I Think I Used To Be An Asshole

by Dan Walsh

I spent my early 20′s defining myself. I wasn’t trying to craft a persona, or anything silly like that, but I was trying to figure it all out. Every time I found an answer I checked it off my list of life’s mysteries and stuck with it. I thought I was figuring out who I was and discovering the right way to do things, but really I think I just became an asshole.

I can’t blame myself entirely. College encourages personal definition both formally and informally. Choosing a major is a huge formal declaration of values, interests, and what we hope to become. It sets us on a trajectory. I chose to be a graphic designer, with all the trappings that come with it. The elective classes I chose also defined me in some way. Taking Existentialism like a good fine arts student supplied me with a ready stock of answers for the problems that ail the “human condition”. The books I was assigned or chose to read were all written by wiser men and women than myself. I took it on faith that they were right. They probably were, but I verbalized their knowledge as if I had won it through hard-fought personal experiences. I hadn’t. And the wisdom I did learn through personal experiences – the lessons I held sacred above all else – were often only a product of one experience. These lessons were hardly statistically indicative of the world at large, but I generalized and applied them everywhere I could make them fit. I’m sure this pattern continued after college. How could it not?

Graduating into the real world creates even more vulnerability than the college experience can. There’s no protective womb anymore. No dorms, no easy friends, no meal plans. There are no grades from which to judge personal worth. Even the structure of time is completely upended. Semesters and vacations are like the hands on a clock for the first 21 years of life and these completely fall away. How else to protect oneself than to acquire even more armor? More answers. More knowledge without wisdom. I probably also talked too much. Zeus almighty, I must have been an insufferable asshole.

I’ve spent the last 2 or 3 years undefining myself. This wasn’t easy. I didn’t even do it on purpose. I didn’t know I was doing it until now, as I look back. I see all my stubbornness and my allegiance to unproven answers. I was even hard-headed with myself. I drastically limited my options by defining myself, what I knew, what I thought I wanted, and what I thought was right. I don’t know exactly when my undefinition revolution began. Like all good revolutions it probably begun with something innocuous. I felt a little change when I started taking Judo. I felt another when I began riding my bike to work. Believe it or not, my switch to a standing desk also caused a little ripple in my pond. But these are all too big to be the impetus. It must have been something even smaller. Maybe it was the afternoon tea habit I picked up. Maybe it was when I turned 27 and for some reason finally felt like an adult. I will never know. Anonymous butterflies cause hurricanes.

I haven’t become a different person, but I have become more open – more flexible. I can adapt now. I can admit my weaknesses and thereby become open to new strengths. I confess when I don’t know something instead of trying to make my false truisms fit. I ask for help. I learn more this way. I grow more this way.

I hope I’m not an asshole anymore.