I haven’t been posting as frequently recently, through a combination of being overly busy and because I have been noodling on a new territory of self-scrutiny. Get ready of a long, circuitous and somewhat odd post.
One of the aspects of maintenance that I struggle the most with is the following thought in the recesses of my mind: that any day I will receive the following notice:
Dear Mr. Kirchhoff,
We have reviewed our records, and it has come to our attention that your visa in our beautiful country has expired. You are now in violation of our laws, and we are beginning steps to have you immediately deported.
Thanks for visiting us.
The citizens of Thin-landia.
That’s right. I am afraid that I will be discovered as an intruder and not a native citizen of the land of naturally thin people. Now they want to send me back to where I came from, Heavyopolis.
Who Am I?
Over the past couple of years, I have taken an interest in studying up on Buddhist philosophy and it’s intersection with psychology. Light reading, right? Given their history of spending the last 3,000 years pondering and analyzing why people think what we think, I find the Buddhist perspective to be a fascinating one. One concept I have been particularly intrigued by has been “reification”.
What is the definition of reification? From Wikipedia:
Reification (also known as concretism, or the fallacy of misplaced concreteness) is a fallacy of ambiguity, when an abstraction (abstract belief or hypothetical construct) is treated as if it were a concrete, real event, or physical entity. In other words, it is the error of treating as a "real thing" something which is not a real thing, but merely an idea.
Buddhists would tell us two things: 1) this so-called self is not really real and that it is full of distorted thinking and self-misconceptions and 2) the process of then clinging to it ultimately makes us miserable. They then go into their fundamental belief that there is no “self” and that we are all inter-connected beings struggling with the same basic stresses and sufferings. People and things all change, and clinging to something or some self-image as permanent is fraught with frustration. Their point is to suggest that the only path to happiness is to have compassion for our fellow planet-mate and to let go of our notion of this fake self.
At this point, it would be totally fair for you to say some combination of the following: 1) “Dave, thanks for your attempt to compress an incredibly intricate philosophical framework in a paragraph, and doing it in an only marginally accurate way.” 2) “Dave, this makes my head hurt”, 3) “Dave, you are a strange man. BTW, can I borrow some Patchouli oil?” or finally 4) “Dave, what does this have to do with your weight?”
My social and professional self-portrait gallery
As I wallow in self-examination, I realize that over my life I have periodically constructed identities/portraits of myself and that I have assumed to be true and set in stone…
- When I was very young: “I am not a smart person.” I am slightly dyslexic, and I very much struggled throughout much of elementary school. I assumed that others were much smarter and that my life would be somehow limited.
- Middle school: “I am not a foxy guy.” What can I say? I was really tall and really skinny, and I had a face that looked like a pepper spray assault. I didn’t help that I wore fashion-backward Toughskin jeans from Sears, and that I only had one eyebrow. I was cute girl anti-matter. I did receive a consolation prize: I somehow found a way to manage through my dyslexia, and I started getting good grades.
- College: “I’m a slacker.” My skin had long since cleared up, and I gained enough body mass to no longer be a flight risk in a stiff breeze. I also learned how to make one eyebrow turn into two. Enjoying my new found status as a normal and socially activated person, I settled in for the identity of town idiot. It was hard to find me without a beer in my hand, and I was not a model student. I kind of assumed that I would ultimately end up being a fun guy with an uninteresting career.
- Work: “I’m a hard worker, running from my past.” I eventually got a little fed up with playing a supporting role in a college hijinks movie, and I found my work ethic again. I worked my rear off in graduate school, and I somehow finagled my way into a job at a fancy consulting firm. I have always thought it completely ridiculous that they took me in, so I worked my tail off there too. Interestingly, my general feeling of being an unworthy imposter has been a useful source of fuel in my professional development. Now, I am the CEO of a public company, and let me assure you, I wait everyday for the imposter police to storm into my office and shoo me back from whence I came. All I can do to avert it is to work hard and do the best that I can to serve my company, the people that work for there and the members and mission that it serves.
As I look back, my education and professional development has been impacted by seeing myself in a particular way and assuming that however I developed would be temporary because I was deviating from some “true self”. I have continued to assume that the citizens of the country of Successville will ultimately cast me off their island because I wasn’t born there.
My weight and body image self-portrait gallery
My weight and body image have interesting parallels to my professional development. My body can be comprised of three phases of identity:
- Emaciated man: this was the period of age 4 to 17 in which I was disturbingly thin. Ribs could be counted and weight could not be gained. Ichabod Crane was I.
- Big man: this is the period of age 21 to age 34 in which I gained roughly 70 pounds at peak from where I was at age 17. I became a big guy who was doomed to clean his plate of giant food as well as whatever was left on his neighbor’s plate (even if those leftovers were at a different table in the restaurant).
- Temporarily fit man: this is age 35 to present. This is the period in which I have been nursing my weight loss, becoming a pretty diligent exercise person as well as a reasonably careful eater. I say “temporary” because I think I still assume that I am “big man” underneath this temporary state. I assume that it is in my nature to eat compulsively because that is “who I am”.
So here is my point. There is no firmly defined “me”. I am a collection of choices that I make each day, and I am constantly evolving, growing and changing. I am not bound by who I was when I was age 7, 17, 21, or 34. I am not bound by who I am today. I can make choices each day that are wholly divorced from choices I made 10, 15 or 20 years ago. I can either be unbound with a world full of possibilities and growth or I can calcify.
I am fortunate to live in a country of immigrants. We all came from some place else, even the Pilgrims. Our future can be defined only by the choices we make going forward.
Therefore, in response to the citizens of Thinlandia, I think I might stick around a while. I have extended my visa, and I think I’m going to apply for permanent residence.