Workaholic. It definitely is something to be. But it is not the right thing to be. It is one of the things that led to my fiery burnout a few years ago.
My body and mind are as ripe for it as a newly tilled field in the spring. New business. The challenge. The rush. The way it can push everything else outside of my head. The escapism.
It is also a part of who I have to be. Business owner. Income earner.
And it is exciting. I do enjoy what I do. I enjoy seeing the results of what I am doing every day. I’m engaging in a profession that I am good at it. It really is exhilarating.
But I know it can bring the emptiness back. I know where this path leads.
How I not return to that place I was a few years ago?
By allowing the parts of who I am to grow as well.
Episode 32: Something to Be
Welcome back to the podcast! Thanks for joining me. I’m your host, Christopher Gajewski.
Let’s unmask mental illness!
With the last episode, Rob Thomas got back into my head, so he’ll be joining us again this week. I really do need to find a way to get in touch with him. We’ll also be joined by one of my favorite writers, LE Modesitt Jr.
Thomas’ first solo effort, vastly underrated in my opinion, is the title of this podcast. Something to Be. It is also the answer to a question. Modesitt helps answer the question as well.
I’ve been struggling. Starting a new business is like a vortex for me, pulling me in. I’m a workaholic. It would be sort of like a recently recovering alcoholic buying a bar. Too much temptation. Far too much temptation.
There are 100,000 things to do when starting a business and I want to get them all done all at once. I need to get them all done all at once. I think anybody in my profession has to be borderline something or another, if not fully across the border. OCD, control freak, perfectionist, something. It has the tendency to not leave room for much else. In my case, the pressure of not having room for anything else creates a pressure in my skull.
The pressure can immobilize me, even when I have extra time to do whatever I want. Not doing anything creates a feedback loop, a distortion, that creates even more pressure. It is one of the things that led to my fiery burnout years ago.
A very long time ago on the podcast, I talked about getting into an episode about professional burnout. It was in one of my first few episodes. Well, I’m finally getting around to it.
Before getting into the episode, the important stuff: I just want to remind everybody that I am not a psychologist, psychiatrist, therapist, or any kind of professional with an –ist at the end of their title. I am just a guy who has been there.
If you are in crisis, or know somebody who is, I implore you to reach out to a professional. In the United States, there is now a national hotline you can call or text. 988.
I’ll repeat that because it bears repeating. If you or someone you know is in crisis, I implore you to reach out to a professional. Dialing or texting 988 in the US will put you in touch with a crisis counselor instantly.
Now, let’s get into the episode.
First off, to any of my investors or business accounts that might listen to this, I’m okay. Really. It’s not the “I’m okay” when I’m really not from previous episodes, it’s an authentic “I’m okay.”
But that is one of the things that is creating pressure on me.
It was very easy to be me, something to be, all of me, when I was not a business owner. As I spoke about in the previous episode, it was easy to be an author and a mental health advocate when I was unemployed in Tijuana. Not only did I have the time to do it, but there was no fear of having the stigma attached to me.
The stigma is very real. When I first started this podcast, I burst out of the closet in a big way, talking about depression, suicide, PTSD, anxiety disorder and all kinds of things that scare the living hell out of people. Hell, I had the trumpet line like you see in the old medieval movies announcing me.
When I first began coming out about it, I immediately started running into odd stares and people shifting away from me. Me being me, it just led to me adding another line of trumpeters and telling them to up the volume and put some swing into it.
Aye, I was planning on killing myself. What the hell did I care? There is a certain amount of freedom, a huge amount, in not giving a shit anymore. When I shifted away from the plan to kill myself and into the role of a mental health advocate, I still didn’t give a shit. That was the entire point: to talk about these things and be open about things to encourage others to do the same. To live life out loud instead of quietly in desperation.
There are a lot of misconceptions about mental illness. There is a lot of stigma attached.
The fear really started to worm its way into me when I was living in Tijuana. At 51, I was unemployed for the largest stretch of my life. I have a killer resume. I was considered one of the top people in my field. I couldn’t find work.
Did it have anything to do with my LinkedIn profile and the posts about mental health? Aye, it’s a real enough question.
I did hear that one of my investors pulled out, maybe two, when they researched my posts on Facebook. I think the mental illness posts scared them away.
“Don’t worry about it,” Bryan said, my main investor and business manager, “I got this covered. You be you.” Now, he gets after me for not doing weekly podcasts because he knows it a part of my healing journey.
He’s got 23 years sobriety I think (27?) and is very open about it. I’m not quite falling off the wagon and then running to catch back up. It is more like I fall off, get something caught on the bumper, and get drug along for a mile or two before I clamber back up.
The last thing that is going to happen is burning out again and seeing the wagon far away in the distance. I’ve learned too much. And I have help. I guess Bryan is my sponsor.
I need to figure out, though, why I burned out in the first place. There were many things going on. Professional burnout played a heavy role in what happened to me. How did I get there and how do I not go back there? More importantly now, how do I be me, all of me, the best version of me?
Well, it started out the other night, Friday night. The 100,000 things to do when starting a business have been whittled down to a much more manageable 8,549. I knew I was there, and it was time to start putting the plan into place that Bryan and I spoke about when I first moved back up here. Work, the business, is Monday through Friday, wake-up until about 3PM. That’s my 50 hours or so. After 3 and weekends is all about the other parts of me, the balance.
I swore that when I woke up on Saturday, I would not touch anything to do with work.
So, of course, when I woke up on Saturday, I did a little bit of work, catching up on some emails. I felt myself bouncing along behind the wagon, being drug, as I signed the last email, and then I clambered back onto the wagon.
Aye, what can I say? It’s a work in progress.
But then I closed out of the email, with other work things tickling my mind, pushed them away, recentered, and finally opened up the file my editor sent me a long time ago. I got back to work on my book.
It was a glorious morning, just reading, writing and editing.
Then, I bumped along behind the wagon again as I made my way to Staples when they opened to pick up a few things for the business.
Did I mention it’s a work in progress?
I worked on the book for a bit more and then really started thinking about this podcast. I haven’t been doing too much with it. That was expected. This really takes a lot of effort. I’ve always said it is like having a part time job that doesn’t pay anything. The emotional effort is huge as well. I pour myself into this. The only way to do it right is to be completely and totally vulnerable.
To do the podcast, I need to get metaphorically naked. I didn’t have a problem with that in Tijuana. Here, in Philly, starting a business? I can feel a pressure against it. That pressure combines with the time and energy investment. Do I make this my last podcast?
That’s about when Rob Thomas came in and urged me up on stage to do some karaoke.
I don’t want to hear about love no more
I don’t want to talk about how I feel
I don’t want to be me no more
But I do. Rob is urging me through the next lines and then the chorus…
I’ve been looking for something
Something I’ve never seen
We’re all looking for something
Something to be
Each podcast is about 4,000 words or so. That’s easy. I can give you 4,000 words on any topic at any time. Go ahead: get me started on a tangent. You’ll shut me up after about 50,000 words. Or try to.
But there is more to it. For one thing, there is the entire getting naked and being vulnerable part. To do that, I need to shut out everybody and everything. I need to maintain a detachment to all things, like a LinkedIn profile.
The real time and effort comes from research, looking for triggers. Rob can’t be there to help me all the time. Something needs to trigger the podcast. It’s not really hard; it is just about exploring myself and the web. LinkedIn actually. There is always a lot of information on there in certain groups, non-orthodontic related. I find triggers, inspiration, in posts and articles. I don’t even have to think about how it relates to myself. The right one just wraps itself inside of my head and begins squeezing out thoughts and ideas.
I’ve been moving away from those posts and groups as I concentrated on my business. I now have a ton of article and video ideas on orthodontics. Aye, it was what I had to do.
And that’s how I got into trouble before.
My business partner sucked, but I was doing okay. He was an employee, but I had managed to get everything under control with my own employee work and fiduciary duties. I thought I could finally start being a writer again.
I remember it clearly, though I forget exactly when it happened. About ten years after starting the business, I dove off a high cliff aiming directly towards the wagon that could take me to where I could be something. Be me.
I had good aim. Damn good aim. I was heading right for it. That’s about when the technological tsunami hit my industry. Instead of hitting the wagon, I hit the wave and was carried away. I was soon doing my employee work and the business management work, but I was also learning technology. Fast. I pretty much had to teach myself how to be a mechanical engineer with an expertise in 3D printing and software.
Long story, but I rode that wave into professional burnout. It was a hell of a ride, a rush, exciting…until it wasn’t anymore. The tsunami wave finally crashed and left me on a beach, exhausted and hurting.
LE Modesitt Jr is sitting in the audience. After I get done my turn at karaoke, he takes out his ear plugs, and says, “You forgot about Lerris.”
I have to nod in agreement.
As I’ve said many times, I’ll take my truths anywhere I can find them. Many of my truths did not come from holy books or books of wisdom. They come from the oddest places, like the movie, “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.”
Be excellent to each other!
Mr. Modesitt is a fantasy fiction author. I picked up his first book a very long time ago. It’s remains one of my favorites, The Fires of Paratime. In his Recluse Saga though, with Lerris the main character of the first couple books and a few others, I found a lot of truths.
Talk about attention to detail. I think you can actually use Mr. Modesitt’s books to learn trades like carpentry and metal work. I found a lot of truths in there. I would later put it together that his magic system in the universe is based upon systems theory, one of my soapbox issues. But I could dive deep into Recluse and lose myself and find pieces of myself. I’d forget though.
“What did Lerris learn,” Mr. Modesitt asks. “One of the first lessons he learned from Justin?”
Rob and I pull up chairs to sit with him. I need to explain it all to Rob who may or may not have read the books, but you need a little background for any of this to make sense.
Long story short, Lerris is a young mage who is exiled to go find himself. He meets with an older mage, who later turns out to be his uncle, after an encounter with a chaos wizard that he barely escapes from. The older mage, Justin, takes Lerris under his wing and starts teaching him order magic.
The chaos wizard–I forget his name–is looking for someone exactly like Lerris, a young, inexperienced mage who has power but cannot protect himself. Chaos wizards extend their lives by taking over the bodies of others with power and transferring their identities into them.
–this really does all relate to the podcast and professional burnout.
Justin explains that the only way he can teach Lerris how to defend himself is by showing him.
Justin enters Lerris’ mind. Lerris’ mind is fogged. Swirling fog is all that he sees and knows. He gets lost. Justin is taking over his mind and body. Lerris is losing himself.
Then, he remembers what Justin had tried to explain to him.
“I am me,” he starts thinking. “I am Lerris!”
By concentrating on his identity, who he was, he was able to shatter the fog and really do a number on Justin–who was really a good guy trying to teach.
Yeah, it’s easy for me to get lost in that fog. It’s even easier for me to get comfortable in it. That’s where the pressures puts me. I forget who I am and embrace it. I lose myself in fantasy fiction books, strip clubs, and other assorted unhealthy coping mechanisms. The easiest thing for me to get lost in is work.
Aye, it is fun starting a business. Building the foundation is much like the lessons taught about other trades in Mr. Modesitt’s books. It is easy to get lost in the details. Details and feedback from potential customers lead to other projects.
Feedback from business people and other lab owners also has my Philly attitude up. I’m being challenged. Battle! –like in the John Travolta film, Michael.
My deal with Bryan and the other investors was a very simple one. The investment money has to carry me and the business until it becomes self-sufficient, can sustain both the business and my salary. With the investors that pulled out, I was told that is impossible. A start up, I’ve been told, will never be self-sufficient until maybe after the first year. I’m planning on doing it in months.
Other lab owners have my back up, the infantry really combining with the Philly. The plan was to just build a small, little business, operated and run by myself, to make money while I work on my personal projects. I’m pursuing ideas I had years ago when the technological shift occurred in my industry. I’m stepping on toes.
Some who got my old accounts have their panties in a twist about me approaching them. That pisses me off. Another challenge. Another battle. I was there long before you. Hell, I taught many of you how to get there. My small, little business unfolded in my mind to become a national lab. It’s not that hard to do it with what I know and what I can put together, how to approach offices and staff, how to educate them on how to integrate the new technology to improve their bottom line and open new avenues of revenue. I have over 35 years experience and expertise at this. Hell, parts of my plan intersects with the “Mental Health Advocate” label.
I’m stepping on your toes? Bullshit. This is my stage. I own it. Your toes are on the stage because I allowed it while taking a sabbatical. I’m back now, to rock it…
John Travolta is smiling his Michael battle smile. Rob Thomas and LE Modesitt Jr are facepalming and shaking their heads.
I’ve been looking for something
Something I’ve never seen
We’re all looking for something
Something to be
Who am I? What do I want to be? How do I get there? How do I fight the forces of the vortex pulling me in, down, to the label of “workaholic” that burned me out?
It is so damn easy, and it is so damn hard. It is like last night, Saturday night, and not allowing myself to allow the repulsion from the vortex to tumble me into a bar or other unhealthy coping mechanism. It was about sitting down and working on this podcast. Working on the book a little bit. Then, I did what I rarely am able to do. I watched a movie before going to bed.
The pressures of so many things are building. I pushed them aside yesterday and did something that brings me so much joy: I spent time with my 2 1/2-year-old nephew.
Before my burnout and after I separated from my wife, Thursday night became strip club night. The atmosphere, dancing, touch and illusion of intimacy was a balm for me. An escape. My new work schedule, and my new sleep schedule, makes it impossible. Friday or Saturday night instead?
Thursday night is now Anne and Michael night. Anne, my sister, makes dinner. She wants to try to impress me or something. We ordered out a few times. I didn’t like it. So, I asked for what I really wanted: something simple.
Last Thursday was one of my favorites: Hamburger Helper Beef Stroganoff. This past Thursday was another one of my favorites: Salisbury Steak with mash potatoes and corn.
Thursday is also nephew time. I haven’t had a two-year-old nephew in 20 years. There are differences between Michael and Joseph, but the pure joy is very much the same. He has this belly laugh and smile that is infectious. He has this awe and wonder about everything. He has this very weird fixation on my table that makes me laugh because he always asks about it, where it is.
I know from previous experience that the clock is ticking with Michael. “Uncle Chris” is huge right now. In a few years, though, I’ll start getting smaller as he grows into video games and friendships. It’s okay. I understand. I expect it and want it for him, to explore the world that will become increasingly larger. By six or so, I’ll be relegated to a secondary position as opposed to the primary that I now play. I’m okay with that but I need to take advantage of it now.
So, I stop by on Thursdays, have dinner, play, and then help get him ready for bed. He wants me to sit by him on Anne’s bed while she wipes him down and changes him. Then, we pick out a book to read, I read it to him, I get my kisses and hugs, and then Anne puts him down.
I hang out for a little while longer while he gets out of bed and opens his door a half dozen times.
“Go back to bed, Michael! I love you.”
I smile with Anne and shrug. He’s two. Then, we go outside, have another cigarette, and I make my way home. Always smiling. Yeah, Thursday night is now Anne and Michael night. For as long as he’ll let me. It recharges me in ways that other things cannot.
An uncle to a two-year-old is something to be.
Then, I get home. About 8 or so. I fight the vortex and the repulsion against the vortex. Pressure builds. I can’t go to bed yet. What do I do? Who am I?
I am not a tv watcher. I just can’t.
I am a writer, a podcaster, an author and blogger. I am a mental health advocate. I am a mentor to children who stutter and their parents. That is who I am, something to be, something to strive for so the balance between work life and personal life makes the pressure go away.
I need to start moving back towards that. It’s things that I learned while traveling and then living in Tijuana. I fell into the other extreme, a fantasy land of being who I was without the balance necessary of a work life, an income.
I have the tools necessary to move forward. Slow steps, baby steps.
Is this my last podcast? No, not by a long shot. Instead of unplugging from it, I need to fully plug back into it, get back to incorporating it into my weekly routine.
Something to be. While supporting myself.
It’s a work in progress.
As it will be for a long time, perhaps the rest of my life. Another step I really need to pursue is socializing. I need to develop personal relationships with, well, people. I need the interactions that I seem to deny myself while wearing the personas of business owner, writer and podcaster. Everybody thinking I want to date makes it difficult.
Anybody want a cup of coffee? Let’s just meet and chit chat, talk story.
And, with that, it’s a wrap for episode 32. Episode 33 will be along next week, on schedule. There are a few bumps coming up in the schedule as I have to balance some business and personal trips, but weekly podcaster is something I have to be.