I am a “suit”; a middle manager-beholden to the whims and desires of other suits with higher rank and dependent upon the performance of those below me in the corporate hierarchy.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
I went to college in the 1970s. I was a wrestler; naive, anxious to prove myself as an athlete, and then accelerate into adulthood. College wrestling ended in disappointment and knee surgery. I remained unproven.
After college, my ascent to middle class prosperity began in earnest. Still unproven, my drive shifted from athletics to business success. Working harder than everyone had kept me in good stead as an athlete, and it did the same in my new competitive world. I had good early success, and was leading my first team when the first of our children arrived. Child two followed after a brief delay in the proceedings. Working hard remained the theme, as a father and a business leader. Fear of failure increased with two mouths to feed, clothe, and educate.
It is possible to be a dead man walking; by all appearances functional, even successful. It is possible to love and care for others so much you hurt, and to be so without life you unconsciously turn affection into fear and anger. My drive fueled more business success but proved to be poison for family life. Business success is somewhat predictable once successful patterns of hard work and commitment are well established. Human beings, especially young ones, are far more complex and harder to forecast. I saw my family beginning to disintegrate at the same time I was receiving plaques with my picture etched on them.
I changed course, got counseling, renewed workouts long abandoned, and focused like a laser on my family. It was a bumpy road, but we stayed the course.
Then I got fired. The next job was months in coming, and the financial tension of my failure gnawed at my psyche and wallet. Eventually, an opportunity came, and my fear of failure threatened my ability to function. I outworked it.
Now I’ve turned toward senior citizen status and in some theatres I qualify for discounts at the matinee showing. I see all this through a clear lens looking back, I acknowledge much damage has been done and time for repair is getting short.
Over time, I put my anxiety to work for me, as fuel to overcome that grinding fear. It works, so why not embrace it? Anxiety has become my friend in a way. It’s dependable, and I know it can propel me to outwork men decades younger. But I failed to notice that my constant companion anxiety crowds out the other people and things I love. Anxiety eventually takes up more than it’s share of the space in your head, and in your heart. It’s been silently killing me for years, my constant companion-crowding out the affection my family tried to return. Instead, that affection has died a little every time another one of them recoiled from a verbal assault.
The verbal assaults come from nowhere, for no reason. They are in no way related to the deep affection I have for those closest to me. My anxiety exists in a seemingly invisible, mostly dormant state. I have become comfortable with it. It’s good fuel.
Until it isn’t.
I am dying alone. Not in a physical way. My medical tests, save my arthritis and surgically repaired joints, are stellar. I am no addict. I have adult children making lives for themselves and a wife who is loyal beyond all reason. My religious faith is real and intact. But scratch the surface, I am a dead man walking; a cold anxious soul who is practiced enough at the game to fake it better than some men live it for real. Until I can’t. Then I am alone.
I’m at an age where the prospect of a total teardown and rebuild is daunting. If the anxiety departs, what happens then? Will I be out of fuel? I am really not certain what life is like without that anxiety to carry around.
In 2020, I have resolved to set aside my anxiety. I have no way of calculating if that decision is too late to salvage the relationships I have so deeply damaged. I’m not sure if I will be alone, with my dreams of being a kind hearted active old sage replaced by an old man who acts like an old bird dog who once lived for adventure and affection, but now sits chained to the doghouse, sneering, waiting for enough time to pass so he can finally find peace of mind in his next life.
This is a journey I’ve embarked on before. The challenges are well known. Words alone are cheap. If tearing down and rebuilding were as simple as a list of goals and an action plan, I wouldn’t be writing, and you would have stopped reading at the first paragraph.
It’s time to rearrange, time for restoration, and resilience-to fill my tanks spiritually, mentally and physically instead of letting my physical and emotional resources drain-while planning to catch up “someday soon.”
It’s time to rid myself of the weight of things I don’t use, want or need. Those things can be as simple as old files, and as complex as the shame of imperfection. They can be as painful as letting old friendships, long toxic, end.
It’s time to create new habits, to let days be more productive, nights more peaceful, workouts more restorative…they are all parts of the whole. I am under no illusions about the challenges of undoing a half century of habits. This is an hour by hour, day by day process. It begins with new daily habits.
Those habits and a clear head will dictate my response to the emails already stacking up from leaders with their own style challenges. The veiled threats, kindling to that fire of anxiety, have begun to arrive even as I type. I will not own that anxiety today-I burned it on a spinning bike at 6am-then had breakfast with my daughter. I’ll rise to fight again tomorrow.
It’s time to learn how to live so that I may Die Living.
Doug Mitchell is a happy family man living in the suburbs of Pennsylvania, he spends his free time mourning the state of our nation and learning the outdoors he missed as a young man while he was living in wrestling rooms. Sunday’s he can be found in Penn’s Woods with his faithful lab, restoring his soul.