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The other day, I googled the definition of a word.  I love Google.  I love the ability to look up the meaning of a word with the simple shortcut command “Define.”  My search gave me several meanings for this one specific word, and that got me thinking about how people are defined–me in particular.  I am afraid that I am starting to be known as “that one guy who lost all the weight.”  Granted, it’s better than being known as “that fat bastard,” but my entire existence has suddenly become defined by the change in numbers on my scale.  I don’t really want to be known as the diet guy.  That’s too much pressure for me. 

So I was in my home town last month.  Had breakfast with one of my best friends.  He brought along his cousin.  Apparently I’ve met the guy on previous occasions–I don’t remember him–but he remembered me, and brought up my weight loss, and told me repeatedly how impressed he was with me.  He went on to tell me how he was trying to lose weight–and when the waitress came by, the guy ordered bacon, eggs, biscuits, gravy, and pancakes. 

Don’t get me wrong.  I desperately wanted to pig out as well.  But he tells me while we’re sitting at that restaurant table that I’m some kind of amazing, and I immediately felt the pressure to be a good example.  Suddenly I’m a guy with a prospective follower–I can’t look like I’m not living up to his image, right?  So I had two poached eggs and half of an English muffin, no butter–and watched my disciple consume the four thousand calories of fried awesome on his plate. 


I could have gotten a more substantial breakfast.  Something with taste, and flavors, and gravy-flavored deliciousness.  I wanted it.  But I fought the urge.  Because in that moment, I had been defined as a good example–and I felt obligated to live up to it.

So I have been trying to figure out how I want to be defined.  Maybe my definition could include the words…smart?  Good-looking?  Full of self-confidence?  Positive energy?  But just this weekend, a friend of mine told me that I’m “grumpy.”  What?!?  Grumpy???  I’m a happy-go-lucky, whistling while working bastard with a Cheshire Cat smile on his face and a spring in his step.  Of all the things she could say, she went with grumpy.  Bitch!

Okay…maybe she was right.  But I don’t mean to come across as grumpy.  I do have a tendency to be a bit sarcastic, which rubs people the wrong way.  But I want to change that.  I don’t kick dogs, I take care of my family, I pay my bills on time, I floss every day.  In addition, I exercise, I try to eat right, I don’t do drugs, I work at a tough job without complaint, I love my mom, and I’m a loyal friend.

But I’m not sure any of those things translate into a tidy, simple definition of me.

Years ago, I worked for a mortgage bank.  It was housed under a larger umbrella corporation that offered different financial services.  We all shared the same overworked, underpaid receptionist.  Not only did the person in this position greet people in the lobby and serve as a secretary, they were also responsible for answering the phones.  During the boom time for mortgage bankers, the phone rang nonstop for everyone–particularly the mortgage side of the business.  In the middle of the peak, we lost our long-term receptionist–and in our attempt to replace her, we ended up hiring a series of people who never seemed to be a good fit for the position. It was comical–like a scene out of Murphy Brown or something–because the turnover was so bad.  New hires would show up for the first day, work the morning, and not return after lunch.  We had one older woman who held on for a few months, but we ended up letting her go because she kept talking to customers in the lobby about the mysterious High Monks the federal government was sending up on the Space Shuttle–part of their master conspiracy to control the weather, you know.  Looking back, I think she may have been hearing mystifying signals of her own from the Mothership.  

Ultimately, we ended up hiring a woman by the name of Cynthia.  To describe her as a great receptionist doesn’t do her justice–she was so much more than that.  Sweet, sympathetic–just a genuinely good person with the kindest thoughts and intentions.  She found out everyone’s birthdays and made everyone cakes from scratch–which is a big deal, considering she did it for almost forty people every year.  Even after she left the company, she’d sneak cakes through the back door and leave them on the lunch table, never asking for even a thank you in return.  Cynthia is one of those people who I will always remember–thoughtful, caring, a true delight. 

I would like to be defined like Cynthia.  Not as that diet guy–but with adjectives like I just used for my former receptionist.  Now I realize that my sense of humor and (to borrow a word) grumpy outlook will get in the way of such niceties…this would all be so much easier to define if I just had the power to read people’s minds.  Find out what they really think.   I loved that movie with Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt.  It would be great to steal the non-diet-guy related thoughts about how others see me, and use those in my self-definition.  Then again, Mel Gibson had the power to read womens’ minds…not sure I want to look in those.  Seems like some things are better left undiscovered.

So I was chatting with friends of mine a few weeks ago, and I expressed concern about a new business venture that was started because of my weight loss. I was saying how I was worried that it wouldn’t be successful, which would in turn make me appear the same way.  One of my friends turned to me and said maybe the nicest thing I’ve ever heard about myself–she told me she was sure I would be a success, not because of what I’ve done–but because of who I am. 

I like the idea of being defined as a success.  I don’t feel like a success.  Someone should have told me I had achieved this success thing.  I should have gotten some kind of memo.  A statement of work completed. Something to prove on paper that I am a success.  There should have been some kind of party, some event horizon, some kind of new privilege bestowed upon me.  Maybe a key to some hidden executive bathroom where the common people are not allowed. Or some small secret club where guys  like Richard Branson and Bill Gates hang out, drinking cognac and smoking cigars and swapping stories about their rise to the top while taking carnally delightful turns with members of the Swedish Bikini Team. 

Then again, I’m not entirely sure that the truly successful people ever reach a point when they feel they are successful.  I feel like I do what I do in order to avoid failure, rather than to gain success. I know I am a glass-half-empty kinda guy. I know many people who I personally would classify as successful.  They are driven people, and they always seem to be moving toward a new goal or a new project. I don’t think they ever sit back and think, okay I did it.  I am a success.

I do think I would like to be defined as a success. In the meantime, I will keep trying.



One Comment

  1. Oh, Paul, we all struggle with this.
    Don’t you suppose that the woman you admired so much had days where she resented the definition of being the “nice” one in the office? While everyone else slept in, knowing she would take care of the birthday celebration, she set an alarm and went about making cakes. She may have always done so with a happy heart, but my best guess is that she had days where she wouldn’t have done so but for the pressure placed on her by this very definition. And yet that same pressure helped her be a better person.
    As it is with your dude and his plate of “fried awesome” (love that!). The pressure you felt (resented) sucks (rightfully so) and yet it made you make a healthier choice.
    I myself prefer to lower expectations, be known as a saucy wench who drinks too much. Then, if I have an occasional nice moment people can be pleasantly surprised. No pressure.
    So let yourself be known as grumpy. There is a certain freedom in that!

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