Years ago, one of my student newspaper peers observed something that challenges me even today. “We can’t figure you out,” he said. “At times, you are brilliant. But at other times you are so dumb.”
A backhanded complement, maybe
My peer had observed that I simply lacked any social functioning skills — even attempting the simplest small talk proved to be dauntingly difficult — and I lacked friends, the ability to form close personal relationships, and to connect with others in even the most rudimentary manner.
Yet I could write — researching complex stories, calling senior politicians, delving into issue such as university fiscal arrangements, government policies and the like. I truly was a study in contradictions: An individual with journalistic talent, yet no social functioning capacities. How could I get ahead in life with this rather major handicap?
How I solved the problem
First step: I sought professional help.The university had psychiatrists and psychologists, and research programs, and health services, all free.I grabbed the opportunity to find some answers. Once I observed my diagnosis: “Personality disorder, schizoid”. I initially thought — “Oh no . . . I’m really beyond the bend.” In fact, the condition simply describes extreme withdrawal and introversion and the inability to form close relationships.
I deduced that group therapy made sense — if I had a socializing problem, probably working with others would help. I signed up for an experimental, intensive program. After four weeks, the psychiatrists booted me out — and sent me to the general psychiatric group program where, for two days, I hung out with people who seemed to be heavily drugged on anti-psychotic medications.
Realizing I wasn’t going anywhere fast, I decided to end the therapy and accept the summer job offered by one of Vancouver’s two daily newspapers. From the nuthouse I went straight to another nuthouse — following police cars and fire engines, and managing to get into trouble with a bunch of angry Marxist East Indians. It turned into a rather fun, if crazy, summer.
In the end, I needed more than two decades to resolve my personalty disorder, discovering some important answers at two crucial discovery points.
The two major discoveries
|Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s city hall
At 26, after 18 months living in Bulawayo through the end of the Rhodesia/Zimbabwe civil war, I realized that if I could live through the historical experience and achieve my foreign correspondent dream, I could achieve anything. My next goal — simple to most people but very challenging for me — to be married, with a happy family.
At 38, 12 years later, I solved the rest of the puzzle, with the discovery that I am responsible for my own life and no one else is to blame for any of my problems. Within two years I married the woman of my dreams.
We celebrated our 20th anniversary last November. We live well. I achieved my dreams.
Lessons learned and lessons shared
If you are struggling with your business, if you are uncertain on how to solve the big problems around you, the lessons I learned (sometimes painfully) are:
Capture your core talents and allow them to take you forward. I may not have had much social functioning ability, but I certainly could write and understood journalism.I felt honoured when one of my university student newspaper peers, during a visit to Vancouver while was living through the African war, said: “Mark, you are sane.” Of course, he meant that, regardless of my handicaps, I had achieved goals that many journalists never reach in their lives.
Remember your priorities and values, and focus your vision in these directions. I recall well the International Press Corps reception in Salisbury (soon to be Harare) just before the Zimbabwe independence day celebrations.I looked around the room, listened to the conversations, and realized most of these globe-trotting journalists had broken lives.No families, divorced, lonely. . . I wanted a family, a stable home life, and would be quite happy to give up the globe-trotting experience. I did.
When you combine your talent and personal values, you are virtually certain to achieve your dreams, even if the odds seem formidable. You won’t need any motivation to carry on, to push forward, to overcome obstacles and to succeed.
How you can apply these ideas in your life
Take a few minutes to think about your greatest interests reflecting your greatest talents. Then consider your most important values. I believe you should align your efforts with your talents, passions and values. You will have the persistence you need to succeed because you simply won’t want to give up.