I miss being arrogant and overconfident.
That sounds odd. I understand that. But it’s hard for others to understand the “superpower” that I lost when I started fixing my worst flaw. It’s impossible for me to explain to you the difference between what I feel like today and what I felt like when that photo was taken.
Imagine feeling total confidence in yourself. Imagine being convinced you were pretty much always right. Imagine knowing you could do anything you wanted to do.
It was a rush of confidence. A feeling of power. A quiet belief in my superiority. And a faith that I would always win. That’s the way I felt back then. It added up to feelings of security and self-worth and certainty.
But then I confronted my dark side. I faced my worst flaws. I confessed what I had done to hurt others. And I changed myself. Not overnight. But I changed.
My belief in myself had led me to a lot of success when I was young. (Those successes were never enough, of course. I thought I deserved more.) I could walk into any situation — any room, with any people, in any situation — and believe I could find a way to win.
And for the most part, I did win.
I did things that a young guy wasn’t supposed to do. I made a lot of money. I won elections for some politicians. I impressed some people. I made others jealous. And I stepped on a lot of people to get the things I wanted. I didn’t care.
I’ve told you about the time I spent in counseling with a good psychologist — about 12 years ago — that completely changed me, so I’m not going to belabor all the things that sent me to her office.
In less than a year, I came to understand my father’s narcissism, then I suddenly understood much of my childhood, and then I had to confront how much of my father’s dysfunction had crept into my own life.
I had to face all of the attitudes and behaviors in me that were reflections of the training I had received from him. I had to accept the pain I had brought to people in my personal life because of my arrogance. And I had to deconstruct the dysfunctional false self that had become such a part of me from decades of walking through the world as a “superior creature.”
I plunged into fixing myself as I worked with this psychologist. I don’t know if I’ll ever repair every nook and cranny of my subconscious, but I know that I humbled myself and brought myself down. Way down.
Since I had lived with those dark characteristics all my life, I had no idea they were so tightly connected with my confidence about myself, much less with the success I’d experienced. If I had understood what fixing my flaws would do to me, I don’t know whether I would have had the courage to move forward.
Here’s what I finally understand. My arrogance and overconfidence gave me the courage and drive to do whatever came my way. They were a huge part of what had made me successful.
When I stripped myself of those dark characteristics, I changed. I saw the world in shades of gray. I wasn’t so eager to push past other people to get what I wanted. I cared whether I hurt people. I saw more of my flaws. I cared more about love and connection than I cared about success. And I understood that I was very capable of failure.
I’m a more loving person today. I’m more empathetic. I’m better at the intimacy that’s so important to love and connection.
But I question myself. I know I’m not always right. And I have a fear of failure which I never experienced when I was young.
I constantly tell people that everything in life is a tradeoff — and I strongly believe that. If you get more of one thing, you’re going to get less of something else. For every flaw a person has, there’s a corresponding positive. And for every shiny and beautiful thing a person has to offer to you, there are dark negatives lurking hidden within as compensation.
(Read Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay called “Compensation” and then think about it for a long time very carefully.)
I don’t want to go back to being the person I once was. I don’t want to be arrogant to those I love. I don’t want to be dismissive of everyone around me. I like the growth I’ve experienced — and I like knowing that I can now love in a way that I couldn’t have loved 20 years ago.
All of that is true. It really is. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t sometimes recall how glorious I could feel on the inside back then. And it doesn’t mean there aren’t times when I miss the fruits of my old sins.