Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Together, Apart, Hump Day Hmm

My entire life, I have felt both a part of the world and apart from it. I have been a member of the group, and a loner. I have felt a strong connection to my family, my hometown, my state, my region, my nation, and my world - and yet I have felt so very different from all of those things as to never feel I fit quite right. I feel like a paradox in so many ways - the guy almost everyone liked in school but few considered a true friend.

I would say tragedy set me apart, but I'm not sure it began there. I'm not sure it didn't. But in a way, it wasn't like I suffered the most unspeakable horror known to man. Many have dealt with worse and been less changed for it. Yet somehow the death of my brother shaped my entire remaining childhood, and perhaps even the years since. I have explained to my parents on many occasions how strongly I felt I had to measure up, to be like him. My brother was a brilliant scholar and writer, yet he felt little need to prove himself to others. He simply knew he would one day join the ranks of the great science fiction writers in history, and he planned his education around that goal. Then his life ended. I felt a need to follow him into science for a long time, but I realized I simply didn't love it the way he did. I enjoy reading about it, and observing it, but I am not one to take something apart just to see how it works. I am satisfied it does and go forward. Instead I felt a calling to the law, but after reading The Firm, I realized I had no desire to spend the kind of hours it would take to be a top attorney. So business seemed a logical course, and my father certainly encouraged me to consider business as a career.

Since I could not follow my brother's career in the realm of science, I attempted to follow his passion for writing. I wrote a novella through high school (truly, though, it was a terrible effort that leaned far too heavily on the vision of others). Then I took up poetry, but most of my poems were quite formulaic and boring. Finally I took up trying to write a few short stories, and I felt much more at home there. Then I put down the proverbial pen, for I had completed my academic studies and needed to focus on my actual job - working in the trucking business my father began while I was in high school. I could not imagine a career less suited to my original plans for myself than the one I chose, and yet it worked well enough for me. I learned a great deal, and even came to appreciate the men and women in the transportation industry. Then I felt led to return to college and complete an MBA. Still unsure of my place or my path - I no longer had my brother to follow, since he died at only eighteen - I was blazing a different trail. To what or where, I knew not. I know not, I might say.

I enjoyed a wonderful time in graduate school. I felt I made some great connections and even a couple of friends. My recent reunion, though, helped me realize that I was still a man apart. My class won the award for most people to return, mainly because a group of friends who became very close decided to meet up there. I was not among those contacted to insure my return. I am not offended, nor should I be. I look back and realize how much I focused on myself that year. By the end, I barely hung out with classmates because I had a fiancee, two promising businesses to choose from, and a future far away from any of my classmates. I was short-sighted, to say the least. I think I always have been. I have formed very few deep and lasting friendships over the years. I can be very enjoyable to be with in the moment, but I am terrible about keeping up with people once they've gone. Sure, I can say that is true of most people, but then I find those people who form bonds whereever they go. Like my wife, who has friends all over the country from high school and college. And my best friend, who had friends from at least five states and several jobs attend his wedding. One of his former bosses even showed up in full military uniform to present him with a flag his fellow troops carried around with them while in Iraq. Here is a man who is loved and appreciated by those around him. As much as I might like to imagine I am loved that way by friends from the past, it simply isn't true. I have spent too much of my life on the fringes. I have kept to myself too much where it mattered to really form deep and lasting frienships in most cases. I am a legend in my own mind.

Why have my thoughts come to this place? Why am I feeling so out of sorts, out of step with the world? I feel like I have come to one of life's great crossroads. I have a wonderful opportunity to change where I live, do something I truly would enjoy doing, give my children a chance for a better education than they could possibly hope for here, and allow my wife to finally return to a place where she feels more at home. Yet I feel torn, because I have a job that pays me well, gives me wonderful chances to be around my family, and where I dictate a lot of what I do day to day. I love knowing my kids know my parents very well because they can go to their house so easily. It's just around the corner. So to get some things I might want, I have to give up some great things I have. I may also give up some things I do not appreciate about this community, but I really don't have a guarantee that where we move will be better. So here I sit, a man apart, as always. I feel I am on the outside of the world looking in. My mind is spinning constantly with thoughts of what to do, what has to dealt with, what different contingencies would entail.... spinning and spinning. No answers come, just more questions. And still I sit, a man a of the world but apart from it.

-- Robert

For the record, this post was a Hump Day Hmm with the topic: Walking out of stride---how do you walk out of stride, or do you? What's it mean to you?

For once, I could not start my post with any reference to it, simply because I needed a proper flow to get this post out. Or at least that's how I felt about it.


le35 said...

Well, maybe it's a good time to open the looking glass and step in. Jump in to your own life. Whether it's here or out west, it's a good time to be a part of your own life.

Robert said...

Something I never got around to in this post (I was too tired when I wrote it) was my aversion to change. I've accused other people of having that problem and all the time been as guilty as anyone. My fear of failure plays a big part, too, but the basic concept I didn't manage to work in (and may edit in, if I feel up to it) was how much I have preferred to observe my life rather than necessarily live it because it's easier to go through the day to day that way than it is to do the work to constantly rise above.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me you may be an introvert. My husband is much like this, and he is at peace with it now. It is just a particular way to live life -- focused on your family and your work.

Robert said...

What is so weird about me being an introvert, I considered myself an extrovert in many ways in school. I was well known and freely welcomed newcomers to the school. I enjoy the company of other people. I do remember that I used to test almost dead even on introversion/extroversion aspects of personality tests. Now I am beginning to think that I was just an introvert that was comfortable in my environment so I acted like an extrovert. My father certainly encouraged me to work on being outgoing because he's a natural introvert who realized that tendency was hurting his career. Thanks to his help, I am not afraid of public speaking, and I handle interviews well, but I really am starting to think I am more of an introvert than extrovert at this point in my life.

Julie Pippert said...

Robert, I think this was one of your most honest and powerful posts. It was really moving.

I think Emily is on to something with the introvert. Many introverts---including me---are really outgoing.

But I recharge on my own, and truly need a lot of interior and solo time, time with just the family, close time.

That's the difference between introverts and extroverts, really, not amount of socializing or friendliness.

Socializing ends up tiring me out---I dish out energy with other people, and then rebuild energy alone.

My sister is an extrovert. She pulls in energy with other people.

It sounds silly and whiny, but I don't mean it that way, but people really misunderstand introvert...think they are unfriendly or don't care sometimes.

Like Emily's husband, I've made (am making) peace with my introversion.

I think your family and work are fortunate that you dedicate your energy to them.

And good luck with the crossroads.

Mostly, thanks for such an insightful and honest post.

Robert said...

Thanks, Julie. I've always tested as somewhat of a mixed bag on personality tests, being about fifty-fifty on introvert vs. extrovert. I share qualities of both types, so I can definitely see why it's been a point of confusion for so long. I do care what people think, and I can really charge my batteries by having a good time with the right people, but that's just as much an introvert quality as an extrovert, in some ways. It's just that it's only been recently I've felt SO introverted, or been so keenly aware of how much of one I am. Part of it has to be environmental, because I had some changes in friendship dynamics when I moved back to this area with a wife and a different church. Loss of trust probably turned me more inward, and therefore turned up the introversion. I may go look up some personality tests, just for fun and learning, to get a perspective again on myself. Thanks for all the great comments.

jeanie said...

Great post, Robert.

I can understand you on so many issues there.

I think many people who are labelled "extrovert" are as on the fringes and watchful, they just put a mask on and get out of the comfort zone.

When I have the energy I follow that pretence.

Melissa said...

This was a fabulous post.

I totally understand the intro/extro thing. So many people think I'm this major extrovert and I'm really not. Your post kind of hit it on the head for me. Thanks for sharing.

Robert said...

I remember reading a great book in grad school called When We Were Grownups by Anne Tyler that recalls what Jeanie and Melissa are referring to. The main character was a very introverted academic young woman who suddenly decided to marry a man with several children and become a professional hostess. Her husband died soon after they married, but she continued to raise the kids and run that business. Years later, she decided to look up the man she was dating before the whirlwind marriage happened, and she realized how utterly her life changed overnight.

I understand my reference, even if it makes no sense to anyone else. My point is, you can end up putting a different face on for so long, it begins to fit better than the "real" one. Maybe that's where I am. Or maybe I've worn out my extrovert face, and I can see through the threadbare remains to the real face underneath. Hard to say, really.

Thanks for all the great comments.