Your Achievements Don’t Define you…But Mine Do

Photo by Alejandro Alvarez on Unsplash

I have seen two TED talks, read 21 blogs and listened to five podcasts that all had the same somewhat self-righteous theme: we are so much more than the sum of our achievements. While I totally get the sentiment, for me there is something different going on. I, for one, am defined by my achievements — especially right now, at this point in my life. I wake up every morning and exercise, visualize and do affirmations. Then I read as many as twenty articles online, meditate, and write something — anything. Sometimes it comes out good and I post it. Sometimes it’s awful and I scrap it.

This is my life seven days a week. Of course, this is in addition to driving a tractor-trailer Monday through Friday, seeing my kids on the weekend and playing winery and brewery gigs.

Not only has being incredibly busy worked out as the perfect antidote for my snorable love life, it has produced some very tangible effects, as well. I am currently working with a very capable agent who is at this very moment going through the process of finding me a publisher for my book. A book that I was able to get one of my greatest childhood heroes to agree to write the Foreword for. If you think I am just telling you all of this to impress you, forge ahead, dear reader. I’m about to get real vulnerable.

I have about eight years free from drugs and alcohol — which means that about eight years ago, I was standing at the crossroads of a very undignified death at the hands of a thing that began, innocently enough, to numb my feelings and medicate my self-diagnosed psychic ailments. Even though I was a straight up hot mess toward the end, there was one scene that has stuck with me as if it had happened yesterday.

I used my body so freely by the time I hit my bottom, that I found myself being driven by ambulance to the University hospital 100 miles from the emergency room near my house. My local hospital just did not have the resources to undo the damage that I inflicted upon myself. Upon arrival at the better facility, the staff prepped me for emergency surgery. My body was ravaged to a point where it could almost no longer house my soul, but my brain was still working okay, so I was practically witnessing the whole process almost as a third party.

As I lay on the gurney, the anesthesiologist — who was middle aged — walked in with a very young nursing student to do whatever it is they do right before an emergency surgery. This guy started to mack pretty hard on this girl that had to be about thirty years younger than him. It made me terribly uncomfortable, but it also hit me in a way that I will never forget for the rest of my life. This man had absolutely no concern for how I perceived his actions because, as far as he was concerned, I wasn’t even there. I was just a drugged out skell that may or may not still be alive by the next month and it was painfully apparent that I was not even worth having any discretion in front of. Even the nurse — who was fielding her discomfort with the situation as best as she could — never really considered that there was another human in the room. I have never before felt my humanity being so obviously discounted. It was as if I was a stray dog that had been hit by a car. They planned on going through the motions to try to save me, but they were a bit less than personally invested.

The intensity of the existential pain that I felt in that moment has propelled me feverishly toward the dreams and goals I have made for myself. There have been many times in the past few years where somebody in my life decides that they are going to set me straight about the selfishness of my single-minded vision. Even recently I have had to come to terms with the fact that not everyone in my work life is going to selflessly cheer me on. It’s frustrating, but it’s reality — and it generally results in having to draw back from a person in order to stay the course. It’s usually sad and feels a lot like loss but it’s unavoidable.

So, here’s what I am getting at: it may be very healthy and mindful for one to accept themselves “as is” without any concern for their worldly achievements. I totally respect that. The caveat is that we should not be so quick to correct others when we do not share the same life experiences with them. You would never turn to a Syrian refugee and dismissively tell them they should “chill out” because you do not know what it is like to wake up one morning, and see everything you know about life in a pile of smoldering ashes; just as you probably don’t know what it is like to be treated with bored indifference as you cling to life on a hospital gurney in a strange city.

If you’ve never been invisible or regarded as a non-entity, you may never understand the motives of those that bulldoze their way into the spotlight. And that’s totally fine, but we should look at others with a lot more curiosity and a lot less self-righteousness.

Your Achievements Don’t Define you…But Mine Do was originally published in P.S. I Love You on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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