The other day a friend finally said what I knew she had been thinking for quite some time: “You’ve changed. Your personality has changed. You’re too analytical now. You’re too bossy.” She’s actually one of several people to say something similar in the last year or so.
In a certain sense, she is right. We have grown apart recently and have less in common now because—in her view—something external affected my fundamental personality in a way that she doesn’t like. But that is not actually what has happened at all.
Personalities don’t change. That’s the first thing. We are who we are. I’ve always been pretty bossy and pretty analytical. If you had asked my first grade teacher to describe my personality, she would have said something like: “Jenny is very sweet but she’s sort of a mouthy nerd.” Always have been, always will be.
But if personality doesn’t change, what does? People clearly do grow apart sometimes (lots of times). Why?
Everything we do is the result of a cost/benefit calculation (or, more accurately, a bunch of them at once.) This is sort of the secret of life, by the way. Every single damn thing we do is the result of a (often very complex and mostly unconscious) cost/benefit analysis. What am I getting out of this relationship vs. what I am putting into it? What about this job, this car, this city, this diet?
What “changes” when we “change” is our cost/benefit analysis gets updated with better software. One way or another, we come across better, finer-grained information. We adjust our parameters for any number of reasons: maybe we encounter better data about a particular problem. (We find out the crush is or isn’t single, or the job is internal candidates only, or we overhear some kind of gossip about us that adjusts our social expectations.) Or we remove something that’s artificially skewing our analysis like drugs or alcohol. Or we just get a little older, accumulate a few more experiences, and gradually update and fine-tune our calculations.
When I got sober five years ago, a lot of that kind of information distortion suddenly fell out of my life. It was a little like I had been sick for so long I had forgotten what it felt like to not be sick, or like I had been shouting to be heard in a loud bar that suddenly went silent. It has taken me years—YEARS—to get to know the person who was in there underneath the alcohol. First I had to remember who she even was before I could begin going through and updating all my cost/benefit analyses accordingly. That shit is a PROCESS.
In that time, I ended a relationship, moved twice to entirely new states, quit two big jobs and countless little ones, lost most of my friends, made a lot of new friends, grew apart from a lot of the NEW friends, reconnected with very old friends, and somewhere in there actually somehow finally figured out with tremendous clarity what it is that I really want to do with my life.
Because a funny thing happens when you start clearing distortion: the quieter the room gets, the more you can hear. And the more you can hear, the more you want to hear. Because any noise in the room at all—even “normal” little noises that you’ve never given a second thought—is stealing your time. Bad information about the world distorted by noise leads to bad calculations about how to spend our only resources—our time and energy. Bad information—whether it’s coming from within us or outside of us—is a time thief. It over-invests us in places, relationships, and situations that we shouldn’t be in.
I have frequently written here and elsewhere about the real purpose of truth, particularly in the context of stepwork in recovery. There is a unique alchemy to triggering ourselves into discomfort through the practice of reckless truth-telling. Dealing openly, face to face, with the consequences of our choices that we would desperately prefer to avoid confronts false emotions and bogus beliefs like nothing else can.
Telling the hard truth in the moment is, in effect, a process of torching distortion. The sheer lightness, joy, and relief that almost always follow the hardest conversations are the clue and guide that you are on the right track: please proceed this way to your reclaimed time. Because lying to people feels really bad. And gritting our teeth pretending to be happy or fulfilled is a form of lying. Living in a state of facade and pretense tolerating people and situations we don’t really like–or that don’t really like us–feels very bad.
I am devoted above all to seeking and destroying distortion. I would so much rather spend time alone or with my dogs than with a “friend” who doesn’t actually enjoy my true nature. I don’t owe anyone that kind of encore performance on stage every night. The burden of wearing that mask is far too high, and my hours on this planet are far too short.