“If I’m being honest.” On its face, the turn of phrase implies that something I may have said, or might still say, could otherwise be perceived as a bold-faced lie. Because I haven’t used the magic words, the crucial qualifier. “If I’m being honest” or “to tell you the truth” — oh, now he’s serious!
Invariably, that’s what I mean when I use those words as pre-qualifiers to the words that come next. “Here’s something I’m sincere about.” That’s the tell.
And since the title of this blog and the first words both say “If I’m being honest,” well, you know I mean it.
DB + Partners turned four years old yesterday. It’s the longest I’ve held any one job. The reasons are myriad (okay, maybe there are just two).
In most instances, I’ve left to what I imagined are greener pastures. Invariably, though, ‘greener pastures’ are, in a literal sense, about more money. I aimed a little higher on the pay scale.
Oh, and the other reason is getting fired.
On April 18, 2016, I got shit-canned from the first job where I felt I’d made a mark. Years later, I can measure the loss from a distance — it was like getting dumped by the girl I thought was the best I could get. And as the days passed, I saw her for what she was; a manipulator who made me think she was the best I could get.
If I’m being honest, it took me a while to say that out loud and mean it. Most of the time, though, speaking as if I’d somehow risen above the need for external validation, was grass-fed, FDA-approved horse shit.
How many of us measure our worth in financial terms? A growing paycheck, or acknowledgement from a superior. Hell, I fought tooth and nail for a director’s role just so my peers would see I had it. I thought it might even look great, during my single days, on my Bumble profile.
I relished in the security of a six-figure salary, or the ability to name-drop a big-named client. “Oh yeah, I’ve worked on MetLife. Dunkin Donuts, Party City, Nissan — you name it.”
Then I got fired. And I was just an unemployed loser who’d stashed his identity in a building he’d been escorted out of by security personnel.
Who was I then?
In four subsequent years, I’ve been fortunate, or blessed, or divinely rewarded, or whatever faux-humble bullshit I’m supposed to say. But if I’m being honest, I’ve busted my ass to not need an employer for a paycheck. And I’ve done it as a quasi-act of defiance to the people who were anywhere near my termination.
And it’s worked. I’ve convinced scores of those from my past days that I’m the model of success, a mini-maverick who’s carved his own majestic rendering of self. “What a comeback story, that David Berry!” they might say.
If I’m being honest, that’s bullshit too.
I’m not a great business owner. Half the time, I’m not even sure I’m a good one. But I’ve hired well. I’ve constructed a team that understands the virtue of results-driven work and the ownership of wins and losses.
In so many ways, they’re the new armor I’ve strapped on just as I’d worn the shield of Fortune 500 brands in my last life. I have allowed myself to be measured by the appearance of things. If I’m being honest, though, it’s a shallow showcase that feels easier to sit with because I’ve done it in gym clothes instead of some douche-bag Gucci clown costume.
I know this, not because I’m that self-aware, but because of COVID-19.
I’m embarrassed to write something that’s as self-loathing and implacably obvious as that. It’s boring — a COVID-19 self-reckoning from another white guy typing from the home he owns in the neighborhood of his dreams.
Oh no, pray for me!
And yet, to downplay its significance in no way diminishes the weight of it. I look at myself in the mirror each day, having freshly shaven my head in the shower and trimmed my beard. It’s the appearance of things. Projecting a put-together look, to no one in particular, and believing for a few moments before the laptop is opened, that who I am is what I look like.
I’m a scared kid. Insecure and in desperate need of the validation that’ll never satisfy what I try not to acknowledge. And it’s this — I have a self-fulfilling prophecy that success belongs to other people. I believe that fulfillment is a place or an event in the future.
I fear that I am capable of exactly what I think I’m capable of — less than what I hope for.
Is a global health pandemic the right time to address your self-doubts? No. But as clients tighten their budgets, then dial you up with “I hate to do this…” messages at their lips, it’s hard to not pay a visit to doubt.
Regrettably, the things I know as bedrock values, these so-called abiding principles — all I have is today, I am not measured by wealth, I don’t need the approval of others — are all hollow. Not because it’s literally true, but because I haven’t relinquished the pull of the things that tell me otherwise.
I need to make X amount of dollars; own a house by age Y. I need to attain Z client or clients.
There’s something I’ve learned since getting fired four years ago, though. This is the secret, the reason I know that, despite my professed self-doubt and raging insecurity, that DB + Partners will survive and thrive to year five (if you stuck around to this point just to hear a clever rhyme, enjoy the reward).
My state of mind isn’t a mandate for my behaviors to follow. Lord knows that my longing for acceptance and external validation hasn’t slowed a bit. But when both are in short supply, I used to cower in the face of those I perceived as giants. Others who were more successful than me. Companies that were too good for me. Opportunities that I didn’t deserve.
Action is what matters. A fearful mind doesn’t mandate inertia.
For 30-plus years, I didn’t know the difference. And now, the difference — the only difference — is that I keep going. Some days I walk, some days I crawl. Some days I eat peanut butter out of the jar.
I keep going.
I doubt the hell out of myself. These days, I wake up with a knot in my stomach, knowing that an airborne illness is robbing me of a good chunk of my progress and my ability to grow a thing I’ve sacrificed 1,460 days for.
The difference, though, is that I won’t fail this time, because I won’t stop moving. It’s taken me close to four years to figure that out. I simply can’t lose if I keep moving toward my goal.
Doubt used to rule me and stop me cold in my tracks. And now, doubt is my greatest fuel. That’s true even when I don’t believe it.
If I’m being honest.