Today marks the 30th anniversary of my Day of Discovery. I recall the moment where I captured the light (a true flash of spiritual and emotional insight) virtually every day, sometimes when driving home from the office or when celebrating the daily loving moments with my family.
The experience, of course, is highly personal and I’ve shared it several times in previous blog entries. It reflects behaviour that no one in their right mind would recommend for day-to-day living. A couple of days after my insanely irresponsible experience, my boss at the Bulawayo Chronicle asked me “Are you (mentally) well?” when he fired me. I deserved to be dismissed. While drinking to excess certainly is not exceptional anywhere in the world and was exceptionally common in Rhodesia as the nation turned to Zimbabwe, I had no business drinking so much that four guys (fortunately not me) landed in jail in a tribal village-police camp on Good Friday, 1980.
With an ounce of hindsight and three decades of post-experience life, I now realize that my Great Moment, while truly important in defining and setting my life course, really isn’t that exceptional. A lot of people in their late 20s have similar life-defining experiences. This is the point where you move from the stage of youthful freedom and irresponsibility to a degree of maturity or, if you don’t, you often find yourself in the gutter or with a serious substance abuse problem. Certainly, if I continued fuelling my insights with alcohol, I would be an alcoholic today.
Momentous events like my Tjolotjo (now Tsholotsho) day also have plenty of precursors and indicators and, indeed, reflect unsustainable and possibly manic behavior. When your behavior is so extreme and excited, when you are essentially living in a form of overdrive, there are usually aftershocks afterwards. Certainly, I had my share of follow-up surprises and discoveries, and not all of them were wonderful.
Nevertheless, I can now look back over my life and through some follow-up conversations with people who were there with me at the time, fill in the dots to see my life scorecard.
In the weeks before the moment of discovery (about four months after my father died in Vancouver), I engaged in a rather hostile battle with a fellow employee, about my age. Reading through journal entries, it seems I was playing some sort of moral values game with this guy about how he/we should treat the opposite sex. I felt his attitudes were disrespectful and woman-hating. The fight seems petty (and probably was) but one of our co-workers (now in his 80s) reported to me from his home in Hong Kong that the fellow employee had also moved to Hong Kong and spent his life in drunken bitterness before dying in middle age.
Phew. I am happy to report that I ended up on the right side of the (moral) fence. Ive found happiness, love, and a reasonable degree of emotional stability though my chosen career certainly has its share of ups and downs.
The experience also has caused me to see and observe how others experience extremes; moments of real personal achievement/highs or extreme depression or loss. Some of these are planned and reflect major goal achievements or are the unfortunate but inevitable death of those you love the most. Some of us also have had to deal with the discovery of serious illnesses, either our own or in our families.
My initial reaction when I see someone in one of these extreme states is to remember my former Rhodesian boss asking me: “Are you well?” Yesterday, for example, I met a prospective employee who told me stories of a lifetime of extreme experiences. They all sounded pretty exciting but underneath his words I felt something amiss. (After our conversation, I tried checking his stories for validity on the Internet and came up with nothing to indicate they are true. Is he living in some kind of mental dream-world? I don’t know.)
In another situation, a key client seemed to defy the law of gravity as he carelessly entered into conflicting agreements (one with my business) that led to my one legal “high” — a lawsuit that consumed far too much money and resources which fortunately I had anticipated correctly. Still, it proved to be a strange year because after the judge ruled my co-defendant had erred but I hadn’t, this individual said he would still have further business for me. He then went to a very public place and picked up a policewoman dressed up as a prostitute.
Some people live their lives in the spotlight with incredible energy, ability and achievement. Leading scientists, artists politicians and business executives probably have to maintain the “Tjolotjo high” through their entire lives to succeed. There is a cliche about genius being one step away from insanity I sometimes think about that concept when recalling my experiences and comparing them to others.
These moments, nevertheless, are extremely important and you can use them to determine many things.
If you are hiring or working with an employee or key client, asking whether they had a life changing experience/story will often result in you gaining real insights into their personality, character, values and priorities. You can then adapt your relationship with them accordingly, building rapport.
If you meet someone in the midst of a “high” you can assess weather this reflects a transitional/transformational experience or mental health problems and if it is the former, be ready for a real ride (and possibly some exciting opportunities). If on the other hand your counterpart is in the midst of what seems to be a manic episode, you have the choice of staying clear or enlisting the support of mental health professionals.
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