Underdog stories, both fictional and non-fictional, do not appeal to me. What inspires me the most is the story of the guy who seemingly has everything in the world, then massively self-destructs to lose it all, makes the necessary changes in his life to regain everything he had, and in return, gets back more. Those stories fire me up at night and get me excited to attack every day.
I am now one of those guys.
This is not the story of some real-life superhero. I didn’t save any damsels. I didn’t slay any dragons. In July 2014, I left my wife, my son and my job to take a job out of state. I did it because I wanted a “do-over.” I was not happy with my life at the time and wanted to change. I asked for an intentional mulligan of sorts, which is appropriate, because it means no alibis. I had become the king of them.
What I did was change my entire way of thinking to achieve emotional stability and become a better human being.
This is a story about loss, shame and the slow process of self-acceptance and re-invention. I don’t know any man that doesn’t want that. I am sharing my story not to say I am better than anyone; rather, I hope someone out there reading this, who is on the fence about change, can be inspired by mine.
I was enabled growing up by my father, who did everything for me that I didn’t want to do – made my bed and my lunch every morning; signed the permission slip so I could go on the field trip, even if I didn’t deserve it; didn’t hold me accountable for my own behavior. I don’t remember being grounded. My dad always bailed me out. This didn’t sit well with my mother, who was a strong military woman with a sharp tongue and a heavy alcohol tolerance. Her motto was “no blood, no sympathy.” This created an interesting dichotomy. I avoided her pain, by going to my dad, who bailed me out at every turn. I learned enablement. I learned privilege. I did not learn accountability. I also did not learn the power of telling the truth.
Simultaneously, I also had a devastating amount of insecurities – not big enough, not muscular enough, not good looking enough, which made me tremendously socially awkward, around both girls and guys alike. I didn’t date until I was in college, and even those girls that liked me, I intentionally pushed away. I didn’t have many friends, probably because I was the “disser” – the guy that said he would do something with you, but when it came time to do it, I was nowhere to be found. So to make friends and appease others, I did things that other people wanted, rather than what I wanted. I was a big kid, and rather than pursue working hard to play baseball, which I was not very good at but I absolutely loved, I chose to play football, which I was good at but absolutely hated. I chose my college after my first on-site visit, not because I liked it during my on-campus visit, but because, since I had a college picked out, everyone would leave me alone about it. I did enough just to get by. I was lazy, looking for acceptance at the bench press or at the top of a keg stand. I hated myself.
I was able to snigger through life and succeed in spite of myself. By my mid-30’s I had achieved some level of professional success. I was who my companies needed me to be – workaholic, man of results, the go-to-guy. But to compensate for my personal flaws, I spent more time than any man should at work and my personal life crumbled. I made about as many mistakes as a middle aged man can make – wrecked one marriage due to infidelity issues and almost a second; was a non-existent father to my son, and an all-around miserable person to be around, due to the fact I carried around all this…anger. Hated the world, blamed everyone for my problems. It was never my fault. It had to be someone else’s, right?
As my first wife once told me, “you can fake it for only so long, John.” She was right. I wanted to change but didn’t know how. Somehow, fate forced me to.
I left my job in July 2014 because my previous manager was leaving my organization. I was afraid of change. She accepted me, which was all I ever wanted. I could not deal with her loss, so I took a job out of state, without asking my wife first. I told her what I was doing. I didn’t ask. I was too selfish to ask her, and at that time, really, who cared.
I had a new six-figure job but I was emotionally bankrupt. I had no family because I was scared of my home; no friends because I had alienated them. For the first time, I was totally alone. Just me and my demons.
Now the real pain began.
Time to Grow Up
I became a “lonely only” in my one-room efficiency apartment. I rented it specifically because I didn’t want any distractions. No TV? Check. No computer? Check. Time-spent with myself? Check. It was self-imprisoned exile. A jail sentence without judge, jury and executioner. I knew I wanted to go home again but the only way to do it was to change everything. As Apollo Creed once told Rocky, “you need to regain the eye of the tiger; but we need to go back to the beginning.”
I needed to realize that everything I knew about the world was wrong.
Boy, was that a gut-punch.
I will never forget that first night. I got down on my hands and knees, put my face into the pillows of the couch, and sobbed uncontrollably for what seemed like hours, grieving the shame of my actions, and washing away what seemed a lifetime of pain and guilt. When that was finished, I got a notebook and wrote one goal in bright bold lettering:
- Be A Better Man
For the first time, my personal life was more important than any of my professional endeavors. I downloaded a copy of “Be A Better Man in 30 Days” and followed it to the letter. Now, I still have not memorized “If” but I have defined my core values – honesty, integrity & loyalty; found a male mentor and began to follow his teachings, and wrote multiple letters, to my mom, forgiving her; and to myself, for forgiving the mistakes I made. This dialogue was rich and painful. I reached out to people to make amends, but maybe most importantly I made amends with myself. I did pushups every night. I learned to cook. I learned to smile. I listened to baseball on the radio and downloaded Clapton songs from iTunes. I remained faithful. I read books. I didn’t touch booze or drugs. I recalled memories fondly. I ditched the drama. I accepted me. I forgave myself.
My job was secondary. I did great things, but greater was the personal pilgrimage. I needed to go back home to my old organization, because I had unfinished business, but I couldn’t, until I healed myself. After 18 months, I was ready to come home. Only question was, how to get back?
Again, fate intervened.
I developed a cold which I ignored that, after two weeks, turned into a severe case of bronchitis. I called my wife at 3:18 in the morning and said, I was done. She said, do you need me to come get you? Are you done with the illness? I said, no, I am done and I want to come home. She said, surprisingly, absolutely.
I was thrilled. I came home and spent the night in the ER. I took the next week off and spent it at home, recovering. Shortly after, I spoke to an old colleague who offered me a position back in my hometown. I took it. I believe it was because I was ready to accept my new reality and the world was ready to accept me as I saw me.
I had many thoughts during my self-imposed exile. The most important though is this: I have many demons inside that I avoided for many years while being painfully aware of their negative consequences on my life. That is a horrible approach. It never works. The more I ran, the stronger they became. Everyone knows this, but I had the courage to act on it. I hope you do too.
In the words of Eric Thomas, “Pain may last a week, an hour. A day even a year. But eventually it will subside. If I quit however, it will last forever.” I no longer quit on myself. I may not have as much money, but I have something I could never buy before – peace of mind. I don’t have a lot, but I have enough. Mostly, I am just grateful.
When I die, my boss won’t be there, insecurities won’t be there, people I wanted to impress won’t be there. My wife and son will be by my side. I focus a lot on that, and strive to be a better man every day. I will never forget what I learned – that honor and integrity mean more than money and riches, especially when I am living a life I love, on my own terms. It’s very empowering. Now, I do what I say, when I say it, how I say it. I can accept the consequences of anything.
I continue on the journey of self-mastery with the forethought that the only respect that matters is self-respect joined by my wife, who is sexy and who I love deeply, and my son, who I strive to be a true role model for, every day. In the past I wanted everyone to walk a mile in my shoes. If only people could see what I see, hear what I hear and feel what I feel, then they’d understand. Instead of feeling sorry for yourself, you need to do something about it. The help you need is at the end of your own arm.
Dr John R.Nocero
Dr. John R. Nocero has worked in a variety of industries since 2003, most notably, print & electronic media & healthcare. He holds a bachelor’s degree in communications from Hiram College, a master’s degree in healthcare administration from AIU and a doctoral degree in public service leadership from Capella University. His truest passions in life are professional & relationship development and the New York Yankees. He lives in Cleveland, Ohio with Kelly, his wife of 12 years. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.