I want to get a tattoo.
The thing is, if I do this (it’s not a sure thing, but feels pretty likely), it would be a virginal moment. I have no other tattoos. This would be my first (and second, technically; what I have in mind would appear on both arms), and it wouldn’t be something small that people might miss. I’d go from being “a guy with no tattoos” to “a guy who’s definitely sporting some ink.” That’s a fundamental change in the minds of a lot of people — like the folks who grew up with me, and who I’ll see at my next high school reunion.
If I do it, I have no doubt it’s going to make people look at me a bit differently. And I guess that’s kind of the point, because I’m definitely a different person now.
This is not a tattoo post. This is a change post.
It seems to me that in life, we’re given certain trials, certain tests. If there’s a lesson we’re supposed to learn, we’ll be given as many chances as it takes to pass that test. If we pass, we grow and become more. And if we resist, we stay where we are and repeat that lesson again and again.
Me, I’ve never liked change. I’d find a moment in time that felt good and I’d hang on to it. When something fundamental in my life threatened to become something else, I’d fight against it. I’d end up panicky, nervous, or miserable. This was true regardless of the nature of the change. Even “good change” was scary.
But the world seems to have willfully beaten the acceptance of change into me lately.
The past two or three years have been filled with upheaval. We had a second kid; the economy took a nose dive; I lost all of my clients; my family situation changed in a few other fundamental ways; I regained new clients and a totally new business; I took on investments and lost them; I made a lot of money and went through over a year of a past-redline, we’ve-borrowed-all-we-can-including-from-both-of-our-parents existence; I made more money; I starved in a dearth of work; I fought for new work; I became downright overwhelmed with an excess of work.
And when it dawned on me that what held me back was fear of doing something arbitrarily “wrong” in the eyes of the world, I learned to break the rules.
You go through that much change and you become immune to it. You go through that many downs with your ups, and you start to get an attitude. You start to feel like you’ve gotten your stripes, like you’ve paid your dues. You get to the point where you’re like, “Fuck you if you have a problem with what I’m doing. I earned this.”
You start to consider advice, but ignore mandates and requirements.
And if people start to question your questioning of the rules, their opinion completely stops mattering.
You start to entertain a new world of possibilities. To grow.
You realize that you’ve changed so fundamentally that you’re no longer the same person in many ways. Maybe it’s true that you weren’t the kind of person who would ever do A, B, or C. But if you’ve changed, maybe you are that kind of person now. The only pigeonhole that can hold you is one you make for yourself, and that you continue to believe truly exists.
You leave the illusion of a “safe” existence. You take your bumps and bruises, and you get stronger because of it.
Maybe you start to realize that you don’t want to die without any scars.
I have a scar on my left forearm. It’s from the time I missed an Olympic clean and broke my arm. That scar will always be there, and I’m glad. Every time I look at it, I remember how I never quit. I remember how I went to the gym after surgery, in a brace, and used the other arm, or did heavy squats, or ran. I remember how my doctor told me to take it easy, and how I did not. I remember how I was given adversity and rose above it.
I want a tattoo because I’ve encountered some adversity over the past few years and have fought successfully through it. That adversity left scars — very cool, very large scars with a story behind them. Only, they’re scars you can’t see. I kind of want the tattoos because I want people to be able to see those scars — and to be able to see them myself, so I’ll always remember what I’ve learned.
Always believe. Question the judgments of others. Fight like hell.
Those lessons can’t be learned intellectually. They can’t be learned other than through experience, through trauma. Without the kind of psychic injury that leaves a scar.
So I can say the following without hesitation:
If you’re in the middle of some shit, don’t let it get you. If there’s one thing I’ve learned above all else, it’s that the best things in my life have grown out of the most terrible and traumatic experiences of my life. It’s hard to keep your chin up while life is crapping on you, but that’s what you have to try to do. You have to trust that there’s a personally evolutionary outcome in the works, and keep telling yourself that if you don’t give up, it’ll work out. It might not work out in the way you expect or even want… but it will work out.
If you’re breaking out and doing something crazy and new, it can’t be done safely. Great things cannot be idiot-proofed.
And if you’re not breaking out, maybe the world is forcing you to do just that. Maybe you’re being kicked in the ass for your own good. If that’s true, you have two choices: you can go under, or you can rise to the challenge.
Keep fighting. Always keep fighting.
All you’re doing right now is earning your scars.
This is the first part of a long-ass post that I guess I’ll have to split off and continue next time. I rambled for so long about tattoos and scars and badassery that I didn’t even get to my main point. But hey, two posts for the price of one? Not bad.