I know every detail of this story, including what was said in that car, because I was in that car. The story, the "confession," is my own. I was the young man who stood in that parking lot in 1979, and it was me who drove out of Love Field in Dallas, Texas, with my wife, Robin, in 1989.
For those ten years, I lived a life of incongruency. The content of my life, the choices I had made, was incongruent with who I was and what I wanted. I was doing things I didn't have my heart in and was not doing the things I did have a passion for. On the one hand, I occupied a comfort zone where my life felt "safe," because it was as steady and predictable as the ticking of a clock. The problem was that everything I was doing was chosen to please other people by meeting their expectations while totally ignoring my own. I was miserable. If you had asked me, "Is this the kind of life you want?" "Is this the career you want?" "Are you fulfilling your purpose for being on this earth?" I would have had to answer, "No, not by a long shot." I knew I wasn't living the life I was meant to live. I knew there was something wrong with my life, but for those ten years, I avoided dealing with it because it just seemed easier to go along than to upset everyone. Instead of addressing the dull ache that I carried everywhere, instead of trying to root out what was bothering me, I chose to "keep on keeping on." Incredibly dumb, but it's the truth.
Like an enemy I knew as intimately as any friend, I came to know the nagging, constant emptiness of the incongruent life. I ignored my self and lived for people, purposes, and goals that weren't my own. I betrayed who I was and instead accepted a fictional substitute that was defined from the outside in. I betrayed myself, and mine was a life and an experience that was a fraud and a fiction.
So much of what I did -- while totally okay if it had been what I had a passion for -- was as unnatural for me as it would be for a dog trying to fly. There's nothing wrong with trying to fly, unless you happen to be a beagle instead of an eagle. I loved my family, but every other aspect of my life was, for me, a painful and forced ordeal because it didn't come from the heart. It wasn't something that sprang from who I really was. And in addition to the presence of negatives that came from being and doing that which was foreign to my authentic self, there was the glaring absence of positives. I wasn't having any fun or excitement. I wasn't doing what was meaningful for me. I wasn't doing what I was good at and therefore was not pursuing my mission in life, my purpose for being here. I never finished a day and said, "Wow! Great job today, be proud!" I needed that feeling, a feeling I missed when I looked in the mirror. I needed to feel like I belonged and was called to a purpose, but I didn't, because I wasn't. I was excited about nothing, zip, zero. It was not good.
Ultimately, I was able to totally reengineer those parts of my life that were not "me," and build on those that felt right because they were right. Once I stopped living that incongruent life and started to hear my own voice, my own needs, my experience of life changed monumentally. I didn't get those ten years back but they are a fading memory, daily being replaced with a life that is authentically me. (I'm going to tell you a whole lot about how I did it very soon.)
I will never completely forget the pain and emptiness of living the way I did for those ten years and I don't want to. Having spent ten years in that desolate territory, I know it's a place where I will never go again. I would starve or work for food and shelter doing what I love, before I would betray my self again at any price. If you have ever done anything that was really dumb for a long time, and then finally quit and made a change, you know how it feels. You look back and say, "Oh my God, how could I have been so stupid?! I wasted so much time!" I know the feeling because I've even had the revelation after doing trivial things like when I finally got eyeglasses; and when I finally built a fence so that I could quit chasing my dog. So you can imagine how I felt when I changed my entire life after ten years! Huge relief, huge! I got out, and if you are in that place, I want to get you out, too. Don't panic: I'm not getting ready to blow up your marriage or family. Living an incongruent life doesn't necessarily involve geography, occupation, time commitments, or even the people with whom you are sharing your life. The "fix" I'm talking about comes from the inside out. What it does always deal with is how you do what you do. It always deals with you being true to yourself from the inside out. I still do a lot of what I once did; I just do it very, very differently and the priorities are mine, not someone else's. It is always about being there for you, about being your own best friend.
Copyright © 2001 by Phillip C. McGraw
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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