I’ve had this column in my head for some time. I knew what needed to be said and what needed to be read.
And then came an unexpected death – and the urgency and poignancy of this message has ratchetted many clicks upward.
A friend I’ve known for decades took his life last week for no apparent reason, with no note left behind and a family and host of friends having no clue why.
A man loved by so many, respected in his field. A man who – overcoming obstacles when young – built a solid, sound family and career.
Gone. One click. Over and out.
Somewhere, something inside him must have been grinding away. Something he felt he could not overcome. Perhaps a fear of a future event – his family has a terrible health history of cancer.
Perhaps something in his past gnawed away and he could not shake it. Perhaps he no longer felt good enough or “worthy” enough or capable enough. He felt he couldn’t go on.
There is so much tragedy here.
Self-assessment is a relative thing. It’s personal. If we’re sufficiently sentient we calibrate our performance and behaviors based on the norms we accept as good and fair and worthy in our society.
The norms can be physical appearance and condition, financial worth and earning ability, solidarity of family and friends, educational achievement, and all the behaviors and experiences and ups and downs that all add up over the course of a life of 30, 40, 60 years. Or 80, if we’re so lucky.
We can be so hard on ourselves when we miss the mark. We can be ashamed of those times we’ve fallen short of our own expectations. We can self-shame over the goals we’ve failed to achieve, the desires we didn’t quite realize – the way we wanted to be versus the way we are.
Self-assessment is usually a good thing, and the best of us use it to guide ourselves toward the achievements we seek. But taken too far, continuous self-berating over past performance short circuits our intentions and holds us back.
We can, (and too many do) define ourselves by our past failures – leading to more of the same.
We are better than our past mistakes. We should learn from them but never self-define by them, never allow them to overcome us with overbearing shame, guilt and depression.
This holiday season, accept a gift that can change your life: Accept the gift of reassessment. Accept the gift of recalibration.
Let go of past problems, and once and for all, clear your head to accept all the good things before us. Know that we all fall short, we all goof up, we all will always have disappointments, hardships, bad breaks and mistakes. It’s OK. Now, let’s move ahead.
The best lessons I’ve learned in life have also turned out to be the toughest. It turns out those very hardest things that discouraged me most are also the refining fires that have made my present and future possible.
But for too long it’s been hard to forgive myself for all the too-many mistakes and shortcomings. I’ve dwelled on them; I’ve beaten myself up over them. I can see that the past has too much held me back – yet I suspect if we’re honest, we all have similar stories.
The long “Great Recession” very nearly killed my business and literally nearly killed me from the stress. Could I have made better choices? Seen the future more clearly? Held on tighter, managed better?
I can second-guess until the end of my life.
My daughter’s near-death experience in India: It ended well, but did it have to happen at all? I could have accompanied her down the street and she never would have been hit by the vehicle. I could have watched her closer as a cautious dad. Yet we did save her life in the end.
My kids have seen me at my best, but sadly, they’ve also seen me at some of my worst. It’s been 60 years of living and I’d take a few of those days back if I could.
I’m telling my story here, but we all have our own. There’s great weight behind our lives, and if we let it, that weight will overtake us and hold us back. For many, it leads to depression, and for some, it leads to suicide.
This Christmas, I’m giving myself the gift of reassessment. Of recalibration of who I am and what I’ve achieved and where I want to go next.
This may sound like “feel good psychology,” but it’s really just getting healthy for our future.
This holiday, give yourself the gift of forgiveness. Reassesses yourself for the best you’ve done and know that’s who you are.
Hold yourself up to your better and best behaviors and don’t let the mistakes blur your way forward. Enjoy all the goodness for all that’s there to have, and do your best to make it better.
Merry Christmas (we can say that now, I hear) and let’s celebrate all the good and goodness around us.
Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesdays in The Signal.