When I was a kid I had some odd habits. At Christmas I would open up my gifts and then take them to my room and find their spot in with the rest of my stuff. I found a lot of joy in organizing them, in finding the place where they would live. It made me feel safe and secure for some reason.
In the 7th grade I played clarinet in the junior high school band, but our band needed a trumpet player. So over the 2 week Christmas break I practiced all day, every day until I felt I was good enough to audition for a chair. And when I got back to school I earned a spot in the trumpet section. Over that 2 week period I was absolutely obsessed with learning to play that trumpet.
In high school I played basketball, but I realized I was not a good enough 3-point shooter. I had to get better. I knew someone at a small local college who would give me the keys to the gym and I would go every day after school and shoot for hours. All alone. Shooting shot after shot. Shot after shot.
I spent nearly 20 years of my life working as a PGA Professional at golf clubs. And every day doing that job I felt like I was underachieving and that there was more for me. I had to be better and I had to get better.
When I left the golf business and entered into the sales world I set my sights on being the top sales person in the company. I had zero sales experience and probably shouldn’t have been given the job. But I became obsessed with understanding the sales call process and I had to understand the dynamic at play between the sales person and the customer. I pushed myself to work longer hours than anyone else. I pushed myself to work harder. I pushed myself to know more. To make more sales calls. My mind would not stop contemplating every possible ‘if-then’ scenario. “If they say X, then I say Y.”
And inside of 18 months I became the top producer in my company out of 1500+/- sales people.
My entire life I have felt the drive inside me to push, work, go, do. And until recently this internal mechanism was insatiable; there was no end. I always believed that if I could achieve a certain status or have a certain job or have a better house or be the best, then this thing inside of me would calm down and I would “have arrived”.
My mind never slowed down and would race at night which interrupted my sleep (which was usually only 4-5 hours per night). My mind exhausted me and the feelings inside never went away regardless of what was going on in my life on the outside. When life was good, I felt full of anxiety. When life was not going so well, I felt full of anxiety. I could never figure out why I felt this way inside; why no matter what I did I was always left feeling like I was chasing the carrot. I could not get the feeling inside of me to go away.
And I’ve recognized the same thing in other people that I’ve met. I can see them striving to be the best. Striving and obsessing to do something externally to distract themselves from the inescapable feelings that live inside their soul. The feelings of insecurity that turn into drive and ambition. The belief that says, “If I just keep busy enough I can fix this feeling inside of me, but also, if I stay busy enough maybe I will not have to deal with it.”
I lived this lie for many years. I believed that there was something I could do with my life that would fix my inside problems. I struggled for nearly 47 years trying to figure it all out. Wondering why I felt the way I did. In the end I was trying to fix an existential, internal, soul problem with external cures. And I failed miserably.
What I was dealing with was a belief that I wasn’t good enough. My internal self-talk was so harsh and so mean and so unrelenting that I overcompensated for this by working to become an overachiever. “If I can just become the #1 sales person, then I’ll be the best and I’ll feel like I’m good enough. If I can teach myself how to play the trumpet, then I’ll prove to myself that I am good enough. If I can hit good golf shots, then I can show myself that I am good enough. If I can be a great 3-point shooter than I’ll get everyone’s praise and admiration and that will prove to me that I am good enough.”
None of that self-praise ever came. The only thing I experienced was more harsh, unrelenting self-talk. “Yeah, you achieved X, but that guy over there is still better than you.” “They think you’re good, but you know the real truth.” And so the cycle continued and I lived with this never ending war raging inside of me. Feelings of inadequacy and insecurity ruled my mind and my mind revolted with more pressure to perform; more pressure to never stop. Because if I stopped, then I would be forced to deal with my feelings.
And all of my drive did so much damage to the relationships in my personal life. I was rigid. I was judgmental. I lacked compassion. I became self-focused. Impatient. Unrelenting. And the more I wanted to be better, the harsher my internal self talk became and the more unrelenting I became to those around me. It’s hard, maybe even impossible, to be compassionate with others when you don’t show yourself compassion.
Then one day something changed. I began seeing a therapist who would eventually recommend we try a process called EMDR or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It is a process that allows the mind to deal with past traumas and to basically reprogram negative self-beliefs or relieve distress.
I have been having sessions for 8 months and it has changed my life. I no longer have those overwhelming mental sessions that would keep me up at night. My mind is no longer completely out of control. The ball of anxiety in my chest that once felt like it was the size of a football now feels like the size of a baseball. The feelings of having to constantly go, go, go have subsided. I am learning to show myself compassion and my internal self-talk is more positive and less harsh.
But the biggest change is I finally have peace. Where once my mind and emotions were a swirling hurricane of confusion and chaos, there are now calmer waters and less wind.
Kenny Chesney wrote a song called A Spirit of a Storm that expresses the way I once felt:
“There’s a spirit of a storm in my soul
A restlessness that I can’t seem to tame
Thunder and lightning follow everywhere I go
There’s a spirit of a storm in my soul.
There’s a hurricane that’s raging through my blood
I can’t find a way to calm the sea
Maybe I’ll find someday the waters aren’t so rushed
Right now they’ve got the best of me”
I’m not exactly sure why I decided to write this after so much time away from my blog. I think I just needed to get this out of me and maybe someone else needed to know there is hope. Chesney writes “Oh, maybe it’s just the way I am, Maybe I won’t ever change.”, but I don’t believe that.
I believe we can change. I believe we can have peace.