The following is Part 2 of a seven week “Reality Radio” series. The series was advertised on secular radio and unfolded online at a special website that no longer exists.
The ancient writer referred to a “wisdom” that gives life. What exactly does that mean? I get the sense that it does not just mean a life of safety…it seems to have a deeper meaning that suggests a life of inner significance and satisfaction. I wanted that kind of life but it would take me many years to uncover exactly how to get there…
I mentioned how I filled my life up with many things in the pursuit of such significance. I mentioned alcohol, working out, money and lovers as several examples. In alcohol, I was trying to escape who I was. In working out obsessively, I was trying to become someone new. In money, I was hoping to have so much that I could do whatever I wanted. In lovers, I wanted someone to love me.
At the time, all of my pursuits seemed like the right thing for me. My hopes were high that people or things would “deliver” what I was looking for on the inside. I was just living life doing whatever I thought was best for me. And it was a good life. I was the optimist seeking out the best adventure this life can offer…
When I look back now, I see that what was driving me to seek out purpose and meaning in various areas of my life was a search for identity. On the outside, I was a confident, athletic, intelligent guy ready to rule the world. On the inside, however, other things were going on.
Questions – many questions – filled the halls of my mind. Questions like – Who am I supposed to be? Who can I be that will garner respect and admiration? Who can I be that will please my parents and friends? Who can I be that will make others find me sexually attractive? I suppose that at a very deep level I was asking – Who am I? And am I good enough?
Identity is a huge issue. Am I just my physical body? Am I just my given name? Am I just my family? Am I accepted? Do others find me to be valuable? Do I think I am valuable? Am I supposed to please myself or please other people? Is there satisfaction in living a lie in order to be something other people want me to be?
When identity is secure, I can more forward in life. When identity is insecure or uncertain, I am at a standstill in terms of real growth. If I am insecure or uncertain about who I am, then I really cannot move forward much. I can pretend to move forward…I can achieve much…I can adventure much…I can love much…I can live much. But beyond the outer activity, my inner growth is stunted…I am at a standstill even though time continues to pass.
Beyond the sports car…the athletic body…the glossy model photographs…the cool clothes…beyond all that, there was an inner turmoil or anxiety that was driving me to quench my thirst for personal fulfillment. On the outside, I looked great. In the inside, I was pressing down deep within me an inner battle. It reached the point where I did not know if I would ever escape the anxiety within me.
I had lived to please others – parents, teachers, extended family, friends, co-workers…even strangers. And the more I put on the outer cover of being everything to all people, the more I grew dissatisfied and numb. In some respects, I became like an egg shell painted beautiful on the outside but drained of life within to utter hollowness.
That’s where I pick up the telling of my story: I was 22. Fresh out of college with a great new job on the 31st floor of an office building located in a popular upscale shopping district. Yes, I had anxiety and inner-doubts flooding the inside of my being but life was great as I sat out on my own – for the first time becoming financially independent from my parents.
I was originally enrolled pre-med as I always dreamed of becoming a pediatrician. But two years into college, it was clear that all my inner-turmoil was leaving little space in my brain for the intellectual rigor required to get accepted into medical school. I had always dreamed of being a doctor, but I could not fathom how a 3.5 gpa could compete against the 4.0 brainiacs. And so after my second year of college, I decided I just wanted to get out of school and start making a life on my own. I finished with a degree in finance and was into my brand new business career.
I came ready to shock the world with my young ideas and tenacious work habits. I wanted to arrange Wall Street financings and be on the frontline of investment decision making at my new company. You can imagine my disappointment when on the first day they handed me a pile of invoices and asked me to add them up. “What! I learned addition in second grade. Let’s get down to the real work.” My cocky attitude was noticed quickly! As I look back, I realize how kind my superiors were to endure my lack of respect and impatience in doing what I considered meaningless work.
Beyond the cocky attitude, I was a young kid just doing the best I could to cover up my insecurities. I wanted to roll in business…to climb up that ladder of success immediately…so I could be in a position of authority and garner the respect that would deem me valuable and revered.
Beyond the tenacious work habits, I was trying to escape facing the reality that I was hiding out and running from life. I had tried filling my life up with artificial stimulants and it did not work. I had tried filling my life up with a muscular body and it did not work. I had tried filling my life up with cool clothes and cool cars and money and it did not work. I was running out of options and corporate success was the last straw.
It was only eight months into my new career that my life came to a screeching halt. The inner turmoil that I had tried so hard to run from was surfacing at every angle, and I was forced to exert all my emotional energy just to stay ahead of this unwanted messiness. I was running at high speed trying to outrun the lightning-fast train of anxiety.
There were days that I drove near the double yellow line saying to myself, “I wish that dump truck would just come over the line and take me out.” On the outside, I was working out, playing basketball, performing at work, looking good, projecting personal happiness, living the high life…and on the inside I was facing an avalanche of anxiety and was on the verge of breaking down.
No…I had already broken down. I just wasn’t ready to confess it yet. But soon enough, it was beyond my control. I received the call one afternoon, “Why aren’t you at work? Is everything ok? Will, this has been going on for weeks now.” The reality is that my life had become undone and unreal. I would wake up at 12 noon and not know whether I was awake or sleeping or in a bad dream or possibly even dead.
After much missed work, my employer said, “Will, we really do like you a lot. You do great work. But we need you here. Have you considered talking with a counselor? We highly suggest you do…” They were right. I had somehow pushed down so much stuff in my life that I had become lost, confused and exhausted. The years of living my life in a way that pleased everyone but me had finally taken a toll. The years of covering up my insecurities and anxieties with alcohol, exercise, cars, clothes and money had finally reduced me to that empty egg shell. So attractive on the outside…but dying on the inside. No, not dying….dead.
My name is Will, and I desire the “real thing” in life. What about you? Does that resonate with you? If so, come back next week as my journey continues…I’ll see you next week!
NOTE: Tune in each week as Will’s story continues to unfold in seven (7) weekly segments. Click here to easily navigate to Week 3.