limitless. I was realigning.
At 31, it’s still a process. My definition of life success today is staying true to who you are. It’s not everything, but it certainly does matter. I have found that if you are in alignment, things that are good for you have a way of surfacing and coming to find you. All you have to do is be you! Often, situations will arise or things might be said, utterances in your direction that make you question who you are. Circumstance or words matter, but in these moments it becomes crucial that you know who you are and stay true to your core. A strong person does not crumble. A strong person stands tall and is proud, even in the midst of chaos, as alterations to environment beyond one’s control are always evolving. How you internalize life and its often frazzled appearance is everything. This will often define what happens going forward, as certain things are always controllable, namely one’s emotions (my girlfriend taught me everything from “All you have to do is be you!” up to this point. I cannot take the credit). And although I can sit here and write and admit that I have not always handled things in a manner in which I am proud (even still, today), I can say that acknowledgment does provide some relief, as I am left with a more vivid picture of all that I am, and all that I am not. It serves as a humble reminder that nobody is perfect, and that be that as it may, there is no need to further complicate life by fighting the self. I am who I am. I am a man that likes to write truthfully and love tenderly. Yes, I am a straight man that does enjoy poetry. I do not know the first thing about cars or handyman work but am willing and wanting to learn as situations arise. I like to analyze data and trends. Often, I exhibit little to no commonsense as a result of over-analysis built-in to the fiber of my very being. And all of these things are okay. At least I’m okay with all of them. If you have a problem with it then that is your problem. With that being said, it becomes problematic when we make others people’s problems our own, if we find ourselves fighting our own truths in the process. And this I have found to be the ultimate truth. Lending a helping hand or listening with a compassionate ear is never a bad thing if your ego is in the rearview. One could argue that either is not possible without the other holding true. So, alas, with that being said, I am resolute. I have made a conscientious decision to stop fighting. I have to say, it feels pretty darn good. I have decided to be true to myself and follow that path wherever it should lead. I urge you all to do the same. Trust in yourself. Take in the snowman, a caricature in some ways, and watch it melt away. He has shaped you, for sure. And that is a beautiful thing. Into the earth as the season’s turn you will go, peacefully, if you stay true to your trajectory. And that is true beauty. So if you find yourself all bunched up, look around, really see what is going on and what it is you are at odds with. If it is the self, do yourself a favor: stop fighting.