Growing up John

This article is part of the PPSA Online Magazine
by John Johnson
Volume 7 Number 2 - Winter 1994

[ goto the photo pages ]

We all have demons to exercise. I have my share too. I guess that part of knowing how to become a better person is to understand how other people view me and what made me the way I am. I was bored the other night and started writing. Trying to identify my demons. Don't expect everything to be written up here, some demons can't be let out in public. But suffice it to say that I feel I have a handle on things. If you want to talk about specifics, email me. Please realize that I am intending to be critical here, I'm usually a much more laid back person.

So I started to make a list of my demons...

  • I seek out problems/conflict so I can lose and blame it on something external.
  • I obsess on people, things, circumstances, ideas.
  • I want to control the world around me.
  • I am often lazy, hiding from responsibility. Wallowing in my own problems. Self absorbed.
  • I am afraid to live. I am afraid to take risks in order to live.
  • I make too many excuses.
  • I imagine there is Shangri La at the end of the road. I put off living until the circumstances are ideal.
  • I ramble too much...
My life has been a progression of reasons and rationalizations for not living. It all comes down to my own insecurities and fear. I am an appologist and a victim by choice. I've settled into a rut and I only change when I have to. I want the best, but I can't afford it so I don't get anything. I don't do the things I like because I don't have friends there to enjoy it with me. I want to be in control of a situation, and when I can't be I give up or supress my feelings and play the martyr.

When I was a boy, I had a hard time fitting in socially. I was too cocky and full of myself. I don't want to totally put myself down though. I was a creative and caring boy. I just scared people off with my attitude at times. I didn't know any better. I always seemed to have a group of friends though. When I could, I assumed a leadership role. It gave me power. I couldn't deal with people well as equals, although I wanted to. I either felt a lack of control, or I felt I didn't fit in. I guess I was paranoid - I imagined people would talk about me when I wasn't there - I felt excluded. I felt like an observer, an outsider. I chose not to try because I might be rejected. I didn't try to date much, because I feared this rejection. Success was less important to me than not being rejected. So I hid behind a facade of jokes and self-deprecation. I figured that when I was older I'd have more control, and then I'd have fun.

In college I learned that when there was a lot of stress, or when I couldn't fully grasp a subject that I could avoid the stress by giving up in advance. I wouldn't accept the chance of failure, instead I would chose to fail up front. I just wouldn't take the exam. It gave me more control, or so I thought. Sometimes this would give me a reason to blame someone or some external circumstance. It wasn't my fault - I could just release the problem this way and feel better. In the end I always felt guilty. In order to compensate for this feeling of guilt, I would either spend money or deny myself something. In a way these would both accomplish the same thing. Spending money meant going further into debt. I would buy some material trinket that I didn't need and then I wouldn't have the money to do or buy something that I really needed. Either that or I figured that some day in the future, when I had to pay back the loans, I would be able to accept responsibility for these actions. Then I would be a solid, well-grounded adult. I deluded myself.

I thought that someday, when I graduated, I would have the money to do the things that I wanted. I would have a safe job with special friends around. I could put off living, really enjoying life until then. Sure, from time to time I would take a road trip with a friend. My friends and my road trips were my one saving grace. When I finally did graduate from college I still didn't know what to do with my life - so I went to graduate school. It was the path of least resistance.

Eventually I attained the highest degree I could, a Ph.D. in physics. Nuclear physics at that. In a way I picked a degree that was very difficult, it made me suffer more. I felt good about understanding such a difficult topic, but I further isolated myself by chosing a field that had a stigma attached. I wanted to fit in, but I moved away from the mainstream by becoming the stereotypical geek. Maybe subconciously it was my way of withdrawing and protecting myself from being hurt. Maybe I really did like science, and I am just being critical of myself. I certainly didn't do it for the job security. After graduation I took a convenient postdoc. I didn't have to relocate. It was the easiest thing to do. And it wasn't an altogether bad move, except that it kept me in a town where my social ineptitude wasn't noticed because everyone was socially stunted.

The money was tight, and no job offers were forthcoming. I decided that I would pay off the 10 years of student debt I had incurred before I started to live. I couldn't take chances, because I needed the security of a regular paycheck. Friends came and went and I dealt with the guilt of not getting enough money, not being thin enough or pretty enough, not being a good enough friend by letting people take advantage of me. I made friends with people that I liked superficially. I had very close friends before that I felt I had let down, I messed up special relationships so now I sought out friends without trying to have relationships. I didn't want a commitment. My new friends were too young to identify with on a personal level, so we concentrated on having fun. I was reliving my lost youth, or so I thought. I could buy their friendship, I could feel important. These friendships eventually all disapeared. There was no real basis to them and I didn't feel bad when they ended. Some of the times were good. I was a good friend and I meant well. But these friendships were not meant to last. They were only to fill up the emptiness and pass time until I had a real job - then I could have real friends. Only then would I make friends who would care about me. My whole life had been based on this premise, that someday I would arrive in this Shangri La - some utopian world where the circumstances would be right. I have always given a lot to a relationship, but I rarely felt the other person gave as much back. I truly cared about my special friends. I did special things for them. Sure, some of them weren't ready for a real relationship like that, and I should have recognized that. What I really wanted was a soul mate. A lover. Someone who could accept me for who I was. But how could I expect that of someone else when I couldn't or wouldn't do that myself? I viewed my world through a veil of selfishness, paranoia and obsession. My emotions were misguided and misplaced. I saw myself as a martyr. But I was just making myself the victim. I was confused. I hurt myself, but in the end I think I was a good friend.

In time I have become more cynical. I have hidden behind jokes and sarcasm. I've gone through various phases in my life, trying to grow up. My view of the world has evolved. I realize now that I am in control of my life, and that I can't wait for some future in which everything is perfect before I start living. I need to respect myself and maybe even like myself. I need to take some chances. Maybe I have been forced into this position because of the circumstances. Maybe my friends have helped me to better accept who I am. Maybe I'm getting older and I'm plain scared of missing out on something.

I am 31 years old and I don't have a wife and three kids. I don't live in a nice house in the suburbs with a white picket fence. I don't have a dog and I don't carpool to work. My life isn't like I thought it would be by now. I always expected that life would lead me to some safe and special place where I would fit in; where I would feel secure and protected. When I was a child I had a great deal of security and I could imagine my future. As I grew up, it was that security that I longed for again. Back then, the next day was always close to what I expected it to be. At some point, after moving away to college - after leaving the nest, as it were - the future became murky. By the time I went to defend my Ph.D. thesis all I could see was blackness. The future was a total crapshoot. I had serious doubts as to whether I would graduate. I felt like a fake who was in danger of being exposed.

A little more than two years later and I still feel confused about what the future holds. But I know that it will work out. It isn't important that I know the details, just that I have the right attitude. My friends help me there. Even though I don't have many friends near me physically, I talk to them often. And I try to be there for them as well. They help me to deal with difficult times, and I check to make sure that they are hanging in there. When I am close to going "postal" they pull me back from the edge.

I am still a postdoc, and I don't have a "real" job, but I know that I have useful skills and I'll find something. I still have a lot of debt, but I'm making progress on reducing it. I guess my debt is really my only real responsibility these days. If I didn't owe as much money, or at least if my monthly payments were less, I could pick up and move and try new things with less concern. But maybe that's just my rationalizing. I still feel guilty and undeserving at times, and I still feel angst over all the little problems in my life. But I know that all this will dramatically change in the next year. If I don't find a job, I will have to start working for myself. Finding piecemeal work. I'll move to a city, near friends, where there's work. I'll even make new friends and have a social life. Whether I find fame and fortune isn't as important as having friends along for the ride. My good friends are my anchors. No matter what the circumstances, they provide my frame of reference. It took me a long time to realize that.

Now I see that road-trips aren't events that provide relief from a boring life. Life itself is a road-trip, and every day is an adventure. I know that sounds corny, but it's true. I can't let the little things bother me - I just have to do the best that I can. I need to look forward instead of dwelling on the past. As long as I have good friends whom I trust and care about the journey will remain more important than the final destination.

I just scanned in some pictures of me as a kid. Just so you don't think I was abused or had too rotten of a time growing up. I did have a lot of fun along the way. I just realized that things can't always be planned and life isn't like the movies. Click here if you want to take a look.

Last Updated 04/14/95.© 1996 PPSA