“I just saw your buddy over at Marist (Hall),” said my archeology professor, Dr. Lewis, referring to my anthropology professor, Dr. Cooper.
“Oh yeah?” I said.
“Yeah. He said he wasn’t going to make it to your graduation party,” Dr. Lewis explained with some obvious satisfaction.
The two were not the best of friends. Some of their antagonism may have been due to their specific personalities, while a large part sprung from the general distaste each science had for the other — archeologists seeing anthropologists as bookworm eggheads and anthropologists seeing archeologists as glorified ditch diggers. But they shared a hall on campus, and so maintained an uneasy truce, though each quietly fought to steal students from the other.
“You think he’s your friend, but he’s not,” Dr. Lewis said.
“No?” I asked, suddenly focusing my attention in on him.
“No. When he said he wasn’t coming, he waived me off, then said you were probably going back to New Jersey to become a used car salesman or something.” Dr. Lewis said.
Now, reading this at age 40, I it sounds funny, like something one could easily laugh off, but hearing it upon graduation from college at age 22, it was anything but. It rocked me, hurt me and gave my confidence a severe, though momentary, shock. You see, I had always believed Dr. Cooper thought highly of me and so to hear that he most certainly did not was like a punch to the unprepared stomach. For a long time, that comment drove me to prove that he was wrong, that I could achieve. I ran from it and all the things it implied — mediocrity, buffoonery, futility.
In my work during the last 15 years, I have come in contact with many highly successful (at least in a professional sense) people. Recently I got to thinking about two distinct types these folks can fall into. Now, this is not a complete list by any means, just two types exemplified by two folks that I know — one who, like me, is running from, or driven by, something; the other who is not pushed or pulled by any demons, but simply operates from the confidence of having always had, and having always have been, and never having to prove or disprove.
If you fall into the latter category, you are in a very good place. You move at your own pace, you make judgments without angles or demons talking you into things you should not be doing or out of things that are important. Your confidence comes from a place of calmness and composure, and consists of few question marks in the back of your mind.
But if you are in the former category, if you are running from doubt, fear and insecurity, if you are continually trying to prove that you either are or are not something, you had better be careful, for there are influences on your decision making that do not help you make the best ones. There are invisible weights on one side or the other of your judgment scale and you don’t even know it.
But maybe you can know it by knowing yourself. Maybe, through intentional and focused introspection, you can see those weights and take them into account, placing a counterbalancing stone on the other side of the scale to wind up in the right place.
If you are running, accept it, for you may be pushing yourself, your family and your staff harder than is wise, simply to get even further from your nightmare, but know that there is likely no distance at which you will feel safe enough to slow down, to start walking and to look forward instead of back. And this is very important, because it is almost impossible to avoid the cliff when you don’t even see it coming.