I was born ugly, became lazy and by practicing being lazy I also became an accomplished liar. I graduated high school with a 3.6 GPA and I never once did a single shred of homework. I did not go to college, yet I have never failed a job interview. And in spite of what they tell you about honesty being the “key to a good relationship”, I had many good romantic relationships with fantastic women whom are my friends to this day.
I think as ugly liars go, I was pretty successful. I can’t say where that road would have led me if I had stayed on it; maybe I would have been rich and had a job as a priest, who knows…
Somewhere around the age of twenty-three I decided that I wanted to make a major change in my life. It’s important to note that I wasn’t walking down the road when I saw a light from Heaven, nor was I in some dire danger, lost in the wilderness and the thought of death and consequence scared me out of my old ways, no… I didn’t “decide” to change me, I knew something about myself that I wanted to explore and nourish. I loved the truth. I thought that truth was beautiful and courageous and I had an uncanny knack for identifying it in myself.
The thing about liars is that we are probably more familiar with the truth than honest people. We know all the signs of a lie, we spot all the “tells” of someone unfamiliar with lying, and because of this we have an ironic relationship with the truth. I lied for the same reason anyone else does: it got me what I wanted. At twenty-three I wanted to explore truths, to explore telling the truth, to explore being true.
Well, I was up against some habits. It was once said of me that: “Bryan would tell you a lie if the truth sounded better”. I wouldn’t realize this till much later but I would craft my responses to people based on what I wanted their reaction to be. If I wanted them to like me, I would be kind. If I wanted them to help me, I would be helpless, and so on and so forth. I was well trained and had all the muscle memory developed I needed to be a successful liar but that was NOT the biggest hurdle to transforming myself into someone true, no. The biggest hurdle was all the lies I had told in the past that would come crashing down on my head if I did not support those lies with…more lies!
I had a couple things going for me though and this is where I think it gets relevant to you:
Not only was I was twenty-three and still had no real concept of consequences but I was not unhappy being a liar and thus I felt no rush to “be” something else. I wanted to explore an aspect of my nature I knew was there. I admired the idea of looking someone in the eye and telling the nasty truth: Yes, that dress makes you look fat. Or: The reason I don’t take your calls is because I find you boring.
I once had a supervisor at a job call me into his office to remark about an interaction I was having with a female that he felt was against policy. I clearly remember sitting there across this wooden desk from him, observing his profound inner struggle as he awkwardly danced in circles, trying to confront me on the subject. I’m sure you’ve all seen it before, when some one explains-without-explaining their feelings on a matter. He would ask me indirect questions like “What’s your relationship to Britney” to which I would respond, “Britney and I have no relationship”. He would counter with something else, like “Well I think she comes around your desk pretty often” to which I would reply, “Yes, I have noticed that too”. The awkward dance continued, and he squirmed and mumbled as if he had more to say, all the while avoiding eye contact with me. So I asked him if he thought that Britney and I were in a romantic relationship and if that was the reason he called me into his office. He very quickly denied it, saying, “No, of course not I just was wondering if you knew her family or something”. I said that I did not and asked if that were all he wanted, and left his office.
Now, I knew what he was after and it gave me some pleasure to see him struggle so mightily with confrontation. You see, where I worked was a high school as part of the IT staff and Britney was a student at that school. She had a little crush, I knew it, and she’d come around the offices where all the staff worked and hang around asking stupid questions, as kids do. I wasn’t inclined to make an issue out of something I felt was not an issue and I suppose I could have offered some relief to the struggling man trying to do his job without accusing me of something terrible, but I didn’t. I left work that day marveling at how smart I was and how dumb other people are for not being able to handle confrontation.
The very next day something profound happened. That same supervisor called me into his office again. I sat down, and as I looked across the desk at the man, he was a bright, scarlet shade of red in the face. His eyes were strained, and his uncomfortable posture suggested massive amounts of tension. I opened with “Are you okay?”, to which he shook his head and said “No Bryan I am not okay. I have been wrestling with something all night about our conversation yesterday and I need to talk with you about it.” I said, “sure, what’s on your mind?”
For the next few minutes, I watched a grown man skate on the edge of falling apart as he confessed to a twenty-three year old kid that he had lied to me, that he did in fact think that something might have been going on between myself and the student because she came around so often. He told me how embarrassed he was to admit to me that he had lied, but that it was very important to him that he do so and ask for my forgiveness.
I was struck, as if by a 2×4 in the face.
There was a power in the room, a tangible power that filled the whole space. Here was an ordinary seeming man doing something extraordinary and difficult to do, unnecessary to anyone but himself. And he was enduring intense pain to do it. I sat for a moment in silence and let the room settle, you see I wanted to send a clear message to this man, and I knew (from all my days lying) just how to, in a way that he would not only hear, but believe. So I left him struggling and miserable in the silence for as long as necessary to make my point. When I broke the silence, I said “I knew what you were asking when you first spoke to me about it, and I think you know that”. He shook his head in the affirmative. I said, “You may be tempted to feel badly about lying to me about what you wanted to know, but I would encourage you to fight that urge. You have done me a great service by showing me an example of the kind of man I hope to be someday, a powerful man, a man who will face shame and consequence to do for himself the things he believes to be right. I will always remember this and whether I succeed or not I will use you as an example to myself as what I could be, even though I am not that man today.” I stood and left the room, closing his door behind me.
I never did forget (as you can tell) and though the information itself was not new to me, the example was stimulating. Like a drug addict I CRAVED opportunities to be embarrassed standing up for the virtues of the truth. I wanted desperately to face down the opposition as they destroyed me for being whom I really was, for exposing the true me, the dirty truth that I sucked as a human being.
I am not just imperfect; I am ugly, inside and out, I crave dirty things like sex and money. I selfishly want to be better than the people around me and I want them to tell me how they wish they were like me. I’d spent much of my time weaving a clever web to convince people of that illusion and I was excited to shout it from the rooftops, and I did.
Thing is, no one cared, no one thought it was profound, and as a general rule everyone avoided me. I found myself losing friends but not because of the awful truth that I had been lying to them our whole lives, but because the truth was too uncomfortable for them to be around. It was true for them too and my admissions and insistence on the truth brought an unwanted presence into our relationship that was unwelcome.
My parents, my employers, my close friends, they were all abandoning ship, and by “ship”, of course, I mean me.
It was painful. I couldn’t understand why even my own parents were running from me, but I wasn’t willing to give up the cause, in fact the more they pushed away the more I became comfortable with who I was, who I wanted to be, and do so without need of outside validation, or even approval. This transformed me, like a baptism of sorts, where I lost interest in the old ways I had done things and am now, mostly the man I set out to be.
I marvel at people who tell you that transformation is hard, that it’s a choice, that “if you follow these steps” you can “be the change”. To me it’s bullshit. You are what you are, you value what you value, and chances are some of those things are virtuous.
I’ve come to believe that we become the parts of ourselves that we spend the time focused on. That can be bad, and that can be good. Inducing change is no harder than looking inward at yourself for the things you find interesting and spending some time nurturing those things. You will slowly see those things become more prominent in your life and your personality will mix with them to create an exciting version of yourself you did not enjoy as much before. Be patient, don’t be in a rush to alter yourself or who you think you are. Discover yourself, embrace the good in you, and build it up by having fun and being passionate about those things you see. The rest will happen on it’s own.
For what it’s worth,