Becoming a beautiful butterfly

About a dozen years ago, I lived through one of the most intense phases of my life. ‘Intense’ is relative, and when I look back in general, there seem regular patches of intensely lived experience, though of different kinds. It’s surprising to recall how much has been crammed into the years, a lot of it nonsense, though necessary nonsense, and a lot of it very real.

Back a dozen years ago, I experienced something new and unexpected to me. I had recently returned from an unhappy stint living in Brisbane and took up a job in Melbourne. I expected to take up where I left off basically. I’d always been a confident, enterprising type with strong convictions, and a willingness to take things on. On the back of that my career had progressed well. Returning from Brisbane, I felt a bit betwixt and between but assumed all would be back to normal shortly.

The job I took on was perhaps indicative of my state of mind – fun and interesting, but not a great career step, and not nearly as well paid as my previous roles. It’s as if I wanted to sit back and take the temperature.

That year turned out to be tumultuous and intense and very different, and I was very different. I didn’t snap back to normal. Instead, I went about my work without my usual conviction. I felt untethered from the reality I had created for myself, and it left me feeling very uncomfortable. It led to self-doubt and second-guessing, things I hated on principle but had no control over. I felt as if this must be clear to the whole world, but apparently the façade held more or less, and many of my behaviours were unaffected.

To complicate things further I fell in love, the details I won’t go into here. She was bright and alluring and challenged me in all the best ways. She, at least, could see beyond the façade.

In the way of these things, our relationship became fraught and impossibly complicated and ended badly. Before it did though we would have long conversations about me. She would complain that I was ‘too cool for school’, a flaw I had not recognised until then. It was symptomatic of something deeper, which she also recognised and hoped that I would rectify. It became a bit of a quest, and we would joke that I was “becoming a beautiful butterfly.”

If only that were the case.

History says that the whole situation imploded before I achieved metamorphosis. We split acrimoniously, I quit and took a new job, and somehow magically reclaimed my mojo. I returned to being the man I was before, certain and direct. That was a huge relief for me because it was familiar: I knew this man. I went on to become a high performer again (I had dropped off) and achieved a bunch of things I’m proud of now. Now though, I wonder if that was my missed opportunity – how would things be different now had I become that butterfly and shed some of my masculine, competitive ways? What if I allowed myself to be sensitive and authentic to the world, rather than hide behind the glib, ‘cool’ persona?

I remembered all this as I headed home from work. I felt something near to distress at what had happened earlier in the day.

It’s funny how the world works. We like to see patterns, meanings behind things, but sometimes I think it’s true. The world has a way of leading you to the truth, if only we recognise it.

I was sitting on my couch watching TV and idly browsing Facebook on my iPad. I came across one article that interested me, then two. I read them feeling a connection to myself as if there was something in these brief articles I could learn from if I was smart enough.

The first was a piece by an international cricket coach who specialises in mental preparation. He shared his thoughts on what he had learned along the way, about how people were motivated, about what moved them. He referred an Australian international cricketer whose public persona was competitive and sometimes angry, but in his close dealings with him described him instead as being a very empathic, genuine, sensitive and caring character, unafraid to show his vulnerable side to his teammates.

The second piece was by a woman describing a platonic relationship twenty years before with a man she really loved but ultimately turned from because she could not reconcile what that love meant (later she realised she was gay). It was a sad but very true piece about love and regret, and it left me wondering why we act roles when happiness lies in being authentic. Of course, that’s a lesson that holds more true of me more than most.

I felt enlightened. I felt as if a depth had ended up inside me. I was both frail and tender, but I was glad of the feeling. At the same time, another truth dawned on me.

I complain of being described as a womaniser, but who am I kidding? I like to think I’m a decent, respectful man, and I think that’s true more often than not. But shoot, how can I possibly deny such a charge when the women I’ve known number in the hundreds? And, let’s admit it, you like the chase, you crave the conquest. What does that make you? And if you were really honest with yourself, there’s a part of you chuffed to be considered cool, even a ladies man. Time to own it.

I’m back at work today and feel the same. It reminds some of all those years ago, but more pointed. I’ve set myself to be a more open man, and this is my chance to nail it. It feels an interesting and scary journey I’ve embarked on. I pray this time I go through with it and actually become that beautiful butterfly, a dozen years too late.

As for the girl, I think damage was done by the loose comments yesterday. There’s no point me being angry or upset by that, and I’m not in a position to explain. It is what it is. Right now I’ll look to sort myself out and trust in time she will see that, and respond.

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