A significant amount went to the staggering cost of living in San Francisco for close to a year.
Another large chunk went to friends and family for various reasons – art and music projects, trips to see relatives, etc – in other words, I gave it to people who were engaged in growing their careers / passions, their families, and their hearts.
I also tipped more frequently / in higher amounts than I ever have, gave money to charitable orgs, and regularly bought food and other items for folks living on the street (most of the time I do these things quietly and quickly – there’s a more nuanced point about why, which I’ll get to later).
Then, about a month ago, I was laid off. While it wasn’t my favorite moment of the year, it certainly wasn’t the worst either.
As I write this, I’m helping bootstrap a journalism startup from $0, have a bank account in the low hundreds, and am scratching together freelance writing & content planning/strategy to make my bills.
Oddly, I’m fairly comfortable with the situation – something that surprises even me at times.
Since I was young, maybe 8 or 10 years old, I’ve never had a male role model.
To be clear, I did grow up with a father. My parents never split, and while they had their issues – I wondered at times if they should have divorced – for the most part I grew up in a stable environment. I disagreed with my dad (and still do) on plenty of things, but generally we get along and have made our peace on most of the details. Of course, I would do it differently if I had children…perhaps that’s a fairly standard response considering the generational gap (I’m 29, my dad is 72).
But, when I think about men I admired growing up there is an empty space.
Searching for role models
My dad taught me some important things, like the value of hard work & attention to detail, and honesty to a fault. I use those every day, and am grateful. In fact, I wrote an essay in high school about my dad’s blue collar ethic and what I considered to be his everyday heroism, but even then I recognized it was an abstract admiration. I certainly respected and loved my dad but I didn’t want to be anything like him.
So from a young age I went looking for other role models.
At 9 years old I dreamed of being like Michael Jordan and loved watching him compete, but it was hard to escape the fact that he was often arrogant, and at times unkind to others, in pursuit of excellence.
A few stories in the news cycle lately remind me of what happens when you don’t come out on top. One is Mitt Romney’s loss in the presidential election, along with Republicans faring poorly in Senate elections. As The Hill reminds Republicans, they’ve got some work to do.
The first step, and what seems to be the hardest is admitting you were beat. I’ve become an expert at this, no one admits defeat more handily than I do. I recommend repeating “I definitely lost, and I’m the best at it” over and over;)
But on a serious note, that’s one of the things I’ve thought a lot about in relation to what it means to be a good man. Our culture constantly encourages us to show no weakness, fake it til you make it, etc….
Yet I’ve learned that admitting defeat and being willing to examine it is one of the quickest ways to bounce back. Once you admit that you didn’t achieve what you were hoping to, most of the pressure is relieved. Losing gives you the opportunity to admit that you can do better.
There are also more tangible losses, such as losing a parent (something I’m working through) or losing your legs in Afghanistan the way this soldier did. Those can be more difficult because there isn’t any reasoning to point to, no “I could have done something different” only the knowledge that it happened because that was a time and place the world chose to act in.
I’m a competitive person in a singular way, meaning I’m always thinking about how I could do more and/or be a better person. I don’t compare myself a lot to others (thanks mom) but I imagine that must be one of the most frustrating parts of losing, when you measure yourself against the competition….because someone else is always going to eventually be better than you (unless you are somehow gifted with the best skiing legs on earth). For me the lesson of losing seems to be that we cannot control everything, so control what you can control and love the element of surprise.