The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one ― J.D. Salinger
People say your twenties can be a period of intense growth. You're constantly changing. Your personality is beginning to solidify. You're building significant relationships. Perhaps most importantly, you are making a myriad of mistakes - big ones. While I often like to think I'm special, this was one instance in which I was just like everyone else.
Around the time I turned 24, while working at a group home for young adults with varying degrees of mental illness, after months of letting my own mental health go unchecked — my anxiety in particular — I made a grave mistake. In the middle of one of my own anxiety attacks, I asked a client for a medication. Completely oblivious to the ethical, professional, and relational problems present in this scenario, I was focused solely on my heart beating out of my chest and my thoughts racing. It has taken the last ten years to understand the gravity of being a caregiver for others, particularly those experiencing increased vulnerability.
This mistake came back to bite me in the ass, costing me my job, my internship, and ultimately, the degree I was pursuing at the time. It catapulted me into a deep depression and period of uncertainty, not to mention a very short-lived stint as a server at IHOP (and I really mean short lived). I know from various interactions and encounters that there are numerous other people with similar experiences. People make mistakes. People lose jobs. Still, people grow, and people learn.
Disregard for the past will never do us any good. Without it we cannot know truly who we are ― Syd Moore
There's an underlying piece to all this I've shared with only a small handful of people. During my last semester at UIC, I was preparing to go overseas to England to do social work. I got my first passport. I had my visa application prepared. I was in constant conversation with a recruiter. Yet in a matter of what felt like seconds, my plans crumbled and went up in flames. I was devastated.
Now, 10 years later, almost to the date, I've come to an anniversary of sorts, and in more ways than one. Recently, realizing I neither want to stay in the for-profit, consumer-driven world nor feel ready to re-enter the realm of ministry, I decided to go another route. I signed up for a class to get my TEFL (teaching English as a Foreign Language) certification and have started preparations to move overseas later this year. Ten years later, and I still have the same drive to travel, and in a sense, to serve.
As all this dawned on me, I was forced to reflect on the numerous emotions that surfaced. Being the science fiction nerd I am, of course my mind was drawn to a quote from Battlestar Galactica:
All this happened before, and all this will happen again
Naturally, I became a bit apprehensive. Once you've become aware of your propensity for self-sabotage and big mistakes, it's easy to be afraid of making them all over again. Questions started swarming around in my mind. What would I do to mess it all up this time? What would it cost me? How would I deal with, yet again, disappointing those who love me and have supported me despite my faults and mishaps? The spiral of anxiety hit hard, but something different happened this time...
I stopped myself.
Quickly, I realized I am not the same man I was a decade ago. I am more self-aware. I have a stronger support system with more friends and people I trust to call me out on my stuff. I've lived more, grown more, learned more. I have better coping mechanisms for when life throws me curveballs. Perhaps most important of all, I have a deeper faith that God is with me and is actively working in my life.
Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself ― Leo Tolstoy
Maybe you're like me. You've made some big mistakes that came with a heavy cost. You've lost relationships, been hurt, doubted yourself. Maybe you have dreams you're terrified of pursuing because the last thing you want to do is repeat history. If this is the case, write me. Call me. At the very least, call someone you love and trust to support you while speaking whatever truth you need to hear in love. Just remember: you are not alone. History doesn't have to repeat itself.
photo credit: Bill Moyer (via Flickr)