The Me I Didn’t Want To Be

Are you happy with your life? At 13, I thought I was. Then Chubby proved me wrong. Chubby was my dad. Plump as a kid, his childhood nickname stuck.

I remember the day vividly. We sat across from each other in a dark red, shiny booth next to the window. Chubby and I were at Perkins Pancake House in Cincinnati, where I grew up. It was snowing outside.

I ordered my usual. Two eggs. Extra crispy bacon. A BIG stack of pancakes. We chatted about school, friends and football.

Then Chubby discreetly turned his head, surveying the crowd. Looking back at me, he leaned across the table and whispered, “Greg, do you think about who you DO NOT want to be?”

Curious question I thought. “What do you mean?” I asked.

Chubby continued. “Do you ever think about who you DO NOT want to be like when you grow up?”

It didn’t take long for me to reply. I named names, lots of them. With each name Chubby asked why.

Then he would say something like, “How do you think they ended up that way?” I gave my opinion. Chubby gave his.

Lack of effort? No significant goals? Missing self-discipline? Fear of failure?

Our conversation went on for an hour. It was a bible of how to go wrong in life. At least that’s how I saw it until Chubby gave me a more insightful perspective.

Chubby said he didn’t think most people did anything “wrong.” Many just meander along day-to-day with a short-term view, striving to make that particular day pleasant rather than leveraging it into a big and impactful life. 

It’s about choosing long-term achievement over short-term pleasure… which usually leads to greater self-satisfaction and happiness. 

We had previously talked about the importance of honesty, reputation, good grades, and such. Things everyone should do to be successful.  

But Chubby and I had never discussed meandering through life, and how quickly we can look back disappointed with ours. It was eye-opening. It was scary.

Chubby then asked me a piercing question. “Greg,” he said, “are you happy with what you’ve achieved so far?”

The answer was clearly no. I envied classmates with better grades, those who played better ball, or headed up a club. I could have done what they did. I just hadn’t. I realized I was meandering.  

I told Chubby I was satisfied, but looking back I’m embarrassed that I lied to my dad. I simply didn’t have the courage to tell him the truth.

Many times I didn’t realize the importance of Chubby’s lessons. This time I did. I hadn’t previously thought about how easy it was to live day-to-day, meander through life, and end up looking back with dreams unfilled. 

In other words, I suddenly realized how easy it was to end up becoming the  me I did not want to be.

As Chubby drove me home that cold, snowy morning, I remember sitting in the passenger seat thinking, “It starts today. No more meandering!”

I became more focused each day on doing things that would have a long-term positive impact on my life, my dreams, and maybe even the world. 

I became more focused on the things I believed would make me the person I wanted to be. I stopped thinking about just having a good day. I started thinking about each day as a stepping stone to greater achievement and a bigger life.

I became more intentional about emulating the people I looked up to (like my dad), people I wanted to be more like. I also became acutely aware of the people around me I did not want to mirror. 

The latter may have been a more powerful catalyst in helping me make the transition from having a good day to having an amazing life. 

As Nassim Nicholas Taleb said in his bestselling book, The Black Swan

“People focus on role models, but it is more effective to find anti-models – people you don’t want to resemble when you grow up.”