I’m not the same person I was 15 years ago. I’m a better version of myself. I feel certain of that. But am I fooling myself?
When I was looking for an old email a few days ago, I ran across something I wrote 15 years ago. I’ve updated it a couple of times since then, but this was the first time I wrote it. It was a detailed discussion what I perceive to be my faults and flaws. I was trying to explain my negatives to a woman, because I wanted to make sure she understood what she might be getting into by dating me.
I know I’ve grown a lot since then, so I thought it should be satisfying to read this old list. It would show me how many of the items I’ve struck off because I’ve conquered them.
After I read it, I felt confused. There’s no question that I’ve experienced massive change and growth since then. But every issue I wrote about 15 years ago is still part of my life.
How could that be?
After thinking about it for a couple of days, I had an epiphany Monday. I get it now. Even though I was completely honest — and completely accurate — with the list I made 15 years ago, that list reflected what I consciously understood was wrong with me.
What the list didn’t deal with — couldn’t possibly deal with — were all the things I’ve learned about myself since then. And that’s when it hit me that our real problems are rarely the things we’re conscious of.
What did I talk about 15 years ago? Here’s an abbreviated look at the things I covered:
— I can be passive and slow to act. There are many times when I know what I need to do, but I ignore the need to take action and just let a situation persist. I have a maddening ability to turn my head and be willfully blind in cases when I either don’t know what to do or when taking action would cause other pain.
— I tend to get bogged down in some areas and never think about it. I can easily get into a pattern where I’m comfortable with a situation (even if it’s not ideal) and I don’t take action to change it.
— I’m a perfectionist in some maddening ways. For some reason, I’ve always denied this about myself, but I’ve realized lately just how perfectionistic I really am. Even in ways when I am not anywhere near perfect, I have very exacting standards that should be met.
— I can be undisciplined. This has probably been my biggest single complaint about myself. I seem to have little ability to follow through on decisions I’ve made about changing my life.
— I can be fearful. There are times when I am full of fear for reasons that I can’t even fathom.
— I tend to procrastinate. Maybe this is related to the lack of discipline, but I often put off things I need to do.
— I have issues related to food. I could talk extensively about this one, but I’ve already talked about it before. I use food to fill unmet emotional needs and I haven’t been able to stop it.
— I have a need for doing everything the “right way.” This is sort of a sub-set of my need for perfection and the desire that others follow the rules which I think are logical, at least when they affect me.
— I’m easily hurt. It’s very easy to hurt me. I’m extremely sensitive and will pull away from people (emotionally) if they make me feel unsafe in this way.
The text was about four times this long, because I had extensive commentary about each one. But everything on the list is still a problem to one degree or another.
I don’t question my intentions in making the list. I don’t even question the accuracy of what I wrote. I’m just realizing that the things we’re conscious of are the issues most of us take to the grave.
The important issues which I should have shared with someone who wanted to date me were things I wasn’t even aware of at the time. The list I made was worthwhile, because it showed some of the issues that I need help with, but it couldn’t possibly touch on my blind spots about myself.
Here’s another thing I learned from reading that list. I have found the Enneagram personality typing system to be very insightful in helping me to understand things about myself, but as I read this, I see that I already had that basic information in my mind. The Enneagram simply helped me to organize what I already knew about myself. It allowed me to have the context to understand what it all meant when taken as a whole.
Here’s what hit me tonight. Whatever you think are your issues are probably just the minor things. They’re probably not as scary to someone else as you think. They’re things you need help with, of course, but they’re not the core issues in your life. They’re not the things which will threaten your future relationships unless you deal with them.
Your blind spots are what you need to worry about, not the flaws you already understand you have.
And that means we need outside help more than we realize. If you had asked me 15 years ago, I would have told you that fixing these issues about myself would make me pretty fantastic. The truth is that I’ve spent years wading through issues that I had yet to even understand about myself.
And here’s the related point. The faults and flaws you already know about don’t make you unlovable. As long as you’re honest with whoever you allow into your life, those issues can be dealt with — as long as you’re willing to accept help from someone you trust.
When I first read my list from 15 years ago, I was a little depressed. I wondered whether I had been fooling myself about making progress. But I understand now that this list was just a starting point. I was right to make the list. I need to make sure my future wife understands these things and will help me deal with them.
But these are things I’ll fight for the rest of my life. I’ll never be perfect. You’ll never be perfect. And that’s perfectly fine.