40 Things I’ve Learned Over 40 Years: Freeing Myself From Emotional Baggage

1999 was by far one of the most fun years of my life. From going to see silly comedies like Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me at the movie theater on multiple occasions to carefree days of playing basketball and working at Best Buy, I was having a great time. You could even top it off with the awesome Shania Twain concerts I went to. The songs on the radio were amazing, the sun was shining brightly, and the overall vibe in the world was fun. With all of that said, personally, within my heart and soul, there was something else going on. Something I somewhat pushed down and didn’t face head on until many years later. For all of the fun I was having, I actually felt kind of lost.

I started 1999 by dropping out of college. In hindsight, I think this was inevitable. It had nothing to do with my grades and I wasn’t feeling pressured at school or by anybody personally. I just didn’t know what to do with myself. One minute I was on the Dean’s List and the next minute I was waking up first thing in the morning in order to clean our local Best Buy store before it opened. A job I actually won employee of the month for, but not exactly the most fulfilling position. The work ethic was there. The desire to be a better version of myself was burning within. The problem wasn’t my ability or my desire to be a success. It was all mental.

How Did I Get There?

My belief is that most things in life don’t just happen for no reason. I almost feel as if many people approach their lives with that mentality. I choose not to do that. For many of the things that have happened, I can trace it back to something I did or experienced. In my case, I think there are a few things that happened to me that lead to me dropping out of college and working at Best Buy. While I believe I am responsible for my own actions, you can’t always help how your environment influences you. In my case, I always felt like my personality was at odds with everything else around me. To be even more honest about it, I think I needed counseling. I needed somebody out there who could provide me with what I needed. It’s amazing I even wound up where I am today. Especially considering the fact that that help never came my way.

I had no say in where I went to college. I knew what I wanted to do, but was told to go somewhere else and just “get a fucking business degree”. I started off my college career taking a math course that didn’t even count towards my credits. That’s how bad I was at math. Couldn’t anybody see that a career involving numbers wasn’t for me? I knew myself better than most others. It took me until I dropped out before I was given the freedom to pick my own path. By that point, those words of discouragement, among many other things going on were a huge mental block.

I always had a very difficult time making friends. I barely made any at the college I went to in the late 90’s. Most of my closest high school friends were already off working in the “real world” during the day and were having fun doing pretty crazy things at night. They were my friends, but I just didn’t want to be apart of whatever they were doing. Finding likeminded people to associate with seemed like an impossible feat. I was a lonely, one man gang of goofy, nerdy fun. I had all of the desire in the world to grow, form solid relationships, and have fun, but had no idea of how to get where I wanted to go.

Late 90’s Taboos

So what does all of this mean to me today? Frankly, in hindsight, I should have done what I ultimately decided to do about 5 years ago: talk to a psychiatrist. To this day, even though we live in a much more open and accepting society, I still cringe at the thought of saying something like this out loud or in print. If there is one thing I was taught while growing up it’s that all psychiatrist and mental health professionals are crazy people who can’t help you. They will lead you down the wrong path and advise you to think and act in bizarre ways. Frankly, I’m sure there are some professionals out there who are like that. However, that wasn’t my experience at all. More than anything, I wish I had done it much, much, much sooner.

Up until I moved out on my own, I was lacking a lot of confidence. I knew I had a lot to give, but didn’t think the world viewed me the same way. Once I made it to a local college I wanted to go to, I wound up dropping out a few more times anyway. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to be there, it was because I didn’t believe in myself. Years of teachers writing me off, classmates looking down at me, people in general acting indifferently, and people who could be verbally abusive was a hard mental block to overcome. I felt so out of place in general. I just felt like I didn’t belong. Perhaps all of the years of relying on myself for entertainment, encouragement, etc were the cause of it all. I had no real support system around to give me what I needed. I had to figure it out for myself.

By the time I did get to see a psychiatrist, I learned that I had overcome some of the obstacles in my life. In other ways I needed assurance that many of the things that had happened to me weren’t my fault. Sure, at the end of the day, I have to take some responsibility for the fact that I didn’t graduate from college until 2005. I have to take some of the blame for the failure of my first marriage. It’s not always the other person’s fault. However, the one thing that was beat into my brain with a metaphorical baseball bat is that most things actually were my fault. I was raised to take on that mentality. Talking about my life with an unbiased mental professional was the breakthrough I needed to get over those mental barriers.

What Does It All Mean Today?

Freeing myself of emotional baggage took many years to do and it took a lot of hard work. Frankly, I don’t know how I’ve come so far in life. I spent most of the time not talking about my problems and not leaning on others for support or help. When people ask me how I became so resourceful and so mentally strong, all I have to do is look back on all of the stuff I had to endure. I don’t wish that on anybody, but I do think a little adversity in life can help humble a person and can make them more determined to reach their full potential in life. Those of us who have some of these gifts without adversity are truly blessed. I’ve come to find that most of us probably need to overcome some stuff in order to see life the way I do today.

My advice is this: if you feel lost, trapped, or held back in any way, go talk to somebody about it. Whether it’s a teacher, guidance counselor, a counseling hotline, website, etc, whatever it is, go talk to somebody about it. It took me many years to get over this mental block and my judgmental attitude towards mental health professionals. I was lucky enough to figure out a lot of parts of my life without any help, but it took many years or trial and error to do it. It took dropping out of school multiple times, feeling trapped and obligated to stay at home when I shouldn’t have, working at places like a woodworking factory on 3rd shift, etc before I saw a breakthrough and experience any type of lift in my confidence. It doesn’t have to happen to you too.

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