I knew I was in trouble when a grocery store cashier looked at me one day and said, “You’re an engineer, aren’t you?” How did she know? What was there about my persona that branded me as an engineer? I didn’t have a pocket protector, and I didn’t wear horn-rimmed glasses, but my “techie engineer” qualities were apparently tattooed like a bar code on my forehead. Somewhere deep in my psyche, I knew she had not given me a compliment. She had a judgment about engineers and part of me shared the judgment that engineers were somehow defective as human beings.
Shortly after the cashier scanned my bar code, I had the opportunity to sit in conference with a wonderful bunch of people who were connected with an organization called Earthstewards. Their founder, Danaan Parry, had died of a heart attack a year earlier, and the conference objective was to explore what to do with the organization now that its charismatic leader was no longer there.
I listened intently as one person after another spoke with deep passion about what should happen to the organization. Everyone spoke from their hearts and there was this deep sense of connection developing in the room. But old Engineer Bob was getting confused. I could hear the emotion, but I could not hear not much common sense emerging from all the passion. I could, however, hear common themes. So I went deep into my analytical left brain and was able to sum up all that had been said in the past two hours in about four sentences. There were (at least in my imagination) gasps of awe. “How did you do that?” one person asked. “Wow, that was great!” said another.
For the first time in my life, a bunch of right brained people were giving me feedback that my left brain engineer actually provided value. My inner geek lit up. Way cool!
Looking back on this experience, I realize that I had “bought the lie.” I had taken on the belief that engineers are shallow and geeky and somehow “not as good as regular people.” As I got feedback from the other attendees, I heard that my engineer side had at least some value; but the lie was so deep and had been reinforced so many times that by the late 1990s I was ready to turn my back entirely on more than 30 years of experience as a software developer and become a personal coach. Luckily, a friend of mine asked me, “What do you do without getting paid for it, simply because you love it?”
I realized there were two answers to his question: I do lots of personal growth work, primarily with The Mankind Project, and I write computer programs that help run businesses. Weird combination, but they balance each other out. I realized that the truth about my engineer side is that I know how to build complex database driven software applications, and I like doing it. That side of me can provide useful services to local businesses and keep me from having to stand on the corner with a cardboard sign saying “Will code for food.”
Flipping over to the personal growth side, I was on staff for one of the Mankind Project’s “New Warrior Training Adventure” weekends recently and the leader of the weekend asked us, “What’s the lie you tell yourself, and what’s the truth?” It turned out to be a simple but powerful set of questions that have helped me reframe many of my old beliefs. For example, my dad was a perfectionist. If I brought home a report card with three As and a B, his immediate question was, “Why not four As?” And when my brother did bring home four As, Dad responded, “Why not A pluses?”
As a child, I didn’t understand my father’s intention. All I heard, was “You aren’t good enough.” Only now can the old dog look back and realize that my dad’s questions weren’t intended to make me feel small. Instead, he wanted to empower me and help me stretch. I know that he was deeply proud of me, but the lie I took on was that “I’m not good enough … I’m not worthy.”
So here’s the new trick: Look the lie straight in the eye and see through it to the truth beneath it. The truth is that I am a pretty good man, and as worthy as the next man of being respected and blessed. Owning the lie makes me feel small and weak. Owning the truth fills me up and helps me stand honestly in my adult manhood.
Did I just say “Blessed?” I guess that’s another new trick I have learned: the power of blessing people. All it takes is seeing them and acknowledging the beauty of what I see. I can’t wait for my granddaughter to bring me her first report card. I don’t care what it says because now I know that what she wants from me is very simple. She just wants to be loved and blessed; and old dogs are good at that. Arf!