A New You

13 June 2011 · 8 comments

Nearly seven years ago, I wrote a longish post at Foldedspace lamenting that I wasn’t the man I want to be. Here’s the advice I gave myself in 2004:

Happiness comes from within. If you’re not happy with the man you are, then be the man you want to be. If the man you want to be writes when he gets home from work, then write when you get home from work. If the man you want to be is fit, then be fit. If the man you want to be is not a smart-ass, then don’t be a smart-ass. If the man you want to be doesn’t watch TV, then do not watch TV. Read. Listen to classical music. Cook. Keep the house clean. Form deeper relationships with your friends. Be the man you want to be.

I’ve undergone a massive transformation since writing those words. Seven years ago, I suffered from depression. I had neither goals nor direction. I worked at a job I hated. I was fat. I was deep in debt. My life seemed pointless.

Today, things are different. I haven’t followed my own advice to the letter — I still crave deep connections with friends and haven’t done enough to make that happen — but I’ve followed much of it.

I actually feel younger at age 42 than I did at age 35. I’m certainly fitter and healthier. I’m in better financial shape. I have a sense of purpose. Best of all, I’ve learned the power of being true to myself and others. It benefits no one to put on a false face and pretend to be someone I’m not. I used to make decisions based on what other people would think, not based on what I wanted. Today, I do my best to be friendly and nice, but ultimately what matters most is that I make decisions that reflect my authentic self.

Note: I can’t believe I just wrote “authentic self”. I’ve always hated that sort of New Age claptrap. But the things is, I’m learning that being true to my authentic self is the key to happiness.

I’ve spent the past seven years on a relentless quest for self improvement. Now here we are in 2011, and I like who I’ve become. But the trouble is that this New J.D. is living a life designed by the Old J.D. I have to tell you: I’m not a fan. It’s like I’ve been living in the Matrix, or like I’ve been chained inside Plato’s cave. Now that I’m free, I want a different lifestyle.

What do I mean?

Well, perhaps unsurprisingly, I want to travel. (Several times a day, I think of George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life: “I’m shaking the dust of this crummy little town off my feet and I’m gonna see the world!”) I want to meet new people and see how they live. I want to see natural wonders — and man-made wonders, too. I want to try new food. I want jump out of airplanes and swim with the sharks, trek over mountains and get lost in the jungle. (But not too lost.) I want to taste the world.

Note: One problem I have is that there’s simply too much I want to see and do. For example, I’ve carved out three periods for travel later this year, but I can’t decide where to go. I want to see everything! How can I possibly choose?

There’s no way to know what I’ll truly enjoy until I get out there and try things. The issue isn’t so much what I’m going to do. There are many options, and I’m willing to experiment until I find something that works for me. The issue is how do I make enormous life changes without severing past ties completely. Is it even possible? I don’t know.

Take our house, for instance. When we bought it in 2004, it was my dream house. That’s not true anymore. Now I feel like it’s burden. It’s too much space for two people. The yard requires constant maintenance. I don’t like the location. And so on. But Kris loves the place. It’s still her dream house. Is it fair for me to ask for change when she’s happy where she is?

It’s going to take a while to figure out this stuff. I’m pleased with who I am but not where I am. I guess that’s one part of the process of change, right? My life isn’t just good — it’s amazing. And I plan to make it more amazing. But the adjustments are going to take some time.

xkcd is awesome
xkcd, nailing the way I feel…

1 Dena Shunra June 13, 2011 at 12:34

I read this – clicked away – then had to come back to tell you what it sounds like.

It sounds like you’re moulting.

FWIW, I’ve long held that depression of the type you talk about 7 years ago is a form of human chrysalis-forming. It’s damned uncomfortable, but we often come forth with exquisite wings. Except now I wonder if moulting isn’t a better metaphor – itchy, painful, and part of the inevitable rebirth of every adult who’s paying attention.

Thanks for sharing the process, it’s both fascinating and very relevant to my life.

2 jdroth June 13, 2011 at 13:08

Dena, it’s funny you say that. I’ve revised this post five or six times. Until the last revision, I used the metaphor of a chrysalis. That’s exactly how I see it too. But it seems like some sort of queer hubris to call myself a butterfly, so I ditched the metaphor in the final version. :)

3 bethh June 13, 2011 at 17:02

Perhaps you’re a special shiny unicorn then? :-)

I remember reflecting that I know a bunch of really cool people in their early 50s, and I think it’s just that those are the ones who keep evolving and exploring. I’ve been doing a lot of that myself these last few years!

Then again when I was 24 I decided to move cross-country (on a train!) from Boston to Portland. So many people said they could never do that, and I knew even then that I didn’t want to live my life by “could never.”

Keep up the cool journey :)

4 Kevin M June 13, 2011 at 20:00

I can really identify with this at this stage in my life. A job that is draining my energy, the desire to do something different down the road and not being happy with my fitness level. I know it is affecting my family, so I have to become that man that I should be, not only for me, but to set a good example for my kids.

5 Bruce June 14, 2011 at 00:34

Just going two offer two warnings. First, while experiences are better than possesions, just like possesions make sure the experiences you choose to have are the ones you want not the ones others want for you. It’s easy to follow in the line of traveling to Thailand, swimming with sharks, etc. but really that’s what everyone does. If you choose to do those make sure it’s because what you really want. The second is again while experiences are better than possesions they aren’t better than relationships and this is often not realized until much later in life. I don’t want to see the JD of 7 years from now having traveled the world and jumped out of planes realizing that quality time with the spouse and friends trumps all and wishing he had done more of the latter and less of the former. Something that I think George Bailey as well learned along the way.

6 Anne June 14, 2011 at 04:56

JD – great post and especially good to read how you now like yourself better seven years on – a non-trivial thing, indeed. Picking up from Dena’s comment, I use the phrase ‘shedding my skin’ – sounds like it describes your process too. Anne

7 Amy Jo June 14, 2011 at 06:48

Have you considered taking a sabbatical year? If you can pull it off financially, it might be well worth it. You could travel, maybe even study a semester abroad, heck, study photography, do humanitarian work, really whatever strikes your fancy. It would be a way to try out a new lifestyle without having to permanently give up what you already have. It might help you piece out what is really important to you. Kris could join you for part of the time if she wanted. You could make regularly scheduled trips home. I suspect she’d miss you like crazy but if it means a temporary life upheaval rather than a permanent one, it might be easier for her.

8 Mutant Supermodel June 21, 2011 at 10:46

I have to say I’m confused about something you write here: “But the trouble is that this New J.D. is living a life designed by the Old J.D.”

How? I mean outside of the fact you’re living in a house you used to love I don’t see how anything in your current life could even have been imagined by Old JD. Or maybe there’s something else. Maybe you’re almost afraid of Old JD and want nothing to do with him. But that’s not good either. Old JD made a lot of really stupid mistakes. It’s easy to understand why you’d want to distance yourself from him but be careful. You ARE New JD because of Old JD. You can’t separate the two. Jesus here I go with New Age crap too (I hate it as much as you but some times…).

As a matter of fact, the more I look at what you’re writing and what you’ve been writing, it doesn’t seem to me you’re intent on changing your life further– you’re looking to expand it. That can be just as scary.

And for deciding what and where honestly, hand some of it over to Randomness. Chop the list into pieces of paper, stick them in a hat, and draw. If you’d truly be equally happy with any of those things, this will set you free from lots of self-torture.

I’m excited for you. I feel I live very vicariously through you. I can’t wait to see what else is coming your way.

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