Once upon a time, I was the kind of person I didn’t like very much. I was lazy, expecting the world to fall down in front of me despite doing nothing at all to deserve it, and I had a real problem with acknowledging my own screwups.
That last one shouldn’t have been a thing, either, simply because I had so many screwups, I should have been well-practiced in admitting them. But no. I wasn’t.
Then my son was born. Looking down on him, I realized that it was time to get my crap in order. I couldn’t afford to screw up the rest of my life because it was screw up his life too. It’s one thing to sabotage myself, but doing it to another who had no choice in the matter? No, I couldn’t do it.
So that meant it was time to figure out what I wanted out of life. What I wanted to be when I finally grew up….even though I was 28-years-old.
To be sure, I had these lofty ambitions start to form, but things didn’t change. The reason? You have to start small. You have to change the habits.
A while back, I knew a guy who was kind of where I’d been. He decided to go back to school in an effort to get his life on track. Pretty much everyone thought that was a good start, even me.
A few months later, he failed.
The reason? He didn’t start with the basics. He didn’t look at which habits were causing his problems first and foremost, then changing them so life could improve.
In his case, the issue was him playing video games all hours of the day and night. He’d stop to do work but then went right back to them.
When he tried to go to school, he’d stop playing long enough to attend class, but then walked in the house and started playing them, forgoing homework, studying, or anything else that might help him advance his life.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with playing video games. They’re fun. Sometimes, my son and I will play them together and have an absolute blast doing it. They’re no worse than any other pastime in many respects, and they’re far better than some ways younger folks spend their time, that’s for damn sure.
But this guy, he allowed them to be all-consuming. They interfered with his relationships, they kept him from volunteering for extra hours at work, they got in the way of him succeeding at life.
When he started going back to school, everyone thought he was getting his crap in gear, but he hadn’t. While education might have helped him out of his seemingly dead-end job, the didn’t have the habits in place to make that work.
However, if he’d adjusted his habits in the first place, he might have taken on a few extra shifts at work when they were offered, thus proving to his employer that he was a valuable asset. That might have made him a better candidate for the admittedly few promotions available. It would have also made it easier for him to support himself all on his own.
Then, when he returned to school, he would have had at least that one habit out of the way so he could then focus on his studies. He might have also met a nice girl who would support and help him through all the hard work.
When I looked at my son, I was like that young man. I had bad habits in place that kept getting in the way of my efforts. To make matters worse, they were coupled with attitudes that made it easy to keep those habits in place.
You see, I didn’t like to work. I preferred to stay home and watch TV, read, sleep, do anything other than work. A bad, boring day at home was preferable to a day doing something I didn’t particularly like to do.
Because of that, it was hard to keep jobs and I was constantly finding myself unemployed.
So, the first thing I did was try to recognize why that was the case. This is difficult. Self-reflection is hard because what we see is usually what we want to see, so it takes some time.
Part of my issue was that I didn’t really love what I was doing and I wasn’t really qualified for anything. I was mostly just unskilled labor. Because of that, I would start a job with a good attitude and ready to attack the work, but then become very bored and disheartened, which led to me calling in to avoid a job I didn’t like.
So, what I did was I started doing temp work. Now, this wasn’t a conscious decision on my part. It was mostly a case of needing to work and my mother being a staffing rep at Manpower here in town.
Because it was temp work, I did a lot of different tasks, and while my issues still crept up from time to time, Manpower also allowed me to learn skills at their office and test on those. Before long, I left the industrial side–which is where unskilled labor is uniformly assigned–and went to the clerical side.
Office work suited me much better, and it was a little easier for me to find some joy in my work. It still wasn’t ideal, but it was better. I had several jobs go permanent, but my problems were still in place.
Luckily, Manpower was still happy with me because the problems happened after I went permanent. They didn’t judge me for that, and not just because Mom worked there.
Eventually, I landed a sweet job that was kind of perfect for me. For six years, I worked for a company called Jacobs. It wasn’t glamorous work, but it was with the Department of Defense during wartime, which filled a need in me to help my nation. The pay was also insane at the time, which was awesome.
At this point, my habit was changing. I was at work far more often, though I still called out more than I should have. However, I found what I needed. I need a job where someone wasn’t hovering over me, where the attitude was basically, “Do what we need done, when we need it done, and we’ll leave you alone.”
It was kind of perfect.
When I bought my newspaper, that ramped things up. Now, I couldn’t call in sick. There was no one to call. There was nothing to do but work.
Oh, if you were really sick, you could take a day off, but guess what? All that work would still be there for you the next day. You were going to feel like crap either way, so you might as well get to work and feel like crap while accomplishing something.
Today, I work my ass off. My wife can tell you about how hard I work. I’ve successfully broken that old habit.
But here’s the thing.
Changing habits isn’t easy or quick. They say it takes 21 days to change a habit. I think that’s bull. I think it takes a lot longer to change one. I think 21 days is a pie-in-the-sky estimate of establishing a new habit from scratch. Maybe.
But changing one can take years.
The thing is, changing a bad habit, cleansing it from your entire existence, isn’t just beneficial, it’s essential. Then, you find another one and do it all over again. And again. And again.
I mean, unless you’re interested in being someone you might not like all that much.