I used to be a badass.
I had swagger. I viewed myself as, quite possibly, the best damned thing that had ever happened. The undisputed heavyweight champion of the world.
Of course, as is the case with anyone with swagger, I was insecure about my possible inadequacies. I had a low grade fever all the time: a fear that my inflated versions of my own reality would be punctured. The fever sapped my energy. The echoes of my own inner voices reverberated in my head on a constant loop until my ears were ringing.
I learned to drown out that noise and quell that fever with a few really great medications: being a workaholic, going to the casino, and drinking a lot.
Those medications 100% worked. If I was feeling inadequate, if I was feeling nervous, if I was feeling antsy or bored or angry or sad…a 14 hour day at work followed by a few hundred hands of Pai Gow and a whole lot of “free” Ketel One would pretty much guarantee those inner voices would shut the hell up.
I always referred to it as “shutting my brain off.”
Years upon years of this pattern resulted in a few things:
(1) I rose through the ranks quickly in my career. Combining natural intellect and ability with a shitload of work will do that for you.
(2) I wound up divorced. Combining a propensity for escapism with a shitload of work will do that for you.
(3) I ended up unemployed, single, and broke.
And it was the best thing that ever happened to me.
I used to be a badass that stumbled on to the field and just happened to do well enough to not get my head knocked off.
With the perspective of having thrown it all away and subsequently, painstakingly regained it all, I am still a badass…but this time, I’m a badass who actually understands what makes me a badass. And I can leverage that to make the badassery 10x more than it ever was when I just stumbled into it.
I’m a badass because I recognize now that you grow a whole lot more when you bask in the negative feelings that life throws you. Not forever, and not just wallowing in self-pity. But there’s massive value in letting yourself experience the full breadth of emotion – negative emotion included. Drowning it out all but guarantees you’ll lose the yin to the yang…you’ll lose the positives that come from a negative experience.
I’m a badass because I’ve fallen on my face enough to know that it doesn’t kill you. You can take chances and royally fuck up, and the sun will rise again tomorrow. You just take your time, feel the pain, get back up, and keep moving.
I’m a badass because I’ve learned to judge my emotional state from my actions, not from my feelings. If I’m doing things that happy, successful people don’t do, I immediately evaluate my own emotional state and take evasive action, knowing that actions influence feelings and vice versa. I get out and do the things happy people do, irrespective of how I feel.
I’m a badass because while I don’t think “everything happens for a reason,” I think that we can gain something positive out of everything that happens.
I’m a badass because I’m 100%, unequivocally, unabashedly me. You may or may not like me. I hope you do, but I also don’t care if you don’t. I am growing more and more comfortable with being myself the older I get. I’m very open to the idea that I have things to improve upon, but I’m confident enough in myself to take your criticisms and evaluate them against the entirety of what I’ve experienced in my life.
Someone once told me, “If you call a child an alien, he’ll react emotionally, defending himself against you, secretly fearing he might actually be an alien. If you call an adult an alien, he’ll worry about your sanity.” I’m a badass because after 39 years of living, I view criticism as an invitation for reflection, not an indictment. Also, I actually AM an alien, so there’s that.
I’m a badass because I’ve realized that the key to life is balancing the short term with the long term. You’ve got to work like you’re en route to being the CEO, but recognize with every fiber of your being that this moment is literally the only one you’ve got. Invest heavily in your future, but take her out to dinner tonight and spare no expense, just because. Work out and eat right every day, but if you say no to pizza when offered, then you suck and we can’t be friends anymore.
And I’m a badass because today, I recognize that literally everything is temporary. The worst shift ends. The best team you assemble will get plucked apart. The happy times fade to sadness, and the sad times end and happiness returns. The thing you’re obsessed with becomes tomorrow’s junk. And tomorrow’s junk becomes the future’s priceless antique.
I’m so happy that I’ve failed as many times and in as many ways as I have. I wish I had the perspective then that I have now. But the next best thing is to have that perspective now, and to use it as the next years unfold.