It’s either kinda beautiful, or pretty pathetic.
I’m going with “beautiful”. But I’m biased.
The pathetic/beautiful object in question is my personal values statement from my early 20’s. It’s a long list of resolutions I wrote up to try and give myself some boundaries and guidance—two things that I didn’t have a lot of at age 22.
There were things I did have in abundance—namely: enthusiasm, energy, and ideas. (Sound familiar?) But beyond that, I was basically an uncontrollable freak. And I don’t mean “out of control”, like I still kind of am…I mean uncontrollable.
But deep inside the apparently-insane energy-and-attitude monster that people saw whirling around in 1995, an undercurrent of self-awareness was rising. For the first time really, the “good me” took a look at the “bad me” and realized that there was a lot of work to be done. (The very work that you, me, and the other me are continuing here in this column, in many ways.)
I come from rural New England—the land of bitter winters and rugged individualists. (Don’t give me that look, Midwest—we were doing rugged individualists while you were still in diapers!) And if I was born a rugged individualist—the son of another rugged individualist, my mom—I only built upon that foundation more as time went on. By the time I was 6 or 7 years old, I had made a conscious and firm decision to go my own way. And I spent the next 15 years or so doing just that, every single day of my life.
So when my self-awareness rose to a new level in early adulthood (and revealed to myself that I was potentially as awful as I was awesome), I was on my own to resolve the problem. Therapy, religion, the advice of others in my life—these things were of no use to rugged individualist Lance. Nor was I able to find solace in any one philosopher or idea movement. From Ayn Rand to Tony Robbins to Og Mandino to Carlos Casteneda, and on and on…no one really swept me away with a solution or overall guide that I felt was a full fit for me.
So I just wrote up my own. This is the beautiful pathetic badboy right here. The very beginnings of my still-ongoing quest toward adulthood. ;-)
Now, the beautiful part is if you look at the positive vision implicit in the various declarations I made to myself (over and over and over) at that young age. Someone who actually did all the “I will”s in my values statement would be a pretty solid dude.
The pathetic part comes from knowing that each of the positive assertions in the document was created by identifying an existing problem in my character or conduct, and writing up a way of living which would eliminate that problem. In other words, if the statement says “I will…” do such-and-such, then I wasn’t doing so at the time. At least not all the time.
So yes, I’m saying I used to lie, steal, disrespect my friends, do drugs indiscriminately, encourage unhealthy thinking, be insensitive to women, and on and on. (Aha, now you’re a little more curious, eh? Here’s the link again.)
At the time, that document became my religion, my therapist, my advice, my philosopher, and my idea movement, all rolled into one. I had it printed and hung up in multiple spots in my house, including right next to my face at my desk. I read it out loud to myself every day, and I would grade myself on each of the points in it (plus, minus, or neutral) every 6 months or so, then later, once a year.
Ironically, I probably stopped doing that when I moved out West, and packed up my already-giant collection of papers and books—some of which still remains unsorted 12 years later. The resolutions got packed in with everything else, and I stopped overtly drilling myself with them on a regular basis.
But I did drag that old values statement out last year, when I was trying to explain to a friend of mine how I remain so damn cheery and enthusiastic, in the face of pretty much anything. In thinking back, I realized that that didn’t occur by accident—that it was the result of a lot of dedicated work, pretty much daily, for about 15 years. And when I dug out my old statement to myself, it was like meeting an old friend…the “good me” from all those years ago. The same guy I wrote about in my last column.
That values statement—as embarrassing as it is between the lines—was the first anchor my good side ever threw down to try and hold me in place. And when I dug it out last year and re-read it, I couldn’t stop smiling, realizing how much of it had actually worked…and more, how many of young Lance’s value statements I still completely believe in, even as I continue to err on a daily basis. (Though at my advanced age of 38, the admonition about drugs feels more like a warning against prescription meds, rather than the drugs it was originally referring to.)
Only a portion of my old resolutions have any direct connection to simplifying… “simplifying” was the last thing on my mind back then, and would be for a good decade to follow. And it’s no mere coincidence that the resolutions having to do with time and activity management are probably the ones I would score the worst on—both now, and for most of the years between then and now.
In my last column, I pledged to find a way to get me (and you, since I’ve dragged you into this) out of the mucky morass of mess and mismanagement that I’ve led myself into over the course of these many years. And I talked about getting all of the cards out of the sleeves, and onto the table. I was mostly talking about the bad cards then, but I did have at least one good card remaining up my sleeve: that pathetically beautiful first assertion of will from the “good me”.
In my next column, I’ll see what my old resolutions can bring to bear on my current quest for simplification and fulfillment, and I’ll draft up a new set of resolutions to specifically address the “not-so-simple life” problems in my life that you’ve been grimacing over as you’ve been reading along this year.
In other words, probably only 15 more years or so until I become the man I aim to become.
Exciting, isn’t it?! ;-)