By the standards I set when I was 25, I’m a failure today.
But if I had done all the grandiose things I planned back then — and gained immense wealth and power as a result — I would have been a complete failure by the more mature standards I set for myself today.
It’s a paradox. I had to lose everything I once valued — and I had to wander in the desert for a metaphorical 40 years — to finally arrive at a place where I feel qualified to even start living a life worth living.
I have struggled through years of what felt like defeat and exile. I felt as though I had blown my chance to do the things that matter to me. But something has changed.
I’ve realized that I am entering into my best period yet — intellectually, creatively and emotionally. I am finally where I wish I could have been at 25 or 30. I had to take a long but necessary detour — and I’ve finally arrived at the start of my life.
I am not the person I was when I was 30 — and I am deeply grateful for that. I have not done — or even attempted — the things I had intended when I was young, but I wouldn’t want those things now even if I could have them with no effort.
I was a product of the shallow culture in which I grew up. I was a product of my dysfunctional family of origin. I learned to want the things which other people believed were important. I learned to strive for things which could possibly win the shallow praise which my fragile and wounded ego needed.
After struggling through self-discovery and fragmented efforts to heal myself, I find that reality is nothing like what I once believed it was. I don’t want the things which once seemed so important. And I want things today which once would have seemed trivial or useless.
I had to lose in order to win — in order to understand that the culture and value system which created me as a young man were broken.
I haven’t yet figured out everything that I mean by this, but I am increasingly convinced that the culture of modern society is broken in ways that make it shallow and hollow. I have a feeling that the framework for finding a better culture lies in some portion of the traditional past which modern culture is so eager to bury.
This is leading me to a set of values and understandings which give life new meaning — and which make me realize that the life I once wanted to live was completely empty.
The ground of my life is littered with the rubble of battles I’ve fought, some of which I’ve won and some of which have left me wounded. I’ve been so consumed by those battles that I’ve had my eyes down for too long.
But now the battles have subsided. I’ve come to a wall which separates me from the culture I’ve been part of and something else which lies beyond it. And I’m scaling that wall, figuring out how to get over it and how to leave the empty hollowness of this culture behind.
As I scale that wall and look at what lies ahead, I’m starting to lose some of the fears which have held me back for so long.
I’ve put up with too many things out of fear — fear of what others might think, fear of being wrong, fear of looking foolish, fear of not being loved. It’s time for me to stop caring what people think. It’s time for me to confidently ask for the things I want — and be happy with hearing “no” some of the time.
Allison Schrager is an economist and journalist who wrote a book about risk management based on her investigation into how a Nevada brothel operates. She said that brothel owner Dennis Hof taught her one of the most powerful lessons of her life.
“If you’re not hearing ‘no’ regularly, you’re not asking for enough,” Hof told her.
I haven’t heard “no” that often in my life. I was trained as a child not to ask for much and to be happy with what I was offered. That’s not good enough anymore.
I now understand that I can have what I want. If one person won’t give me what I want, there’s someone else to ask. And another. And another. Someone will be willing to give me what I want. I just might have to hear “no” a few times before I find the person who’s willing to say “yes” to my offer.
That applies to everything I want, whether it’s money, creative pursuits or even love.
I’m entering my best and most productive period right now. I’m going to have the things I need. I’m going to have the things I want. They might be different things than they would have been when I was younger. They might be different things than would appeal to some of the partners I’ve wanted in the past.
But I’m going to have the things I want — and they are going to feed my soul and allow me to experience things that my 30-year-old self couldn’t have imagined being offered by this life.