Why I Needed A False Ego

From Chapter three of my book. This was a few years before I started drinking on a regular basis and the beginnings of a false sense of ego that I used to feel better about myself for many more years to come.

“I believe that having role models when we’re young can be of great benefit, depending on who those role models are and how they behave. I couldn’t count on either one of my parents to be a role model, but I ended up having two as a teenager that greatly influenced me. The first was a famous boxer named Muhammad Ali, the heavyweight boxing champion of the world. And the second was the uncle who was like a brother. Now, I realize there’s a big difference between these two people, but make no mistake about it, they both had a big influence on how I behaved as a teenager.

Muhammad Ali was actually the reason I decided to start boxing. Not only was he famous and always the center of attention, but he was also very confident in himself, and people just seemed to love him. And at that point in my life, I wanted to be just like him. So much, in fact, that after deciding to be a boxer earlier that year, I found a local boxing gym to go to that opened in the fall and religiously worked out on my own all summer. I’d get up every morning at six o’clock to run, and in the afternoon, I’d throw punches at an army duffel bag I filled up with all kinds of stuff. It had been my dad’s from when he was in the army, and it was so heavy that he had to help me hang it on a large wooden beam that ran along the ceiling of our small, unfinished basement.

I later added a speed bag, which I put up myself, and learned how to hit the small, fast-moving, pear-shaped bag without missing a beat. Finally, the local gym opened up, and I nervously went there, not knowing what to expect. I was fortunate that the person running the boxing program turned out to be a wonderful human being and knew how to deal with a fifteen-year-old like me. He encouraged me to work hard every day. He must have seen potential in me, because he introduced me to a person who had won a few different amateur titles when he was younger, and he became my new trainer. He liked Muhammad Ali too and didn’t seem to mind that I imitated Ali’s boxing style, which was to dance around the opponent, throwing quick jabs and right hands, and leaning away to avoid punches. I also boxed this way because I was afraid to get hit. Of course, when you only weigh 115 pounds and everyone you spar with is a lot heavier than you, getting hit can be scary. He knew this, though, and helped me hone my boxing skills and become more confident in my abilities. In only two months, I had my first amateur fight, and even though I was extremely nervous, I won the match.

Though I was so skinny, I dreamed of someday weighing 160 pounds and becoming the middleweight champion of the world. And after I won that first fight, I started acting like Ali in school. I did this by bragging and writing poems and showing people how fast I was, throwing multiple punches in the air. And I loved the attention it gave me. It even helped me feel good about myself. But, deep down, I knew I didn’t really have the level of confidence I was displaying. I also didn’t believe I was someone important, and soon, I developed a false sense of ego to help me feel that way. This false ego not only helped me to pretend to be something I wasn’t, but it also enabled me to temporarily overlook the fears and insecurities I had. For instance, when I walked through the halls in school by myself. I often felt left out and alone as I watched other teenagers walking together, laughing and talking about stuff. It almost seemed as if I was in a foreign country and didn’t know how to speak the language. Naturally, I would try to talk to the other kids, but I simply didn’t have the social skills to carry on a serious conversation and often felt nervous. The only place I felt comfortable was in class, where I made everyone laugh, including the teachers. However, as I said, being a boxer made me feel good about myself, and I would continue improving.

As a matter of fact, by April 1976, with only three more amateur bouts under my belt, the gym entered me and two other boxers in a Golden Gloves tournament. Our gym was only an hour and a half away from where it was being held, which was in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and boxers from other states would compete as well. I won my first fight fairly easily, beating a strong kid from Philadelphia, and because there weren’t many entries in the weight class I fought in, all I had to do was beat some guy from New Jersey to win the tournament. However, he was a lot tougher than my last opponent, and I was really nervous before the bout. I had seen him score a first-round knockout in his last fight, and my trainer knew he was a seasoned fighter. (I found out later that he had more than twice as many fights as me.) But because I was in tremendous shape and didn’t want to lose, I beat him by a close decision and was declared the 112-pound Mid-Atlantic AAU Golden Gloves Champion. I had my picture in both the school and local newspapers, and all the attention I got me made me feel better than any drug I had ever taken.

However, like a drug, the high I felt didn’t last. School ended in June, and so did the attention. But even though the gym was closed for the summer, I was able to combat the sadness I had initially felt by having fun with my uncle again. I had actually spent some time with him the summer before, but unlike that one, I hardly worked out over this next summer, and when the gym opened back up, I was really out of shape. As a result, I didn’t do so well sparring with fighters I had had no trouble with before, and it immediately shook my confidence. I at least tried to get into better shape, but something in me had changed that first week back, and my heart was no longer in it. I decided to quit boxing.

I remember coming home one evening and going straight to my room where my boxing trophies were and staring at them until tears came to my eyes. I had already decided that if I couldn’t be the best boxer in the gym, I wouldn’t box at all. My dream of being middleweight champion was now over, and I didn’t know exactly what I was feeling as I took my trophies down and put them away. I believe that with a little guidance or reassurance from one of my parents, I might have rethought my decision to quit or at least understood what I was feeling, but like other times in my life, neither one of them picked up on my emotions. My decision to stop boxing was something I regretted for a long time, and although I had one more bout when I was seventeen and won another trophy, I would never box competitively again.”

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Insecurities And Self-Esteem

It seems that quite a few people today, with apparent insecurities about themselves, act as though they have a very high sense of self-esteem. I first noticed this through the arrogant and often outlandish behaviors some of the teenagers I worked with displayed. Although it is, of course, understandable for young people to act in such ways due to insecurities, seeing older people behave like that made me wonder if they really had a true sense of self-worth. I was actually able to talk to my teenagers about their behaviors and my own as a young man, and while many of them admitted to feeling insecure, only a few said they had low self-esteem. This wasn’t much of a surprise, as it was hard to get them to admit certain things about themselves sometimes. After pressing them a bit more, I’d end with the question, “Can you look in a mirror and say ‘I love you’ to yourself and mean it?” This usually made them laugh, but almost all of them would say they could. I would rarely challenge them any further on the issue. I knew time would tell if they were being honest, not just with me, but with themselves. But since then, I’ve talked to people of all ages about the type of behaviors I see today, and I’ve figured out something very important.

Starting in the eighties, changes began taking place in many of our movies, TV shows, magazines, songs, and commercials, and over time, as these changes kept becoming more extreme, they caused two generations of people to display a sense of vanity and self-importance that belies their true insecurity.

First, look at how our movies and TV shows became more extreme. Not only has there been a continual increase in the amount of crime, violence, sex, and drug use shown, but in some cases, these things have actually been made to look glamorous. Also, think about how music has changed. Little by little, more songs came out with lyrics that basically glorified sex and violence and made the pursuit of money and fame seem like the all-important goal that everyone should have. Then there are the TV commercials that few could argue haven’t become more extreme. Although they’ve always been a way for businesses to advertise in clever ways and thus increase sales, they have used a lot more science and psychology over the past several years. Studies show they have the ability to affect people of all ages, making them think they won’t stack up unless they use, wear, or own a certain product. Don’t believe me? Take a look around the next time you’re out and about.

Unfortunately, these extreme (and, I must add, often negative) changes don’t stop there. Our video games have become increasingly more violent and now project a level of realism that can’t be psychologically good for anyone who plays them all the time. Then, of course, there’s the Internet. Although many good things can be found when browsing the World Wide Web, it’s certainly an outlet for extremes of all kinds. From pornography and violence to really outlandish behavior, the Internet became a way for people to watch almost anything they want and express themselves any way they want. Again, there are many good things on it—positive videos to help others and even instructional videos to help people learn how to do a number of different things. But we rarely hear about the good things found on the web. The bad things, sadly, often include the erratic, attention-seeking behavior of people who want (and sometimes need) to feel like someone special. It seems that the bar has been raised to encourage us to be something we’re not. And it has been lowered for academic achievement and family values. Add in the news media and its persistent bombardment of us with awful events, and perhaps you can better understand why we have, in effect, become a desensitized nation and why some people act the way they do.

Although everything I’ve talked about can and does have an adverse effect on us as a society, our youth seem to be affected the most. Young people have become more desensitized due to these extreme changes, and while many show good manners, do well in school, and have career goals they’re willing to work toward, some display behaviors that at one time simply weren’t acceptable. Sadly, still others act out in bizarre ways in hopes of reaching some form of perceived stardom. And while I’m sure the attention they get makes them feel good about themselves, this feeling can be fleeting, and I have yet to see proof that these types of behavior build a true sense of confidence and self-esteem in anyone. I have, however, seen proof that trying to be a better person than before can open up the door to the type of self-love we need to be happy with who we are.

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I Am Like Ali

I was a skinny and very insecure teenager and, as a result, I needed to be someone I wasn’t. Someone great. I even started boxing at fifteen because of this and tried to act like Muhammad Ali. With dedication and a boxing style I copied from Ali. I was able to win an amateur Golden Gloves championship at 16 years old, but my insecurities stayed with me as I grew older.

Eventually, I found that a continual striving for personal and spiritual growth helped me become more self-confident, and a whole new world opened up to me. One where I would start to love myself and others, and help those in need.

Today, I still try to be like Muhammad Ali. But when I stop and think about who I’ve become—who I am. Although I’m not famous or have achieved all the great things he has, I can say I am like Ali in some ways.

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Fly By The Seat Of One’s Pants

Know anyone who lives up to the idiom “Fly by the seat of one’s pants?” It’s basically a person who isn’t afraid to do something even though they don’t experience or training to do it.  I don’t necessarily think is a bad thing. I like to think of myself as someone who flies by the seat of my pants when it comes to facing different fears and insecurities in my life.  However, at one time I was the type of person who flew by the seat of my emotions and know quite a few people who still do.

These people seem to always let whatever emotions they’re feeling at the time, whether it’s happiness, sadness, anger, worry, ect, affect their behaviors and sometimes their actions towards others. Usually this is because they’ve done this all their lives and never practiced restraint or felt a need to change the way they behave. Mostly these types live in the extremes of happiness or the negative emotions they feel over their immediate circumstances.

It took me a long time to stop “living” by the seat of my emotions and simply begin living life. But eventually, through practice and help from people who weren’t afraid to point out my erratic and sometimes hurtful behavior’s, I found an emotional balance that has served me quite well over the years.

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Feeling Like We’re Drifting Away

“Sometimes, for reasons within ourselves or not of our own making. We can feel like a piece of driftwood floating aimlessly about; being pulled in different directions. But with no real direction in life. However, it’s always good to remember in those times that driftwood is resilient – recovering readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like; buoyant. And I may add. Very hard to sink.”
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Insecurities

It’s wonderful to finally feel good about yourself when for most of your life you lacked self-confidence, and at times, felt inferior to some people.  Although I tried to cover up my insecurities by pretending to be something I wasn’t and drinking, inside I knew the truth, and as a result I was never happy with who I was.

It took a lot of different experiences throughout my sobriety to achieve the level of confidence I have today, and although there are some situations in which my insecurities still surface, I am able to use the inner strength I’ve built to tell myself that everything will be all right. I also remind myself how it was actually unwanted and adverse circumstances that helped me become a stronger person in the first place.

So where did this self-confidence I’m talking about come from? Well first let me say that true self-confidence doesn’t come from worldly achievements. Although people try to use things like job titles, fame, and wealth to give them a sense of self-confidence and self-worth, many still remain insecure in their lives and some have glaring self-esteem issues.

On the other hand, when someone tries to practice a few spiritual principles like love, kindness, understanding, and tolerance toward others, they end up feeling a confidence and satisfaction in themselves that they never felt before. Even people who have made strides in personal growth can be happier in life by giving spirituality a try.

Spirituality doesn’t mean we have to believe in God and religion. However, although I often failed at it, as I continued to practice love, kindness, understanding, and tolerance, it helped fuel an ever-growing belief that something rather than nothing created life and the universe for a reason.

This simple and basic belief is the foundation for the spiritual and personal growth I still strive for today, and these two types of growth combined give me confidence and satisfaction in myself.  Today I don’t feel inferior to anyone, and I am finally happy with who I am.

 

 

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