September 12, 2015

Flashcards of the Psyche

I haven’t been posting much for a long time. Truth be told I’ve been through a period of successive business losses and life challenges which had me fundamentally questioning whether I had any credibility toward writing a blog like this. Maybe I’m not only an “anti”-guru, maybe I’m a non-guru, the un-guru. I wondered if maybe I was just some schmuck who had gotten a little lucky, caught a jetstream to some outward success, which had since tapered out and left me an empty shell of my former (largely illusory) self: some windbag loser who should just STFU.

As anybody who’s followed this blog knows, I have contempt for professional gurus who don’t have a track record at actually doing anything, other than pontificating about success (most of them Law of Attraction “experts”). For awhile there, I felt like I was actually successful at doing stuff (hence the tagline for the blog).

Then a few years ago (wow, has it been that long?) things kind of went off the rails for me. A string of business failures outside of my core business, and coincidentally (as anybody who has ever hit a slump knows, seemingly inevitably) even my core business started sputtering. We lost money 3 years in a row. We’d never even had back-to-back losing years, let alone 3 of them.

I had a depressive episode (never having been officially diagnosed by a health professional, but I knew it when I saw it) that lasted for months – set off by a crisis within my FOA (family-of-origin). Then my health turned down, contracting a persistent chest infection that lasted for nearly a year. I lost weight dramatically. I lost money dramatically. I lost hair dramatically. I lost self-respect, optimism, relational ability, willpower, all of it dramatically. It had the makings of a spectacular flame-out.

And I don’t really consider it as fully behind me. I’m still somewhat shell-shocked at what happened. Certainly humbled. In many ways I feel like I’m rebuilding from scratch now. I have come to understand what I’ve been going through as a pretty typical inner transformation that could have, perhaps should have been expected. Carl Jung wrote about it as a process of final individuation into the second-half of life (today it has been watered down into the ignominious “mid life crisis”) that was largely unexplored and overlooked as a standard lifetime trans-formative process.

It’s still a struggle, this process (whatever it is) is ongoing and I really don’t know what or who is going to come out the other end of this. What I do know, is that I didn’t know a hell of a lot most of the time I was writing this blog. And I thought I did – that’s the scary part.

So a few months ago another one of my business ventures imploded and it cost me a longtime friend who was my partner in the deal. As it was all going up in flames I found myself re-reading Robert J. Ringer’s “Winning Through Intimidation” and I realized a few things about myself and the world in general.

The first thing was that:

I will go to enormous lengths to avoid a confrontation.

In other words, I was very conflict averse. Which may sound odd to those who know (or can guess) who I am, because my reputation is of a bombastic, combative “stand-my-ground” type entrepreneur but I realize now that it’s all just a public persona. I’m ok shouting into the wind and challenging an indeterminate “they”,  those “powers that be” and shaking “conventional wisdom” to the core. But put me at a table with somebody I’m in business with and they have a beef with me watch me fold like a card table (and if I have a beef watch be gleefully suppress it).

It occurred to me that had I re-read Ringer’s book before that last business venture imploded, things would have gone a lot better (for both parties involved). I’ve decided to re-read that book every year. As Ringer learned the hard lessons of business life (by repeatedly getting his ass kicked), he started writing small poems to himself to “remember to remember” those lessons at those times he needed it.

I decided to do something similar, writing out things that struck me in my voracious reading that seemed highly pertinent, or insights I would gain about myself (while licking my wounds) I would write out on the back of one of my business cards, and I now carry those around with me. In times of stress, anger, despondency or despair I try to remember to pull them out and just quickly zip through them

Validation Seeking is Deal Killing

This one was straight out of Ringer and my first flash card. My realization was that for much of my life I looked for validation from “out there”. It’s an old neurosis and one of my more dominant ones. Behind my early impulses to become head-of-state and later, rock star. If everybody else regarded me as important and elevated, perhaps I wouldn’t feel like such a worm inside.

Ringer used it in the context that looking for the other parties to the deal to validate his involvement in it was guaranteed to backfire, in fact having the opposite effect. The other parties would, either tacitly or overtly, greet the opportunity to weigh in on Ringer’s presence at the table as an invitation to negate it, in essence, to cut him out of the deal. Every time.

That didn’t change for him until he realized that the validation has to come from within. That’s basically known as “self esteem”, and I have been deficient of that for a large chunk of my life. Psychologist Nathaniel Brandon wrote at length on this. Alas, he died this year, and to the wider masses he will only be remembered for banging Ayn Rand in his youth, but anybody who dismisses him at that (or because of it) is seriously shortchanging themselves.

When you seek validation from your spouse you are in fact exhibiting neurotic dependancy, when you seek it from “the masses” you are quite possibly a megalomaniac, if you seek it from your children you are probably living vicariously through them in a damaging way, and if you are seeking it from your parents (and you’re 40) you need to move out of mom’s basement and get out into the world. It has to come from within and if you struggle with some deep regret or shortcoming that (in your mind) prevents you from validating yourself, then deal with that.

In other words “I’m a terrible person because I’m a closet alcoholic” then “HELLO!”, get sober. Whatever that rock is in your mind that is preventing you from being ok with yourself, work on climbing over it or walking around (don’t try to dynamite the fucker until it’s behind you). It is almost certain you will need professional help for this.

My next flashcard reads:

If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you.

If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.

This is actually a biblical quote (some guy named “Thomas” I think). But I’m not very much of a “Biblical guy” (Don’t get me started, not yet anyway).

Having said that, this one really resonates with me because in my mind it very succinctly described my entire unraveling. Because I was avoiding shit. I had firm convictions and doubted them, I knew what I had to do next but then hoped that I wouldn’t have to do it. I knew who I wanted to be but felt I wasn’t “ready” to be that person. It is the archetypical “use it or lose it” of the soul. Even more than that, it is “use it or it’ll mess you up”.

New Age Gurus will dumb this down to “follow your bliss”, which I think is the dumbest advice possible to give and any successful person will tell you is utter bullshit. (Read MJ Demarco’s book, of which I’ve said before I hate the title but the book is great). “Follow Your Bliss” means “do what makes you feel good” or “do what you think will make you happy”.

That is a lightweight, avoidance trap. What I’m talking about is different, completely different. I’m talking about doing what scares the crap out of you but you can’t stop thinking about it. I’m talking about doing what you know you have to do which will piss off people close to you. One of the businesses has a couple of guys in India who answer phones overnight and when they escalate tickets internally they conclude them with “Please do the needful”. The staff here found that phrase endearing and now everybody here when asking for something says “Please do the needful”.

That’s what this flashcard means. “Do what needs to be done.” The New Age Gurus tell you that means “Do what you’ve always dreamed of doing”.  I’m here to tell you that what this really means is “Do what you’ve always dreaded doing”.

That’s all I’ll cover today because this post is already pretty long, but suffice it to say, the AntiGuru is back, in some sorta “new and improved” form (I hope).