I have been thinking deeply about the path we’re each on in our lives. I’ve been watching closely to see what people’s prime motivations are. Sometimes they know and can easily tell me when I ask. Sometimes it is hidden, and I must dig deep.
I have learned in the past month, from which there’s no going back, that I cannot be in a long-term relationship with someone whose path is not mine. And I am learning how to tell what path someone is on.
There are likely many paths, and I hope you will be patient as I refine what I learn as I watch, but there are some paths I’ve seen recently discovered that I’ve quickly run away from. One is the path of perfection, which I’ve been writing about. And another is a path of proving, which is what this post is about.
I have a friend I haven’t seen in years that I’ve recently reconnected with. He works literally non-stop. He’s building a home, he’s building a business. He’s always out of town and rarely takes time off. So I asked him some questions. Why are you working so much? What are you trying to prove? Who are you trying to prove this to?
His answer was that he was trying to prove things to all the people who swore he would fail. Asked to name names, there wasn’t a particular one. It was “all of them.”
At the same time I learn, he can’t make it home for dinner for weeks, and his wife, understandably upset with this, and likely lonely for him, gets labeled as “bitching”. She’s not allowed to choose things for their new home because he doesn’t want to take the time for the compromise that might be necessary.
He wants to slide into his grave in a violent way, completely used up and worn out. He knows he can’t take it with him, and he’s content to leave it behind to the ones he loves that he’s left mostly alone.
I froze in my tracks at all this. I reason this out. Sure, there could be people who are watching and wanting him to fail. If he does though, how long will their enjoyment last? A week, an hour, a month? It won’t be top on their minds for long. And then what? They will think little else of him. In the meantime, he’s spent his life ignoring the people who think the most of him. The people who miss him every day, the unruly daughter he says is going to be the death of him; they sleep alone, they eat alone, they grow up alone. All so he can play a game and prove himself to strangers.
I confess to having taken advantage of some strong negative motivation in my life. A manager once told me I’d never amount to anything. Another manager fired me, leaving me nearly destitute. My family told me I wasn’t smart, and I was a black sheep.
I got an education, I learned a skill, I got all A’s, I started a business, I found myself, I’m making my way in the world. I’m not perfect, but I’m not trying to be. I never forgot those voices whispering that in my ear, and I will admit they held me up at times. But I did the things I did for me, and the gift that they proved these people wrong was a bonus.
It’s okay to prove yourself to the world. But a path which only proves your abilities to people who don’t really care, while failing to prove how much you love those closest in your life, is a path paved with pain for everyone.
And it’s a path I’m steering clear of.
~ cj 2011.09.21