You can choose what defines you, or you can let others define you.
In the end, though, they’ll make up their own definitions, I suppose, it’s whether or not you choose to believe what they say or whether you’re aware of your own self.
Now, this isn’t some sort of Nietzsche break in blogging here. I don’t read Freud’s papers and I don’t practice self-psychoanalysis.
I do have an idea of what got me where I am.
I’ve had discussions, with a number of people, about what got me to the person I am. The idea by some that you are set in your personality and your life by the age of . . . what? . . . twenty-five? . . . that’s just bunk in my mind. I’m not even close to the person I was at that age. I’m not close to the person I was at 40, either. I’m a different person and I’ve changed.
The core of my personality, the person I am, was always there, sure, but there were a myriad of things in the way for years.
When I was a kid, 25 years ago, graduating high-school and moving to live on my own (or what I thought was on my own, let’s face it, most college kids are still tethered to home whether they think they aren’t or not!) the core was there, but buried, deep. I was an immature, angry, knucklehead. That’s true. I’ve heard people contradict me or say that everyone at 18/19 is that way. Maybe. I see it as a sign of growth that I recognize what an idiot I was.
I was so determined to leave my hometown, staying connected just to my family if I could, and make my way as an angry, bitter kid who was going to make a mark that I didn’t pay attention to my own actions. Still, that anger and drive and self-centered bitterness pushed me to do things, saying “I’ll show them!” I don’t know who “them” was and I’m not sure I knew then who “them” were . . . but I was going to do it. In a year I’d learned the guitar, at least most basics of it, and had joined a band. I worked at a television station. I was covering violent crimes and chasing accidents and all the things news involved.
I met an amazing woman who was a friend, first, after we realized we both knew someone from my hometown. It was a connection I was glad wasn’t severed, and this amazing woman eventually decided it was worth going out with me. She pushed me . . . not gently . . . to be more. Not more of a journalist or a writer or a musician. She barely tolerated the musician part and didn’t want to make me into Edward R. Murrow. From today’s view I can see she was pushing me to be more successful, but in the process she brought out the person I’d always been. Buried under the anger and worry and fear and lack of confidence was that guy . . . the one who sort of liked looking better than the long-hair and horrible mullet that the ’90s cover band had pushed him to get. He liked being a musician but liked making a difference in his job. He liked that this beautiful woman didn’t see all the ridiculous things and saw the core. He’d walked so long with blinders on he hadn’t realized others saw it, too, he just hadn’t noticed it and now it bothered him.
I was defined by what I would do to help my family succeed. I delivered newspapers at 2am so that the woman I married could go back to school. I averaged 3-4 hours of sleep a day. I gigged and played so that I could feed her and our baby girl, who had such horrible gastric problems she needed special formula.
When Andrea died, I changed, but also became self-aware. I noticed that I had come full-circle. I wasn’t angry, grumpy (much) or the like. I’d delved farther into myself and realized that I had always been there. I could have faltered or I could take care of the four kids in front of me. I took care of them. Did I want to quit everything and be a musician early in my life? Yes. Could I? No, and my eyes now see if I’d done this at 20 or 21 I’d have failed, miserably. Today . . . I do what I can musically but enjoy what I do.
I have had the discussion with my daughter: it ended up that I was never trying to show anyone else up. I was proving to myself that I was worth doing this. When major events broke I was dying if I wasn’t there – and I missed a lot of them. Abbi told me the other day she just feels sometimes like she’s meant for bigger things, for doing more and leaving something behind. I totally understand that feeling. Her brother, Noah, asked me one day what I wanted to do when I was a kid.
“Make movies,” I told him. “I wanted to be a director or cinematographer and tell stories.”
Noah thought a moment and looked at me: “but you kind of do that,” he told me. “You tell small stories, but they’re real ones. So . . . you sort of are doing what you wanted to do as a kid!”
He was right. I never realized that I’m making an impact, be it small, but I’m telling stories. I’m making music . . . and the defining moments, the ones where you accept the help of others, see the real person under the layers of muck you’ve buried yourself under, are the ones that count.
It’s also when you realize that you’ve defined . . . and re-defined yourself . . . and you see that it’s been for the better, even when the world has handed you the worst.